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Episodes & Studies Volume 2

Return to Harbour

page 29

Return to Harbour

FOR EIGHTEEN HOURS the engineers and stokers laboured in heat and semi-darkness to keep the ship afloat and steam her more than 200 miles back to harbour. Two-thirds of her boiler power was damaged and out of service. The only two available boilers, all the main and auxiliary machinery, and all the main and overflow feed water tanks were contaminated by salt water and fuel-oil. It is essential to good steaming and the safety of the plant that the water used to generate the high-pressure, superheated steam must be entirely free from salt and as pure as it is possible to make it. Distilled water is used, losses are made good by evaporators, and frequent tests are made in order to detect and quickly correct any salinity. But in the Leander all the rules of good steaming had been upset by the intricate and extensive damage to her vitals. The boiler feed water quickly became contaminated with salt water and fuel-oil. This caused almost continuous ‘priming’* of both boilers. Both sets of evaporators were put on to make up feed water and the main feed tanks were allowed to overflow continuously. The boilers were blown down every ten minutes in order to reduce the density, which at one time was three degrees. These drastic measures resulted in a reduction of the density, by the time the ship arrived in harbour, to less than one degree. Subsequent examination of the boilers showed that many of the tubes were so badly coated internally with oil residue that burning-out must have been imminent.

Terse but graphic was the account of his experiences written by a young stoker who was on duty in No. 3 boiler-room:

The supply fans roared to the demand for higher air pressure as the engine throttles were eased open for full speed. Stop! Full astern! Full ahead! Stokers whipped off oil sprayers, on sprayers; the ship heeled. Crash! Crash! Crash! Our boilers pulsated and roared. Furnace flames spat out with every salvo. Dull thuds around us. Bombs? No, enemy shells exploding in the sea, more likely. Loud speakers told us that our force had run into a Japanese cruiser and destroyer squadron. The ship quivered as the salvoes thundered. A crash—sudden darkness— the ship lurching and heeling over—an almost incredible silence. The water tenders flashed their emergency lights, the chief of the watch wrenched his fan throttle closed, the leading stoker slammed to a stop his oil-fuel pump as the needle of the steam-pressure gauge started to creep up. No safety valve lifted. An electrical repair party eventually gave some power and lights. Bilge water crept across the floor plates. Minutes seemed like hours. Steam and water cut through gland packings, showering us with a scalding spray. Water levels raced from high to low in the gauge glasses, the boilers primed, turbo fans ‘hunted’, the steam pressure danced from high to low. We swung on valves, nursed our pumps and watched salty feed water upsetting all the laws of steady steaming. With communication lines dead and in semi-darkness we did our best to give steam. Slow ahead! Two sprayers on each boiler, one on each, two, three on each, and so on, hour after hour, steam roaring through leaking glands and blow-down valves open. All day we flogged those boilers. Nightfall saw us safe in harbour, battered, torn, but not beaten.

page 30

American fighter aircraft gave cover to the Leander from daylight on 13 July until her arrival in harbour. She was screened by the destroyers Radford and Jenkins, the latter being relieved by the Taylor at 8 a.m. Two other destroyers joined the escort during the afternoon and the Leander arrived in Tulagi harbour at seven o'clock, just after dark. There was a moving scene when the ship's company assembled on the forecastle in the brilliant light of a full tropical moon and the chaplain read prayers for the dead and of thanksgiving for the safety of the ship. The captain, standing by the capstan, read the names of the dead and missing.

The Leander spent a week in Tulagi harbour, where she was made sufficiently seaworthy to enable her to be steamed to Auckland. Escorted by the United States destroyers Stack and Lang, she left on 21 July for Espiritu Santo, whence she sailed four days later in company with the destroyer Radford, arriving at Auckland on the 29th. It was agreed with the Admiralty that temporary repairs to the hull and machinery should be carried out in Devonport Dockyard and that the Leander should then to go a United States port for a complete refit and modernisation of armament and other equipment. On 1 November 1943 a memorial tablet placed in the chapel of HMNZS Philomel to commemorate the thirty-three officers and ratings who had been killed in action or had died in HMNZS Leander since September 1939, was dedicated by the Rt. Rev. W. H. Baddeley, DSO, MC, Bishop of Melanesia and honorary chaplain, RNZNVR.

The Leander sailed from Auckland for the last time on 25 November 1943, passed through the Panama Canal on 14 December, and left Colon four days later in company with two American destroyer-escorts for Boston. The weather in the Atlantic was fine and warm until the ships passed out of the Gulf Stream, after which the temperature fell thirty degrees in one hour and more than seventy degrees in twenty-four hours. It was below zero when the Leander and her escorts, thickly coated with snow and ice, arrived at Boston on 23 December.

During the next six weeks, drafts of officers and men left the Leander to go to England. On 14 January 1944, a frigate built in Boston was commissioned as HMS Tyler and manned by ratings from the Leander for the passage to the United Kingdom. Four officers and a number of specially selected ratings went to Norfolk, Virginia, to join a flotilla of six infantry landing craft for England.

HMNZS Leander finally paid off on 8 May 1944, thus ending an eventful commission in the Royal New Zealand Navy of just over seven years. Her ship's company were dispersed far and wide on war service, proud in the knowledge that the Leander had upheld her noble motto and the traditions of the four ships of that name who had preceded her in the Royal Navy since 1780.

* The carrying over of water spray with the steam from the boilers to the engines, with consequent danger of damage.