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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 7 (October 1, 1936)

Familiar Ships in New Zealand Waters T.S.S. “Wahine”

page 66

Familiar Ships in New Zealand Waters T.S.S. “Wahine

The Union Steamship Company's turbine steamer Wahine, a glamorous and wonderful vessel, has acquired a warm spot in the hearts of New Zealanders.

Built in 1912, by the famous Clyde firm of Denny Bros., the Wahine, a triple-screw turbine steamer of 4,436 tons, proceeded to New Zealand to enter the Cook Strait service. On the voyage out her speed and complete seaworthiness were impressive, and on arrival she promptly broke all existing records for the Cook Strait crossing. The Wahine's reputation and renown soon spread throughout the country, and it was with surprise that the travelling public learnt, in July, 1915, that the Union Co.'s “flier” had disappeared from the Wellington-Lyttelton service. From that time, till the cessation of hostilities, the Wahine, played no inconsiderable part in the Great War, first as a dispatch ship in the Gallipoli Campaign, and later us a mine-layer. A new ship of a handy size, with a speed of 22 knots, it was scarcely likely that the Naval Authorities would overlook her in their quest for auxiliary craft.

The ship's withdrawal from the Wellington-Lyttelton service was a dramatic one, as no indication whatever had been given that she was ahout to go overseas. She left Wellington one night on the usual trip, with a large number of passengers, arrived at Lyttelton the following morning, discharged her mails, landed the passengers, and departed an hour after arrival, for Port Chalmers, At 6 o'clock the came night, she was being floated into dry dock at Port Chalmers, where two days were spent in cleaning and painting, and in loading stores and coal. The familiar red and black funnels were painted grey. Before daylight on the. morning of July 20th, 1915, she put to sea en route for England, and was well on her voyage to the other side of the world before the people of New Zealand were aware of her departure. Such secrecy was preserved, that the departure did not appear in the shipping news in the Otago newspapers. Until her return, in 1919, with the exception of a little unconfirmed news that trickled through, no one knew exactly on what work she was engaged, although current rumours were many and varied. Her running in the Wellington-Lyttelton service was taken for a few days by the Pateena, then later by the old Monowao, and in September, 1915, by the Mararoa, which continued in the service until the Wahine's return.

At Port Chalmers a new crew had been signed on, but Captain A. E. Edwin and most of the officers and engineers were retained. A popular fallacy has it that the Wahine, proceeding through Panama, broke and still holds the record for the fastest passage to England by completing the journey from Port Chalmers to Southampton in 19 ½ days. Such, however, is not the case. She could not carry sufficient coal to make full use of her steaming powers. The voyage, via Suez, actually took seven weeks, calls being made at Fremantle, Colombo, Port Said and Gibraltar. On arrival at London, the Dliip was adapted for service as a dispatch ship under the Vice-Admiral of the Eastern Mediterranean, and armed with two 4-inch guns, which had originally been manufactured in England for a Turkish warship, but had been taken over by the Navy at the outbreak of the War. The Wahine's New Zealand officers and engineers were re-appointed to the vessel, being given R.N.R. ratings, Capt. Edwin being given the commission of Lieutenant R.N.R. H.M.S. Waliinc left London for Gibraltar, and became the dispatch ship to the Gallipoli Forces, running between Malta and Mudros.

(Photo courstcy Union Steamship Coy.) The T.S.S. “Wahne” with excursionists abroad, leaving Wellington for Picton.

(Photo courstcy Union Steamship Coy.)
The T.S.S. “Wahne” with excursionists abroad, leaving Wellington for Picton.

