The Royal New Zealand Navy
CHAPTER 9 — Raider in New Zealand Waters
Raider in New Zealand Waters
BY the beginning of June 1940 the Achilles had made good her action damage and completed an extensive refit. From 10 to 14 June she carried out a series of exercises and trials in the Hauraki Gulf. During the night of 11 June she anchored in Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier Island, but on the three following nights she returned to Auckland and anchored in the harbour.
It is tempting to think that, had she continued to use Port Fitzroy, the Achilles might have sighted and intercepted a powerful German raider which, during the night of 13–14 June, laid a minefield across the several approaches to Hauraki Gulf. The enemy had made his secret approach to New Zealand by taking a devious route from Cape Horn across the unfrequented South Pacific. Though ships were passing daily in and out of Hauraki Gulf, some days elapsed before the mines claimed their first victim, and by that time the raider was far away.
The operations of German raiders extended over a period of about three years and accounted for 182 merchant ships of 1,152,000 tons.1 The German aim was the ‘disruption and destruction of merchant shipping by all possible means’, and the orders to the raiders laid down that ‘frequent changes of position in the operational areas will create uncertainty and restrict enemy merchant shipping, even without tangible results.’ The German Naval Staff exercised a general control over the broad strategy and movements of the raiders but, as in the First World War, a large measure of freedom was left to their commanding officers.
1 Total losses of British, Allied, and neutral shipping during World War II were 4786 vessels of 21,194,000 tons, of which U-boats sank 2775 ships of 14,573,000 tons, or approximately 69 per cent of the total tonnage. Losses due to German raiders represented slightly more than 5 per cent of the total tonnage.
‘The one and only possibility of bringing England to her knees with the forces of our Navy lies in attacking her sea communications,’ wrote Admiral Doenitz in a memorandum dated 1 September 1939. ‘It is clear what shipping means to the Anglo-Saxon – absolutely everything.’ The U-boat was the enemy's principal weapon at sea during the Second World War, but he did not hesitate, at first, to employ also his most powerful warships, whose forays in the Atlantic were supplemented by the world-wide activities of a number of merchant ships fitted out as auxiliary cruisers.
The cruises of the armed merchant raiders covered the period from April 1940 to February 1943, during which they sank or captured 124 ships totalling 840,000 tons. In all, ten ships were employed, one of them making two cruises. Five were destroyed at sea, one was destroyed by an explosion and fire in harbour at Yokohama, and another was damaged in the English Channel and returned to Germany. That they were efficient fighting ships of their type was shown by the fact that one raider in three separate actions outranged and damaged two British armed merchant cruisers and sank a third, HMS Voltaire. Another raider, the Kormoran, was responsible for the loss with all hands of HMAS Sydney, though she herself was sunk by that cruiser.
Three of the raiders were oil-burning steamships; one was a twinscrew, diesel-electric vessel; the others were motor-ships. The largest was of 9400 tons and the smallest of 3287 tons gross register. All were modern general cargo or fruit-carrying ships, with a large radius of action, a fair turn of speed, and a relatively low silhouette. They were officially known by numbers, but these were not allotted consecutively, so that the fact that there was a ship No. 45 did not indicate that there were forty-five raiders. They were also given what the Germans called ‘traditional’ names. The raiders were very well equipped and capable of remaining at sea for twelve months or more, with the assistance of fuel tankers and store ships, supplemented by oil and supplies taken from captured vessels. Great use was made of disguise. Dummy ventilators, samson posts, and other deck fittings, as well as false bulwarks and deck-houses, were often set up and repainting was done frequently to change the appearance of the ships. Special workshops and mechanics were carried to make and manipulate these disguises and also to carry out extensive repairs necessitated by long periods at sea.page break page break
The Admiral Graf Spee, with six 11-inch guns in two triple turrets
The director control tower of the Achilles, showing splinter holes above the signal platform
Captain W. E. Parry of the Achilles dresses his leg wounds. Behind him is the navigating officer, Lieutenant G. G. Cowburn
Damaged woodwork on the starboard upper deck of the Achilles
‘A’ turret's crew relax during the shadowing of the Admiral Graf Spee
The after 6-inch guns of the Achilles showing the paint blistered by the heat of rapid firing
The end of the Admiral Graf Spee
This reproduction of the Orion's chart of her course across the approaches to the Hauraki Gulf shows also the position of ships sighted while her minelaying was in progress. The numbers added in black give a key to translations of the notes on the map
Vessel in sight
Steamer in sight
Steamer in sight
Position of sinking of Niagara
Steamer in sight
Moko Hinau light
Moon bearing at 2100 hours
A lifeboat from the Niagara transfers survivors to the coastal vessel Kapiti
The raider Komet (Ship No. 45)
Fuel-oil tanks on Nauru Island on fire after being shelled by the Komet in December 1940
HMS Neptune coming out of Alexandria. When she was sunk by a mine on 19 December 1941, 150 New Zealanders were drowned
The wreck of a Japanese midget submarine lifted from Sydney Harbour
A Fairmile submarine-chaser in the Hauraki Gulf
In general, the raiders' armament comprised five or six 5·9-inch guns, a number of smaller guns, and four or more underwater torpedo-tubes. The ships were fitted with the director system of fire control and elaborate wireless telegraphy plants. Most of them carried a small seaplane, and several were equipped for minelaying. Whatever their tactics in approaching a merchant ship, the attack was always sudden and ruthless, the primary targets being the victim's wireless room, navigating bridge, and defensive gun. No attempt was made to spare the crew until the destruction of these points had been achieved; and in some cases firing continued with main and secondary armament even after it was obvious that no resistance was being made.
