Royal Navy in Eastern Waters – Linchpin of Victory 1935 – 1942 – Review

The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters – Linchpin of Victory 1935-1942 by Andrew Boyd, Foreword by N A M Rodger, published by Seaforth Publishing on 20th March 2017, ISBN: 9781473892484. This book contains 538 pages and is a heavy tome to read cover to cover. The book is well researched and is good value to the reader wanting to know some specific things from this era and area.

I must confess however that when I first saw the title, then the sub-title of “Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1943” I was ready to hold a negative opinion from the start – although perhaps that is not such a bad way to approach a book review. I felt that describing the Royal Navy in Easter Waters as the linchpin to victory was to downplay the considerably larger contribution to victory of the Atlantic and Arctic Convoys, not to mention the hard yards performed by the USA and Allies in the Pacific. Boyd’s book, however, lays out the strategy that saw the creation of the British Pacific Fleet in 1945 which was the most powerful British Fleet ever and capable of standing up to anything the IJN had left. Perhaps a more accurate title may have been Linchpin to the British Part of the Victory.

As I started to look through the book I was pleasantly surprised. It is not a book that is easy to sit down and read from cover to cover as it is written in an academic style. The amount of research in the book is simply outstanding, the notes alone stretch from pager 416 to page 500 with a further 27 pages of bibliography. The book is split into 4 parts contaning 8 chapters overall:

  • *Part I Prpararing for a Two-Hemispehere War
    • The Royal Navy 1935–1939: The Right Navy fir the Right War
    • Naval Defence of the Easter Empire 1935–40: Managing Competing Risks
  • *Part II Existential War in the West
    • Securing Eastern Empire War Potential after the Fall of France
    • The American Relationship, ABC-1 and the Resurrection of an Eastern Fleet
  • *Part III July 1941: The Road to Disaster in the East
    • Royal Navy Readiness for a War with Japan in Mid-1941: Intelligence and Capability
    • Summer and Autumn 1941: Reinforcement and deterrence
    • The Deployment of Force Z and its Consequences: Inevitable Disaster?
  • *Part IV An Inescapable Commitment: The Indian Ocean in 1942
    •  The Defence of the Indian Ocean in 1942
  • *Conclusion

In addition to the chapters, there are maps and tables as well as some illustrations. THe oreward is by noted naval historian N A M Rodger.

The book looks at the background of the fleet over the period, not the battles although some are mentioned such as the Force Z disaster. Rather this book concentrates on the politics, committees and people who effectively ensured that by 1945 the supply lines from Asia to the Mediterranean had been kept open across the Indian Ocean whilst at the same time building the most powerful British Fleet ever in time for the closing stages of the Pacific War.

There are some areas in the work that may raise eyebrows, like, for example, Boyd’s claims about what the Fleet Air Arm may have achieved should a carrier battle have occurred in the Indian Ocean. That said, the book is sitting at an easy to reach place on my bookshelf, where I can refer to its information as I read further about the British Pacific Fleet in particular.

Rodger notes that “this new account ought to startle the many comfortable ideas which have been doxing too long in the arm-chairs” and I would agree that Boyd’s work is a challenge to long held “truths”. It certainly achieved its aims with me in many areas and the prodigious amount of research present in the book does saves a lot of additional research for the reader while at the same time encouraging the reader to research more.

Well Recommended.

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The British Pacific Fleet – The Royal Navy’s Most Powerful Strike Force – Review

I first came across the British Pacific Fleet when I read Peter C Smith’s Task Force 57, published in 2001. I was working in Ulaanbaatar at the time and was looking for anything that referred to the sea to read. I had become interested in some of the British formations, Task Force 57 and Force H for example. I have picked up various works on the British Pacific Fleet since.

The British Pacific Fleet – The Royal Navy’s Most Powerful Strike Force by Davis Hobbs in 2011, Seaforth Publishing, a Pen & Sword imprint has been released in paperback on 12 April 2017, ISBN 9781526702838 for £13.50.

The British Pacific Fleet (BPF) has a connection to Australia and Sydney and other Australian bases in particular as its logistical base was Australia and much of the training of aircraft was performed at Schofields, Nowra and Jervis Bay.

The BPF was born from the British desire to re-exercise some power in eastern waters. The Royal Navy (RN) had been expelled from the Pacific by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and raids by the IJN on the then Ceylon ensured the RN presence was restricted to the edge of the Indian Ocean, essentially protecting the supply lines from Australia to the Middle East.

