- Symes, Chaplain N. H.
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Arunta I, HMAS Manoora I, HMAS Kanimbla I, HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Shropshire, HMAS Australia II
- December 1983 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Chaplain Symes served in HMAS Manoora in the push from Morotai to the Philippines in 1944-1945 He edited the ship’s newsletter BUZZ, from which this article has been extracted.
AMPHIBIOUS FORCES under General Macarthur moved into the northern hemisphere in the war against Japan and established a base on Morotai Island, 1,800 miles from Milne Bay and only 300 miles from the southern tip of the Philippines, on Friday 15/9/44. It was a daring and brilliantly executed operation in which the RAN was represented by HMAS Australia, wearing the flag of Commodore John Collins, HMAS Shropshire, HMAS Arunta, HMAS Warramunga, and two LSIs, namely HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla. All the RAN ships received the Commanding Rear Admiral’s ‘well done’, and there were no casualties. I write from HMAS Manoora.
Mustering for the Fray
There were indications of a pending operation when we commenced the sixth year of the war in a concentration of all types of landing ships and crafts in an anchorage from which the enemy had been driven only two months before. The sense of adventure was infectious and a new zest was detectable amongst officers and ratings. Leisure is of no use in these townless, homeless and friendless crews – the prevalent desire is to get on with the big job and finish the job.
‘This is all cock-eyed, Bish‘, was the comment of an RN Commander who was with us as an observer, as we stood on the deck surveying the ships and thinking over the doings of the preceding few days. He had memories of months and years of strict blackouts and musterings and movements in most exclusive places with the utmost secrecy in endeavouring to outwit an ever alert enemy pursuing ideas of total war. But here was a vast assembly of ships in an open anchorage with all lights on, all scuttles open, and silhouetted before the glare of myriads of lights in the army base camp for several miles along the foreshore. It was like a brilliantly lighted harbour carnival scene, beautiful and delightfully refreshing in a clear tropical evening atmosphere, but almost incongruous to one trained and practised in anticipating the wiles and guiles of a treacherous enemy.
Earlier in the evening we had attended a cinema show in the ship and the recorded sound of the talkies had been punctuated by the blast and boom of guns firing high explosive shells into enemy held-positions in the hills. There were thousands of Japs in ‘them thar ‘ills’, and almost certainly they could see the exposed cinema screens on numerous foc’sle, and had sufficient radio equipment to make reports to Japan.
Yes, it seemed to be cock-eyed in modern warfare.
However, we suffered no interference whilst fleets of barges and strange craft brought thousands of soldiers and loads of mobile units and equipment from the shore to the ships. It brings some expression of amazement to the lips when one watches a motor vehicle travel along a road, cross a beach, run straight into the sea, and create a bow wave under glaring head-lights and a wake astern from a whirring propeller, and make six knots to the ship’s side. It almost causes a doubt of one’s own sobriety when a large tank, with a turret gun, plunges into the sea and makes way by using the caterpillars with old time paddle wheel effect. The amphibious vehicles (ducks) and amphibious tanks (alligators) were to play a major role in the big show on D Day.
En Route in Convoy
Next morning at 0930 the ships began to weigh anchors and proceed according to plan. Suntanned and atabrine stained men crowded all decks as we joined with an additional force and took up stations in the convoy. There is much to be done in a crowded combined operation ship. I can imagine men turning grey in a few hours trying to blend navy, army and air force strategy and carry it out with perfect timing. The organisation is far more complex than the lay mind imagines. Troops have to be trained for the disembarkation and maps giving minute details have to be studied keenly. In supply departments, galley and bakehouse work has to be stepped up to four times normal pressure. In the officers’ ward room more than three full sittings are necessary for every meal. The navigators have to study the changes of course which are made in feinting. Signallers have to be alert to special codes. The price of safety is constant vigilance, and indications recorded by radar and reports of unidentified aircraft send speedy destroyers and aerial wizards scurrying away to investigate. There is a constant strain.
The Paymaster declined to use the Nelson blind eye and paid us in cash whilst far, far at sea on the day before the operation: mere routine, of course. A ‘Man Overboard’ call at 0100 raised stir. The good news of his rescue by a trailing destroyer was received 7 hours later, with a sharp note ‘take steps to avoid re-occurrence’. Well! Wouldn’t I! The PMO mustered and lectured all potential sleep walkers and there were no reoccurences. Nice work.
The radio news sessions were awaited with keen interest; news was very encouraging. Items about bombers softening up the operation area, the annihilation of a large Jap convoy steaming towards the area, and the destruction of hundreds of enemy aircraft at nearby Philippine bases, were heard gladly. Protestant Church worship with Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregational and Lutheran chaplains co-operating and Roman Catholic mass were held daily en route.
Low clouds and rainstorms broke the fierce glare of the sun at least once each day, but the heat and stuffiness in an over-crowded and blacked out ship in equatorial regions is a subject for a dirge. There was no thrill in the speed of the convoy. Limited by the slowest craft it created the thought that the war might last for another five years, but the strength and fighting power of the forces involved suggested things that ‘grind slowly, and grind exceeding small’.