The first German raider to operate in the Pacific and bring the war to the shores of New Zealand was Ship No. 36, otherwise known as the Orion. She was a single-screw cargo steamer of 7021 tons gross register, built at Hamburg in 1930 as the Kurmark for the Hamburg-America Line. Her geared turbine engines gave her a maximum speed, when clean, of about 14 knots. She had a stowage of 4100 tons of oil-fuel, estimated to give her a steaming endurance of 35,000 miles at 10 knots, but this was well beyond her actual capacity in service. Her armament comprised six 5·9-inch guns, one 3-inch gun and six light anti-aircraft guns, and six torpedo-tubes in triple mountings, and she carried an Arado seaplane.
The Orion was commissioned by Captain Kurt Weyher at Kiel on 9 December 1939 and sailed from Germany on 6 April 1940, three days before the German invasion of Norway and Denmark. She entered the Atlantic by way of Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland, and cautiously made her way south. Her first victim was the British steamer Haxby, 5207 tons, which was intercepted east of Bermuda in the early morning of 24 April.1 When the Haxby made a distress signal, she was ruthlessly shelled for six minutes, seventeen of her crew being killed. The master and twenty-four others were taken prisoner and the ship was sunk by a torpedo.
Having refuelled from her supply tanker Winnetou about 660 miles from South Georgia, the Orion entered the Pacific, passing about 200 miles south of Cape Horn on 21 May. Much bad weather was experienced and the vessel did not arrive in New Zealand waters until the afternoon of 13 June. The raider was carrying 228 mines, and her orders from the German Naval Command were that they should all be laid in the approaches to Auckland. With good visibility, under a cloudless sky, she cautiously approached the land in the early dusk of mid-winter to carry out this operation.
Starting at 7.26 p.m., the Orion laid the first row of mines across the eastern approach to the passage between Great Mercury Island and Cuvier Island. In the clear weather prevailing, said Captain Weyher in his war diary, it was ‘not possible to approach closer than eight German nautical miles to the Cuvier lighthouse without being sighted by the Signal Station.’ A second barrage of mines was laid across the approach to Cuvier Island in a zigzag which overlapped the south-east end of Great Barrier Island. A third and much longer barrage was laid across the northern approaches to Hauraki Gulf. It extended from a point off the northern end of Great Barrier in a wide arc 6 ½ miles off Moko Hinau Islands and thence in a straight line to the north-west, passing about six miles outside the Maro Tiri Islands to a point about five miles from the mainland. All the mines were of the moored contact type.
In his war diary Captain Weyher records that during the operation, which lasted seven hours, three outward-bound steamers and one inward-bound vessel were sighted by the Orion, but by eleven o'clock the sky had clouded over and she was not detected. The Achilles and the Hector arrived at Auckland between nine o'clock and midnight. The harbourmaster's records show that the coastal vessel Port Waikato arrived at midnight, the Port Line steamer Port Nicholson at seven o'clock in the morning, and the Shaw Savill motor-vessel Waiotira about an hour later. The Norwegian motor-vessel Nordnes sailed from Auckland at 9 p.m. and the Union Company's collier Kaimiro at 12.45 a.m. The raider dropped her last mine at 2.36 a.m. and then steamed away at full speed to the north-east.
Five days passed, during which a number of vessels (including the Canadian-Australian mail steamer Niagara, 13,415 tons, when she arrived from Sydney) must have passed close to, if not through, the mine barrier. But the Niagara was unfortunate when she struck a mine soon after sailing from Auckland for Suva, Honolulu, and Vancouver with 136 passengers, general cargo, and a shipment of gold bullion valued at £2,500,000. At 3.44 a.m. on 19 June 1940, Wellington Radio intercepted an alarm signal, followed a minute later by a wireless distress message from the Niagara: ‘Explosion in No. 2 hold, Position Maro Tiri, 270 deg., six miles.’
