NATION

The Four Navies Of Fiji

On July 25th the Republic of Fiji Navy will celebrate 40 years of its existence. With its operations centered towards the protection of Fiji’s maritime areas, the Fiji Navy remains
18 Jul 2015 14:11
The Four Navies Of Fiji
Members of the public visit the then Royal Fiji Naval base in Walu Bay. Photo: Republic of Fiji Navy

On July 25th the Republic of Fiji Navy will celebrate 40 years of its existence. With its operations centered towards the protection of Fiji’s maritime areas, the Fiji Navy remains an integral arm of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.In 1975 it employed close to 100 personnel. Today there are at least 350 Fijians in the Navy. Over the next two weeks, Saturday and Sunday edition of the Fiji Sun, we will be bringing you a special look at the Fiji Navy through the eyes of its first Commander, Scotsman, Captain Stanley Brown.This is the continuation of the History of the Navy in Fiji.

 

Continued from Sunday, July 12, 2015.

 

…They had no uniform to wear and in many cases did not even know that they were in the Army. Captured with them was Charles Fulford Williams, the District Officer Northern Gilberts who was stationed at Butaritari.

A few weeks later, a broadcast beamed to New Zealand announced that these men were prisoners or were in Tokyo. Government employees were allowed to escape and a small ship from Fiji was sent to pick up a boat load of escapees. The coast watchers were left on their tiny atolls with no place to hide.

Finally the Japanese sent a ship around to all the islanders and collected the coast watchers in the Gilbert Islands. The ones in the Ellice Island were left undisturbed.

Although bombing and strafing runs were made on the island of Funafuti and Nanumea when US Forces had constructed airstrips and several strafing runs were made on the old missionary schooner John Williams V when she was engaged in re-supplying the coastwatchers at Naumea.

 

IMPRISONMENT

 

The prisoners together with five other Europenas were tied to coconut trees for several days in the hot sun and then realeased to work on the fortification of Betio Islet which was near the entrance to Tarawa Lagoon. One day in October 1942 a passing US ship shelled the island and a plane dropped a bomb.

One prisoner had escaped from the lunatic asylum compound and ran cheering and waving at the ship and plane as they passed, and he was shot by a guard and after that all other prisoners had been called together.

The cheering of the prisoners engaged their captors and they were all assembled and made to dig a shallow grave.

Union flags were spread before the grave and the prisoners were ordered to wipe their feet on the Union Jack which had been spread on the ground by their captors who made no secret of the fact that they intended to execute all the prisoners and that the shallow ditch they had dug would be their grave.

It must have been a traumatic moment knowing that there was no hope. A few Gilbertese were ordered to watch and that is from their testimony given before a Court of Inquiry, that we know what happened next.

Among the coast watchers who formed a majority of those present were five European residents ,one of whom was a missionary, the Reverend Sadd. He stepped forward before any of the guards could stop him and addressed the remainder.

“They are obviously going to kill us,” he said. “Don’t give them the satisfaction of being afraid.”

He then picked up the flag and kissed it just before a furious guard struck his head from his shoulders with a Samurai sword. The same fate befell the remainder of the 22 prisoners. Their fate was unknown until the US Marines took Tarawa after three days of bloody fighting in November 1943.

A Board of Inquiry was convened by the Western Pacific High Commission who found that the 22 were murdered by the Japanese in October 1943.

When the results were passed to the War Crimes Commission, that body decided that no Japanese soldiers were involved and that the murders were committed by unknown civilian labourers.

It was impossible to identify the war criminals at that stage but a large number of Korean labourers were among those killed in November 1943 when the US Marines took Tarawa.

HMS Viti was still in the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony when the Japanese altered the war situation in the Pacific by bombing Pearl Harbour.

The setting up of Coastwatching stations was completed in October after which the ship again headed North on a tour of inspection with the Governor. She was approaching Canton Island two hours after the planes of the Japanese Navy had hit Honolulu. There was a team of US Army Engineers working ashore supported by a destroyer crafting offshore.

As soon as Viti was sighted, wearing what to most Americans was an unfamiliar flag although the white engine would be recognised in most countries of the world, she cleared decks for action, hoisted battle flags and bore down on the small intruder with all her guns loading and pointing at us. On hearing the news of Pearl Harbour the Governor caught the Pan American flying boat back to Suva and Viti followed.

 

ARRIVAL IN SUVA

 

On arrival in Suva it was to find that the Admirality had placed Viti under the operational control of the New Zealand Naval Board and was ordered to sail there to be fitted with submarine detecting gear and extra weapons.

