Early Arrivals in Australia
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the spotlight swung away from the Middle East. For the next three weeks it focused on the west coast of the United States and the Alaska-Hawaii-Panama triangle, where defenses had to be bolstered. Following the arrival of British Prime Minister Churchill in Washington at the end of December, it began to swing back toward the North Atlantic. In January, the shock of the crisis in the Far East, where the Philippines were threatened, brought about another quick shift of emphasis. The spotlight then focused on Australia, where, with the dramatic arrival of the Pensacola convoy in late December 1941, the Americans had begun to build up a logistical base.1
The U.S. naval transport Republic, just returned from carrying troops to Iceland, sailed from San Francisco for the Philippines on 21 November 1941 with the ground echelon of the 7th Heavy Bombardment Group, an Army Air Forces unit of B-17 bombers dispatched to bolster General MacArthur's air strength. The B-17's, which could be flown across the Pacific, were then being prepared for the long flight at Hamilton Field, California. Taking off on 6 December, they were over Oahu in the midst of the attack on Pearl Harbor.2
Among the ground elements of the bombardment group aboard the Republic was the 453d Ordnance (Aviation) Bombardment Company, one of three types of Ordnance companies designed to support the three types of air groups-bombardment, pursuit, and air base. Normally, an Ordnance bombardment company consisted of 6 officers and 181 enlisted men, and its equipment was considerable: 40 bomb trailers and 20 bomb service trucks to haul them, 4 shop trucks for emergency repairs, and 18 cargo and pickup trucks; but the 453d still did not have its full complement of men and equipment since there had been only ten days for preparation. Its
commander, 1st Lt. Byrne C. Manson, who had been attending the Ordnance School at Aberdeen, Maryland, had joined the company on 1 November.3
Arriving at Honolulu on 28 November, the Republic on the 29th joined a convoy being escorted by the cruiser Pensacola and the submarine chaser Niagara, Other vessels in the convoy were three other transports, the Chaumont, the Meigs, and the Holbrook, and three freighters, the Admiral Halstead, the Coast Farmer, and the Bloemfontein, the last flying the Dutch flag. Of the transports, only the Republic and Holbrook carried troops and equipment. The Chaumont and the Meigs carried aircraft, bombs, guns, antiaircraft ammunition, and general supplies; the entire deck space of the Meigs was crowded with fifty knocked-down A-24 dive bombers. The small freighters were mainly loaded with peacetime supplies for civilian shops in Manila and Guam. The Bloemfontein also carried passengers, mostly civilians, some of whom were en route to China and the Java area to serve as consultants in setting up motor maintenance shops.4
Proceeding at approximately ten knots, the speed of the slowest freighters, the Pensacola convoy took a southwesterly course toward the Philippines through the South Pacific instead of the usual westerly course through the Japanese mandated islands. Commander Guy Clark, the captain of the Republic, told Brig. Gen. Julian F. Barnes, the senior Army commander, that the course was to be via Port Moresby, New Guinea. On 6 December the convoy crossed the equator, and there was the largest Army shellback initiation up to that time.
On 7 December at 1100 Commander Clark received a radio message that Pearl Harbor was being attacked. He assumed that a radio operator had picked up a message issued during naval maneuvers, but a later message from the Commander in Chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, left no room for doubt: "Japan started hostilities govern yourself accordingly." Over the Republic's intercom, Commander Clark made the announcement: "Attention all hands, a state of war exists between Japan and the United States. Pearl Harbor has been attacked. Good luck."