A quarter of an hour later another message was received from the unlucky liner: ‘Engines disabled, No. 2 hold full of water. Vessel going down by head. Putting into boats. Heading towards Hen and Chickens. (Maro Tiri).’
These messages were passed promptly to the Achilles, which at 5.23 a.m. weighed anchor and proceeded to sea. The Hector was ordered to remain in harbour as Commodore Parry did not consider any useful purpose would be served by her going out. At 5.30 a.m. page 121 he ordered the minesweepers James Cosgrove and Thomas Currell to carry out a sweeping search in the vicinity of Maro Tiri.
A few minutes after six o'clock the Achilles streamed her paravanes and at 7.8 a.m. increased speed to 30 knots. Forty minutes later a wireless signal was received from one of the Niagara's lifeboats, reporting that they were between Moko Hinau and Maro Tiri. The Achilles maintained her speed and course to keep clear of the main channel, which appeared the most likely position for a minefield. At 8.12 a.m. the Niagara's boats were sighted on the horizon and two minutes later the Huddart Parker liner Wanganella, inward-bound from Sydney to Auckland, came into sight. She was requested by wireless to accommodate survivors and assist with a motor-boat, and at once agreed to do so.
The Achilles arrived in the vicinity of Maro Tiri at 8.17 a.m., when she stopped and recovered her paravanes. A few minutes later two motor-boats and a pinnace were sent away under the general charge of Lieutenant-Commander R. E. Washbourn. The Wanganella stood by and received the passengers and members of the crew of the Niagara, who were transferred to her by the coastal vessel Kapiti and the services' speedboat which arrived during the morning. The Wanganella proceeded for Auckland at 2.45 p.m. The Achilles left at four o'clock with the Niagara's lifeboats in tow.
Commodore Parry commended the services of the Kapiti and the speedboat, which transhipped some 340 persons from the lifeboats to the Wanganella, and of the launches Kowhai, Menai, and Meander which assisted in this work and in towing boats. He expressed his gratitude to the master of the Wanganella for having stood by and received the Niagara's people, who included a number of women and children, for conveyance to Auckland.
The minesweepers James Cosgrove and Thomas Currell commenced operations in the vicinity of Maro Tiri at 12.25 p.m. and at 2.47 p.m. reported a mine in the sweep. Two hours later the Senior Officer, Minesweepers, reported that two mines had been sunk but not exploded. They appeared to have been newly laid and were identified as German contact mines. In the meantime, Commodore Parry had ordered the minesweepers to break off their sweep at sunset and proceed to Colville Channel (the eastern approach to Hauraki Gulf) to carry out a sweep there, beginning at dawn on 20 June. The minesweepers took over the tow of the Niagara's lifeboats from the Achilles, which then steamed into Auckland, where she anchored at 10.50 p.m. Off Tiri Tiri the minesweepers were relieved of their tows and proceeded to Colville Channel.
The loss of the Niagara and the finding of the mines clearly indicated that an enemy ship was operating in the New Zealand area. All sailings from Dominion ports were stopped for the time being page 122 and coastwatching stations were warned to keep a specially sharp lookout for suspicious vessels. It was also arranged with the Royal New Zealand Air Force for a daily dawn air reconnaissance of the approaches to Auckland, Cook Strait, Lyttelton, and Otago harbour, of the North Auckland peninsular area twice a week, and the West Coast sounds of the South Island once a week. This arrangement was modified a few days later, the daily air reconnaissance of the Cook Strait, Lyttelton, and Otago harbour areas being discontinued.
On 22 June a signal from the Chief of Intelligence Staff, Singapore, reported that radio direction-finding bearings indicated a German vessel in a position roughly 120 miles south-west of the Chatham Islands and another in a position far to the eastward. A later bearing indicated a ship in a position north of the Chathams. Auckland Radio reported wireless transmissions on northerly bearings. The former were subsequently diagnosed as ‘reciprocals’, but at the time they were reported the possibility of a German ship moving north from the Chatham Islands area could not be disregarded.
The armed merchant cruiser Hector had been allocated temporarily to the New Zealand Station, and at that time the Admiralty wanted to transfer her to the East Indies Command. On 23 June, however, the New Zealand Naval Board informed the Commander-in-Chief East Indies and the Admiralty that, because of the suspected presence of an enemy raider in New Zealand waters, it was intended to retain the Hector for the time being. The ship sailed from Auckland in the evening of 23 June under orders to patrol the eastern approaches to Cook Strait. Aircraft carried out a dawn reconnaissance of that area next morning.
