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The Saga of SS Masaya
by Don Fetterly
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SS Masaya (Formerly USS Dale DD-290)

Saga of SS Masaya
Click For PhotoFor 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 Fetterly.

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.

Click For EnlargementThe 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.

Click For EnlargementDamage 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.

Click For PhotoThe 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.

Click For Enlargement 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.

Click For PhotoAfter 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 Table 1.

Click For PhotoThe 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, 1933.

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.

Click For EnlargementThese 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 and struts.

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’ bath.

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.

Electrical Plant
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.

Main Engines
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.

Cargo Capabilities
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 acting, piston-type-pump.

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 General MacArthur.

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 voyage.

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 Author.

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 defense.

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 hard.

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 down.

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.

Last Updated
February 17, 2013

 

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