Thursday, November 15, 2012

Australian Radio Ships in the Pacific

Back during the concentrated events in the Pacific in the middle of last century, there was a whole host of radio ships on the air with varying forms of local and international radio communication.  The Americans used somewhere around 50 different vessels as radio communication ships over a period of time, and the Australians used a dozen or more. 

            In fact, as far as some of these radio ships were concerned, it was sometimes not clear as to whether a particular ship was American or Australian.  Some ships were constructed in the United States and loaded with equipment & personnel in Australia, whereas other ships were Australian made and commandeered by the Americans.

            Anyway, let’s take a look now at a cluster of these radio ships, all of which might be considered as Australian ships.

            The good ship “Harold” was built at Bermagui on the east coast of Australia in the year 1900; and 42 years later, it was commandeered for use as a radio communication ship.  This ship was also fitted with AWA electronic equipment and it is described as Australia’s 1st radio ship in the American army in the Pacific.  The “Harold” was replaced in mid 1944 by 3 American ships in the PCER series that contained improved radio equipment, it was then taken into transportation usage, and afterwards simply abandoned at the end of the same year. 

            The “Argosy Lemal” was built in Holland in 1917, and it had half a dozen different owners, and 5 different names.  In 1933, it was operating in Australian waters with an Australian callsign, VJDF.  The ship was commandeered for wartime service in 1943, and it was quickly fitted out with an AWA transmitter and other electronic equipment.

            The “Argosy Lemal” is described as the 2nd Australian radio ship, though it was listed as the 6th small ship taken over by the Americans for radio communication service in the Pacific.  This ship was intended to provide radio communication between forward areas & American regional headquarters, and it served in localities around the New Guinea area.  

            However, in the spring of the year 1944, the “Argosy Lemal” ran aground and it was towed to Port Moresby for repair.  At this stage, this ship was also replaced by the PCER ships with their improved radio equipment in mid 1944, and so it was taken into transportation usage. 

            However, 30 years later, the “Argosy Lemal” sank in the wide Darwin Harbour during the disastrous Cyclone Tracy, that also disabled the Radio Australia relay station on Cox Peninsula.  This ship was unintentionally refound in 2003 by local divers, and it is now a declared Heritage Site.

            The American Seaborne Communications Unit was organized by General Douglas MacArthur in Brisbane, Australia, early in the year 1944 and it was made up of nearly a dozen small radio ships. Among these small radio ships was a cluster of 7, all of which were built in Sydney, New South Wales, and they were all engineless and had to be towed to each operating location.

             These 7 ships in the Ocean Lighter series, were identified alpha-numerically, as OL22, OL23, OL24, and consecutively up to OL31, though for 2 of them, the numbers have been lost.  Four of these OL ships were fitted out as one large radio station, with 2 as transmitter ships and 2 as receiver ships.    They were all equipped with AWA radio equipment, with antennas on the ships, though at times large rhombic antennas were erected on nearby shore areas.  Low power VHF links provided inter-ship communication.

            One of these Ocean Lighters served as a radio repair ship, and another as a supply ship with its cargo of spare electronic equipment and many different items for personnel needs.  All 7 of the OL ships served in the Philippines, and they were all subsequently towed to Japan.

            The “Weeroona” was a side paddle wheel ship built in Scotland in 1910 for use as a luxury pleasure cruise ship in Australian waters.  Some 32 years later, the “Weeroona” was purchased by the United States navy and fitted out as an accommodation ship for the personnel serving with the 7 Ocean Lighter series of radio communication ships.

              The “Weeroona” was towed to the Philippines at the totally slow rate of 4 miles an hour and even less, and it served alongside the Ocean Lighter ships.  In 1945, the Americans sold this accommodation ship to the Australian government and it was towed back to Sydney Harbour in Australia where it languished unattended for 6 more years, before it was finally dismantled.

            The heavy cruiser HMS (His Majesty’s Ship) “Shropshire” was launched in Scotland in 1928 and it was commissioned into the Royal Navy during the following year.  In 1943, it was transferred into the Australian navy under the same name, as HMAS (His Majesty’s Australian Ship) “Shropshire”. 

            It was probably at this time that a radio station was installed on board the “Shropshire”.  Soon after this ship arrived at Freemantle in Western Australia in September 1943, news reporters came aboard, and they marveled at the on board facilities, including the radio station.

            In November 1945, international radio monitors in Australia noted the “Shropshire” on the air with a daily radio broadcast to other ships in the same squadron in the South Pacific.  It would appear that this hour long broadcast consisted of news, entertainment and information, and it was heard each evening from 0930 - 1030 UTC on 19800 kHz.

            The Australian animal known as the Wombat is a cousin to the better known Koala.  The Wombat is a smaller ground animal around 3 feet long and it is usually quite slow and languid in its movements, though some times it can race at 25 miles per hour over a short distance.

            There was another Australian radio ship serving in the Pacific during the mid 1940s, and this one was known as the “Wombat”; and that’s about all that we know about this little seagoing wayfarer.
(AWR/Wavescan/NWS 194 via Adrian Peterson)