Commodore Parry decided to search the Kermadec Islands area in the Achilles in co-operation with the trans-Tasman flying boat Awarua. Accordingly, the cruiser sailed from Auckland on 24 June and arrived off Sunday Island at daybreak on the 26th. When the settlement came into sight the ship flashed by signalling projector towards the wireless station: ‘British ship Achilles. Do not report me.’ Nevertheless, the wireless station sent a message reporting the arrival of a ‘naval vessel’.1
It had been intended to fly-off the ship's Walrus aircraft, but conditions were unsuitable owing to a strong south-westerly wind and heavy squalls which raised too much sea outside and fierce down-draughts on the lee side of the island. Reconnaissance by the aircraft was therefore abandoned. After searching the eastern and southern bays of Sunday Island, the Achilles proceeded to Macauley and Curtis Islands to support the flying-boat search.page 123
At 9.40 a.m. the Achilles intercepted a message from the Awarua that it had Curtis Island in sight, and at 11.15 a.m. the first nil report was received. In his report of proceedings Commodore Parry remarked that negative reports were not required in a set search scheme. The enemy must deduce that something was afoot if a series of coded messages was intercepted. Wireless silence was essential in an operation of this kind in which success was dependent upon surprise. The Achilles passed through Stella Passage, Curtis Island, at noon and the flying boat was sighted at 1.45 p.m. Having passed L'Esperance Rock and sighted nothing suspicious, the Achilles at five o'clock shaped course for Auckland, where she arrived on 28 June.
When it became evident that there was no immediate likelihood of encountering a raider in the vicinity of the Chatham Islands, the Hector returned to Wellington to top-up with oil fuel. A patrol, first of the western and then of the eastern approaches to Port Nicholson, was arranged in order to keep the ship in the area in which it would be most likely to meet a raider should she be cruising or laying mines in the vicinity. As soon as Parry's signal was received reporting that the Kermadec Islands search had been completed, the Hector was ordered to proceed forthwith for Fremantle, en route to the East Indies Station.
Actually, the raider was far away from New Zealand by that time. After her last mine had been laid in the early hours of 14 June, the Orion steamed to the north-eastward until midday and then proceeded on an ‘easterly course on the Australia-Panama route’ to meet her supply tanker Winnetou in a position about 920 miles to the north-eastward of East Cape. On 17 June, however, the raider ordered the tanker to a rendezvous 500 miles nearer the Equator.1
In the morning of 19 June the Orion captured the Norwegian motor-vessel Tropic Sea, 5781 tons, on passage from Sydney to the United Kingdom via the Panama Canal with a cargo of 8100 tons of wheat, in a position about 800 miles east of the Kermadec Islands and 400 miles south of Rarotonga. A week later the raider fuelled from her tanker and on 30 June, by which time the ships had worked still further to the eastward, the Tropic Sea, in charge of a prize crew, proceeded for France via Cape Horn.2 For the next three weeks the Orion cruised in that area of the Pacific.
2 On 3 September 1940 the Tropic Sea was intercepted in the Bay of Biscay by the British submarine Truant and was scuttled by the prize crew. The Truant took on board the survivors of the Haxby and the Norwegian master and his wife, the other Norwegians being rescued next day by a Sunderland flying boat. Lieutenant Steinkraus and his prize crew landed in Spain and made their way back to Germany. Three months later he arrived in Japan and took command of the captured Norwegian tanker Ole Jacob, which was employed to refuel German raiders in the Indian Ocean.
The French steamer Commissaire Ramel, 10,061 tons, owned by the Messageries Maritimes, had arrived at Suva on 18 July in the course of her voyage to Tahiti, New Hebrides, and New Caledonia, with the ultimate intention of reporting to the French Admiral Robert at Martinique in the West Indies. In accordance with instructions from the Colonial Office in London, the vessel had been requisitioned by the Governor of Fiji and High Commissioner for the Western Pacific.
In the afternoon of 23 July Lieutenant Carlyon, RNZNR,1 of the Achilles, with Mr C. H. J. Stone, Warrant Engineer, and an armed guard of eighteen ratings (sufficient to work the ship if necessary), boarded the Commissaire Ramel, which sailed three days later for Vila, New Hebrides, where she transhipped passengers and cargo for Noumea. The ship then proceeded to Sydney, where she arrived on 5 August and was taken over by the Shaw Savill and Albion Company.2 In a subsequent report to the Naval Board, Commodore Parry drew attention to the satisfactory way in which Lieutenant Carlyon, Mr Stone, and all members of the armed guard had performed their duties. It was evident that the change in the attitude of the passengers and crew of the Commissaire Ramel was due largely to the considerate and tactful behaviour of the guard. The New Zealand Naval Board endorsed this view and directed that Lieutenant Carlyon and the members of his party be informed accordingly.