Churchill suggested to Roosevelt in September 1944 that a British fleet should become involved in the operations in the main theatre against Japan. The BPF was formed in November 1944 under Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser and its main base was established at Sydney.

While in the Indian Ocean the precursor to the BPF had been conducting operational training and equipping its units which included a large increase in aircraft carriers and changes to the operation of the Fleet Air Arm. The fleet also equipped with an expanded floating supply organisation with about 60 vessels being included in the RN “Fleet Train”.

The BPF eventually was built with vessels from the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal Canadian Navy, as well as blue funnel line vessels requisitioned.

The Allied commanders in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz had differing opinions on where the fleet shout be deployed. MacArthur wanted it in and around the Philippines and Borneo area whilst Nimitz wanted it covering the invasion of Okinawa and the advance on Japan. Nimitz was backed by London and the politicians and so the BPF covered the invasion of Okinawa.

While Smith’s book covers Task Force 57 at a fairly high level, Hobbs goes into detail. He covers:

  • Planning and training
  • Strikes against Sumatran oil refineries
  • Australia and logistical support
  • Operations Iceberg I and II
  • Replenishment in Leyte Gulf
  • Operation Inmate
  • Repairs in Australia and improved logistical support
  • Submarine and mine warfare
  • Strikes against the Japanese mainland
  • Victory
  • Repatriation, trooping and war-brides
  • Peacetime fleet and retrospective

There are a number of appendices covering, among other topics:

  • the composition of the fleet in January 1945, August 1945 and January 1948
  • Air stations and air yards
  • Commanding and flag officers
  • Aircraft

This is a very complete look at the BPF amply illustrated throughout – one of my favourites being HMS Vengeance in Sydney Harbour with the bridge as a back drop, no Opera House, no tall buildings, just a lot of bush around the foreshores.

If you are at all interested in the days when Britain had more than two aircraft carriers at sea, the British Pacific Fleet by Hobbs tells a tale of politics, organisation, operations and dogged persistence. That Hobbs’s writing style is easy to read is added bonus.

Freeing the Baltic 1918-1920 – review

In 1964 Geoffrey Bennett wrote a book called Cowan’s War. The book centered on the Battles to help free Russia from the Bolsheviks. I remember reading it when I was a teenager as the concept of Britain being involved in another little war immediately after World War One was interesting, and I had just finished reading a book about a motor boat fighting the Bolsheviks (the name of the book eluding me at the moment).

When the opportunity came to review Bennett’s Freeing the Baltic – 1918-1920 it was a great excuse to reread the history and recapture (briefly) the feelings I had when I was a teenager.

Pen & Sword Maritime have released this edition in 2017, ISBN 9781473893078. A preface by Bennett’s son, Rodney Bennett has been added along with an addendum.

The main text of the book covers the complexity of this war. The Entente Cordiale were in the process of negotiating the Versailles Treaty with the Central Powers at the same time as the Russian Revolution was in full swing with the White Russians trying to resist the Bolsheviks (Red Russians). The Entente would have preferred independant Baltic States (as indeed would the states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania). The Germans were still active in the region until the Entente coould direct support there.

Bennett wrote about the Royal Navy admiral, Cowan, who was tasked with supporting the White Russians, ejecting the Germans, supporting the Baltic States in their quest for independence while dealing with his own government, crewmen who had had enough of war and wanted to return to home ports along with mines and all with some light cruisers and destroyers.

It is a boy’s own story and I enjoyed reading it again as a somewhat older boy. That the Baltic States were subjugated by the Soviets or the White Russians were defeated by the Bolsheviks is not because of Cowan’s inabilities but rather an inevitability of the creation of the USSR.

The cover of the book carries a quote from Leon Trotsky, “[The British] ships must be sunk, come what may”. This was the environment Cowan found himself in. The Admiralty assigned 238 ships to the area including 23 light cruisers, 85 destroyers and 1 aircraft carrier with 55 aircraft. The French asl allocated 26 vessels, the Italians 2 and the U.S.A. 14. Over the conflict 17 British vessels were lost to mines, weatrher and the enemy. Sixty-one vessels were damaged and 37 aircraft were lost.

In the area the Soviets had 30 vessels approximately including two battleships.

