- Rothery, Sortees M, Captain, RANR(S) (Ret)
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- July 1992 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I was Lieutenant RANR(S) in HMAS Hobart, when seriously injured, saved by being wrapped in the fold of the steel deck in the Wardroom when torpedoed on 20th July 1943.
The following seven months of hospitalization concluded with my discharge P.U.N.S. aided by two walking sticks, and a ride home in the RAN Ambulance.
Five months later with one walking stick as an accessory, the prospect of employment in my profession as a Merchant Service Officer looked rather bleak. Then I received a phone call from a Captain R. Duddell, enquiring as to whether I used the stick around the home. With the answer, “not really”, I was offered the position of Second Officer in F.V.S.I.S. MERKUR, Supply Ship to the Royal Australian Navy. It was 26th July 1944 when I joined Merkur in Brisbane, twelve months after the torpedoing of Hobart.
From that day on is another story, until months later when Merkur arrived at Hollandia, west of the Port of Wewak on the north coast of New Guinea, about 30 miles into what was Dutch New Guinea.
It was 2000 hrs, a moonlit night, the harbour crowded with shipping.
Seeking an anchorage, we proceeded quietly, creeping through between the ships with our engines on dead slow ahead, there was no turning back. Passing ship after ship, finally selecting an area to anchor with just enough room to swing.
The following months, it was impossible to see the shore, being completely surrounded by shipping, mostly Victory and Liberty Ships, large tank landing craft and others, obviously a convoy or invasion fleet.
Victory and Liberty ships were cargo ships of 10,000 tons built for invasions. They were mass produced, some referred to them as austerity ships, built of just the basic requirements with one object in mind, to carry the essential materials of war, ammunition, building materials, interlocking plates for temporary air strips, foodstuffs, you name it, they carried it.
It was said that with an American invasion fleet, the cargos in most of the ships was duplicated in other ships away from the scene, so that in the event of a loss the replacement could be called up under escort to ensure that what was planned to arrive at the landing, did in fact arrive.
There were obviously no naval ships around for us to supply, therefore we departed, crossing some 340 miles, east from there to Seeadler Harbour, Manus Island.
The Harbour there was on the north side of the Island, formed by a ring of reef and long low coral islets covered with coconut palms, dotted along the chain of reef.
The entrance, midway along the length, was guarded by a Boom Gate of steel mesh to protect the harbour from unwanted guests, the danger being torpedoes from submarines, torpedo boats or other enemy craft.
On arrival at Manus, an American Naval Pilot boarded with his signalman, checked our identity, then signalled Boom control.
When the Boom Gate opened we entered the harbour to move slowly in a southerly direction across the bow of a Victory Ship of about 10,000 tons, then past a Liberty ship anchored inside her, to anchor in the next line of ships close to the shore of what had been a coconut plantation on the Island.
The three lines of ships were all on an easterly heading.
The amount of shipping was amazing, you could say the harbour was full. These vessels added to the volume of shipping at Hollandia, you had to concede that something big was about to happen.
It transpired later, that this fleet was for General MacArthur’s landing on Mindanao island, south east of the Philippines.
At that time, Seeadler Harbour was the largest American Naval Base west of Pearl Harbour, among other things, providing two floating docks at the eastern end of the harbour, and many other naval facilities.
The crowded harbour was active with landing craft, tug-boats, lighters and jollyboats, all moving about contributing to the atmosphere of war, it was a hive of activity.
As with our other anchorages, we were awaiting the arrival of our Australian Navy ships, never knowing who or just when they might arrive alongside for stores.
Visible on the Island of Manus to the south of Merkur were many buildings constructed in the large Quonset design. American administration, workshops, hospitals, accommodation, and so on, necessary to handle a place like this. Elsewhere, on the Island there would have been more buildings and a number of airstrips.