2 The Commissaire Ramel, manned by British officers and crew, loaded wool and general cargo at Australian ports for the United Kingdom. She was sunk by the German raider Atlantis in the Indian Ocean on 20 September 1940.
During the three days the Achilles was at Suva discussions of defence problems took place between the Chiefs of Staff and the Governor of Fiji and local officers. The cruiser arrived on 28 July at Nukualofa, Tonga, where similar discussions were held. The ship's aircraft was of great value for reconnaissance work at both places. The Achilles returned to Auckland on 31 July and sailed a fortnight later for Wellington, where the transports to carry the Third Echelon, 2 NZEF, were about to assemble.
At daybreak on 16 August the Achilles sighted the Mauretania in Cook Strait and followed her into harbour. Four days later the Empress of Japan and Orcades arrived at Wellington, the latter sailing in the evening for Lyttelton to embark the South Island section of the troops. It was at that time that the German raider Orion struck her second blow at merchant shipping in New Zealand waters by sinking the Turakina in the Tasman Sea.
After sending away the captured Tropic Sea on 30 June, the raider spent a completely fruitless three weeks cruising on the Pacific trade routes from New Zealand to Tahiti, San Francisco, Vancouver, and the Panama Canal. A testimony to the value of evasive routeing is found in Captain Weyher's comment in his war diary that the ‘unsuccessful patrols along the previously quoted shipping lanes under conditions of about twenty to twenty-five nautical miles maximum visibility prove that enemy shipping, even in Australian, New Zealand and South Seas waters, no longer steers the peace time routes. Radio interception shows merely the traffic of U.S.A. and Japanese passenger ships which apparently still run on these routes. …’
Between 21 and 23 July – the Achilles arrived at Suva on the latter date – the raider rounded the Fiji Group to the southward, and on 28 July she refuelled from the Winnetou, which then parted company for Japan, arriving at Kobe on 1 September. The Orion then proceeded to the south-west and later on a southerly course to search for shipping in the area ‘between New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand.’
In the morning of 10 August, when ‘approaching the latitude of Brisbane’, the raider sighted a steamer, judged to be the Pacific Phosphate Commission's Triona, which took prompt evasive action and was not attacked. In the afternoon of 11 August the Orion was 120 miles from Brisbane, and for the next four or five days she cruised in the area between that port and New Caledonia. On 14 August her seaplane made a reconnaissance flight over Noumea and was recovered after making a forced landing due to shortage of fuel.
Steering to the southward in the evening of 16 August, the Orion intercepted and sank the French steamer Notou, 2489 tons, which was on passage from Newcastle to Noumea with 3900 tons of coal. page 126 On the following night, 17 August, an unsuccessful attempt was made to close a vessel which apparently sighted the raider against the moonlight, promptly switched off her navigation lights, and was lost to sight.
The Orion then worked her way south into the Tasman Sea to patrol the routes between New Zealand and Sydney. In the late afternoon of 20 August she intercepted the New Zealand Shipping Company's steamer Turakina, 9691 tons, on passage from Sydney to Wellington, in a position approximately 290 miles west by north from Cape Egmont and 380 miles from Wellington.
The ships were on reciprocal courses when the Turakina first sighted the raider, which soon afterwards turned and approached her at full speed. The Orion then ordered the Turakina to stop instantly and not to use her wireless. Captain Laird1 at once ordered maximum speed, put his ship stern on to the enemy, and instructed the radio office to broadcast the ‘raider signal’, giving the ship's position and indicating that the Turakina was being attacked.
Thereupon, the Orion opened fire with the immediate intention to destroy the Turakina's radio and aerials. This was the customary practice of German raiders, all of whom were ruthless in their methods of attack and some of whom were wont to open fire without warning to prevent wireless messages being transmitted. Nevertheless, the Turakina was able to make her signal several times and it was taken in by stations on both sides of the Tasman Sea, despite the raider's efforts to jam the transmission.
The Turakina promptly replied to the enemy's fire, and so, in the gathering dusk, began the first engagement ever fought in the Tasman Sea. The odds were heavily in favour of the Orion with her powerful armament and large, well-trained crew. The Turakina carried but a single 4·7-inch gun, mounted right aft and manned by her merchant seamen, assisted by one naval gunner. It was a most unequal contest, but Captain Laird had vowed that he would fight his ship to the last if ever he was attacked.
At the close range of less than three miles, the raider's fire quickly wrought havoc in the Turakina. The first salvoes brought down her fore topmast and the lookout man in the crow's nest, who was badly wounded, partly wrecked the bridge, destroyed the range-finder, and put most of the telephones out of action. The officers' quarters and the cook's galley amidships and a deck-house at the foot of the mainmast were wrecked by shells which set the ship badly on fire.
