Masaya (Formerly USS Dale DD-290)
Saga of SS Masaya
For 53 years the SS Masaya lay lost
but not forgotten beneath 165 feet of murky green, shark-infested
waters off the east coast of New Guinea. Then, on April 25, 1996,
an expedition aboard the TIATA ended a 27-year search for the
vessel when they found her for the first time since she sank.
Researcher and driving force behind the 1996 search was Donald
Once the search area was reached, the team used
shipboard equipment, including SONAR and GPS, to locate the vessel.
The search was carried out in the wee hours of the 25th of April
under the cover of darkness and rain squall to cloak our presence.
The search began at the North end of “A.” Each area
was laid out in a grid pattern with each search starting on the
North and proceeding west and east in swaths 400 m wide. At the
end of the second row in box “A”, a strong SONAR contact
was made at 0115, lying just outside the Eastern boundary of “A.”
The contact was noted and the remainder of the “A”
sector searched. No additional contact was made. TIATA returned
to the initial contact and began to cris-cross the area to map
the object. Using the scanning SONAR and high-resolution depth
sounder the object was mapped. The dimensions were found to match
those of the Masaya. The wreck lies in an East-West direction
at 165 feet.
The first dive on her was at daybreak. The water
was dim, with visibility at only about 8 feet because all of the
plankton which was rising towards the light. We got down there,
and suddenly there she was, lying along the bottom exactly as
she went down. We found the wheelhouse, and you could tell it
was a virgin wreck, because everything inside was just as it had
been left. The wheel was one of the smaller brass kind they used
to use, and everything was intact.” The wheel and interior
of the wheel house is shown in Figure 3, extracted from video
shot on the second dive made on the 25th.
When we surveyed her, we found she was resting
on her starboard side. The stern had extensive bomb damage, as
well as damage from the impact of hitting the bottom. Over the
past 53 years, there was also plenty of time for a growth of coral
to cover the entire wreck.
Damage caused by the bombing and impact with the seabed are clearly
visible just forward of the stern. The hull is buckled; the stern
deck area and associated internal works are smashed. The deck with
the deckhouses attached has broken (rusted) free of the hull and has
slid down several feet toward the starboard side and now rests on
the sand (Figure 5). The deck is detached from the stern to a point
forward of the No. 1 hatch where it remains attached to the hull.
Detachment of the deck has opened up the internal spaces of the ship
and should make penetration much easier and safer.
A memorial service was held that evening to commemorate
those killed in the raid and in recognition of the services being
held in Australia and New Zealand commemorating ANZAC Day.
Masaya revisited 1997
In late March 1997 the Masaya was revisited. A typhoon had just
swept through the area and the condition of the wreck was of concern.
The concern was based on the effects of the storm seen on the s’Jacob the previous day. The storm had caused additional deterioration
of the wreck in that the aft deckhouse had been pushed further away
from the hull exposing the engine room and spilling some cargo on
the deck. Scattered about the aft deck were nearly 20 PT boat propellers.
A few propellers were recovered from the wreck to determine their
origin and condition (Figures 6 and 7). The propellers were recovered
on March 28 1997 fifty-four years to the day Masaya was sunk.
The propellers were from three different manufacturers,
two in the U.S. and the third from Brisbane Australia. The top
propeller was found to contain two bullet holes. The holes were
likely caused when the ship was strafed and bombed by the Japanese.
The propeller with the bullet holes was cleaned up and presented
to the Tufi Dive Resort, it now resides above the bar as shown
in Figure 8. The other propellers were returned to the wreck.
heal section of a boot and whistle were recovered
from the wreck for examination these are shown in Figure 9. The boot
was reburied on the wreck with respect as it was not known if it belonged
to one of those who died in the attack.
History & Characteristics
of SS Masaya
The Masaya, was originally one of the
large number of four-funnel flush deck destroyers built by the
United States Navy during and Immediately after the First World
War. The Fore River ShipBuilding Corporation, Quincy, MA, built
the ship. The shipyard was later to become Bethlehem ShipBuilding
Company. She was Originally christened on 16 February 1920 as
the USS Dale DD-290.
