Eulogy, Saturday August 9, 2008 is the 66th. anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Canberra 1

Saturday August 9, 2008 is the 66th. anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Canberra 1 at the Battle of Savo Island,on the next day at the Naval Chapel on Garden Island Sydney a Memorial Service will be held, I was asked to present the eulogy, but my Melbourne speaking engagement on the Great White Fleet to the St Kilda Historical Society has precluded me from being in Sydney.

Chris Johnson, the grandson of a former crew member will do it on my behalf, and here it is:

Remembering HMAS Canberra 1.
Sunk at the Battle of Savo Island 9th. August 1942.
By Mackenzie Gregory.

I must firstly apologise for not being able to be here in person this morning, but a longstanding speaking engagement in Melbourne on the subject of the visit of the US Great White Fleet to Australia 100 years ago, has precluded me from joining you all.

So, thank you Chris Johnston for your help today in taking my place.

Yesterday was the 66th. anniversary of the Battle of Savo Island when an Allied naval force was decimated by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Solomon Islands.

In 1942, this area in the Pacific Ocean was a backwater, and very little was known about the Solomon Islands. Martin Clemens was a District Officer and Coast Watcher on the Island of Guadalcanal.

On the 1st. of July1942, Dovu, one of his police constables, came rushing up to report, "1000 Japan men had come ashore at Lunga." he went on to explain, " Me sit down in scrub, catchem ten fella stone long hand, and me countem Japan men come ashore."

The Japanese commenced to build an airfield on Guadalcanal, this would prove a threat to the vital shipping link between the US and Australia, used to ferry supplies of men and material to our country, set up as a base from which we might move northwards against the Japanese invaders in the Pacific.

Clemens radioed the news off to his Coast Watcher boss Eric Feldt in Australia, and it was quickly passed on to Washington DC.

Admiral Ernest King, the Chief of Naval Operations soon decided that "Operation Watchtower" the impending operation to land Marines on Guadalcanal would be a Naval affair.

It would be the first Allied offensive planned against the Japanese in the Pacific.

Dog Day was set for the 7th. of August 1942, Vice Admiral Jack Fletcher USN was made Commander of the Expeditionary Force, he had 3 carriers with a supporting battleship, cruisers and destroyers.

Rear Admiral Kelly Turner USN was in charge of the landing group of 15 transports for Guadalcanal, 4 transports plus 4 destroyer transports for Tulagi.

Major General A.A. Vandegrift had command of the 1st. Marine Division.

The Naval support group of six 8 inch cruisers and two six inch cruisers, plus eight Fleet Destroyers was commanded by Rear Admiral V. A. C.

Crutchley VC, RN. ( he had won his VC as a Lieutenant )

On 9/10 May 1918 at Ostend, Belgium, Lieutenant Crutchley took command of HMS Vindictive when the commanding officer had been killed and the second in command seriously wounded. He displayed great gallantry and seamanship both in Vindictive and M.L. 254 which rescued the crew after the former vessel had been sunk between the piers of Ostend harbour. He also took command of M.L. 254 when the commanding officer of that vessel had collapsed from his wounds. M.L. 254 was full of wounded and in a sinking condition, but Lieutenant Crutchley kept her afloat until  HMS Warwick came to the rescue.

Japanese Naval Ships.
After the Coral Sea and Midway battles, the Japanese had designated the 8th. Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, based on Rabaul.

7th. of August 1942.
The invasion force approached the Solomons undetected by the Japanese, and at 0613 all hell broke loose, naval bombardment at both Tulagi and adjacent to the airfield on Guadalcanal plus carrier aircraft strikes took place,  SUPRISE WAS COMPLETE.

On Guadalcanal, Marines quickly advanced as the Japanese took to the hills, on Tulagi it was a quite different story, the Japanese could not withdraw and it took two days to overcome their resistance.

Japanese air attacks on the invading force were pressed home, 16 Japanese aircraft were destroyed and we lost 12 carrier planes.

For the first time in WW2, I was subjected to air attacks by torpedo carrying planes, I could not believe the intense AA fire that these planes could fly through and still survive.

Mikawa quickly sailed for the Solomons from Rabaul with 4 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and a single destroyer.

Night of the 7th/ 8th of August.
Over the night of the 7th./8th. of August the entrances to the south and north of Savo Island were covered by two cruiser forces each with two destroyers, and on the seaward side of Savo, two destroyers Blue and Ralph Talbot kept watch to provide early warning of any enemy approach. ( well that was the intent )

Saturday the 8th.of August.
The Marines had captured the airfield on Guadalcanal.

An RAAF Hudson aircraft under the command of Sergeant Stan Stutt flying a patrol from Milne Bay sighted Mikawa's force. He tried to transmit an enemy report, but could not raise his base ( it so happened that Milne Bay was under an air attack and the radio station had closed down )

Stutt flew the long way home to report sighting 3 cruisers, 2 destroyers, and 2 Seaplane Tenders, the miss reporting of seaplane tenders led the Naval command off Guadalcanal to decide that this Japanese force was bound for Rekata Bay on St Isobel Island to set up a seaplane base there.

It was considered that enemy Submarines posed the main threat, and not surfaces forces.