Meanwhile, Captain Laird had given the order to abandon ship. The two port lifeboats had been wrecked, but one of the starboard boats got away from the ship with three officers and eleven men, seven of whom were wounded. Other wounded men were put into the remaining boat, but when it was lowered a sea swept it away from the ship's side and it was some time before it could be worked back again.
Captain Laird came down from the bridge to the main deck at this moment. He had a bad gash on one side of his head and another on his face. He wanted to have ‘another shot at the—-’, but the third officer pointed out that only the muzzle of the gun was then above water. As the lifeboat neared the ship, Captain Laird told those left on board to ‘jump for it’; but no one moved until the boat came alongside with a crash. The badly wounded first radio officer was put into it as it lifted on a swell. As the others jumped over the side there came a terrific flash and explosion. The raider had fired a torpedo which hit the ship in the engine-room. That was the end of the Turakina, which sank rapidly.
The only survivors of the explosion were the third officer, the seventh engineer, an apprentice, two seamen, a fireman, and a steward. They were picked up by the raider, as were the fourteen men in the other boat. The badly wounded lookout seaman died on board the Orion and was buried next day. Captain Laird and thirty-four of his officers and men had died in the Turakina; twenty survivors were prisoners in German hands.
In refusing to stop when challenged and ordering a wireless message to be transmitted, Captain Laird carried out an obligation that was accepted and performed by thousands of British and Allied shipmasters. The sending of such a message might not save the ship and her company but it pin-pointed the position of the enemy at the time and so materially assisted to save other ships and helped the efforts of the naval authorities to compass the destruction of the enemy. The Turakina and her ship's company paid the extreme price, but the raider was compelled to leave the Tasman Sea and did not sink another ship for two months.
What was Captain Laird's design in engaging so formidable an opponent? The enemy raider was far from any friendly port. If, therefore, he were badly damaged, even though in suffering damage he sank the Turakina, his power to harm other merchant ships might be lessened, if not destroyed.page 128
There were precedents that might have influenced Captain Laird. There was the case of his own company's ship Otaki which, in 1917, fought the German raider Moewe and which, in the words of the Admiralty, ‘with a little more luck, might have sunk her.’ The Otaki herself was sunk, her gallant fight earning for her master, Captain Bisset Smith, a posthumous Victoria Cross. But, for his equally gallant action, Captain Laird of the Turakina was merely officially ‘commended for good service.’ That indicated a lack of imagination and appreciation on the part of the appropriate authorities in 1940, as did the meagre awards to other members of the Turakina's ship's company.
The Turakina's wireless raider signal, made several times between 6.26 and 6.30 p.m., New Zealand time, was read by Brisbane (which repeated it to New Zealand), the Chatham Islands, and Taieri wireless stations. The reception of the nearer stations, such as Auckland, Napier, and Wellington, was effectively interfered with by strong spark signals transmitted by the raider.1
When the message was received by her, the Achilles, which was lying at Wellington, raised steam for full speed. Arrangements were made for an air search to be carried out from Auckland by the flying boat Awarua. It was thought probable that the raider would attempt to escape to the southward. Accordingly, a curve of search was planned to intercept him, assuming that he had left the Turakina's signalled position at seven o'clock and proceeded on some course between east by south and west-north-west through south. This limited search was decided upon as being the utmost possible with the one flying boat available.
The Achilles sailed from Wellington at 9.30 p.m., two and a half hours after receiving the Turakina's message, and proceeded at 25 knots for the Tasman Sea. The flying boat Awarua, which did not take off from Auckland until 5.17 a.m. on 21 August, was sighted by the Achilles at eight o'clock that morning well to the westward of Cape Farewell. The Awarua flew on her curve of search to a point about midway between New Zealand and Australia and thence on a direct course approximately east by south to the position given by the Turakina. After steaming west by south, the Achilles altered course at eleven o'clock towards the point of attack. At 3.47 p.m. she again sighted the flying boat and at 5.10 p.m. she arrived in the vicinity of the position in which the Turakina had been attacked. The Achilles made a close search of the area but saw no wreckage or other traces of the Turakina. The flying boat, meanwhile, had returned to Auckland.
1 Report of Director-General, Post and Telegraph Department.
At the time the Turakina was attacked, the following other merchant ships were in the Tasman Sea: Kauri, Sydney to Lyttelton; Basilea, tanker, East Indies to Wellington; Piako, Panama to Sydney; Port Hardy, Sydney to Panama; Limerick, Sydney to Suva; Wanganella, Sydney to Auckland; Kalingo, Sydney to New Plymouth; Huia, auxiliary schooner, Australia to Greymouth; Korowai, New Zealand to Sydney. In a general broadcast to merchant ships Navy Office, Wellington, and Navy Office, Melbourne, warned them that an enemy raider was at large in the Tasman Sea. Orders were also issued that merchant ships bound on trans-Tasman passages either way were not to sail for the time being. The Kalingo was instructed to return to Sydney, but this instruction was later cancelled.