After many years of service the Dale was decommissioned
on 1 May 1930 and stricken from the rolls of the U.S. Navy on
22 October 1930. USS Dale (DD-290) along with the Putnmam (DD-287), Worden (DD-288),
and USS Osborne (DD-295) were sold for scrap to Standard Fruit Company
of New Orleans. The owners had them stripped to mere shells by
Todd Dry Dock and Construction Company and then had Todd convert
the hulls into banana carriers.
The conversion took sixty days
to complete, and cost $200,000 including the cost of the hulls.
Renamed SS Masaya, SS Teapa, SS Tabasco, and SS Matagalpa respectively, They
were given new deckhouses and two 750 hp. Ingersoll-Rand Diesel
engines and set to work hauling bananas between New Orleans and
Central American ports, where their shallow draft enabled them
to go up rivers to the plantations, thus eliminating rail transportation.
Manned by a crew of only 19 men, they could carry some 25,000
stems of fruit per trip some 1,000 to 1,200 tons. With both engines
full out, their speed of 16 knots made refrigeration unnecessary;
instead, a large flow of air was forced into the holds through
big wind sails. Characteristics of the Masaya are detailed in
The following detailed description of the conversion
of Masaya and her sister ships into banana carriers was taken from
a report prepared by Equitable Equipment Co., Inc New Orleans, Louisiana
which was a reprint from Marine Engineering and Shipping Age, June,
As a result of the successful conversion of the destroyers
Worden and Putnam to the 15-knot express carriers Teapa and Tabasco,
the Standard Fruit & Steamship Company, New Orleans, carried out
similar conversions on the former United States torpedo boat destroyers
Osborne and Dale.
These are two of the 58 destroyers sold by the Government
in order to reduce the 293,000 tons in the destroyer category to the
maximum 150,000 tons allowed by the London Naval Treaty. According
to the terms of the treaty, by December 31, 1936, the destroyer tonnage
must be rescued by scrapping or converting to hulks 143,000 tons of
such vessels. Purchase of the destroyers in question necessitated
the removal of all-propelling machinery, war gear, shafting, propellers
The destroyers were built starting in 1918 and are
of the flush-deck type which was used exclusively for the 35-knot
class destroyers built by the United States during the First Wold
War. Each vessel was powered with 27,000 shaft horsepower driving
two shafts bearing driven through a double-helical single-reduction
gear by high-pressure and low- pressure turbines of the Parsons type.
Each propelling unit, consisting of reduction gears, turbine and main
and auxiliary condensers, was located in a separate engine room. In
addition to the two engine rooms, there were two boiler rooms. Four
Normand return-flame oil fired boilers operated under the closed fireroom
system supplied steam. These boilers operated under a working pressure
of 260 pounds per square inch. The four boilers had a total heating
surface of 27,000 square feet.
After the destroyers were converted to hulks and
accepted as such by the Navy Department, the hulls were towed to New
Orleans where they were reconditioned by Todd Shipyards Corporation
(Now of Seattle Washington State USA). The marine engineering staff
of the Equitable Equipment Company, New Orleans performed the engineering
for this conversion.
Each vessel in the reconditioned state was divided
into four cargo holds each served by one hatch and having a total
carrying capacity of 25,000 stems of bananas.
The superstructure consists of two houses Figures
11 and 12, a forward house containing two passenger rooms and connecting
bath, two mates’ rooms, a wireless operator room, a bath for
the officers, dining room, galley, ice box and storeroom. On top of
the forward house are located the wheel house and chart room, captain’s
room and bath. In the after house are located room for the Chief Engineer
and his bath, two rooms for the Assistant Engineers, steward’s
room, and engineers’ bath on the port side. On the starboard
side will be found the crews’ mess room, and five double rooms
for sailors, oilers, and the rest of the crew, together with the crews’
A very important feature of the conversion is that
electric welding was used throughout for the superstructures and main
engine and auxiliary foundations.
All four vessels were registered under the American
flag and were in the banana-carrying service from Central American
countries to New Orleans, Galveston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New
York and Boston.
One of the main reasons for the conversion of these
destroyers was to utilize the fine lines for which they were notable
and thus secure the maximum possible economic speed with a minimum
amount of horsepower.