Night of 8th./9th. of August, 1942.
At sunset on the evening of the 8th. of August, night screening dispositions were taken up, Australia, Canberra, Chicago, and two destroyers blocked the southern entrance, patrolling a line 310 degrees/ 130 degrees at 12 knots, reversing course 180 degrees on the hour without signal.

US cruisers, Quincy, Astoria, Vincennes, with two destroyers carried out a box patrol to seal off the northern entrance.

Blue and Ralph Talbot were again on patrol seaward of Savo.

Evening of the 8th. of August.
Fletcher had decided to withdraw his Carrier support, prior to the invasion he had promised to give the landings air support over three days, now he was off after but two days. This was to leave the Marines on shore, the troopships still unloading the heavy equipment, and the support group bereft of any air support, naked to hard pressed enemy air attack. A total disaster.

Turner now called Crutchley and Vandegrift to his flagship McCauley, anchored off Lunga Point, to discuss the position we were now left in.

I have never forgiven Vice Admiral Jack Fletcher for deserting the landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

Australia was now pulled out of her patrol line to transport Rear Admiral Crutchley the 20 miles to reach Mc Cauley.

Chicago's CO, Captain Bode USN was senior ship, but he decided he would stay 3 cables astern of Canberra, and lead from the rear.

Middle Watch.
At midnight as the 8th. of August ticked over to become the 9th. I took over as Officer of the Watch on her bridge.

Mikawa was now leading his force in line ahead in Chokai, they sighted both Blue and Ralph Talbot, but sailed past unseen, the Japanese also sighted the US destroyer Jarvis, previously damaged and on her way to Australia for repairs, again no sighting by the Americans. Mikawa sighed in relief and pressed on, the gate was open, he sailed straight through towards the flock of unsuspecting sheep.

At 0143, several incidents crowded in, I was conscious of the time, I had to call the Navigator at 0145, so he might fix our position prior to the next 180 degree turn at 0200.

There was an explosion almost due north, probably a Japanese torpedo blowing up at the end of its run, the Captain was called.

The port lookout reported a ship ahead, neither the Principal Control Officer, the Yeoman of Signals or myself could  make out anything. Patterson, our port escort destroyer signalled us using a small blinker tube, she had broadcast by Talk Between Ships telephone, "Warning! Warning! Strange ships entering harbour."

Although its hard to believe and accept, Canberra was not fitted with TBS, and thus could not read this warning, to go into battle with Allied ships and not to be able to communicate via TBS is unforgiveable.

We went to first degree of readiness, and I called the Gunnery Officer and Navigating Officer to the bridge.

Torpedo tracks passed down our starboard side, the Navigator took over the con of the ship from me, more torpedoes crossed our bows, starshell lit the scene and Japanese float planes dropped flares on our starboard side.

I hastened to my action station in the fore conrol where as Rate Officer my job was to estimate the course and speed of enemy ships. We were hit amidships, the Walrus aircraft blazing fiercely on the catapult.

A shell exploded on the port side of the compass platform decapitating the Gunnery Officer, mortally wounding Captain Getting, and wounding bridge officers.

Another shell hit just aft of the fore control, and the plot was wiped out.

In all, Canberra suffered up to 28 enemy shell hits, I had been virtually surrounded by incoming shells but escaped unscathed.

The ship lost power and stopped, taking on a list to starboard, the war was over for my ship, only 2/3 minutes has passed after we had gone to action stations.

Post war, research found we had picked up a torpedo that emanated from our starboard escort destroyer USS Bagley, friendly fire we could have done without.

The Japanese force now split into two, sank all three US cruisers of the Northern force, and withdrew.

Patterson comes alongside.
Patterson came alongside about 0330 to assist us to fight the fires, we had no lighting, no water pressure, we just sat and burned.

She was also loading the badly wounded including Captain Getting, still alive, an hour later a cruiser loomed up astern and started shooting at us, it happened to be Chicago, thinking we were a burning Japanese ship.

Patterson cut all lines and took off to sort out that mess.

Captain Bode was criticised for his actions of Chicago at Savo, and he committed suicide some time later.

Daylight at last dawned.
It had proved to be a long night, Blue came alongside forward, and Patterson aft, to rescue all of Canberra's living survivors, I jumped off the listing deck onto Blue, still clutching my binoculars from the fore control, I still treasure them.

The two US destroyers took us to the transports Fuller and Barnett, and off to Noumea, where we all boarded President Grant for passage home to Sydney.

Two weks leave to rekit, and off to sea once more, in the light cruiser HMAS Adelaide.

Canberra had lost 84 crew and another 109 were wounded, in effect when compared to the USN who lost over 1,000 sailors at Savo, we had come off relatively lightly.

It was the worst US Navy blue water defeat to date.

Memorial Plaque on Guadalanal.
A memorial plaque to remember Canberra had some years earlier been unveiled on Guadalcanal, but it was vandalised and destroyed.

The Rudd Government provided funds to replace it, and only yesterday this new Memorial plaque was unveiled and dedicated at Honiara, some of the original Canberra survivors making the journey to be present at that ceremony.

Today at this Memorial Service here in this lovely Naval Chapel at Garden Island, we remember the sacrifice in the cause of Freedom of, 84 Officers and Sailors from HMAS Canberra 1, on that fateful night, now 66 years ago at the Battle of Savo Island.

Naval Chapel Garden Isand Sydney
Naval Chapel Garden Isand Sydney.

Thank you all for remembering with me and for your attention.


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