NavSource Naval History

History of H.M.S. Speaker

(Part 3: September 1945 - February 1946)

MANILA (9th to 12th Sept.).
Steaming between Corrigidor and the Bataan peninsula just before dawn, we anchored about two miles from the shattered remains of the city of Manila. Disembarkation very quickly started, but when our passengers were gone we spent a trying two days of bad weather getting fuel and supplies sufficient for our further rescue trips. The anchorage is plentifully sprinkled with wrecks, but the Americans had made great progress with re-establishing the port on an improved basis.

NAGASAKI (16th to 18th Sept.).
We had expected to return to Tokyo, but after leaving Manila, escorted (in case of our being mined) by U.S.S. Weeden, we were ordered to Nagasaki instead. On the way we met U.S.S. Chenango coming south, who signalled that she had survivors from Exeter and Perth on board to whom we signalled greetings. We embarked an American officer from a minesweeper outside the port who told us to follow his ship up the channel. Finally we entered the inner anchorage and, turning 180 degrees, secured head and stern to buoys, the first British ship to visit the port.

The Rescue Group here was under the command of Rear-Admiral F. G. Fahrion, U.S.N. in U.S.S. Wichita, and from the very first our relations with the group were most cordial. In addition to the ships of his group, an Escort Carrier Squadron had provided air cover for his entry and a minesweeping flotilla had swept him in. Both these units had been largely absorbed into the rescue business by the time we arrived so it was quite a large scale set-up.

Passengers (ex-P.O.W.) started embarking the same evening. Oddly enough they were Americans, the first to reach Nagasaki. Next day it became evident that a typhoon, whose track we had been watching on our weather charts for some days, would pass fairly close to us, and would, unfortunately, blow mainly from the northward, leaving us to ride it out on our stern buoy. We put on extra wires and two big manillas, raised steam and waited. By 1700 the wind, even in this sheltered inlet, was gusting up to 40 knots and from 1730 to 2000 it increased to 59 knots from the starboard quarter. Fearing the “sail area” of the ship’s side, we kept veering cable forward so as to lie stern to wind, and this was probably the reason for our being the only carrier out of the four in harbour not to go adrift during the night. U.S.S. [Cape] Gloucester, ahead of us, lost a plane overboard and smashed two boats and looked like swinging into us, but cleared. Though, in this small and sheltered anchorage, there was not a big sea, it was surprising the way the landing craft went on running right through the gale, and did not pack up bringing us passengers till about 1730.

Admiral Fahrion paid us a surprise visit the next morning and was delighted that we had no trouble to report. The typhoon cleared remarkably quickly and we sailed for Okinawa escorted by U.S.S. Greene, in beautiful weather. This was just as well, as we had 899 passengers on board, who had overflowed into passage ways and some even slept in a magazine which would have been difficult in bad weather.

PASSAGE TO OKINAWA (18th to 20th Sept.).
On the way down we buried, with full naval honours, a British sergeant who had died in U.S.S. Haven; an impressive ceremony.

OKINAWA (19th to 20th Sept.).
We were diverted to Hagushi Bay and it was a remarkable sight when we got there to see nearly 500 ships swinging idly round their anchors, most of them loaded for the invasion and not yet sorted out

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for the change to peace. Another 500 were said to be in Buckner Bay on the East coast, and it is not surprising that there were many casualties among this mass of shipping when a typhoon hit Okinawa a few weeks later.

NAGASAKI (21st to 23rd Sept.).
We returned to Nagasaki just in time to catch up a tour of the atomic bomb area in army trucks which had arrived in advance of the occupying force and gave us just the chance we needed.

It is hard to grasp, without seeing it, the appalling desolation wrought by one small (12lb.) bomb on a busy factory area. Everything was either blown to bits or twisted and thrust sideways by the blast of the explosive. For six square miles there was nothing one could shelter under in a shower of rain. Then we heard how the ‘gamma’ rays, which extend beyond the blast, can play hell with people’s health, and many of them die during the few following weeks. Another war would be hard to visualise at all.

Nagasaki -- Atomic bomb damage
Nagasaki — Atomic bomb damage

Before we sailed Admiral Fahrion sent over a fine aerial photograph of Nagasaki anchorage with the inscription: —

“To Captain James, R.N.,
H.M.S. Speaker.
Appreciation for the excellent performance of duty and pleasant personal contacts.
Well done, Speaker.
  F. G. Fahrion,
Rear-Admiral, U.S.N.”