Bennett’s son added a preface and an addendum to the book containing information uncovered later. Perhaps the most ineresting was Admiral Walter Cowan’s career in World War Two where he served in the Western Dessert with the Indian 18th King Edward’s Own Cavalry, mounted on bren-gun carriers. Captured by the Italians, then later part of a prisoner swap he returned to the dessert. When the Second World War was over he was invited to Indian to become the honourary colonel of the 18th King Edward’s Own, surely the first naval officer to be so honoured.

I loved this book when I was a teenager and I love it now and really appreciate the excuse to read it a second time. The additions by Bennett’s son enhance the book rather than detracting at all from his father’s work. Thoroughly recommended.

Bennett also wrote Battle of the River Plate; Coronel and the Falklands; Naval Battles of World War Two; The Battle of Trafalgar; Naval Battles of the First World War; and the Battle of Jutland.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Actually, here in Makati City, he rarely rings. It takes about a week for a parcel to arrive in the Philippines from England. It then takes another week for the parcel to travel a few kilometres from the main Post Office to Makati Central Post Office. It then takes between two weeks and a month or two for the notice of arrive to travel the one kilometre from Makati Post Office to the condominium or the office.

Still, it is great when the notices arrive and you can step back into 1954 to collect the parcels from the Post Office.

Four Parcels containing three different wargaming periods

Box number one (large, top right) contained some goodies from Brigade Models of the UK . The box contained Aeronefs and Cold War Commander Indonesians in 6mm. The Aeronefs the Spanish Fleet Pack #2, Item #: VANFP-1702; Spanish Fleet Pack #1, Item #: VANFP-1701; Spanish Torpedo Flotilla, Item #: VANFP-1711; Indonesian Army Group, Item #: IC-1401; and some bits and pieces.

I am trying to clear my painting queue now to get into both these sets. The Spanish ‘nefs in particular are sweet.

World War 2 Belgians

In the small flat box to the bottom right is a Belgian World War 2 army from Scotia Grendel. I built these from the Blitzkreig Commander III lists before noticing some basic problems with that list, like the missing 75mm guns!

Anyway, there is some nice stuff in there and I can always find an excuse to send off for some more figures from Scotia, and order the missing 75mms then.

The white parcel contained reinforcements from Magister Militum for the little coastal project, namely some more Germans, a few more British and the Italians. The Motoscafo Armato Silurante, (MAS boats), were a class of fast torpedo armed vessel used by the Regia Marina and the models from Hallmark are sweet. More competition for the painting queue.

Lastly, the big box underneath contains three books for review. These will be coming up soon.

Oops, did I order that many?

“Sir Ian, there is a parcel for you”.

With those words from the Concierge at the condo, I was handed two cards from the PhilPost Central Makati Post Office telling me there were two parcels there. Now I was expecting a cover for my LG tablet, a couple of books and some wargame figures (English Civil War 6mm to be exact). I wondered which two parcels they would be. I had a meeting in Pasay in the morning then thought I would come back to the Post Office as it would be lunchtime. I prepared to travel back in time to 1954.

I dropped in and handed the cards over with my ID card. In record time the staff returned with two parcels for me – a small envelope and a huge box from Amazon.com. I had one of those moments looking at the box, paid the 224 pesos for the retrieval of the two parcels and returned home for lunch (and to open the parcels of course).

The stack that came out of the box
The stack that came out of the box

The small envelope certainly contained a cover for my tablet. I then opened the large Amazon box and found 7 books there, 5 more that I had recalled.

Oops.

At least none of the books were repeats of books I had previously purchased and I recall now that I had purchased a few book as they were all in my sphere of interest.

Next time I think I will leave a note to myself on the fridge with details of each order. Then again, opening the parcel was like Christmas as I had not remembered what I ordered so each book was a pleasant surprise.

The loot is shown below! Oops, I did I order that many? I guess I did.

 

Images of War – Two Books Reviewed

SCAN0015Two more books from Pen & Sword Military came into my hands recently. These are both in the series of Images of War designed to provide a general military history of a war or campaign with an emphasis on contemporary photographs. The ones I have seen have concentrated on the Eastern Front of World War II, although other theatres are covered as well.

The first of the additions to my collection was the Battle for Kharkov 1941-1943 written and compiled by Anthony Tucker-Jones (ISBN 9781473827479).

By the time of the Battle for Kharkov the titanic struggle between Germany and the USSR was well underway with both Hitler and Stalin does their best to stymy their professional generals – one by interfering micro management, the other by bloody pogroms eliminating generals that were perceived as a threat.