In the next few days the convoy prepared to defend itself. Brown and white superstructures and lifeboats were painted gray. Cargo was searched for deck weapons, since most of the ships had no means of defense. The hold of the Republic yielded four British 75-mm. guns, which the men of the 453d lashed to the deck, although there was no ammunition for them. Tension in the convoy mounted when a radio reported a Japanese task force in the Ellice Islands, 300 miles off the starboard quarter. A stop at Suva in the Fiji Islands, ordered by the Navy on 8 December for the purpose of awaiting
further orders, made possible a search for additional weapons. The Ordnance men found some American 75-mm. ammunition on the Holbrook and improvised gun sights and mounts. They also found a quantity of .50-caliber aircraft guns with ammunition, and improvised pipe stands for them on the boat deck.5
On 12 December the American troops aboard the convoy were constituted Task Force South Pacific, under the command of General Barnes. General Barnes appointed Lieutenant Manson Ordnance officer and Lt. W. R. Clarke commander of the Ordnance company. Soon afterward, messages from Washington and from the Philippines made the task force's destination and mission clear. It was to proceed to the east coast of Australia and land at Brisbane, where it would be met by Maj. Gen. George H. Brett, an Air Corps officer then in Chungking. Brett had been directed to establish in Australia a service of supply in support of the Philippines. His assistant was to be Brig. Gen. Henry B. Claggett, who had held an air command in the Philippines and was on his way to Australia from Manila. Upon debarkation at Brisbane, Task Force South Pacific would become United States Forces in Australia (USFIA).
The convoy arrived at Brisbane's outer harbor, Moreton Bay, at noon on 22 December, escorted by Australian and New Zealand warships. From Moreton Bay, a sheet of blue water broken by small green islands and edged by palm-fringed yellow beaches, Brisbane is fourteen miles up the Brisbane River. A harbor boat brought Col. Van S. Merle-Smith, U.S. military attaché, and some Australian Army and Navy officers to Moreton Bay and took General Barnes and a small staff to Brisbane, where they established USFIA headquarters, the first American headquarters in Australia, at Lennon's Hotel late in the afternoon of 22 December. A logistical and administrative command, it came under General MacArthur's United States Army Forces, Far East (USAFFE). That evening General Claggett arrived, assumed command of USFIA, accepted the staff established aboard the Republic, and designated Barnes his chief of staff. General Brett, who was completing his tour of the Middle East, India, and China, did not arrive from Chungking until 1 January 1942.
As the Pensacola and her convoy steamed upriver, the men at the rails saw cheering crowds along the banks. A city of some 300,000 people, Brisbane is set in an amphitheater of greenish blue hills. It sprawled for miles on either side of the river, the two portions connected by bridges and small darting ferry launches. There were a few tall granite buildings and smoking factories, but the city was somehow reminiscent of a frontier town in the Wild West, with pillared porticoes extending over sidewalks in the business section and low corrugated iron roofs covering warehouse sheds. The men at the rails saw palms everywhere, and strange flowers in the public gardens. Strangest of all, a few days before Christmas it was midsummer in Australia. For Brisbane, halfway down the eastern coast, is subtropical, lying between the sparsely settled tropical north
and the great cities of Sydney and Melbourne on the more moderate southeastern coast.6 (Map 2)
The troops debarked on the afternoon of 23 December and were taken to temporary quarters at Amberley Field and two local race tracks. The 453d Ordnance (Aviation ) Bombardment Company was assigned to the Doomben race track about six miles from the city. The Australian Army provided tents and messing facilities. By 26 December storage arrangements for Ordnance equipment had been completed in the Hedley Park area, where Class II supplies (weapons and other basic equipment) were stored in a wool warehouse and ammunition in the yard of a local school.7
General Claggett's first task was to get the cargoes of the Pensacola convoy north to the Philippines in the Holbrook and the Bloemfontein, the two fastest ships. With the help of Australian stevedores, the U.S. troops reloaded men and supplies and assembled the aircraft, working straight through a warm and sunny Christmas Day, taking time out only for a Christmas dinner of cold bologna sandwiches and milk. By 30 December the ships were loaded and steaming north, but enemy successes in the Philippines and the rapid Japanese advance into the Netherlands Indies made it impossible for them to get through. When General Brett arrived in Brisbane on New Year's Day, he ordered the convoy to put in at Darwin, on the northern coast of Australia.8
Beginning in early January, an intensive effort was made to ship rations and ammunition to General MacArthur's troops in the Philippines in small, fast ships that might break the Japanese blockade. At the end of January, forty enlisted men and several officers of the 453d Ordnance Company at Brisbane volunteered to serve as an armed guard for the blockade runner Don Isidro. From the enlisted men, fifteen were selected by Clarke, the commanding officer. To determine who would command the unit, the officers tossed a coin, and 2d Lt. Joseph F. Kane won. Kane and his men began to arm the Don Isidro, which was a small passenger liner that had operated between islands of the southwest Pacific. Since no other suitable guns or mounts were available, they placed five .50-caliber heavy machine guns on the ship, improvising the mounts with the help of a local manufacturer.
