Forgotten Fleet

Bill Lunney and Frank Finch, 1996:

Just after dawn on 18 October 1942, two little fishing trawlers landed 102 soldiers at Pongani on the north east coast of Papua, 30 miles from the Japanese stronghold at Buna. This unsung event was the first of the amphibious operations which helped to push the Japanese out of New Guinea.

The King John and the Timoshenko were the first vessels in a strange little fleet which in the next few years straggled up the Australian coast, across the Coral Sea to Port Moresby, through the China Strait to Milne Bay and along the New Guinea coast to Buna, Lae, Finschhafen, and eventually to the Philippines. Some were tough wooden fishing trawlers like the Minnamurra from Lake Macquarie or the Willyama Two from Eden. Some were pearling luggers. There were schooners, such as the Harold and the Argosy Lemal, packed with radio communications gear. There were ketches and tug boats and old harbour ferries from Sydney (Binngarra) and Newcastle (Koondooloo) -- and an ancient four-stack ex-destroyer-cum-banana-boat, the Masaya. There was M.S. Lorinna, a Tasmanian timber trader of 1,100 tons, whose skipper, Elmer Malanot, was an aristocratic Austro-Hungarian and former WWI U-Boat commander. The oldest ship in the fleet was the Wortanna, built in 1876, which had enjoyed previous lives as steam paddle tug, three-masted schooner, and sugar lighter.

These small ships from around the Australian coast now carried the Stars and Stripes at the masthead. They made up the Small Ships Section of the United States Army Services of Supply. But they were, even so, skippered and crewed almost entirely by Australians, many of whom were too young or too old or physically ineligible to join the regular Australian armed forces. There were boys of fifteen and sixteen, and old sailors of seventy. Some had even been in the regular forces but discharged as medically unfit. Some had tried to join and been rejected. At least one Small Ships man, a skipper, managed with only one leg. Another, an engineer, had only one arm.

Amongst the Small Ships men were veterans of other wars. Ernest Flint senior went to the Boer War as a Boy Drummer at the age of 13, and served with the Royal Navy in World War I. Many others had also been in WWI -some of them highly decorated, some still suffering the after-effects of gassing in the trenches. At least one Small Ships man, Jerczy de Groot, Mate on the Hilda Norling, had been in the Spanish Civil War.

In 1942 and 1943 especially, they were the lifeline of the Allied armies advance in New Guinea. The Small Ships went where larger ships could not go.

Yet, for all they did to bring about an end to the Japanese threat to our shores, scarcely a word has been written in their honour. In the official war histories they are relegated to passing references and occasional footnotes. Beyond early December 1942 there is even less. The official histories mention in general terms the continuing difficulties with supply, but they say next to nothing of the "Little Ships of Mac Arthur's Navy", though they continued to serve until the end of the war. They became the Forgotten Fleet.

MacArthur's Amphibious Navy; Seventh Amphibious Force Operations, 1943-1945

Daniel E. Barbey, United States Naval Institute, 1969

This is the story of the courageous and resourceful men of the Navy's Seventh Amphibious Force and what they accomplished in the reef-ridden waters of the Southwest Pacific in World War II. In lightning assaults these men spearheaded General MacArthur's surprising thrust along the New Guinea coast and up the Philippine archipelago. Admiral Barbey supervised the development and construction of the landing ships and craft, coordinated the training program, and led the operations of the amphibious force in action. This book, written by "Uncle Dan, the amphibious man" himself, describes every phase of these operations and the men who carried them out.

With their awkward landing vessels, the men of the Seventh Amphibious Force, largely reserve officers and inexperienced sailors, changed the pace of the war in the Southwest Pacific. They bypassed Japanese strongholds to pour enormous numbers of troops, guns, ammunition, and supplies onto beaches where the enemy least expected them.

This first-hand account of the late Admiral Barbey's experience as commander of the Seventh Amphibious Force provides a colorful afterview of a vital element in the Pacific campaigns of World War II. It will be of absorbing interest to all who took part in these campaigns, and to everyone now concerned with amphibious warfare.

South From Corregidor

John Morrill, 1943; republished by Mike Deal and Tim Deal on May 25, 2013 with new introduction and additional information:

On the evening of 6 May, 1942, hours after US Army General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered all US and Filipino forces on the island of Corregidor and other fortified islands in Manila Bay to the Imperial Japanese Army, 18 US Navy sailors from USS Quail began their daring escape to freedom.

Using a 36 foot motor launch, the 18 sailors, led by Lieutenant Commander John Morrill began their 2000 mile journey through Japanese infested waters.

Their story is one of great audacity, where the generosity and bravery of the Filipino people, along with sheer luck played an integral role in the outcome of events. This World War II escape story was originally published as a series of Saturday Evening Post articles in December, 1942, and then as a book in early 1943. The book was written by Lieutenant Commander Morrill less than a year after the escape.

This republished version of South From Corregidor is as the Skipper, as Lieutenant Commander Morrill is called by his crew, wrote it. Thirty nine maps have been added to help show their journey, as well as six illustrations that were part of the Saturday Evening Post article. In addition, an Addendum is included that tells what happened to the 18 sailors along with pictures of the crew.

The Raggle Taggle Fleet

Ladislaw Reday, 2004; edited by Ernest A. Flint:

In the dark days of 1942, crew members from the age of 15 to 60 boarded a motley fleet of tugs, ketches, fishing trawlers, schooners and ferries. They sailed the uncharted coastline of New Guinea, moving troops, rations, ammunition, fuel, weapons and even tanks to support the Australian and American forces fighting the Japanese.

U.S. Army ships and Watercraft of World War II

David H. Grover, Naval Institute Press 1987

World War II U.S. Navy Vessels in Private Hands

Greg H. Williams, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013

During World War II, the U.S. Navy swiftly expanded to include an array of vessels, from smaller yachts and fishing boats bought early in the war for patrol work to fast, modern commercial ships built to haul troops and supplies. After the Allied victory, this diverse fleet became unnecessary and the Navy sold many of its vessels. This comprehensive catalog documents the Navy ships and boats sold after the war and registered under the American flag for commercial or recreational purposes. Focusing on those vessels with names or clearly identifiable hull numbers and crew accommodations, it chronicles each craft's prewar ownership, war history, and postwar fate. The product of painstaking detective work in a wide range of primary sources, this meticulous directory highlights an unexplored but illuminating aspect of U.S. maritime history.