- Minto, Thomas, MN, Captain
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Platypus, HMAS Swan II, AHS Manunda
- June 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
We had no further time to see what was happening in the harbour as we were fully extended getting the wounded on board, sounding ship and getting things working again. The near miss had cut all the fire mains with flying shrapnel and water was pouring out all over the gangway and approaches. We shut down whilst the Engineers made temporary repairs to stop the worst of the holes, but it had to be turned on again on two occasions to put out fires.
What had been a well appointed lounge on `B’ Deck was stripped absolutely bare and only debris remained. A grand piano could be recognised only by some wire. Steel bulkheads were blown out and pierced in dozens of places, steel decks blown up and blown down. The Medical Officers’ Quarters were wiped out.
On `C’ Deck, the Purser’s Office could be recognised by the safe and some papers; bathrooms were reduced to porcelain chips, and blocks of cabins levelled where the Nurses had lived.
On `D’ Deck, heavy pillars were driven downwards. Overhead lighting in what was once a First Class Dining Saloon was just hanging in a mixture of wood and plaster.
On the Promenade Deck heavy glass windows of an inch in thickness were just vacant frames. The glass was everywhere.
On the Bridge the after end was blown away along with all our wireless equipment such as D.F. and Echo Sounder and the Chartroom was adrift and ready to break up. The compasses were all to hell.
All this damage was checked up later. Meanwhile we discovered that HMAS Swan had been hit, and was on fire aft and beached. Barossa was on fire, and became a total loss. The wharf was burning fiercely. We kept going all that day with one more alarm, but darkness fell at last and gave us some safety.
At 0.30am on Friday the 20th, I interviewed Colonel Donaldson and asked him how many bodies he had for burial. He told me `fifteen’ and he expected a few more by daylight. HMAS Platypus, which had acted as a signal ship during our stay, was still afloat and at 1 am 20th February I sent the following message which Platypus received:
‘From Master Manunda to Naval Control. A launch will leave this vessel’s side at 0730 today Friday with fifteen bodies for burial. Please make the necessary transport arrangements from wharf’.
The launch actually left at 0800 with nineteen bodies and six orderlies to land them. The bodies were laid out on the ground in front of the Naval Signal Station. They were only wrapped in sheets or blankets as they were to be buried.
At 2000 hrs that night, after twelve hours under a tropical summer sun the bodies were still there. We were then informed that we were to take the bodies on board again and bury them at sea.
At 2030 we were told that we would not be required to take the bodies on as they had been disposed of. I did not ask any further questions.
On the morning of the 20th, the Fourth Officer was sent ashore with the list of crew deaths and injured, also a statement that though the ship was badly damaged she was considered seaworthy. The number of empty cots still available was also given, with a request for additional military personnel to replace the killed and injured, if it was decided to fill up all vacant cots.
We commenced embarking 190 wounded and sick on the afternoon of the 20th and sailed at 2330 hrs.
Despite the fact that the compasses were misbehaving in a shocking way, the 2nd Officer injured with shrapnel, the 3rd officer dead and the 4th officer on duty with a flesh wound, we managed along. An injured Naval Reserve Officer came to our aid and stood a watch to Fremantle.
The military personnel had a watching brief until the first bomb on the ship, but after that they worked all hours that God sent, treating the terrible wounds and burns, and never a moment to themselves for hours on end. All ranks that I saw did a great job of work, particularly the nurses, of whom one was killed and one seriously injured. Orderlies manned the bellows to the smoke helmets and helped fight the fires.