- Letter Writer
- History - general, Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories, Letter to the Editor
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Ladava, HMAS Wewak, HMAS Tarakan II
- June 2016 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Two letters have been received in response to Leyland Wilkinson’s article on ‘River Cruises and the Big River’. These important contributions are from officers with first-hand experience of navigating far upstream into relatively unknown parts of Papua New Guinea, feats unlikely to be replicated in this age, at least in conventional hulled vessels. Remarks made about the future availability of past monographs on our website have been taken onboard and we are working on this.
From Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie
I was pleasantly surprised to read Leyland Wilkinson’s informative ‘River Cruises and the Big River’ in the March 2016 Review and to see mention of HMAS Tarakan’stransit up the Fly River as possibly the longest river transit undertaken by a ship of the RAN.
It certainly was a memorable task; five and a half days in the river to reach Kiunga, a fast river assisted a three day return trip, a few unplanned beachings and a bow door literally hanging on by a thread as a consequence of a heavy south easterly swell as we left the river and entered the Gulf of Papua.
My purpose in writing, however, is to correct the record a little and share the honour with HMAS Wewak. Wewak,under the command of LEUT George Scown, RAN had taken the engineering team to Kiunga a few months before our passage. The river levels had then become too low to extract the equipment and personnel once their work was completed so they had an enforced wait in Kiunga until it was deemed possible for another LCH to make the trip. Tarakan got the job and was in the Fly River from 4 to 13 September 1974.
Tarakan had been on her way back to Brisbane after performing a similar extraction of equipment for the army from Belawan in Northern Sumatra to Darwin. LCH’s certainly got around in those days. We shall miss them!
From Commodore Sam Bateman
The article by Leyland Wilkinson in the March 2016 Review (‘River Cruises and the Big River’) doesn’t really capture the full extent of activity by RAN vessels in the rivers of Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and early 1970s.
On the Sepik, Attack Class patrol boats of the PNG Division of the RAN made several visits during this period to the river port of Angoram about fifty river miles upstream. Then in February 1969, HMA Ships Aitape and Ladava ascended the river as far as the Government station of Ambunti about 230 river miles from the mouth of the Sepik. This was about thirty miles further upstream from the point reached by HMA Ships Parramatta and Warrego in 1914.
An account of the passage by Aitape and Ladava is available on the film ‘Navigating the Sepik’ at: http://www.navy.gov.au/ history/videos/navigating-sepic. I was in command of Aitape at the time and the late Peter Blenkinsop the Ladava.
Voyages by patrol boats into the Sepik stopped in the 1970s due to concerns about the risks of propeller damage from floating logs. These risks were higher if the patrol boats steamed on both engines while in the river. While the Aitape and Ladava encountered numerous floating islands of debris and logs during their passage up river to Ambunti, they steamed mostly on one engine and avoided any underwater damage. The theory was that having two shafts under power doubled the risks of a serious log strike – perhaps even more with the risks of one driving shaft throwing a log into the other driving shaft.
On the Fly, LCDR Jerry Lattin took the patrol boats Aitape and Ladava up the river to Kiunga in 1970. Jerry commanded Aitape and the late Dave Angus the Ladava.There is an account of this passage in Ian Johnston’s Historic RAN Voyage up the Fly River, Australian External Territories, Vol. 11, No.3, July-September 1971, pp. 19-22.
One of Jerry’s multifarious jobs after leaving the RAN was to command small bulk carriers on the Fly River and elsewhere between Bangkok and Townsville. The main role of these vessels was to carry copper-concentrate downstream from the Ok Tedi mine to the mouth of the Fly where the concentrate was transhipped into larger bulk carriers for export overseas. Jerry wrote about his experiences with navigating the Fly in an article in The Journal of the Australian Naval Institute(Shiphandling Corner – Brown Water Mariners – Cargo Ships on the Fly River, The Journal of the Australian Naval Institute, Vol. 28, No. 3, Spring 2002, pp. 33-38).
There were other voyages up the river to Kiunga in the 1970s by RAN LCHs, as well as the one mentioned by HMAS Tarakan in Leyland’s article. I travelled down river myself from Kiunga in Wewak under the command of LEUT George Scown in 1973, if I remember correctly. Before going up the Fly, Wewak also entered the Bamu River, an adjacent river to the Fly flowing into the Gulf of Papua. The Bamu has a strong bore in it and we experienced it in rather dramatic circumstances one night. Wewakwas beached on the river bank when the bore came up the river. Effectively it’s like an instant high tide and the ship was swept bodily sideways off the bank. Fortunately George had the situation under control with main engines running and special sea dutymen closed up in anticipation of the bore’s arrival, and no damage was done.
I wrote about my experiences on the Fly in a monograph Navigating the Fly: historical perspectives and prospects for the futurefor the ACT Chapter of the Naval Historical Society, originally published in 1975, and republished by the Society in 1993. I was surprised, however, to find that this monograph and other similar monographs published by the Society during this period are no longer available on the Society’s website. I suggest that this situation should be corrected.
The work of RAN vessels in opening up the Fly to river transport associated with the Ok Tedi mine is acknowledged in the seminal article The Fly River: A Continuing Hydrographic Challengeby P. Done, published in the International Hydrographic Review, Monaco, Vol. LXII (2), July 1985.