While HMS Viti was in New Zealand being fitted with Asdic dome and anti-submarine weapons, there was furious activity as Fiji tried to establish in a few weeks what Capt. Mullins had been urging them to do since 1936. New Zealand and the USA provided the planning and much of the motivation now. In New Zealand ratings were selected for training as operators of the soon-to-be installed Asdic gear. Due to the educational requirements of the new branch, only the European ratings were able to cope with the examinations. The top qualifier A. B (late Sir) Charles Stinson was chosen for further training in maintaining and overhauling the new equipment. Extra guns, depth charge rails and throwers were installed and training was given in operating all the additions.

 

DEFENSIVE BOOM

 

In Suva the US Navy rigged a defensive boom across the entrance to Suva Harbour and made a preparations for doing the same at Momi, the gateway to the Fleet anchorage that had been established in Nadi Bay. At one time it was under consideration to place a boom across the inside passage of Suva Harbour from Laucala Bay to deter midget submarines, but eventually the project was abandoned. While the coastal batteries at Suva, Bilo and Momi had been established already, new- fangled sono- buoys were placed at the entrance to Suva and Momi to detect the presence of submarines.

Two former New Zealand pleasure launches- the Matanui (Q7) and Maranui (Q8) were brought to Fiji, fitted with depth charges and a machine gun and were inspection vessels at Momi, operating in conjunction with the coastal gun battery.

Extra troops were sent from New Zeland – three battalions of infantry, which comprised the 8th Brigade Group NZEF. An RN surveyor with the assistance of the RNZN minesweepers made a close survey of Nadi Bay which was then declared a fleet anchorage, suitable for the larger units of the fleet.

To protect this asset, mines were laid in most of the reef passages, leaving only Navula passage into Momi Bay free of mines. Mines were also laid in Nukulau, Nukubuco and Makuluvu passages, the alternative entrances to Suva Harbour.

However, although Suva Harbour was protected by a boom across the main entrance (named Daveta Levu), and the presence of anti- submarine ships, the main defence against submarines at the Fleet Anchorage in Nadi Bay, apart from the minefields, remained as one ex- pleasure launch armed with a Bren gun and depth charges. Enemy surface vessels would be engaged by the 6” guns of the Momi coastal battery as they attempted to enter the bay. That the anchorage was vulnerable was proved in the 1960s when a Japanese torpedo was found on the seabed near Malolo Island and destroyed by a demolition charge. It was presumed by divers that t had been fired at extreme range and had sunk at the end of its run. Two battleships USS Colorado and Maryland which had survived the bombing of Pearl Harbour were the two biggest ships to use the anchorage.

When HMS Viti returned to Suva after her refit in April 1942 the harbour defences were then working well and the new Port War Signal Station was established and manned by RNZN and FRNVR personnel.

RNZN ratings, signal personnel and Petty Officers lived in barracks in the same building as the Port War Signal Station. All other ratings serving in HMNZS Venture were housed in a large tent camp near the wharf entrance where the Suva Municipal Market now stands.

 

ADMINISTRATION

 

The administration of the original unit, the FNVF, was found to be wanting, and the personnel were transferred to the Fiji Naval Volunteer Reserve and administration had been taken over by the RNZN at the request of the Admiralty which had also handed over operational control of HMS Viti.

Four anti- submarine fitted minesweepers of the United States Navy had arrived in Suva and with HMS Viti provided escort duties to convoys and single ships in and out of Fiji waters. In December one US sweeper and Viti were detached to stand by a salvage attempt on an American supply ship which had run aground in Vuata Vatoa reef.

The supply ship Thomas A. Edison had on board 36 torpedoes which were urgently needed by a PT boat squadron operating out of Tulagi in the Solomons and very much involved in the defence of Guadalcanal against Imperial Japanese Navy warships. Other cargo was sacrificed to uncover these times, the deck cargo of new trucks being pitched overboard so that the hatches could be opened. A hurricane interrupted the salvage attempt and eventually the cost was one supply ship broken in two and most of the cargo damaged and a US Navy fleet tug sent to assist, sitting alongside the first wreck on the reef.

 

IN 1943

 

In February 1943 Guadalcanal was finally secured and the war started to move northward and westward. The convoys escorted by Viti went further a field and she was often in the Solomons where soldiers from Fiji in the 1st Battalion FIR were engaged. In November of that year she received orders to sail for Tarawa in the Gilberts which was then firmly in the possession of a Japanese garrison. By the time Viti arrived the 1st Division of the US Marine Corps had stormed the island and in one of the bloodiest battles to date had captured the island. That visit was a short one, but the ship was back in Tarawa on January 1944.

After the episode of establishing coast watching stations, and as convoy escort, Viti was engaged in duties which concentrated on establishing Colonial Office rule back in both the Solomons and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. An SDML patrol launch was launched to Fiji by the RNZN and sailed for Suva in company with HMS Viti. The patrol boat had a variety of duties, mine disposal and maintenance of coast watching stations among them. In December 1944 patrol boat Q1148 was returned to New Zealand and was replaced by another SDML Q1348.

This patrol boat was on…

To be continued: Sunday, July 19, 2015

 

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