HMAS Perth sailed from Sydney at 10 p.m. on 20 August and steamed at 20 knots to a point south-west of the Turakina's position when attacked and thence to about 200 miles east of Gabo Island off the eastern extremity of the coast of Victoria, thus covering the approaches to Bass Strait. Five Hudson aircraft also carried out a search from Sydney on 21 August.
Important clues to the whereabouts of the raider were received on 21 and 23 August when radio direction-finding bearings indicated that a German naval unit was in the area to the southward of New Zealand. The relevant messages were passed to Commodore Parry in the Achilles. Two of them informed him that bearings from Penang and Australia passed through Stewart Island. In the evening of 24 August the Naval Intelligence staff officer at Wellington informed him that direction-finding bearings that morning from Awarua, Australia, and three stations in the East Indies gave bearings of a German naval unit whose intersections formed a ‘cocked hat’ (triangle) with Campbell Island as its centre. The Admiralty, however, was of the opinion that the message was transmitted by a German vessel operating north of Scotland. A search by aircraft in the area of the West Coast sounds and Stewart Island and towards Campbell Island was made with negative result.
The Orion had, in fact, steamed south after sinking the Turakina, though she did not approach Campbell Island. She went well to the southward of Tasmania and thence across the Australian Bight to the vicinity of Albany, where she laid a number of dummy mines. She was sighted by an aircraft but was not found by six aircraft which came out later. Thereafter the raider kept well off shore and spent some days in fruitless cruising along the shipping routes west and south-west of Cape Leeuwin. On 9 September she started on her return to the South Pacific.
In view of his unsuccessful search on 21 August, the fruitless air search about Stewart Island, and the fact that the radio direction-finding bearings were considered to be ‘reciprocals’, Commodore page 130 Parry came to the conclusion that the raider possibly had escaped to the northward. The Achilles, therefore, shaped course for the vicinity of Three Kings Islands, in support of a search westward from Cape Maria van Diemen by the flying boat Awarua on 22 August. Reviewing the position next morning, Parry came to the conclusion that, even if the raider was still in that area, there was little danger to shipping, except for two or three vessels approaching New Zealand from the eastward. He therefore went into Auckland that night to refuel, arriving and sailing during the hours of darkness to avoid attracting attention.
Throughout the next day the Achilles patrolled off the approaches to Auckland to cover the shipping released from that port. On 25 August Parry received the signal from Navy Intelligence indicating a possibility that the raider might be in the vicinity of Campbell Island. The Achilles, therefore, proceeded to the southward at 20 knots during the night. At six o'clock next morning, however, the Admiralty message indicating a false alarm was received and the cruiser turned to the northward to resume her patrol of the Auckland approaches.
In the evening two more ‘false alarms’ were received by the Achilles. The first signal said that a noise that might have been gunfire had been reported from Cape Maria van Diemen. Assuming that Navy Office ‘would not pass such a report unless it was reliable’, Parry prepared to search that area the following morning. But about two hours later a signal from Navy Office with ‘most immediate’ priority, reported that a ship was being attacked in a position on a line of bearing north-east from Napier. This decided Commodore Parry to alter course again to the southward and increase speed to 25 knots. On receipt of a later signal ‘which showed that this catastrophe was not occurring in New Zealand waters’, speed was reduced to 15 knots and the Achilles shaped course for Wellington, where she arrived early on 27 August.
Commodore Parry in his report of proceedings remarked that lessons to be learned from the search operations were the need for more long-distance reconnaissance aircraft to locate a raider in the Tasman Sea, and the importance of sifting information passed to ships at sea. It would be more helpful, he said, if each report could be accompanied by some indication of its reliability.
After refuelling at Wellington, the Achilles sailed at midday on 27 August 1940 to meet the transport Orcades, which was embarking the South Island troops of the Third Echelon at Lyttelton. The Orcades came out of harbour at midnight and was escorted from Godley Head to Cook Strait where, at ten o'clock next morning, the two ships joined company with the Mauretania and Empress of Japan from Wellington. While the convoy was forming up, the page 131 Japanese motor-vessel Canberra Maru passed the ships close-to. No wireless transmissions from her were heard by the Achilles.
