- Tonson, A.E.
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After the war the station became known as HMNZS Irirangi, being formally commissioned as a Royal New Zealand Naval Establishment late in 1951. Its first commanding officer was Lieutenant- Commander L.G. Carr, RNZN, later to become a Rear Admiral and Chief of Naval Staff, and its first executive officer Lieutenant R.H.L. Humby, RNZN, later on a Commodore and Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. It became as such the highest based dry-land ship in the world, the masthead height of the ceremonial mast on its quarterdeck being 2,695 feet. It is probably the only New Zealand ship that has ever flown the Welsh flag on the port outer, for when Lieutenant-Commander David Davies, RNZN, was in command, from 1978 to 1980, it flew on three consecutive Welsh national days, the 1st of March each year.
When the decision to commission the station was made a search began for a suitable name, and from many possibilities the name Irirangi was selected.
Irirangi was a Maori princess, renowned for her beautiful singing voice and her association with the nearby Taihape and Hautapu River areas. Following consultations with the Maori Affairs Department and local tribal elders, use of the name was agreed upon, as symbolic of the voice of the wireless telegraph station and its local area associations. A badge for the ship was designed by competition and afterwards authenticated in heraldic terms by the College of Arms in London. It displays waves of the sea, a volcano and a symbolic flash denoting the communications and radio-electrical branches, with connotations of the navy, area and establishment functions.
To identify Irirangi as a naval establishment it seemed desirable to create a nautical atmosphere, and after the commissioning as a ship a large and old admiralty pattern anchor was firmly embedded in a concrete base at the foot of the mast on its quarterdeck, from the gaff of which flew a white ensign. Despite the vigorous climate the anchor held for some years, until the ship was dragged off to become an independent naval establishment within the army camp at Waiouru, as part of planned government reorganisation and defence economies. The receiver and transmitter buildings remain on their original sites. Some functions, including messes, are now shared with the army. The anchor still remains today, no doubt permitting the ship to ride out many a storm. Other nautical artifacts in evidence are a twenty inch searchlight and a ship’s bell which, with the flag mast, are all sited outside Frigate block. Inside the entrance lobby is a copper diving helmet and a ship’s steering wheel, together with the ship’s trophy cabinet. On the commanding officer’s desk, at time of writing, sits an old ship’s chronometer.
With modernised and more powerful equipment and apparatus now installed the station has become one of the most advanced and important links in the world chain of naval wireless stations. Modern radio teletype machines now automatically handle messages at sixty words a minute, all these produced as paragraphed and punctuated typed copies ready for immediate circulation. Equipment currently in use are sophisticated Extel teleprinters which are taking over from the old Creed 444, being operated at 75 bauds but possessing a capability of 300 bauds. All has resulted and grown from the enterprise commenced in one of the harbourside green huts at the Auckland Naval Base, now housing the padre’s offices, where the original New Zealand-made naval transmitter was built.
The function of Irirangi has changed little over the years and it still provides the fleet broadcasts and ship-shore facilities, as well as fixed services to other countries. Morse has largely given way to radio automatic teletype (RATT), although a fleet broadcast is still provided in Morse to cater for patrol craft and small ships which are not currently fitted with RATT equipment. Fixed services are maintained with Australia and Canada and through these stations messages can be relayed to other parts of the world.
The 7,000-mile Waiouru-Vancouver circuit is believed to be the longest continually operating high-frequency circuit in the world. The direct service to London was suspended during the 1960s and the old 40 kilowatt DS13 transmitters were dismantled. One of these has been reassembled at the Museum of Transport and Technology at Auckland, as has the last of the old 5 kilowatt AWA type ATH5 transmitters which were recently taken out of service. The station has the capability to operate fixed services with such countries as Hawaii, New Caledonia and Hong Kong, but these are only backup services and not often used. Equipment-wise the transmitting station is fitted with a mix of Collins 10 kilowatt and AWA 7 kilowatt model CTH-7 transmitters, of about 1955 and 1970 manufacture. The receiving station contains a mixture of RACAL receivers with models ranging in age from the 1950s to the 1970s. The wooden aerial masts on the aerial farms at the receiver’s area of 500 acres and the transmitting area of 400 acres have all been replaced in recent years with lattice steel masts.