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Episodes & Studies Volume 2

Sighting Reports

Sighting Reports

COASTWATCHING duties are so self-evident that they do not call for complicated instructions. The two important considerations are, first, to maintain an alert watch through the twenty-four hours, and second, to keep communications in an efficient state so that any sightings of ships or aircraft can be promptly reported.

Even though the duty is simple in outline, there is a great deal of difference between a bad sighting report and a good one. An exact description of a ship or an aircraft makes its identification certain instead of doubtful. A list of questions to answer about shipping and aircraft simplified procedure, and a good sighting report might read something like this:

N.Z.N.L.O., Fiji, from Niutobutabu. Ship sighted 212047 Z bearing north-west distance 7 miles course 90 speed 15 raked bow cruiser stern one raked funnel amidships one mast forward one samson post forward of bridge two aft one gun forward and aft colour grey 7000 tons. 212103 Z.

From the plot of the movements of merchant ships kept by naval operations officers the vessel could then be identified easily and its progress noted. Special alarm signals supplemented these general sighting reports. An attack by enemy aircraft was signalled by ‘AAAA’, an enemy landing or shelling by ‘LLLL’. All enemy or suspected enemy reports were given the priority ‘Immediate’.

In the Fiji and Ellice Groups, where there was some prospect of enemy attack and also, at least from 1943 onwards, some means of meeting it, a special series of one-word signals was used to report sightings. ‘Tallyho’ denoted an aircraft sighting, ‘Rats’ an enemy aircraft, ‘Hounds’ a friendly aircraft. ‘Bishop’ meant a suspicious vessel, suspected enemy. These first flashes were followed by amplifying reports giving the routine description of the ship or plane.