The ship left Brisbane on 27 January. North of Australia she was attacked by Japanese aircraft and after two successive days of bombing and strafing, 19-20 February, was beached on Bathurst Island, north of Darwin. A mine sweeper rescued the survivors. Eight of the 15-man crew from the 453d Ordnance Company were wounded, several seriously. Kane, severely wounded in the leg and foot, died of gan-
grene in an Australian hospital at Darwin. He was the first member of the Ordnance Department killed in the Southwest Pacific; an ammunition depot at Geelong, across the bay from Melbourne, was subsequently named for him. The rest of the men from the Don Isidro were attached to a platoon of the 453d that Manson had sent up to Darwin to help establish an air service depot at Batchelor Field in support of air units operating between there and the Netherlands Indies.9
Two weeks after the Don Isidro left Brisbane another detachment of volunteers from the 453d Ordnance Company was assigned as gun crew to the small freighter Coast Farmer for a trip to the Philippines. Sailing from Brisbane on 10 February, the Coast Farmer succeeded in reaching Mindanao in the southern Philippines, discharging its cargo, and returning safely. One member of the Ordnance group who had gone ashore to repair some machine guns did not return before the ship sailed and had to be left behind.10
General Brett saw little hope of sending any effective help to the Philippines. He favored building a base in Australia from which the offensive could eventually be taken through the Netherlands Indies and the islands to the north. Hurrying to Melbourne, which was more nearly the actual center of government than the new capital, Canberra, he established his headquarters there on 3 January in three rooms in Victoria Barracks, the location of Australian military, air, and naval headquarters. Brett immediately began a series of conferences with the Australian chiefs of staffs that resulted in the formation of several joint committees and in the emergence of a general policy on how best the American forces could be used and where.11
General Brett's main base would have to be near a port and near a city, for it needed docks, water, power, and good communications; these were not conflicting demands, for all major Australian cities are port cities. The interior of the great continent is arid and undeveloped. The seven million people lived mostly along the eastern and southeastern coast, more than two million of them in Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney was ruled out by the Australian naval chief of staff as an American Army and Air base because of existing demands and an extreme water shortage. The choice of the Australians was Melbourne, which they considered easier to defend than Brisbane and other areas farther north.
General Brett preferred Brisbane. Following instructions from the War Depart-
COLONEL HOLMAN. (Photograph taken after his
ment to adapt his logistical plan to strategic requirements, Brett decided to place all of his bases in the north rather than in the south. The primary base depot, for the assembly, repair, and maintenance of all types of aircraft, was to be at Brisbane. There would be a secondary base depot, for the assembly of light aircraft and such repairs and maintenance as were possible, at Townsville, a small resort town some 700 miles up the east coast. The advance depot and main operating and first-line maintenance base would be at Darwin, a little tropical town on the northern coast that had recently become important because it was the nearest jump-off point for the Netherlands Indies—within three and a half hour's flying time to the nearest point in the Indies. The main debarkation point for U.S. troops would be Melbourne, preferred to Brisbane because of the greater facilities available, particularly water supply. At Melbourne a reception and replacement center would be established where organizations could be formed out of the new arrivals and training given if necessary.
