Forgotten Fleet 2: An Updated and Expanded History of the Part Played by Australian Men and Ships in the Us Army Small Ships in New Guinea, 1942-1945

By Gibson, Charles Dana | Sea Classics, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Forgotten Fleet 2: An Updated and Expanded History of the Part Played by Australian Men and Ships in the Us Army Small Ships in New Guinea, 1942-1945


Gibson, Charles Dana, Sea Classics


FORGOTTEN FLEET 2: AN UPDATED AND EXPANDED HISTORY OF THE PART PLAYED BY AUSTRALIAN MEN AND SHIPS IN THE US ARMY SMALL SHIPS IN NEW GUINEA, 1942-1945. By Rill and Ruth Lunney 367 Pages, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index, Hardcover. ISBN: 0-9751683-04. Forfleet Publishing, 7 Wade Close, Medowie, NSW 2318, Australia, 2004.

This book is an expanded and substantially improved version of the earlier Forgotten Fleet which was published back in 1995.

The early months of 1942 had been a bleak period for Allied forces in the western Pacific. Singapore had fallen to the Japanese in mid-February with Java to soon follow. The surrender of the Philippines was considered inevitable, Bataan having fallen to the Japanese in April. The defeat of a combined Allied fleet off Java together with the near decimation of the American battle fleet at Pearl Harbor had given the enemy domination of the sea routes, a circumstance not altered until the American success at the Battle of Midway in June. Even then, it would be many months before adequate Naval support could be allocated to the southwestern Pacific.

Australia was accordingly wide open for invasion, its northern approach was dominated by the island of New Guinea where, essential to Australia's defensive perimeter, was that island's southeastern peninsula, the territory of Papua. On the north coast of Papua, the Japanese had established beachheads during early March both at Lae and at Salamaua. The commander of Allied forces in Australia, General Douglas MacArthur, was intent on moving north what few troops he had for the defense of the remainder of Papua and of course to ultimately dislodge the enemy from Lae and Salamaua.

Needed for this movement was shipping, a commodity then in critical short supply. Making things particularly difficult was the knowledge that the waters of the northern coast of Papua were strewn with reefs, totally unbuoyed and largely uncharted which precluded close approach by large shipping. To meet in part the shipping challenge cooperation of the Australian government was sought, and it was freely given, resulting in the commandeering by the Australians of a fleet of fishing vessels, harbor craft, small coasters, copra schooners, and yachts.

These were then handed over to the American Army through a system of reverse lend-lease. With this fleet, the battle for the possession of the Papuan peninsula was soon to become a Dunkirk in reverse. The crews ofthat lilliputian fleet were as polyglot as the ships to which they were assigned. Mainly composed of Australian civilians, the men were of all types and ages, some competent, and some more of a detriment than a help. The Australians were buttressed by a number of refugee Filipino seamen and by native islanders together with American GIs, the latter placed aboard both as gunners and as operating crews there to serve under the Australian civilian ships' officers.

Although the major role of the small ships was logistical in nature, early on they operated in the forward combat areas landing troops and supplies on hostile beaches, an activity which resulted in the loss of a number of the small ships and many of their crews. The small ships remained the mainstay of the forward effort for the New Guinea campaign through into the fall of 1943, at which point amphibious landing operations became the responsibility of the US Army's Amphibious Engineers and of the US Navy's Seventh Amphibious Force. This role change did not, however, curtail the overall usefulness of the small ships as they continued as a vital transportation element up and through the later campaign to retake the Philippines. …

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