In each vessel the main propelling machinery consists
of two Ingersoll-Rand, 8-cylinder, 4-cycle, single-acting, trunk-piston
type solid-injection Diesel engines having a 16-inch bore and a 24-inch
stroke shown in Figure 13. Each engine develops 1000 horsepower at
270 revolutions per minute. Each engine also is equipped with lubricating,
fuel oil and circulating-water pumps and was served by a model 20D
Hydroil lubricating-oil filter.
Three day tanks were installed in the engine room
to supply the fuel oil for these engines. One of these tanks was used
as a settling tank from which the oil purifiers continuously clean
and transfer the oil to the other two tanks, which in turn are used
for direct feed to the engines.
The electrical plant consists of one 35-Kilowatt
Westinghouse direct-current generator driven by a two-cylinder 8.25-inch
by 12-inch Ingersoll-Rand, 4-cycle, solid-injection Diesel engine
operating at 450 revolutions per minute. In addition, a 25-kilowatt
Troy-Engberg direct-current generator, driven by a 6-cylinder 5.5-inch
by 6-inch Cummins 4-cycle solid-injection Diesel engine, operating
at 800 revolutions per minute, is installed.
Two Dean Brother’s horizontal-duplex double-acting
piston-type pumps, silent chain drive, serve ballast, fire systems
and the bilge. On e of these pumps is activated by a 5-horespower
and the other by a 15-horespower motor with variable-speed controls.
A Cameron motor pump also is installed as an emergency circulating
water pump for the main engines. This is piped to the main manifold
so that it may be used for ballast service if necessary. The compressed
air system is provided for by four 250-pound 30-inch by 120-inch compressed
air tanks. The compressor battery consists of two 5.5-inch by 2.75-inch
by 5-inch luger. Ingersoll-Rand two-stage air compressors each direct-connected
to a 15-horsepower General Electric Motor.
A Viking twin-oil-pumping unit, consisting of two
90-gallon-per minute rotary pumps, driven by one 5-horsepower Westinghouse
motor, is also installed in the engine room (Figure 15). One of these
pumps is used for fuel-oil transfer service and the other as an emergency
lubricating-oil-circulating pump for the main engines. A Roper 30-gallon-per-minute
rotary pump, driven by a 1-horsepower motor, is used to supply the
fuel-oil-settling tank in the engine room. Sanitary and fresh water
service are provided by two Roper rotary pumps having a capacity of
25 gallons per minute, each driven by a 1-horsepower motor.
For handling cargo, each hatch is served by a Novo
single-drum reversible winch, gasoline-engine driven. The capacity
of each winch is two tons on a single line at 100 feet per minute.
A Superior Iron Works worm-geared electric anchor
windlass, driven by a 20-horsepower General Electric motor, was installed
for handling the two 1800-pound Baldt stockless anchors each with
30 fathoms of 1.25-inch stud-link chain. These anchors are handled
simultaneously at a speed of 20 feet per minute.
The steam steering engine was converted by the Benson
Electric Company by removing the steam cylinders and installing a
new end stand with a large gear driven by two 7.5 horsepower Westinghouse
motors with necessary controls. This installation made it possible
to operate the vessel at sea with one motor, using the other motor
as a stand-by. For maneuvering, the two motors were operated together.
Each vessel also was equipped with a 30-horsepower
vertical oil-fired boiler for supplying steam to the heating system.
The boilers were equipped with fuel-oil burners designed for using
regular Diesel oil. Feed water was supplied to the boilers by a Dean
Brothers 4-inch by 2.625-inch by 6-inch horizontal single-style, double
In the conversion it was necessary to install all
new line shafting, inboard and outboard bearings, new struts and propellers,
to transmit the 2000 horsepower developed by the main engines.
The Masaya toiled away un-noticed until the eve of
World War II when she and her sister ships were surveyed and chartered
by the U.S. Navy on a bare boat basis. When the situation on Corregidor
became desperate early in 1942, General MacArthur pleaded that aid
be sent by means of blockade-runners directly from the United States.
In the quest for suitable vessels, the three surviving banana boats
attracted the personal attention of General Brehon, B. Somervell (Chief
of Transportation, U.S. Army), General Marshall, and President Roosevelt.
Taken over as US Army Transports on bareboat charter,
they were given Army gun crews to man a motley array of armament,
and loaded with supplies of the highest priority. The Navy armed SS Masaya,
along with her two sister ships in New Orleans.