While the Americans and Australians were conferring, the British and U.S. Governments established a command that included Burma, Malaya, the Netherlands Indies, and the Philippines. Called the ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) Command, it was under Lt. Gen. Sir Archibald Wavell with General Brett as his deputy. In the second week in January Brett departed for the Netherlands Indies. His successor in Australia was Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, but within a few days Brereton was made deputy air commander in the ABDA area, which meant that he had to go to Java to command ABDAIR pending the arrival of the commander, Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse. This made it physically impossible for Brereton to continue command of USFIA, now renamed USAFIA (United States Army Forces in Australia). At Brereton's request, General Wavell asked General Marshall to relieve Brereton of his responsibilities in Australia. Thereupon Marshall authorized General Barnes to assume command of USAFIA. Barnes was now under Wavell's command, and Brett as Wavell's deputy could issue orders to him.
At Melbourne, the Ordnance Section of USAFIA was headed by Lieutenant Manson, who had come from Brisbane, leaving Lieutenant Clarke in charge of the Ordnance office there. Only a few officers to form general and special staffs for the new headquarters had arrived, flying to Aus-
tralia via North Africa, but they brought the news that the headquarters group had been "picked with care" by the War Department and was on the way.12
The men selected for the USAFIA headquarters were dubbed the "Remember Pearl Harbor" (RPH) Group. Consisting originally of thirteen experienced staff officers ordered to San Francisco from assignments all over the country, the group sailed on the two liners President Coolidge and Mariposa in the first major convoy sent to Australia after Pearl Harbor. Aboard the President Coolidge were the Ordnance members of the RPH Group- five officers and six enlisted men who were to make up the Ordnance Section on the USAFIA Special Staff. The ranking officer was Lt. Col. Jonathan L. Holman, whose most recent assignment had been in the Lend-Lease Administration in Washington. The others were Capts. Bertram H. Hirsch and Elwyn N. Kirsten, 1st Lt. Spencer B. Booz, and 2d Lt. Wallace W. Thompson.13
Along with the Remember Pearl Harbor Group the two liners, loaded to capacity, carried pursuit planes and large quantities of bombs, ammunition, and aircraft maintenance equipment and supplies, as well as signal and medical supplies and equipment. Troops aboard the ships included AAF, Engineer, and Signal units, and four Ordnance aviation companies. Most of the passengers and cargo were scheduled to be transshipped to ABDA area ports outside Australia. A great deal of the cargo was intended for troops slated to occupy New Caledonia.14
When the Coolidge anchored in Melbourne harbor on the afternoon of 1 February, Colonel Holman, standing at the rail of the huge liner, looked down at the dock and saw a small officer anxiously looking up and biting his fingernails. It was Manson. In addition to the heavy responsibilities that had been forced upon him, he had a more recent cause for worry. The 453d Ordnance (Aviation) Bombardment Company had been ordered from Brisbane to Melbourne by train to join the four Ordnance aviation companies aboard the Coolidge and the Mariposa on the voyage to Java, but had suffered a series of mishaps on the way. Rains following a long period of dry weather had brought floods that prevented the train from getting through. Lieutenant Erickson, who was in command (Clarke had been assigned to the base section at Brisbane), had got the men and equipment off the train and loaded in the company trucks, but by that time the roads were impassable, and they had to return to Brisbane.15
The immediate task of Holman's RPH staff and the Ordnance companies in the convoy was to help tackle the problem posed by the cargoes of the Coolidge and the Mariposa, including about 2,500 tons of bombs and ammunition. Unloading
and unscrambling the matériel piled on the piers and removing it from the dock area to storage took about ten days. Warehouses were scarce. Ammunition could be stored in the open, and open storage was soon in widespread use throughout Australia because of lack of materials and labor to construct igloos. The men established a temporary dump for bombs, fuzes, and small arms ammunition in the Laverton area of Melbourne and used a shed about a mile from the port for classification and sorting. Kensington, a Melbourne suburb, was selected for the storage of general supply items. After some degree of order was restored, the four Ordnance aviation companies sailed for Java.