In the months that followed, the Wahine became famous for her speed and the clocklike regularity of her running, and even more so for her feats in speedy berthing and leaving harbour. At Malta, Capt. Edwin would take in the ship amidst all the craft there, stern first, to the bewilderment of all beholders. At Mudros, off which were anchored hundreds of craft of all descriptions, he would usually leave stern first. On the first occasion the Wahine performed this feat, there was considerable consternation among those in the vessels at anchor as the Wahine rushed stern-first towards them. The alarm turned to amazement as Capt. Edwin, with skill acquired by hundreds of such performances in the New Zealand service, steered the ship with unerring precision in and out of the maze of craft until he reached open water. Thereafter, the performance never lacked spectators, who would come on deck in hundreds to gaze at the masterly handling of the New Zealand vessel. Very few knew that the feat was rendered possible only by the use of the bow rudder, with which the Maori and Wahine, and the Rangatira are fitted. Even to-day, the berthing of these steamers at Wellington or Lyttelton is watched with appraising eye by the officers of overseas vessels which are in port.

The Mudros-Malta passage was a very risky one. Hostile submarines were always active, and many ships were being sunk. Zig-zag had to be carried out continuously night and day. After dark, the ship was steaming full speed without lights through the many islands page 67 of the Grecian Archipelago. On one trip, a German submarine sighted the Wahine and, submerging, made in her direction, no doubt to launch a torpedo. But the commander of the U-Boat did not know that he had encountered the greyhound of the colonial service, for he underestimated her speed, and caime to the surface two miles astern. The Wahine's aft-gun was manned. The first shot went light over the enemy craft. The second fell short. The third shot was loosed, and registered a direct hit on the conning tower. Needless to say, the Wahine did not wait to see the result, but made her escape.

When the Hospital ship Marquette was torpedoed in the Mediterranean, the Wahine was en route from Malta to Mudros. Capt. Edwin immediately turned, and headed at full speed for the stricken ship. When he was within an hour and a halt of the Marqtietle, he received orders to resume his voyage to Motlros, as a destroyer would reach the spot a few minutes before the U'ahinc could.

On the evacuation of Gallipoli, the Wahine returned, early in 1916, to England, where grimmer work awaited her. At Millwall Dock she spent some weeks being converted into a mine-layer. The entire contents of Deck D, including cabins, lavatories, stewards' quarters, second class dining room, stairways, etc., were ripped out, and became a mine-chamber. A portion of the stern was removed for mine-dropping, and mine rails were laid along the length of the deck from stem to stern on both sides. On the rails ran the little trucks which carried the mines to the big opening at the stern, through which they were dropped. Half of Deck C was also stripped, and converted into a mine-room and workshops.

“Herb tobacco?” said the smoke merchant, contemptuously, “don't stock it. Myself I'd as soon smoke dried cow-droppings. Why don't you try the real thing, mister? Too strong? Not it, if you'll be guided by me. You sample Riverhead Gold, mild as milk, sweet as a nut, prize medal flavour and a bouquet you can't forget! Then there's Desert Gold—another tip-topper! Both make the finest cigarettes going, but go well in a pipe, too, if you're after smoking extra mild. When you're broken into smoking, change over to Cavendish or Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog). Both top-hole mediums. Later you can give Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead) a go. Full strength, and a fair knock out! —you ask any old smoker. Yes, they're all toasted. That's why they're almost free from nicotine. What's the difference ‘twixt toasted and ordinary baccy? Why, it's the difference 'twixt home-brew and 'bubbly. I'm talking of the brands I've named, mind you. The imitations are not worth talking about.” The novice is trying out Riverhead Gold. He'll like it.*

As mine-laying is a highly technical operation, the Wahine was at this juncture manned by R.N. ratings, the New Zealand engineers, however, being retained. Under the White Ensign, the Wahine was engaged in mine-laying between Penzance and the Orkneys. Sometimes she worked in company with five or six other mine-layers, but for the most part she worked alone. She was always provided with a destroyer as an escort, and the actual laying of the mines was done at night, with lights out or masked. When her work was completed, she would rejoin the escort outside the mine-field.