SCAN0011Kharkov was the site of four battles during World War 2. The first was when the Germans took Kharkov, but were too slow to prevent the Soviets moving the tank factory  the home of the T34 tank. The second and third battles were unsuccessful attempts by the Soviet forces to recapture Kharkov and the fourth, after the Germans loss at Kursk, finally saw Kharkov liberated and back in Soviet hands.

Most of the photos in this collection have come from the Scott Pick WWII Russian Front Original Photo Collection which consists of over 2,500 photographs, not only of soldiers and tanks but also of buildings and civilians. There are a lot of inspiring photographs in there for the modeller and wargamer.
The second Images of War has the general title of Hitler versus Stalin – The Eastern Front 1941-1942 – Barbarossa to Moscow. This volume was written and compiled by Nik Cornish (ISBN 9781783463985).

Mongol in Russian Service - a German POW
Mongol in Russian Service – a German POW

This volume is a more general volume than the Kharkov one and covers the first two years on the Eastern Front with a fine collection of photos.

Included in the photos on this volume are lend lease tanks in Soviet service (see the image of the M3 Grant below) including American and British tanks.

Also included are images of the French Hotchkiss H-35 pressed into service with Souma tanks in German Panzer Battalion 211. About 100 French tanks were pressed into German service and for me it is a good excuse to purchase some more models.

One of my interests has been the Battle of Khalkin-gol (Nomonhan) where the Soviets and Mongolians defeated the Japanese and Manchurians. Also of interest were the Korean soldiers captured by the Soviets from the Japanese and pressed into service, only later to be captured by the Germans and then the Americans.  The blog post here, Korean Soldiers in WW2 German Army, tells tha tale.

Central Asian (maybe Kazakh or Mongol) in Russian Service
Central Asian (maybe Kazakh or Mongol) in Russian Service

I was also aware of the Mongols having marched into Berlin with the Red Army towards the end of the war. This is highlighted by the T34/85 tank donated by the Russians to the Mongols and on a pedestal and permanent display in Ulaanbaatar at the foot of Zaisan.

It was then interested to see the next two photos. The first is clearly a Mongol, also captured by the Germans. Some of the captured troops from the more disaffected areas of Central Asia were pressed into German service, the others were parked in concentration camps.

Hotchkiss H-35 tanks in German service
Hotchkiss H-35 tanks in German service

The next figure down is also from Central Asia but his nationality is less clear. He appears to a Kazakh or similar.

M3 Grant tanks used by the Soviets
M3 Grant tanks used by the Soviets

These two books are a great addition to my World War 2 library and provide wonderful evidence for my having a German tank battalion of Hotchkiss and Souma tanks facing off against Soviets using M2 Stuarts and M3 Grants.

The things I enjoy mostly about this series are the photographs. The books are well illustrated and provide inspiration for modellers and wargamers as well as providing source material or evidence for the more serious student of World War II history. Most of the photos were new to me and this series provides good value for money. They are available in traditional softback bindings as well as eBooks. Recommended!

British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WW II: Vol 2, Battleships & Aircraft Carriers – a Review

coverI was very much looking forward to my last trip back to Australia. Apart from getting to see mother, I had a review copy of British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WW II: Vol 2, Battleships & Aircraft Carriers (ISBN: 9781848322530) written by Malcolm Wright and published on 23 September 2015 waiting for me. This volume covered Capital Ships, namely Battleships and Aircraft Carriers of the British Commonwealth, something I have had an interest in since reading up on Task Force 57 and so I really could not wait to open the package. Whilst most will recall the British Commonwealth Navies efforts in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, their exploits are less well known in the Indian and Pacific Oceans at the time.

What is also not often realised is that by the end of the Second World War, the United Kingdom had more aircraft carriers under steam than any other navy with the exception if the US Navy. The British Pacific Fleet in 1945 for example consisted of 6 fleet carriers, 4 light carriers, 9 escort carriers and 2 aircraft maintenance carriers, with a total of more than 750 aircraft. It also contained 4 battleships.

HMS Malaya
HMS Malaya

The current volume from Mal covers the Aircraft Carriers and Battleships of the British Commonwealth Fleets, often with their pre-war colours as well as their active service camouflage in the Second World War.

I should state at the beginning that I have known the author, Malcolm Wright, for a number of years and you can see my name on his acknowledgements page, not from any addition to the story of the ships and camouflage he is writing about but more from being his part-time technical geek when things go wrong with the computer when he is working on the drafts.