Masaya left New Orleans on 3 March for Corregidor,
via the Panama Canal, Los Angeles, and Honolulu, with a cargo of ammunition,
avgas, medical supplies, and mail. Too late to help the garrison of
the beleaguered fortress, she was still in Honolulu when the surrender
of the Philippines caused her to be diverted to Australia where she
was re-manned with an Aussie crew as an inter-island transport for
Masaya Transports “E” Troop
55th Battery 2/5th Field Regiment at Buna
Much of SS Masay’s operational history
remains shrouded in mystery once she entered New Guinea waters. We
do know that she participated in the battle for Buna by transporting
an Australian artillery battery from Milne Bay to Porlock Harbor in
early November 1942. The troop was transported by captured Japanese
barge from Porlock Harbor to Oro Bay then onto the Buna area where
they were attacked by Japanese planes prior to landing. The information
which follows was gleaned from the 2/5th Field Regiment War Diary
and interviews with two of the Australian soldiers who where aboard
at the time.
The 2/5th Field Regiment had fought in Africa early
in the war was returned home and reassigned to New Guinea to counter
Japanese advances in the area. The Regiment’s entry into New
Guinea was at Port Moresby. By Mid October 1942 transport was arranged
to move the Regiment from Moresby to Milne Bay.
Late in October “E” Troop received orders
to load their equipment aboard SS Masaya for transport to Wanigela.
Loading commenced on 31 October with the loading of stores and equipment.
Loading continued through the evening of 1 November. The troop of
nearly 300 men departed Milne Bay at 2230 hours headed for Wanigela
and Porlock Harbor on their way to Buna.
In the book “Guns and Gunners” members
of “E” troop had some interesting observations about their
trip aboard the Masaya:
“E” Troop’s transport that sailed
from Milne Bay on the evening of 2 November was a far cry from the
great Queen Mary or the luxurious Niew Amsterdam. Most of the Troop
traveled aboard the Masaya, an ancient American destroyer, converted
for banana freighting. The Masaya was a typical specimen of the all
too unsuitable, but nevertheless all too few, little ships that transported
troops and supplies beyond Milne Bay.
These little ships were the lifelines of the Allied
fighting men. Their number and capacity controlled the scope of military
operations. On these vessels, usually manned by Australians or Americans,
dangers from the sea or from the enemy were to be expected on every
Defensive armament on the Masaya was negligible.
Members of the Troop constructed a dummy 6-inch gun on the forward
deck, in the faint hope of frightening any adversary who might be
encountered during the voyage.
First call was at the little harbor of Wanigela.
Here “E” Troop members became stevedores, under the direction
of W.O.II J. Puxty, and had the tricky job of juggling long steel
rails out of a tiny hatchway.
“E” troop’s destination was Porlock
Harbor. The journey from Wanigela was quite exciting and eventful.
Crude charts made generations before, plus a useless native pilot,
meant that the avoidance of even known reefs was more a matter of
chance than skill. Although the vessel was to some extent damaged
by reefs, it did at least stay afloat until its packed cargo of nearly
500 men and stores were got ashore at Porlock.”
Mr. Alan King a member of “E” Troop was
interviewed in November of 1999 about his experience aboard the Masaya.
Mr. King was able to add some detail to the official account recorded
in the Regiments War Diary:
The fake gun constructed by the Troop aboard Masaya
was made of coconut tree logs. There are no known photographs of the
Masaya sporting her new armament.
At Wanigela after unloading supplies and the steel
rails, as Masaya moved out into open sea she struck a reef damaging
a propeller shaft but proceeded with reduced speed around Cape Nelson
to Porlock Harbor.
Mr. Tom Hale was also interviewed, in Mid December
1999. He recalls that he was on deck looking down into one of the
cargo holds watching a card game when the ship struck the reef. He
said the whole ship shook and the sound so frightened the men playing
cards that they scrambled to the deck thinking the ship might sink.
Hale remembers that the hold the men were in was lined with timber.
Both King and Hale were sent pictures and the layout
drawing of Masaya in December of 1999 to see if these images would
stir additional memories. In particular it is hoped that Hale will
recall which hold the card game was being played in at the time the
ship struck the reef.
It is not known what repairs if any were made to
Masaya after her mission. Her starboard propeller should be inspected
in the future to see if it shows damage from striking a reef. The
port propeller and shaft show no damage.
