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fleet movements in Australian waters

May 29 2009 at 6:23 PM
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Nelson  (no login)


Response to MS BLOEMFONTEIN

 
Wynnum,

Thanks for yours, in which you preface your remarks with:

< I have read references in many different books, and not too many agree on very many things. >

Oh, too true. I fear I did not help either, in relying for a quick reference on Frank Fujita's 1993 FOO: A JAPANESE-AMERICAN PRISONER OF THE RISING SUN. Fujita was a sergeant with 2/131st F.A. and specifies January 1, 1942, for BLOEMFONTEIN's arrival at Darwin, whereas the deck logs for various warships indicate arrival there on January 5. More on dates as we continue. Before I go on, reliance must be placed on naval deck logs, because in one of the major tragedies of American archival history, the decision was made many years ago by some senior army officer to destroy the logs of all U.S. Army transports seeing service in WWII. That reality has been confirmed, sadly, by research specialists at both the U.S. National Archives and the Center for Military History.

< After Brisbane, PENSACOLA escorted some (only MEIGS and CHAUMONT of the original eight were in this convoy) ships to Torres Strait, turned back at Thursday Island, and escort duties were taken over by HOUSTON, PEARY, and LANGLEY. This convoy now goes to Darwin, having also been joined by BLOEMFONTEIN and HOLBROOK. >

Not according to PENSACOLA's deck log, which specifies only USS CHAUMONT and USAT HOLBROOK as the two vessels departing Brisbane on December 28, 1941 (and in addition to BLOEMFONTEIN, the two ships tapped to make the high speed--and likely suicidal--run to Manila Bay). MEIGS was NOT one of the vessels that went at that time to Darwin (and read below). On January 2, 1942, this small convoy was joined by BLOEMFONTEIN, apparently only after assurances had been made to the Dutch in Java that she would not be steaming to Manila Bay. EDSALL joined them on January 3, prior to passage through the minefield protecting the Goode Island anchorage. [I think a small island near Thursday Island, but the only Goode Island I can find in Australia is near Melbourne, so this log ID may be in error.]

HOUSTON's log for January 3, 1942, also confirms the convoy's consist as USS CHAUMONT, USAT HOLBROOK, and SS (sic) BLOEMFONTEIN. By the by, the log of no warship present reports the presence of destroyer PEARY or seaplane tender LANGLEY. Both warships were already at Darwin with the major portion of the Asiatic Fleet.

USAT MEIGS was a slow (10-knot) vessel and was therefore not selected for the run to Manila Bay. She eventually made her way to Darwin, became part of the armed convoy to reinforce Timor in February 1942, and was sunk by IJN aircraft in the devastating raid of February 19, having just returned from that unsuccessful attempt. She had been the subject of a strongly worded memo penned by the usually mild-mannered BGen Dwight Eisenhower, then deputy head of the U.S. Army's War Plans Division, who wished to know why in heaven's name the 27th Bombardment Group had been sent to Luzon on a fast transport, while their A-24 dive bombers followed on a slow boat (bad ol' MEIGS, of course part of the Pensacola convoy that never made it to Manila), when the crisis in the Far East suggested speed was of the essence in getting bomber aircraft to the Philippines. So, your source declaring that MEIGS was part of the smaller convoy to Darwin in late December 1941/early January 1942 is simply incorrect.

To complete cruiser PENSACOLA's role in all of this, she returned immediately to Brisbane, January 3-7, 1942, and turned around there at once as well, en route to Pearl Harbor on the 7th.

< REPUBLIC went from Brisbane to Sydney, didn't go to north. 26th Arty Brigade HQ & 2nd Batt, 131st Field Artillery debarked REPUBLIC and embarked BLOEMFONTEIN. The 147th and 148th Field Artillery Regiments were on HOLBROOK. >

Correct for the most part. USS (formerly USAT) REPUBLIC went into drydock on Cockatoo Island, Sydney, January 2-7, 1942, to remove extensive marine growth, as the antifouling paint she had previously was either (or both) of poor quality or inexpertly applied. She was back in San Francisco, via Wellington, on February 7. For the newcomer to this forum, 148th F.A. Regiment was less its 2nd Battalion, that having in essence been replaced by 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, soon to be on the sharp end in Java.

< BLOEMFONTEIN & HOLBROOK departed Brisbane 28Dec41 independent of PENSACOLA, to take relief supplies to Philippines. >

Again, true of only HOLBROOK, BLOEMFONTEIN having belatedly joined on January 2, 1942, the convoy escorted from the outset by PENSACOLA. And again, add naval transport CHAUMONT, which carried the naval cargo and a lot of personnel as replacements for the Asiatic Fleet, to that intended fast convoy. [But given that most of the fleet was already at Darwin, it is doubtful that in the end she would have made the run to Manila Bay.] CHAUMONT, too, soon passed out of the picture. After spending 17 days in Darwin, unloading cargo and transferring drafts of replacements to many Asiatic Fleet units, including the newly "recruited" MARECHAL JOFFRE, she stood out on January 18, 1942, en route to Brisbane, Sydney, and Wellington. She arrived Balboa on the Pacific end of the Panama Canal on March 19.

< On reaching Torres Strait 01Jan42, orders were received to divert to Darwin, which they reached 03Jan42, escorted by HOUSTON. >

The order to divert had been issued by LtGen Brett on December 31, 1941, and apparently reached the convoy the following day. The convoy escort by HOUSTON did not begin until after anchorage at Thursday (or Goode??) Island on January 3, 1942, when she relieved PENSACOLA of that task. The HOUSTON leg of the convoy did not reach Darwin until January 5. Do NOT read Goode Island as a correction, as PENSACOLA's log may have erred in that identification.

Finally, BOISE's deck log is of interest, as she escorted the Soerabaja-bound convoy, which included BLOEMFONTEIN. She arrived Darwin on January 6, 1942, and with warships MARBLEHEAD, BARKER, BULMER, PARROT, POPE, and STEWART stood out of that port on January 8. MARBLEHEAD, BULMER, and STEWART left the convoy before it entered Lombok Strait. At the entrance to Soerabaja harbor on January 11, the convoy met JOHN D. FORD and PILLSBURY. BOISE did not linger there after taking aboard RAdm William Glassford as task force commander, but departed at once with FORD and PILLSBURY providing A/S protection. The destroyers she had arrived with clearly needed to replenish their fuel bunkers.

These various logs must be treated as the most reliable primary source documents. I regret not using them at once, rather than cutting corners for the sake of time in using the Fujita book for that one date--i.e., the convoy reached Darwin on January 5, 1942, and BLOEMFONTEIN did NOT depart for Soerabaja on that date.

Nelson

 
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  • Dang it (x 2)! - Nelson on May 29, 2009, 6:45 PM
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