NATION

The Four Navies Of Fiji

Republic of Fiji Navy celebrated its 40 years of its existence. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama was the chief guest attending the auspicious event. This week, we continue bringing the special
01 Aug 2015 11:10
The Four Navies Of Fiji
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainirama with Nikita Brown, granddaughter of the first Fiji Navy Commander Captain Stanley Brown during the 40th anniversary celebrations last week at the Stanley Brown Naval Base in Walu Bay in Suva.

Republic of Fiji Navy celebrated its 40 years of its existence. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama was the chief guest attending the auspicious event. This week, we continue bringing the special edition of history of the Fiji Navy through the eyes of its first Commander, Scotsman, Captain Stanley Brown.This continuation  is centred towards the Navy’s operations 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.  

 

Continued from sunday, July 29, 2015.

…Friday was the big day and we were all awake early. The orders were that all personnel were to be completely covered from head to foot and then everyone was inspected for evidence of torn clothing which would expose vulnerable skin.

For the bomb test, Point Zero would form one corner of an equilateral triangle with the other two corners being occupied by HMS Warrior in operational command and HMS  Narvick.

Further away from Malden Island was the dispatch ship of the C-in-C Far East, carrying all the media representatives and HMS Cook carrying observers. The carrier was maneuvered so that her starboard side was presented towards Malden Island. All the observers on the flight deck, which included myself, faced to port wearing dark glasses. We were told to close our eyes and then cover them with our hands and on no account to turn around to look at the bomb burst.

Loudspeakers had been installed to reach all parts of the aircraft carrier so that all hands could hear the commentary of events leading up to the explosion of the bomb. A Vulcan bomber of the RAF carried the bomb and its proximity and the start of the bombing run were being broadcast so that even those below decks would be informed of each stage of the operation.

The surgeon commander noticed a change of attitude on the part of the ship’s company on this, the second of three bomb drops.

During the first one no one had looked at the plane carrying the H-Bomb. Fear of the unknown kept all eyes downcast and everyone was tense. The men looked at the plane and with one successful bomb burst behind them exhibited more faith in the scientists and aircrew.

 

BOMB DETONATES

 

As the plane started its final run we were so informed and finally received the Air Force announcement “Bomb away” after which the commentator started to count down. At “Zero” he announced that the bomb had detonated and immediately through my hand, closed eyelids and dark glasses, I was conscious of a bright light and at the same time felt a warm flash on the back of my neck through the protective hood. We had been advised not to look at the burst with naked eyes as it was sufficient to melt our eyeballs.

The commentator continued to count, this time upwards and at “13” announced that we would feel the shock wave. It passed over the ship with a low booming sound.

A few who kept their eyes open although covered with a hand, reported that all bones in their hand had been highlighted against the bright lights as in X-ray photograph. The only “eye” to see the explosion were those of two instruments known as “flashometres”. The first action taken after the bomb burst was to fly the film of the instrument aboard Warrior to the scientific support ship HMS Narvick. Once there it was compared with the exposure there and measured and, within 15 minutes the scientists were able to announce that it was a “scheduled  burst”, in other words everything had gone as planned and there would be no fallout.

Meanwhile, we had been advised when it was safe to look at the bomb burst, first through our dark glasses and then with the naked eye. A huge replica of the sun hung against the bright blue sky, occasionally shaken by internal explosives. Then a white  substance resembling a frothy cloud started to spill out of the top of the orange sphere spreading out to form that by now familiar shape of a mushroom cloud.

The “stalk” of the mushroom started to grow from the sea surface upwards as ground forces sucked water and vapour up to join the “mushroom”. As the cloud continued to grow Canberra bombers of the RAF started to fly through the clouds, gathering data on radiation. Samples of the flash photos and all other data were helicoptered back to HMS Warrior where they were loaded aboard the carrier’s only fixed wing aircraft to be flown back to Christmas Island and then to Britain.

In the first British H-bomb test the only plane with sufficient range and speed for this, was American.

 

TESTING

 

When the Mustang fighter flew off with the evidence of a successful test, Warrior started a journey back to the anchorage off Malden Island, followed by the other ships which made up Grapple Squadron. The carrier was preceded by the helicopters probing with sensors for any evidence of radiation and passing back by radio any information. No adverse readings being recorded, the carrier proceeded back to the anchorage while the other ships hove to in the vicinity, there being limited room off Malden. The captains of the ships of the squadron were the first to arrive on board, receiving the reception to which they were entitled, being piped aboard in the age old ceremony.

The other guests  began to arrive and as if by arrangement the sea became choppy and spray over the bows of boats ensured that many of the guests, including a large number of press and radio representatives, arrived wet through. They included columnists from the tabloid newspapers who earned a living by slinging mud at the services. But none were so anti-Navy as to refuse free drinks and a party.

One of the men was frankly looking for a seagull with a broken wing, or some similar subject for his next column but was mollified by an invitation to the lower deck where he spent his time trying to find the problems of the junior sailors so that he could highlight them in next Sunday’s publication.

After lunch Ratu Penaia and I flew back to Christmas Island from Malden where the RAF were staging a massive celebration of a successful operation. It had been a hectic week but a very satisfying one seeing our reservists fitting in so well. Later the same year I visited Christmas Island and called on the few operation officers left from Operation Grapple. A further series of tests were contemplated and the three armed services had been ordered to support the project, but out of their normal budget allocation. The abortive Suez Canal operation in 1956 had depleted the funds available for defence.  The first tests had been budgeted for, but now further tests were required and there were no extra funds.

 

MEMORIES

 

My visit recalled memories of how well the Fiji Naval Reservists had performed when serving in HMS Warrior during the earlier tests and emphasised the fact that it would be much cheaper to bring men from Fiji than from the United Kingdom.

As the result of that conversation a mixed detachment of Fiji naval reservists and Fiji Army served in Christmas Island for several months. But when they returned there was no reserve to join.

On June 14, 1959 the FRNVR suspended training and all officers were placed on the Supplementary List. Attempts by the Reservists to continue to serve without pay were turned down, although lack of currency had been given as the reason for winding up.

 

WITHOUT A NAVY

 

Once more Fiji was without a Navy, the Fiji Naval Association was formed that year to oversee the interests of ex-naval personnel and their families. The Governor was angered by the re-action of the public and the press to the abolition of a Navy and the Commanding Officer was ordered to submit no more proposals for a Navy.

To be continued on:

Monday, August 3, 2015

 

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