I mentioned that I could not wait to open the parcel containing the book. Wow! I was impressed with Mal’s first volume but this volume surpasses even the high standard of Volume 1. Perhaps it is because it is a book about the battlewagons and carriers or perhaps it is Mal’s drawing ability and the new tools he is using but this volume now sits on top of my book pile for easy reach when I have an hour spare and a hot cup of lapsang souchong in hand.

The book follows the format of Volume 1, with sections on the Reference Sources Mal has used, Paint Types and Schemes, a glossary of Symbols used with the drawings then the vessels themselves. The 5 chapters covering the ships deal with the World War 1 era battleships and battlecruisers, the modern battleships, the monitors, then aircraft carriers and lastly fleet carriers.

Some of the colour chips
Some of the colour chips

Before starting on the ships, Mal discusses the various paint types and schemes, both the official Admiralty schemes and the unofficial. He also looks at Admiralty special schemes and the Admiralty Standard Scheme. Mal also provides a page covering British and Commonwealth Warship Paints During WWII being a page of paint chips, very useful for ship modellers and wargamers. This is also of interest to those with just an interest in warships to see an example of the colours used on British Commonwealth ships during WWII although as Mal will agree, the colours are at best an approximation of the colours, subject both to the limitations of printing as well as there being no extant example of the colours – see for example the discussion on the Mountbatten Pink colour scheme.

Aircraft gloassary
Aircraft glossary
Gun and equipmwent glassary
Gun and equipmwent glassary

There are two pages of, for want of a better term, a glossary for the drawings. The first covers aircraft symbols used in the book to indicate the aircraft carried by various vessels although the markings and colours may vary. The second page is a glossary of the symbols used for weapons and electronics in the book.

There are multiple views of the different vessels reflecting the changes in camouflage over the years. For examples, HMS Queen Elizabeth is illustrated in 1915 as she appeared when providing bombardment support at Gallipoli, then her 1936 colours, followed by 1941 (port and starboard), 1943 (port and starboard), 1943-44 (port and starboard) and then 1944-5 (port and starboard) – ten illustrations showing the progression of camouflage schemes and colours on this vessel over its service life. This pattern is repeated through the book.

HMS Victorious - 1945
HMS Victorious – 1945

To book not only concentrates on British Commonwealth vessels but also covers those vessels transferred to other navies, for example, the Royal Sovereign, which was transferred to the Soviet Union and was re-christened Archangelsk.

There are top views of some vessels as well. The top views become even more valuable with the aircraft carriers. For example, the illustration of HMS Victorious when she was serving in the British Pacific Fleet.

HMAS Albatross
HMAS Albatross

The book is rounded out with a chapter on the escort carriers, some of the more colourful of the capital ships in the British Commonwealth forces and with a discussion of HMAS/HMS Albatross.

I highly recommend this book and it is available from:

Pen and Sword Books (the publisher)

Amazon 

The Book Bug

Philippine History

Well, it ain't historical but it is modern Manila - a view along Makati Avenue looking towards Ayala Avenue and Ayala Triangle Park
Well, it ain’t historical but it is modern Manila – a view along Makati Avenue looking towards Ayala Avenue and Ayala Triangle Park

We’ve sort of settled into Manila and after a couple of walks around the Makati City area I thought I would do what I always do when arriving in a new country long term, I had a look for a book on Philippine history. Two bookshops, both large and the only book I could find was on Philippine History after the Cross.

Now I know that there is a rich history in these 7,000 odd islands stretching back a number of years but published works in English on the period between pre-history and the Spanish arrival seem to be rare – or at least hard to find.

Given my hobby and love of Ancient and Medieval History in particular, this is kind of frustrating so I can see I will have a decent chunk of research to keep me amused as I learn more and travel these islands.

