Darwin, July 8, 1942: Another examination/stores vessel that got into hot water, HMAS SOUTHERN CROSS with special ops lugger HMAS GRIFFIOEN alongside - Photo AWM.
4980.HMAS SOUTHERN CROSS was a 298 grt motor yacht requisitioned from the Melanesian Mission in the Southwest Pacific in early 1941, and which got involved in some very unmissionary activities.
Built by Cammell Laird and Co. Ltd of Birkenhead, England for the Mission in 1933 SOUTHERN CROSS requisitioned by the RAN on March 29, 1941. Armed with two Vickers .303 machine guns and one .50-inch Browning, she was commissioned by LCDR Charles F. Symonds on June 18 1941, and sent to Darwin as an examination vessel, replacing that once-lovely former millionaire's yacht HMAS ADELE, previously HMAS FRANKLIN.
SOUTHERN CROSS was thus in Darwin at the time of the big Japanese air raid of February 19, 1942, when she rescued survivors from the stricken destroyer USS PEARY, also the beached SS PORTMAR, and then went to the assistance another ship, SS ADMIRAL HALSTEAD, damaged by near misses.
With the war now come to Darwin and Australia's doorstep, SOUTHERN CROSS became involved in other roles, including stores carrier and troop transport. John Bastock book 'Australia's Ships of War' lists her as having been armed with one four-inch gun, but there is no sign of that below, and it is not mentioned in our other reference, Vic Cassell's 'For Those in Peril.'
In any event, between July 9 and 14 1942, HMAS SOUTHER CROSS, escorted by the corvette HMAS WARRNAMBOOL, carried Netherlands East Indies troops to Dobo in the Aru Islands, where they disembarked under cover of RAAF aircraft without opposition [this was the island where the Methodist Missionary Chief, Reverend Kentish, kidnapped by a float plane crew in the HMAS PAPRICIA CAM incident, was taken, and was later executed].
On July 28, 1942, HMAS SOUTHERN CROSS left for another adventure. Together with the diesel ketch HMAS CHINAMPOA she departed Darwin with Australian troops to be landed at Saumlaki in the Tanimbar Islands of the Arafura Sea, to reinforce Netherlands East Indies troops there. The two little vessels arrived blissfully unaware that a strong force of Japanese troops had been landed from two Japanese warships on July 30, shortly before they arrived, and quickly overwhelmed the outnumbered Dutch defenders.
SOUTHERN CROSS was lucky. Her engine broke down outside the Harbour, but CHINAMPA forged ahead. She was anchored in the lagoon and her commanding officer CWO F.J. Henderson RANR had gone ashore when he came under enemy fire.
Retreating Henderson withdrew his ship until SOUTHERN CROSS turned up the next morning. Now both ships approached the island's jetty only to be greeted by a heavy concentration of fire from the waiting defenders ashore. Sadly, Chinampa's CWO Henderson was killed, and another officer and rating wounded.
The operation was aborted, and the ships retuned to Darwin, reaching it on August 2.
SOUTHERN CROSS. 298 tons gross, 160 tons net. Length 120ft [36.7m] beam 28ft 5in had a speed of 9 knots. Her complement was 34. Machinery Twin SC5A 4cyl Gardner 2-stroke diesels, 140NHP.
HMAS CHINAMPA. 60.45 tons gross, 27.04 net was built by Lars Halvorsen, Sydney 1938 for Australasian Petroleum Company Pty Ltd of Melbourne. He had a lenth of 51ft 9.5inch [15.78m], beam 17ft 3.5inch [5.27m] was armed with one .303 Vickers m.g. and had a speed of 7.5 knots.
CHINAMPA was commissioned March 1, 1942, and paid off on Dec 31, 1945.
These are the Australian War Memorial's descriptive notes for the image above:
DARWIN, NT. 1942-07-08. VIEW OF THE PORT SIDE OF THE STORES CARRIER HMAS SOUTHERN CROSS. NOTE THE CAMOUFLAGE SCHEME PAINTED ON THE SUPERSTRUCTURE. ALONGSIDE IS THE LUGGER HMAS GRIFFIOEN. (NAVAL HISTORICAL COLLECTION)
HMAS GRIFFIOEN, one a a number of luggers used by the RAN for special ops, was acquired on loan from the Royal Netherlands Navy on May 27, 1942, and used as both a troop transport for commando landings, and a stores carrier. GRIFFIEON paid off on Feb. 15, 1944, and was transferred to the United States Navy, and was commissioned for the Allied Intelligence Bureau on May 30, 1945.
Photo : Australian War Memorial, Naval Historical Collection image NO. 301330, listed copyright expired, public domain. It is also held in the RAN's Navy Heritage Collection image ID NO. 02360, and appeared in John Bastock's limited edition book 'Australia's Ships of War' [Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1975] p254, and in other sources.