At 9.16 a.m. on 24th March 1943, Masaya sailed from
Fall River (Milne Bay) carrying troops and Cargo. Within a few days
SS Masaya steamed into Tufi and took aboard supplies, equipment,
and a small base force, then sailed into history.
Air Raid on Oro Bay and the Fateful Mission
of SS Masaya
The next seven paragraphs contain passages
extracted from At Close Quarters with expansions provided by this
After the end of the Buna campaign Allied ground
forces continued their slow advance up the coast, making possible
the establishment of a further advanced operating base for PT boats.
From Tufi the boats patrolled into Huron Gulf, but the distance was
so great that most of their time was used up in getting to their stations
and returning, with only a few hours left for useful patrol. A base
in the vicinity of Cape Ward Hunt would bring the boats 90 miles closer
to Huon Gulf, and save 180 miles on each patrol.
On March 24, Commander Mumma took PT-142 (Flying
Shamrock) into Douglas Harbor, on the East Side of Cape Ward Hunt,
and remained there overnight. The harbor was suitable for a PT base
and apparently free of Japanese. Within a few days SS Masaya steamed
into Tufi and took aboard
supplies, equipment, and a small base force under Ensign Donald F.
Galloway, USNR. Galloway had been the Executive Officer of PT-67.
Both PT-67 and PT-119 burned in a fueling accident at Tufi on March 17, 1943.
She left Tufi on March 28 for Oro Bay Forward Supply
Base to take aboard 50 Army troops who were to be the local defense
force for the Douglas Harbor PT base. Ensign Galloway was unaware
that the plan called for him to pickup 50 soldiers at Oro Bay.
Ensign Galloway was in charge of the loosely planned
operation to establish an advance base at a cove on Cape Ward Hunt
100 miles to the North. The Australians were to deliver his 11 man
base force and 50 Army soldiers with supplies at night to this new
base which they were not sure they could find. The plan called for
the SS Masaya to off-load her cargo of 500 drums of 100 octane avgas,
a portable radio and other base equipment under cover of darkness.
Ensign Galloway and his men were to swim the 500 drums of gas ashore
after they were dumped overboard by Masaya.
SS Masaya had a mixed crew, an Australian captain,
officers and men to operate the ship, and an U.S. Army gun crew providing
The heavy battery aboard Masaya was a 3” X
50 Cal. dual-purpose gun mounted near the stern. The ship also carried
4 x 50 Cal. Browing machineguns as shown in Figure 17.
Masaya was unescorted by a warship as she made her
way to Oro Bay to pickup the soldiers. During the voyage she was escorted
from time to time by a P-38 fighter providing air cover.
When the Masaya was still about 6 miles off Oro Bay
(Figure 18), a flight of 18 enemy dive-bombers and 40 fighters swept
in to raid Army installations ashore, port facilities and shipping.
As soon as the pilots saw the old banana boat, whose destroyer lines
had not changed with the years (Figure 19), they pounced on her with
obvious glee, thinking that they had caught a warship out alone.
Ensign Galloway and his men were inside the ship’s
salon and had just completed lunch when the attack occurred. Six bombs
were dropped, three were direct hits in the stern area and three were
near misses. The three direct hits took out the gun crew and engineering.
All the hits landing on the aft section of the ship. None of the 500
drums of avgas was set alight in the attack, which saved many lives
Some of the men and crew had life vests
others did not as they were blown up. The strong swimmers gave their
vests to those who could not swim. Galloway and his men threw two
of the hold hatches overboard for some of the men to get on, and others
to hold onto until picked up, which took about an hour.
According to Galloway two of the ships Australian
complement deserted while the ship was under attack, taking the
captain’s gig and headed for shore. Their fate is unknown.
This left the captain no able bodied men as the rest of his crew
was either wounded or dead.
One of the rescue craft was commanded by Lt.
Laddy Ready who today lives outside of Boston and is a friend
of Galloway's. Lt. Ready came out and picked up some of the survivors.
Bill Lunney the author of “The Forgotten Fleet” also
knew Lt. Ready when he served on small ships in New Guinea.
Ensign Galloway was picked up by one of the boats.