So, what do I know about the pre-Spanish history of the Philippines. I can summarize is as follows:

  • Negritos are believed to have migrated to the Philippines around 30,000 years ago (yes, I know, that is pre-history)
  • They apparently came from Borneo, Sumatra, and Malaya
  • More Malayans followed over the years
  • the Igorots display today some of that older Malayan culture
  • a bunch of Austronesians also migrated in and generally took over from the Negritos
  • the ancient Philippines (say, from about 1 C.E. to 1,000 C.E.) were influenced by the Hindu kingdoms, then perhaps by the Chinese and Indonesian states they were trading with. This lead to:
    • the Rajahnate of Butuan and Cebu
    • the dynasty of Tondo
    • the august kingdoms of Maysapan and Maynila
    • the Confederation of Madyaas
    • the Country of Mai
    • the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao
    • these were small maritime states trading with China, India, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia
    • the remainder of the settlements were independent Barangays allied with one of the larger states
  • the period of Philippine history I am most likely to be interested in is that period following the creation of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription which is the first written document found in a Philippine language
More Historical - Gabriela Silang ("Generala") who was first Filipina to lead a revolt against the Spanish in the 18th Century after they killed her second husband. She was eventually captured in the mountains and hanged.
More Historical – Gabriela Silang (“Generala”) who was the first Filipina to lead a revolt against the Spanish in the 18th Century after they killed her second husband. She was eventually captured in the mountains and hanged.

The first interest in the local history will end about the time to the Spanish colonization and settlement, which began with the arrival of Miguel López de Legazpi’s expedition on 13 February 1565. He established the first permanent settlement of San Miguel on the island of Cebu. We will soon (I hope) be moving into an apartment in Legazpi Village, in Makati City, Metro Manila.

So, a lot of history to research. I expect the military history of the area is likely to mirror that of the Indonesia archipelago.

The hunt begins.

Ancient Warfare VIII/3 – Horsemen of the Steppes

One of the magazines I always look forward to is Ancient Warfare and this latest issue is of particular interest to me for two reasons:

  1. There is no coverage of the Mongols – they deserve separate treatment purely because of their success and the size of their eventual empire
  2. The coverage of the Amazons – something that has been an interest to me since seeing the Amazon sculpture frieze and mosaic in the Louvre
The Amazon Mosaic from the Louvre in Paris
The Amazon Mosaic from the Louvre in Paris

This issue then covers many of my interests whilst focussing on the Pontic Steppes where the majority of classical period nomadic horsemen originated. Included then are articles about the Amazons; a look at Herodotus’s examination of the Skythians; Dugdammi (Lygdamis), who managed to cause some trepidation in Ashurbanipal of Assyria when he united a number of nomadic tribes; Darius the Great’s Scythian expedition, 512 BCE; The battle for the Bosporan Kingdom, 310/309 BCE (Skythians face off against Sarmatians); and Alexander the Great’s mauling of the Skythians at the  Battle of the Jaxartes.

The Amazon sculptures from the Louvre in Paris
The Amazon sculptures from the Louvre in Paris

There are a number of other articles as well on Rome and Egypt but perhaps most interesting for me was the article noted as an obscure debate over a very long spear – How Long was the Macedonian Sarissa? There are a couple of good illustrations of both the reported length of that spear and it relative reach compared to the spears of regular hoplites.

It is also strangely appropriate and good timing that this issue comes out during the Naadam festival, the celebration of Mongolia. As I type this I have been watching the nine standards of Chinggis Khaan paraded and placed for the festival.

S.S. Robert J. Walker – the Man and the Ships

Robert_John_Walker_cph.3a01283
Robert J Walker

Somehow or other, Robert J Walker came up the other day. In one of those fortuitous moments of historical coincidence, I quickly checked the name and found some interesting stories.

Robert J Walker was an early economist and the 18th Secretary of the Treasury of the United States during the presidency of James Polk. This was the period 1845-1849.

He was responsible, amongst other things, with organising the financing of the US Mexican War. One example is seen in correspondence with Major General William Orlando Butler,

“February 23, 1848. Sir, Upon the ratification of a treaty of peace by the Republic of Mexico in conformity with the provisions of the act of the congress of the United States of America approved March 3, 1847 stated ‘an act making further appropriation to bring the existing war with Mexico to a speedy and honorable conclusion’ you are authorized to draw on this department for any sum not exceeding three millions of dollars to be paid in pursuance of the promotion of said act.”

Walker supported the Union Cause during the American Civil War and as a result, the county in Texas that was named initially, Walker County, in honour of Robert J Walker was renamed to honour Samuel Walker, a Texas Ranger.

The US Government however did name a Coastal Survey ship to honour him in 1848. The Coastal Survey Ship USCS Robert J Walker.

robert walker
USCS Robert J Walker

The USCS Robert J Walker was built in 1847. She was iron-hulled and was a side-wheel steamer. on June 21, 1860 she collided with a schooner in rough seas of

The Walker, built in 1847 as one of the first US government iron-hulled, side-wheel steamers, sank in rough seas on June 21, 1860, after being hit by a commercial schooner.

