Episodes & Studies Volume 2
The Pan Expedition
The Pan Expedition
THE EASTERN PACIFIC is the widest expanse of nearly unbroken ocean in the world. In this empty area Pitcairn is one of the few islands close to the route between Panama and New Zealand. Early in the war, Nelson Dyett, a man with a good knowledge of radio who had personal links with Pitcairn, volunteered to establish and operate a radio station there with his own equipment.** The New Zealand Naval Board accepted this offer and the station was opened on 20 December 1939. Besides serving as a link in the Pacific communications system, the station was available to retransmit distress signals, report the sighting of enemy vessels, and pass signals made by any ships calling at the island that could not themselves break radio silence.
America's entry into the war and the mounting of offensives against the Japanese from the South and South-West Pacific commands caused a great increase in the shipping passing between the United States or the Panama Canal and Australia and New Zealand. In 1943 the United States Navy asked the New Zealand Naval Board to establish a BAMS*** station on Pitcairn. A larger establishment was required as the new station would be the medium for transmitting to ships at sea in that area important signals affecting their route or safety. Most merchant ships did not carry high frequency radio equipment and the medium frequency BAMS service was necessary to communicate with them.
A merchant ship, the J. Sterling Morton, 7181 tons, was supplied by the United States to transport the Pan expedition (as the party establishing the new station was called). She sailed from Auckland on 15 December 1943 with the establishment party, drawn from the Public Works and Post and Telegraph Departments, and a representative of the administrative authority, the Western Pacific High Commission.
The coast of Pitcairn Island is precipitous. Surf boats can be beached at only one point and the unbroken ocean swell makes boat work dangerous. To simplify unloading, everything had been shipped in packages of up to 200 lb. weight. In spite of this, lowering the gear into open boats and hoisting the packages up the cliffs of the island were difficult operations, even with the help of the whole able-bodied population and the construction party. The ship remained off the island for eleven days. Four operators, enlisted in the New Zealand Army, had been landed, and Dyett, who was first attested into the Army, was also appointed, together with the Pitcairn-born Young and a cook. The station was kept in operation until October 1945. When the New Zealanders were withdrawn in November 1945, the Western Pacific High Commission retained the station for its own use.page 29
*** British and Allied Merchant Shipping.