Owing to the risk of the vessel's stern coming down on a mine before it was clear, mine-laying could be carried out only in a smooth sea. As it was, the Wahine had several narrow escapes through the premature explosion of some of the earlier types of mine. One such explosion shook the vessel so severely that three of her boilers were shifted. Clouds of coal-dust dislodged from the tups of the boilers threw into consternation the stoke-hold crew, who thought the vessel had been torpedoed, or mined. While mines were being handled, the whole of the crew were kept at stations, and doors to all compartments and all watertight doors kept locked.

For handling the mines, electric winches and electrical apparatus was used. So exact was it necessary to be, that an electric gong, which could be set to sound at any interval, was used to signal when each mine was to be dropped, and red and green indicator lights were used between the bridge and mine-chamber. All the mining crew had to stand by, as in the event of the failure of the electric power, the mines had to be dropped by hand and the schedule maintained.

On one occasion a feat of expert navigation was performed when the Wahine was allotted the task of filling in a gap of five miles between two sections of a mine-field previously laid. Leaving the Humber, at daybreak, the ship steamed on dead reckoning until 1.30 the following morning, when it was calculated she had arrived at the required position. Had the navigator made the slightest miscalculation, the Wahine would have been put among the mines already laid, but there was no mistake, and the work proceeded without mishap. The jast mine had scarcely been laid, when a fierce storm broke out, and the Wahine was an hour and a half late in meeting her escort at the appointed rendezvous. The escort had reported td the Admiralty that the Wahine was missing, and so grave a view did the authorities take, that she had actually been recorded as lost when she reported.

At no time were those on board given any information as to the ship's movements. Only the commander and navigator knew her destination and whereabouts, although the others often recognised parts of the coastline when working off the English coast. Not till after
(Photo Dr. E. Teichelmann) The view of Franz Josef Glacier from the window at St. Georg's Church, Waiho Gorge, Westland, New Zealand.

(Photo Dr. E. Teichelmann)
The view of Franz Josef Glacier from the window at St. Georg's Church, Waiho Gorge, Westland, New Zealand.

page break the Armistice did the crew know that the Wahine had made no less than thirteen trips to Heligoland Bight, to lay mines right at the enemy's door. The method was for the Wahine and her escort to remain out of sight until nightfall. The mine-layer would then make a fast dash in; lay the mines, and escape before daybreak.

When the Armistice came, the Wahine was present with the Grand Fleet in the Firth of Forth, and proudly took her place in line when the German High Seas Fleet, escorted on either side by the ships of the Grand Fleet, steamed in to surrender.

After proceeding to London to pay off, the Wahine sailed for the'Clyde, where, in the yards of her builders, she was refitted as a passenger ship. To restore the cabins and rcplate up the stern was the work of months, and the builders were hampered by the prevailing shortage of labour. So successfully was the work carried out, however, that it is hard to imagine that the vessel was one practically gutted out. In December, 1919, she left the Clyde, once again under the Red Ensign, arriving at Port Chalmers on February 12th, 1920. Just at this time, troiibh had been experienced with ths Maoris boilers, and after a hasty docking for cleaning and painting, the Wahine resumed her running in the ferry service, which she had left five year.; previously.

A memento of her war service is a handsome brass plate in the saloon vestibule, bearing the following inscription:

Record of War Service. H.M.S. Wahine.

13th October 1915 to 28th May 1916. Despatch Vessel to Gallipoli Forces. 22nd July 1916 to 2ist April 1919. Minelayer. Number of Mining Operations Carried Out, 76. Total Number of Mines Laid, 11,378. Presented by the Officers and Ship's Company, serving in H.M.S. Wahine on the Conclusion of Hostilities.

Scripto Pencils.

We wish to remove some confusion that may have arisen in the minds of our readers over the fact that in our September issue there were two advertisements in which the word “Scripto” was featured. The first advertisement referred to the wellknown “Scripto Pencil” for which Mr. Arnold Harrison of 9–11 Albert Street, Auckland, is the New Zealand Representative. This pencil has no connection whatsoever with the other advertisement a “Scripto-Sum” Competition.