The 40-metre vessel sank within 30 minutes, taking 20 sailors down with it of a total crew of 66. The schooner it collided with has been identified as the Fanny.

The captain of the Robert J Walker at the time was one Lieutenant John J. Guthrie and apparently he was the only naval officer on board. He was an experienced officer but was not on the bridge at the time of then collision. The executive officer, Joseph A. Seawell, who had been dismissed from the Navy on the recommendation of the Efficiency Board in 1855 was the officer on watch at the time of the collision.

The Fanny was loaded with coal so was heavy. The collision occurred about 3:00 am off Absecon, New Jersey. The Robert J Walker was underway from Norfolk to New York.

The officers and surviving crew of the Robert J Walker were rescued by Captain L. J. Hudson of the schooner R. G. Porter and taken to May’s Landing on the coast of New Jersey. The steamer sunk in less than half an hour after the collision, which took place about twelve miles from land.

There is a great report on the Story of the Coast Survey Steamer Robert J Walker on the Internet.

This then leads to the connection between Robert J Walker and Australia. I will admit ahead of time that I did not realise that there were German U-Boats (or at least one u-boat) active off the Australian coast during the Second World War.

There was an American Steamship, the SS Robert J Walker, which was apparently running in ballast towards Australia. U-862, a type IXD2 u-boat was on a second cruise around Australia, having based out of Singapore. U-862 has an interesting history.

U-862 undertook two war patrols under Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Timm (Knights Cross). The first of these was a long cruise, starting at Kiel and from there moving on to Bergen and then Narvik. From Narvik U-862 sailed out into the Atlantic, around Iceland and headed south. On 25 July 1944 in the South Atlantic U-862 sank the US registered steam merchant Robin Goodfellow on-route from Capetown to New York via Brazil with a load of chrome ore. The vessel was lost with all hands.

Turning into the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope U-862 engaged the British merchant vessels Radbury, Empire Lancer, Nairung and Wayfarer. Most were carrying various ores and coal. All were sunk.

After passing up the channel between Madagascar and the African coast, U-862 was engaged by a Catalina aircraft. The submarine shot the Catalina down and proceeded to sail across the Indian Ocean to Penang then to Batavia.

After refuelling, rearming and restocking food and water in Batavia the U-862 still under Timms, now promoted to Korvettenkapitän , commenced a second patrol. This was south into the Indian Ocean from Batavia then eastwards across the Great Australian Bight, south around Tasmania and from there around the North Island of New Zealand, back to the Australian coast then through Bass Strait, across the Great Australian Bight again and back to Batavia. This was over the period 18 November 1944 to 15 February 1045.

On that patrol U-862 met and sank the Robert J Walker off the coast of New South Wales whilst U-862 was on her way to New Zealand. U-862 also met and sank the Peter Silvester in the Indian Ocean west of of Albany on her return leg to Batavia. Both ships were US registered. Interestingly, as U-862 passed around Tasmania on 9 December 1944 she had a gun duel with the Greek steam merchant Ilissos. U-862 fired three shots that missed, but choppy seas and accurate defensive gunfire from the merchant vessel forced the U-boat to dive and leave the area before firing any more.

After returning to Batavia U-862 then moved onto Singapore on 20 February 1945. on 5 May 1945 U-862 was taken over by Japan at Singapore and became the Japanese submarine I 502 on 15 July 1945. She had no further patrols that I have been able to determine.

At the conclusion of World War 2, I 502 surrendered at Singapore in August 1945. On 15 February 1946 she was towed into the Straits of Malacca, off Singapore, by HM Tug Growler and scuttled there alongside I 501((I 501 was U-181 before being handed over to the Japanese)) by the frigate HMS Loch Lomand((Seven u-boats, namely U-181, U-195, U-219, U-511, U-862, U-IT-24 and U-IT-25 were scuttled in Asia)).

Interestingly the wartime press in Australia all reported the attacks as Japanese submarines. Copies of some of those press reports are shown below.

Canb Times 14 March 1945
from the Canberra Times 14 March 1945

The Argus Melb 14 March 1945
From the Melbourne Argus 14 March 1945
Barrier Miner Broken Hill 13 March 1945
from the Barrier Miner Broken Hill 13 March 1945