OKINAWA (24th to 25th Sept.).
This time we only had eight officers and 633 others to accommodate so the trip was easier. How glad they all were to get away, and how appreciative they were of our efforts. We left Okinawa for Hong Kong on 25th Sept., arriving 28th.

HONG KONG (28th to 30th Sept.).
The idea of this visit was to replenish food and fuel to enable us to take a large batch of passengers from Manila to Sydney, but it was also an opportunity too for everyone to have a look at a place they have heard of for so long. The approach was beautiful and a line of junks, sailing out of harbour, completed the picture. We were amused to see the still incomplete hill-top memorial to the Japanese occupation.

There were many British ships in harbour. All the warships had landed half their officers and men for shore duties, and under C.-in-C., Hong Kong (Rear-Admiral Sir Cecil Harcourt, K.C.B., C.B.E.) the place was quickly returning to life. But, having fulfilled our needs, no one was sorry, after three months absence, once again to be on the way to Sydney via Manila.

Hong Kong -- Victoria and the peak
Hong Kong — Victoria and the peak

PASSAGE DOWN SOUTH (30th Sept. to 15th Oct.).
Our visit to Manila was once again a trying one. Formidable was already in harbour attempting to get her load of passengers on board, but as it blew every afternoon and the camp was 15 miles out, a decision any morning to bring the men down to embark, only got them there too late for calm weather. So we waited two days before we could get going. Even then we got away before Formidable!

All ex-P.O.W’.s had steadily been improving in health and morale with the passage of time. The bunch we now embarked (all Australians), after a fortnight’s rehabilitation, fitting of uniforms, etc., in Manila, and under an outstanding C.O. in Major R. Newton, who had been with

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many of his men for four years and earned their affection and respect, were a really fine crowd. They readily took a share in the duties required, and were keen to join in the ship life.

The only thing we now had on our minds was the ship’s appearance. None of us wanted to enter Sydney looking like a bit of old iron as the result of our three months without a chance to paint. So we went full speed and found ourselves somewhere off Brisbane on a glorious calm morning with ten hours to spare. We stopped and in no time the stages were over the side, two boats were down and a mass of men, including 100 volunteers from the Aussies, were busy with paint brushes. By 1800 we were finished painting overall, having shot five sharks which were hanging around hoping for a meal. We got under way again, with a feeling of profound satisfaction which was confirmed when we steamed through the Heads, smart as new paint. Sirens hooted, ships cheered, motor boats followed us in and we felt once again we were in the public eye.

SYDNEY (15th Oct. to 26th Dec.).
This was to be a three weeks’ visit with seven days’ leave to each watch and everyone went flat out to enjoy it. But when we were almost ready to sail, a corroded pipe burst and flooded the Diesel dynamo room, necessitating extensive repair work on the armatures. So we had our visit extended by six weeks. This enabled us to paint to our peacetime colouring, give two excellent dances, and snatch a further three days' leave to each watch, as well as staying over Xmas.

Bringing home the Aussies
Bringing home the Aussies

It was unfortunate for us that this period should have coincided with a wave of strikes ashore which put Sydney on a real austerity basis for lighting, cooking, transport and entertainments and made it difficult for many men to get away on leave. However, most of us had a good time, and we were ready to get to sea again on Boxing Day.

By now, only three other escort carriers remained on the station, all employed on a ferry run between Sydney and Hong Kong. Ruler and Slinger had gone home, our Commodore in Striker left in November, followed by Arbiter, and later Chaser. Reaper was to follow, leaving Speaker and Vindex to finish off the job. When would this be? It depended on how long the station drafting would be done from Sydney Barracks as the ferry service was based on the need for getting reliefs up to the Fleet and Age and Service Groups back for release.

Meanwhile we were losing many of our own officers and men, including the P.M.O. (Surg. Lt. Cdr. Bryson). We miss them all.

