The Four Navies In 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
19 Jul 2015 13:19
The Four Navies In Fiji
Members of the then Royal Fiji Navy on parade at the 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 saturday, July 18, 2015.

…duty until the end of the war when she was returned to New Zealand.

In the meantime six FRNVR ratings had been selected for service in New Zealand and arrived there just in time to join a draft leaving for the U.K. For Service with the Royal Navy. They did not serve as a unit and the ratings were drafted to ships of the R.N. in various theatres including the Mediterranean and Murmansk convoys. One of them finished up with a party that went the surrender of U-boats in Germany.

The Viti for a short time filled a vacuum by providing a passenger service between Fiji and New Zealand but was then sold and entered the trans-Tasman service. The four Fiji Naval Volunteer Reserves had proved that the forecast of Captain Mullins was a correct one and proved the need for a Navy.

By the end of the war the FRNVR had grown to a strength of 600 and involved the manning of three sea-going ships HMS Viti, Q1384 and a supply ship Awahou, in addition to several converted private boats which were classed as tenders to HMNZS venture.

Ashore there was the Port War Signal Station in a house overlooking Suva Harbour and that was the site of barracks for the signal personnel. The main body of men were in a tented camp now occupied by the Suva Market.

The coder and the writing personnel were in Navy Office and an officer representing the Naval Control of Shipping Services occupied an office in the Bank of New South Wales building. It would have been cost effective to keep a small number of trained men as the nucleus of a naval reserve.

Unfortunately the legal status of a naval force was established under wartime emergency regulations and when these were repealed there was no legislation for a naval force, although it was agreed that such a force was necessary. A start was made in drafting legislation but it was 1951 before an Ordinance to justify such a force was passed. But those anxious to organise a naval reserve were unable to proceed because regulations had then to be written and agreed, which took another four years. On January 1st 1955 the Fiji Royal Navy Volunteer Force became a legal identity.

Lieutenant-Commander ‘Slinger’ Woods, RNZVR was the inaugural Commanding Officer and Lieutenant S.B Brown was promoted to Lt.Commander and appointed Executive Officer. The Engineer Unit of the Fiji Military Forces started the building of a drill hall, lecture rooms and store complex on Queen’s Road opposite Draunibuto Bay.

The announcement of recruiting brought a rush of young men to join the new unit. A few men who have the benefit of their experience. Chief among them was Ratu Inoke Bainimarama who had been regulating Petty Officer and was at that time serving

in the Prisons Department.

By virtue of being a Crown Colony the FRNVR was a sub-unit of the Royal Navy but for convenience the reserve was under the administrative control of the Royal New Zealand Navy, which authority would supply a staff officer and petty officer instructors.

The first staff officer was Lt.Commander W.Williams, RNZN who also acted as Naval Staff Officer to 5 Squadron, RNZAF, an anti-submarine squadron stationed at RNZAF Lauthala Bay. At the time ships of several Commonwealth Navies came to Suva for anti-submarine exercises, the submarines being Royal Navy boats stationed in Australia. It was a perfect opportunity for reservists to gain practical experience and sea training was available to the Reserve on both RN and RNZN ships.

An SDML on loan from New Zealand arrived in October 1955 just as the Headquarters Building were finished and both were commissioned as HMS Viti at a ceremony attended by the Governor of Fiji, Sir Ronald Garvey, KCMG, MBE, and the Chief of Naval Staff from New Zealand.

The next year saw more Navy ships visiting Fiji to exercise with the Canderland aircraft of 5 Squadron and again the reserves were able to take advantage of the sea training opportunity. In addition HMNZS Lachlan under command of Commander Steve Ritchie,R.N., stopped in Suva to pick up passengers who had flown out from the United Kingdom, a Navy hydrographic surveyor and an Army major from the Corps of Engineers.

They were on their way to Christmas Island, the one south of Hawaii, to carry out surveys to test the sustainability of the island for Operation GRAPPLE,the testing of Great Britan’s first hydrogen bomb.

When Commander Ritchie offered two places on the ship for our ratings the FRNVR became one of the first units to take any part in this operation. On the voyage north the Navy officer, knowing ship routine and which ratings could be separated from their normal duties, selected a fine team to assist him in his task of surveying the archorages around the island.

An army engineer was charged with the responsibility of assessing the strength of the coral on the island to take the wight of a landing strip for large planes and when he came to ask for volunteers, all the best men had been assigned duties and he was left with the remainder.

His men were given an empty copra sack each and were dropped at various points around the island.

The only jeep that the island possessed would not be available for a second trip as the ratings were told to fill the sacks with rocks and return to the beach. The ratings had been dropped a long distance from each other but without any consultation they shouldered the empty bags, made their way to the beach and filled the bags with stones there.

When the stones were tested after being flown to the UK, the tests proved that the coral information in the areas from which the rocks had been supposedly collected, was strong enough to support a runway of enough weight to take heavy bombers. If it proved anything, it was that the stones on the beach were as strong as those in the middle of the island.

In 1957 the men who were to serve ashore started to arrive on the island. A troopship carried a large number but others were flown out via the United States.

They wore civilian clothes and travelled as individuals. That was the time when the American Civil Liberties Union or Mcarthyism was active in the States and these young men had to answer questions such as “You got any pornographic literature.”

The forces in Britain by 1957 consisted mainly of National servicemen, many of whom were away from home for the first time. Much money had been spent on the building of the bomb andon the scientists and their expenses.

The three services had to pay their not inconsiderable part out of the normal Defence Vote, which made no provision for amenities of any sort.

There was a movie shown at night but funds only allowed for a change of programme twice a week.

As a result some men saw one film four times a week and others three times. On the ships anchored off the island, life was more comfortable but the routine was boring. The ships started to arrive one by one, an aircraft carrier as Flagship.

The members of the FRNVR were able to benefit from the fact that members of the British Commonwealth bad been asked to participate in the bomb tests which were now known by the code name Operation GRAPPLE.

As a result two frigates of the Royal New Zealand Navy were to take part in the operation and they called in at Suva to embark the forty ratings who had been chosen.

At the last moment, one rating was unable to go and the draft numbered 39. After passage to Christmas Island in HMNZS Rotoiti and Pukaki the Fiji contingent was drafted to the flagship HMS Warrior, a light fleet aircraft carrier.

In Warrior, life was new and exciting.

To be continued on: Saturday, July 25, 2015


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