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BBC Peoples War Royal Navy

BBC Peoples War Royal Navy

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Published by Graham Moore
World war 2
World war 2

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Published by: Graham Moore on Aug 25, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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08/25/2011

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Another Door Part 1: War in the Far East
 
This story is taken from my father's unpublished autobiography, which covers theearly years to the end of the war. He never finished the book, which he called
 Another  Door 
, because he suffered a stroke which affected his speech and memory - and infact now he cannot properly communicate with us.I have also included his account of his time in the Far East on this website, but thisstory covers his account of the invasion of Africa. My father worked for the Marconicompany as a ship's radio officer. He was a chief radio officer in the Merchant Navy.Here is his story:
Japan declared war on December 7/8th 1941
, the exact date depending upon whereone was situated at the time.They did this by attacking the American Naval base, Pearl Harbour, at Hawaii atdawn with a massive air strike by carrier-born aircraft of the Japanese fleet. Thatattack was co-coordinated closely in time with bombing attacks on Hong Kong andSingapore, and amphibious landings on the north-east coast of Malaya, between KotaBaru and the border with Thailand. But of course I knew nothing of this at the time.The first inclination I had that something was amiss was actually being shaken awake personally in the early hours of the morning by Captain Thomas and being told tostand-by the radio. I wondered later how he could possibly have known about theattack at such an early hour, since the Americans themselves on the island were taken by surprise. History tells us now that they ought not to have been, for information had been available concerning the movements of the Japanese fleet, both in America andBritain.Dawn in Hawaii would have been about 0300 on board the 'Pinna' in our position, sono doubt the captain must have heard a news flash on his radio just before comingdown and waking me.Although Japanese intervention had been a topic of conversation on board havingseen an increasing Japanese presence as we sailed around, we had been of the opinionthat they would not start anything until events showed a sure sign of an axis victory inEurope. So, I was quite perplexed as I went along to the radio room, wondering whatthe urgency was all about. The old man had disappeared without explaining and I wasnot prepared to go wandering up to the bridge accommodation when he had instructedme to go to the radio room. I was on friendly terms with him, but I did not feel that it
 
was expedient to be as friendly as that under the circumstances. It was 0500 in themorning and the deep indigo sky had paled towards sunrise in the east. It was a lovelyearly morning; cool and fresh on deck, the sort of morning that makes one wonder why early rising is not the norm for every day.I need not have gone on watch, for as I would have expected at that hour, and stilldark, my headphones were full of static roar. In addition, superimposed were electricstabs of lightning. This went on until daybreak making the reception of any signals,impossible.Just before breakfast, around 0730, an American ship, the 'Admiral Cole' started upwith loud signals saying that she was being attacked by Japanese aircraft. After repeating the message, further signals said that the vessel had been bombed. After that, silence. Later we received official news, via Rugby radio and the BBC, that wewere now at war with Japan. Then later still, we received radio instructions to divertto Balikpapan in mid-east Borneo, one of our previous ports of call halfway up theMacacca Strait. We were three days out.The position given by the American ship had been 4 degrees north and 124 degreeseast, which placed it (if the transmission or reception was accurate) east of the northend of the Macassar Strait. By that evening we had heard of the wide areas covered bythe attacking Japanese. Since aircraft carriers do not normally float about withoutaccompanying naval support, we wondered where was the task force whose aircrafthad bombed the 'Admiral Cole' and which way were they heading the East coast of Borneo with its valuable oil supply terminal ports of Tarakan and Balikpapan? Inview of our destination with respect to the 'Admiral Cole' message and the Japanesedemonstrated capability, I kept the phones glued to my ears all day. There could beanother diversion message for us. Well there was not, and we duly arrived at Balik.With reference to the diversion instructions referred to before, I should clarify here,that throughout the war period there was a strict radio silence at sea, except whenattacked. Messages for ships were broadcast, and there were schedules of  broadcasting times to which ships strictly adhered and listened out to without the needto reply themselves. Ship's call signs were broadcast first after which a ship calledwould copy the coded messages. The decoding books on board were of coursesensitive documents to be ditched if circumstances demanded. In addition, throughouthostilities, the ship's position, correct to an hours sailing time, or sometimes half-an-hour, was always kept in the radio room, night and day.
 
In the event of a ship being attacked, the first information that the radio officer had totransmit, was the ship's position, before providing any other information which hemight or might not be able to do, depending on circumstances.Instead of the international signal, SOS, the nature of the attack was indicated in theaddress. If by a surface vessel, “RRR' was first transmitted three times, if by aircraft,'AAA' or by submarine, “SSS”. A typical message would read, 'AAA AAA AAA” - position of the ship - name of the ship'.With that message successfully transmitted, the captain would then initiate further helpful information. The use of those prefixes not only alerted authorities who might be able to counter-attack, but also alerted merchant ships in the vicinity to take'disappearing' action. It was perplexing to have received our first orders to proceed toBalik. It was even more perplexing after we had docked to learn that we were to go toTarakan 450 miles north of Balik in the region 03° north, and after loading for Singapore proceed there via the NORTH of Borneo and NOT south! In view of theattack on the 'Admiral Cole' 04° north, and that possibly somewhere near that positionand heading towards Tarakan, was the Japanese task force, with it's supportingaircraft, our instructions were difficult to swallow. The old man was not one to 'losehis cool' but he was doing so with a few well chosen words, prior to saying, 'Followme Sparks and bring that bloody wireless log with you ...'When he produced the information ashore about the 'Admiral Cole' nobody locallyseemed to know about it, but obviously somebody else did somewhere, for later theorder was cancelled. Obviously the original one had been despatched before theJapanese hostilities. Next day there were new orders. We were now to evacuate the residents of Balikpapan - 1200 Asians and 100 Europeans, and deposit them at Surabaya in Java,leaving a skeleton staff to carry out the demolition of the oil installation with the co-operation of the defending garrison, should it become necessary - and it did.During the next day a bevy of American Naval craft arrived and anchored. Twocruisers, two or three destroyers and a small aircraft carrier. I thought at the time thatthey could be doing something useful like engaging that task-force, but they did notseem to be in a hurry to go anywhere, for they were still there a week later when wehad departed. Hindsight tells me now, that a small force like this American one,would have been helpless against Japanese bombers operating from a carrier. Whilewe had been tied up at the wharf there had been plenty of activity on board. Shelters

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