They watched the Masaya as she was taking on water from the stern
and listing hard to starboard. They spotted one of the gun crew
on the stern gun and in danger of going down with the ship. The
rescue boat was maneuvered near the stern of the sinking Masaya.
Galloway swam over to the Masaya got on board and grabbed hold
of the soldier, who crumbled in his arms, dead. As the ship was
going down Galloway swam with the body back to the rescue boat.
The Masaya went down stern first at 1313 hours and hit the bottom
There were eleven fatalities among her mixed crew
of Australians and Americans, but only one of the PT men was injured,
only slightly. All survivors and casualties were rescued and brought
to Oro Bay. No human remains were on board the Masaya when she went
Upon reaching Oro Bay Galloway realized he was not
wearing shoes. He cut his feet on the steel mesh a top the barge they
docked at. He could not walk with bare feet and borrowed a pair of
shoes. He developed blood poisoning from the cuts.
After recovering from blood poisoning at Tufi, Mr.
Galloway served as base commander at Morobe. While at Morobe he and
the PT squadron commander John Dean Buckley went down to the Army
camp and talked to the division commander Archie Roosevelt, President
Teddy Roosevelt’s son. Mr. Galloway’s brother-in-law,
Jack Carry was skipper of the 142 boat.
Later after cessation of hostilities, then Lieutenant
Galloway (USNR), became Squadron Commander of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron
23, assuming command on October 14, 1945 and overseeing the squadrons
decommissioning on November 26, 1945 at Mindoro in the Philippines.
Lost with the Masaya were 500 drums of gasoline,
a radio transmitter and receiver, and all of the tools, spare parts,
fuel pumps, and other equipment for the advanced base. Equipment was
so scarce that it was almost another month before enough could be
assembled to try again to establish a new base. The Japanese fliers
had not, as they thought, sunk a destroyer, but they had put a nasty
crimp in PT activity in Huron Gulf. Today SS Masaya rests on her
starboard side in 165 feet of water.
The delay in establishing a base at Douglas Harbor
made it a less desirable site as the front had moved further north.
A more desirable site was found at Morobe Harbor. It was closer to
Huron Gulf and would cut more than 200 miles off each patrol.
At the time of the attack SS Masaya was operating
on behalf of the U.S. Army Small Craft Section under the direct control
of Gen. MacArthur.
At 1145 local time five dive-bombers pealed away
from the main attack formation headed for Oro Bay and attacked SS
Masaya. There were several near misses and one confirmed and a second
appeared to be direct hits aft.
The Bowen at the entrance of Oro Bay was in position
to witness the attack. The Commanding officer in his report states
that the Masaya was attacked in a position some 5 miles to the East
of Oro Bay and was seen to be hit aft at about 1147.
A second officer, Lieutenant Adamson R.A.N.V.R.,
Beachmaster, who was on shore during the attack assisted in the rescue
of survivors from the Masaya. As soon as the attack on the shore installations
was over he made for the beach where he found several other officers.
He boarded the Maloola and was told by Mr. Mulleneux
that another vessel had been attacked out in Dyke Ackland Bay. Lieut.
Adamson obtained permission from Comdr. Webb to go and see what had
happened and set off with Capt. Weston and the crew of the launch
Maloola that consisted of Cpl. Horder, the engineer and a native boy.
On clearing Oro Bay the officer could see a vessel
apparently stopped about 5-6 miles away. Three other small craft were
ahead of his party, the R.A.A.F. crash boat and two small fast launches
belonging to the U.SSS. Later they made out a seine net vessel steaming
out to the Masaya from the direction of Pongani (Barraconda). To the
North they saw a large, flat top barge between Sudest and the northern
point of Oro Bay and the Melcustoms inshore of it and apparently stopped.
The local garbage barge was also adrift in the entrance of the bay.
The crash boat passed the Maloola returning to Oro
with wounded; no information was passed between the boats. The Maloola
arrived near the Masaya at about 1245 and found her settling aft with
a big list to starboard. Two small launches were searching the wreckage
and one with Lieut. Ready aboard went back to Oro with more casualties
aboard. The Barraconda with two wounded asked the Maloola to take
them from her but as she was a faster craft they were told to make
direct for Oro Bay.