PASSAGE TO HONG KONG (26th Dec. to 10th Jan., 1946).
On this, our first purely ferry trip, we carried a very wide range of passengers and stores. The former included “The Great Levante” (magician) and his concert party, who had volunteered at the request of the British Centre, to entertain the forces at Hong Kong. They soon got busy with rehearsals, using a 7-ton van placed forward on the flight deck, and supplied with a piano. The magician’s equipment was carefully renovated by ship’s staff as necessary after five years in store, and the shipwrights even rebuilt the “comedy fiddler’s” best violin which fell to pieces in the damp heat. Eventually we had two excellent shows on a stage erected on the flight deck on the only two nights which otherwise consistently bad weather permitted.

An unrehearsed turn was provided by the Levante family forgetting to replace the secret “catch retaining” device in the locked steel trunk, in and out of which they miraculously climb. So after mystifying the world’s most careful scruting for 27 years, it opened at a chance kick

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by an amateur investigator in the hangar after the show, to the dismay of its owner next morning!

A brief visit to Brisbane was necessary to embark 721 Squadron with their ten Vengeance aircraft, and a lot of motor vehicles mostly destined for our occupying forces in Japan. This just about filled us up, totalling 4076 items of cargo from a 10-ton crane down to cases of beer. The latter contained a total of 38,400 bottles, which sounds a lot, but would not last long at the China Fleet Club.

We were all very sorry to have to say goodbye at Brisbane to our Paymaster, Cdr. (S) H. R. Newton, who was relieved by Cdr. (S) F. S. Heny, R.D., R.N.R.

Our next stop was at Manila where we embarked Captain B. L. Moore, R.N., the Senior British Naval Liaison Officer, Philipines, and his staff, who had spent a year co-ordinating British requirements with the American set-up, first for the Naval operations and then for the evacuation of our prisoners of war. Some passengers of Chinese race and varying nationality and sex were also embarked, raising a problem of where they should be messed. As, however, they were all ill all the way, this was automatically solved. The concert party ladies kindly cared for the women and one merry little three months old baby.

We had very unpleasant weather on the whole of this trip with a great deal of rain and later a strong monsoon. The heavy lorries on the flight deck were an anxiety, but we delivered everything safely on arrival.

HONG KONG (10th to 17th Jan., 1946.
Once inside the harbour the weather was transformed and throughout our visit we enjoyed crisp, bright sunny days. Though there was plenty of work to be done in unloading and repainting, everyone was able to explore the interesting cities of Victoria and Kowloon and found the shops surprisingly well stocked. The rapid recovery of Hong Kong struck us all, and the population, which has doubled since the reoccupation, seems tolerably well fed and surprisingly cheerful.

The Commander-in-Chief, B.P.F., paid us a visit to watch the unloading and speak a word of encouragement to many officers and ratings, which was much appreciated. His Chief of Staff and the Commodore, Hong Kong, also visited us. All of them told us how dependent they were on our ferry service, but hoped we could be released to go home before very long. The C.-in-C. signalled a compliment on our appearance when we sailed.

RETURN TRIP (17th to 30th January).
Bumping our way through the monsoon, we had an unpleasant trip to Manus where we stopped a couple of hours to collect some passengers (bringing our total to 459 — mostly officers and men due for release), then it remained wet and unpleasant till the day before our arrival.

SYDNEY (30th January to 12th February).
The sun shone on our entry and it was good to be back. It has made a great difference to us all to have such a hospitable base to work from and we have formed many friendships which will not be forgotten when we sail for home.

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At this point the account of Speaker’s commission will have to end as it must go to the printers. Our future programme is unknown though we expect to do another trip to Hong Kong, returning to Sydney in mid-March, and should get home in the summer.

We have had our disappointments. The immense effort put into preparing the ship for Assault Carrier operations never had its fulfilment, but we at least played a full, if unspectacular, part in the British contribution to the defeat of Japan, and we had experiences none of us will forget. Even now, with the war over, they cannot do without us. When we can be spared we shall go home with the satisfaction at a lot of hard work well done, and knowing that Speaker leaves a good name afloat and ashore wherever we have been. And her name will, for all of us, bring back many memories, mostly happy ones, which this little book may help in refreshing in years to come.

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(See also: PJX 326575 Torpedoman William T. Sallows RN, His Journey to Sydney and while onboard, HMS Speaker, 1945-1946)

History of H.M.S. Speaker

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Part 1 — November 1943-February 1945     Part 2 — February-September 1945
Part 3 — September 1945-February 1946     Part 4 — Appendixes

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