Colonel Holman remained in Melbourne only long enough to see that the unloading of Ordnance material was proceeding well and to establish the Ordnance office in the Repatriation Building on tree-shaded St. Kilda Road. He had been ordered north to ABDA Command headquarters on Java. Appointing Captain Hirsch Ordnance officer, he departed for Darwin on 8 February. He arrived on 19 February, only a few hours after the little port had suffered its first Japanese air attack; his immediate job was to help American artillery troops then at Darwin in the difficult task of planning for the salvage and repair of Ordnance equipment from bombed and sunken ships. The enemy raid was portentous, for by that time invading Japanese forces had ended Allied hopes of holding Java. ABDA Command headquarters withdrew from the island. The convoy with the four Ordnance companies, then at sea off the southern coast of Australia, was rerouted to India. Colonel Holman returned to Melbourne where, on 25 February, he became the USAFIA chief of Ordnance.16
In the early months of 1942, a great deal of the time of the USAFIA Ordnance Office was devoted to port operations. Between mid-January and mid-April, sixty-one "refugee" ships—ships at sea when the war began, bound for the Philippines, Hongkong, Singapore, or Java—were diverted to Australian ports, with "distress cargoes" amounting to nearly 200,000 tons of rations, ammunition, weapons (mostly machine guns), vehicles, and parts. Late in February the POPPY Force of about 22,000 troops—the largest movement yet attempted—landed in Australia, ultimately bound for New Caledonia. The heavy organizational equipment and other supplies of POPPY Force were shipped separately, and these cargoes had to be unloaded and then reloaded when the force left for New Caledonia. Cargoes had been loaded by hasty, untested methods and were badly scrambled. Manifests were vague, incomplete, or so inaccurate as to make a physical search necessary.17
The Australian stevedores available to help unload were usually middle-aged men.
capable of handling not more than 9 tons per hatch per hour, as compared with the 25 tons that the U.S. troops could discharge. Their ways were exasperating. They had a break in the middle of the morning for smoking—called a "smoke-o" —and another in the afternoon for tea, with one man on the pier delegated to keep the water hot for the tea; in this manner, one impatient Ordnance officer noted, they wasted two or three hours a day. They would not work in the rain and observed strict union regulations on hours, refusing to work on Saturday afternoons or Sundays, even though ships were docking with badly needed supplies, and threatening to strike when troops were assigned to do the emergency unloading.18
Ordnance officers at the ports found that local laborers and untrained troops could make tragic mistakes in handling military stores, a discovery of this early period that assumed greater importance as overseas operations accelerated all over the world. Lacking Ordnance Standard Nomenclature Lists (SNL's) and technical manuals, often they could not identify weapons, ammunition, and parts. They sometimes overlooked vital parts. The men loading the Pensacola convoy ships for the Philippines, for example, had spent days searching for the trigger motors and solenoids that controlled the firing of the guns on the A-24 dive bombers so desperately needed by General MacArthur. Afterward it was discovered that the solenoids, nailed inside the packing crates, had been overlooked and had been burned along with the crates. Replacements had to be rushed by air from the United States.19
For port duty the 453d Ordnance (Aviation) Bombardment Company was divided among three ports. The main body of the company (less ninety men) was at Brisbane, with one platoon at Darwin and another at Melbourne. The 453d continued to be the only Ordnance unit in Australia until mid-March, when there began to arrive the first elements of a shipment of nine Ordnance aviation companies; one antiaircraft medium maintenance company (the 25th); and sections of a depot and an ammunition platoon, all sent from the United States in response to a request by General Brett in January for Ordnance troops. He had requested more depot, ammunition, and maintenance men than were sent, but the planners in Washington, intent at the time on reinforcing the British Isles and thinking of Australia as an air base only, had not been able to comprehend the size of the port operations. Moreover, the planners had originally intended to depend heavily on local labor, not realizing that during three years of war the best of Australia's manpower had been drained off to the Middle East and elsewhere. It took the threat of a collapse of ABDA to bring about a change in War Department policy, and the dispatch of
more Ordnance troops to aid in building-up the base in Australia.20