The Bowen then appeared astern and dropped two depth
charges and was flying the “Hunting” pendant. The Masaya
sank stern first at 1307. Upper works did not appear badly knocked
about but both Nos. 1 and 2 hatches were open. Ensign Galloway spotted
and recovered the body of an U.S. Technical Sergeant who had been
nearly blown in half and got it into the dinghy. Two more trawlers
and some launches had then arrived and the Bowen had gone inshore
of the Masaya. After searching the wreckage and recovering a leather
bag with papers in it the Maloola returned to Oro Bay at about 1500.
Comdr. Webb, R.A.N.R. (S) Naval Officer in Charge,
Oro Bay reported casualties: U.S. soldiers, 8 killed, 2 wounded; ship’s
staff, Merton R. White, 3rd Engineer Killed, Thomas Hill, Greaser
Killed, Vernon F. Kite, greaser wounded later died of wounds. The
wounded were John H. Cox, 2nd Engineer and Joseph P. Leydon, 4th Engineer.
Listings of US dead and wounded have not been located in the archives.
While the Masaya was under attack, shipping and shore
installations at Oro Bay were also being attacked. The attack is well
documented in After Action Reports filed by Australian officers a
shore, aboard the HMAS Bowen and the SS Bantam a Dutch trader sunk
in the raid.
Oro Bay port facilities and Base B were constructed
and operated by the U.S. Army. The first docking facility was a floating
pontoon wharf shown in Figure 21, located on the North shore of Oro
Bay adjacent to the Base Camp. The wharf was ready to receive ships
by late 1942.
Additional wharfs were added in
the last half of 1943 located on the South shore. These facilities
shown in Figure 22 were designed to support up to three Liberty
ships at a time and were designated the Liberty Docks. The only
docking facilities at the time of the attack capable of off loading
freighters was the North shore pontoon wharf.
The vast majority of port facilities and base
structures were destroyed or removed at the end of the war by
the U.S. Army at the insistence of the Australian Government.
What remained is shown in Figure 23, a KH-4A Satellite photo taken
12 November 1966.
On Sunday 28th March, 1943, the corvette H.M.A.S.
Bowen was anchored just inside Oro bay, maintaining anti submarine
watch, with the watch on deck on the alert for aircraft and guns
manned and ready, because of the frequency of air raid alerts.
The KPN. Bantam (3,322 tons), Stage 21 of Lilliput, was discharging
at the wharf, At approximately 2000 that evening the
Bowen was to escort her to Townsville. At 1140 the alert sounded.
SS Bantam went to action stations and the shipmaster along with
the commanding officer of the Bowen, Lieutenant R.A.N.R. (S) G.L.
Olsen, who was onboard coordinating departure time, went on deck
to scan the sky. In short order planes were sighted dead astern
above the top of the hills, just as they began to dive for the
run in. The raid consisted of five VAL types.
The Bowen, SS Bantam and shore battery opened fire
on the attackers, but the attack was successfully carried out
and over by 1145. Seven bombs fell on or near the Bantam. The
first and third in the water just alongside one on either side
abreast the foremast. The second hit just forward of the bridge,
the fourth and sixth hit the wharf; the fifth hit No.3 hold, and
the seventh hit near the engine room on the No. 4 hatch. The bombs
that hit the wharf tore a hole in the ship’s side on the
waterline, and she was taking water rapidly, and she was also
on fire forward, amidships and aft whiles the wharf was burning
fiercely. The two pontoons composing the wharf burnt out and sank.
The fire aboard the Bantam was worse than initially realized the
bomb that hit the No.4 hold set the cross-bunker alight, which
fueled and spread the fire.
Upon returning to the Bowen Lt Olsen turned
the corvette to assist SS Bantam. The Bantam was sinking, so
the first consideration was to get her clear of the wharf and
beach her, and attack the fires at the same time. The Bowen came
alongside and secured her self to the Bantam and brought fire
hoses to bare. The Bantam had already slipped from the burning
wharf as shown in Figure 25, assisted by a couple of large motor
boats, and anchored just off, but she had to slip that anchor
so that the Bowen could get her to the beach. Bowen’s efforts
to get her to the opposite side of the bay were unsuccessful,
and as haste was necessary, she was beached at the head of the
bay at 1245, as she was settling fast. Bowen’s efforts to
subdue the fire were not successful as the fire had a good hold
and Bowen’s water supply was very inadequate.