The convoy had an uneventful passage across the Tasman Sea and in the afternoon of 30 August was joined by the Perth, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral J. G. Crace, RN, commanding the Australian Squadron. Early next morning HMAS Canberra and the Aquitania carrying Australian troops joined company. The Canberra proceeded with the convoy and, after Rear-Admiral Crace had transferred to the New Zealand cruiser, the Perth returned to Sydney. The Achilles went on to Melbourne, where she arrived in the evening of 31 August. During her brief stay Commodore Parry had discussions with the members of the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board.
In accordance with instructions from the New Zealand Naval Board, the Achilles sailed from Melbourne at 6 p.m. on 2 September and proceeded at high speed to Auckland, where she arrived at 10.15 p.m. on 5 September. Next morning Mr C. A. Berendsen, Secretary of External Affairs and Permanent Head of the Prime Minister's Department, who was on a special mission to Tahiti, embarked in the Achilles, which sailed at 20 knots to Papeete, arriving there on 10 September.
The visit of the Achilles to Tahiti was arranged after information had been received that a plebiscite had resulted overwhelmingly in favour of General de Gaulle and his Free France movement, that the former Governor of French Oceania had been deposed, and that a provisional Government had been set up. As the representative of the New Zealand Government, Mr Berendsen was authorised to discuss with the provisional government how best the governments of the British Commonwealth could assist French Oceania and, in general, any matters that the provisional government might wish to raise.
By the time the Achilles had entered the harbour, all the vessels in port had dressed ship and a welcoming crowd was assembled at the landing place. After an exchange of official calls, Commodore Parry and Mr Berendsen discussed the situation with the British Consul (Mr Edmonds) and his predecessor and later conferred with the members of the provisional government, confirmation of the new Governor's appointment being announced at this meeting. On the following day Commodore Parry received the Governor (M. Mansard) and French naval and military officers on board the Achilles and discussed problems of defence in French Oceania with them.
At a ceremony in Papeete on 12 September, the Governor and Commodore Parry laid wreaths on the First World War memorial. The Achilles paraded a party of seamen and a platoon of Royal page 132 Marines and their band, in company with local French naval and military detachments. At the conclusion of the ceremony the parade marched past the Governor, who took the salute. During the forenoon fifteen native chiefs visited the Achilles and were received by Commodore Parry and his officers. At a number of social functions the spirit of the Frenchmen was both cordial and co-operative.
In the afternoon of 14 September the Union Steam Ship Company's motor-vessel Limerick, which had called at Papeete on passage from New Zealand, sailed for Vancouver, having embarked the deposed Governor and three French naval officers and their families for deportation to Europe.
Next morning an armed guard from the Achilles boarded the Messageries Maritimes steamer Ville d'Amiens, 6975 tons, of which Lieutenant Carlyon had already taken charge at the request of the new Governor, who had requisitioned the vessel. The Ville d'Amiens was too large and expensive to be operated by the Government of French Oceania and the attitude of the ‘pro-Vichy’ officers and crew, who were becoming truculent, made it imperative that she should be removed from Tahitian waters. It was decided that the master and officers could not go in the ship, even as passengers. It therefore became necessary for Lieutenant Carlyon to act as master, and with an armed guard he took the ship to Auckland, where she arrived on 27 September 1940.
In his report of proceedings Commodore Parry remarked: ‘It is admitted that the situation in which an officer of the Royal Navy acts as captain of a French ship flying the French flag is probably without precedent, but the situation was also without precedent and I could see no other course in the circumstances. I was careful to do nothing except at the express request of the Colonial Government of Tahiti.’
The Achilles sailed from Papeete on 15 September, called at Rarotonga two days later, and arrived at Auckland on the 23rd. On 15 October Parry was succeeded in command of the Achilles by Captain Barnes, RN,1 of the Philomel. The broad pendant of Commodore Commanding New Zealand Squadron was struck in the Achilles at sunset that day.
1 Captain H. M. Barnes, RN; born England, 21 Mar 1893; entered RN 1906; served World War I; Captain, Jun 1937.
When that ship arrived at Auckland some days later her master reported that late at night on 20 October a vessel steering a westerly course and ‘showing many deck lights but no navigation lights’ had been sighted at a distance of eight miles. The Karitane took avoiding action and afterwards altered to her original course. About two hours later the stranger was sighted about three miles off, showing her side lights. Course was altered to bring the vessel astern, but when she appeared to be gaining, the Karitane made the raider signal. The stranger then dropped astern and out of sight. It is possible that the ship sighted may have been the Norwegian tanker Storstad, captured by the raider Pinguin and renamed Passat. During that week the tanker laid minefields off Wilson's Promontory, in Bass Strait, and off Cape Otway; and in the night of 28 October the Pinguin laid four rows of mines between Sydney and Newcastle.