Remembering the Destroyer Depot Ship H.M.S. TYNE
By Telegraphist Anthony Balch
HMS Tyne was a destroyer support vessel, large and with a fairly specialist crew, attached to the Fleet Train, and was initially moored alongside at Kirribilli Point in Sydney Harbour.
I boarded her in early May, 1945 while she was provisioning ship and settling in her crew. She was a modern ship in every way, including her communication systems, and much of the equipment was unfamiliar to me. We spent time learning and preparing for sea. She carried teams of engineers and artificers, skilled in repairing, maintaining and manufacturing, all of the complex parts needed to keep her charges functional and battle ready. One other responsibility was to keep two squadrons of destroyers, those of the 8th and 19th Flotillas - which operated in the British Pacific Fleet - fully operational.
We were at sea when we learned of the ending of the war in Europe. On 7th May the surrender document was signed and we "spliced the main brace". We heard through news programs of the celebrations all over Europe, although our own reaction on board was fairly subdued. We still had a job to do.
We sailed first to the massive U.S. Navy base established on Manus, one of the islands in the Admiralty Islands group, just below the Equator and just above New Guinea. Here was constructed, one of the largest military bases of all time, to provide fuel, provisions, ammunition, repairs, hospitals, dry docks together with all the services required by men, ships and planes.
Many thousands of men were based here, in an environment totally removed from western civilization. All levels of skill and specialties were represented here. The American Seabees demonstrated their awesome abilities in the construction of all of the facilities.
Seeadler Harbour, in the north eastern part of the island, was both large and suitable for deep-water anchorage. For the next six months we were to operate between Manus, Sydney and the various ships that we were assigned to provision, or for whom we had to provide repair or maintenance facilities.
During this period we covered many thousands of nautical miles and crossed the Equator many times. Among the places we visited were, Leyte in the Philippines, Enewetok and Bikini Atolls in the Marshall Islands, and some smaller islands in the Marianas group.
Not much to see at these places. They were mostly small islands with sand and a few palm trees. No humans inhabited these atolls, which made Enewetok and Bikini perfect for the British Atom bomb testing which took place there some years later. We visited both.
We were at sea - the date was 6th August. The radio program being broadcast throughout the ship was interrupted by a news flash. The Americans had dropped an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. I don't think the importance of this event was understood by most of us at the time, but when a few days later the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki we began to realise what a devastating weapon this was. On 15th August the Japanese Emperor submitted terms of surrender and VJ day was announced. We "spliced the main brace" for the second time in 3 months
The conditions on board were not good during this period in the Pacific. From the time we rose in the morning, until we retired in the relative cool of the evening, we were permanently bathed in perspiration, as a result of continuously high humidity levels. The normal dress was a brief pair of shorts, of the lightest material, flip flops (the decks were too hot for bare feet) and a small hand towel worn around the neck like a scarf that was used to wipe the perspiration from the upper body as often as necessary. The towel would be changed 3 or 4 times a day. Despite these precautions nearly everyone on board suffered from a condition known as Prickly Heat, a suitably descriptive name, and frequent showers were the order of the day. Prickly Heat manifested itself in reddened areas of skin mostly on the upper torso, which could be extremely irritable at times; Sailors with extreme cases of this ailment had permanently disfigured torsos, covered in purple coloured pits very much like the after effects of old-fashioned smallpox. Conditions in the wireless receiving rooms were extremely uncomfortable; air conditioning was not fitted in naval vessels of that period. As high temperatures and high humidity levels contributed to a permanent state of sweatiness, our medical officer insisted that wireless staff should be permitted to go on to the upper deck for a cooling off period during a shift of Duty.
We returned to Sydney for the last time in November 1945 to store ship and prepare for our next assignment "Radio Control Ship" in Hong Kong. Tyne was scheduled to depart on December 1st and we were tied alongside our dock, at Kirribilli Point. HMS KEMPENFELT was moored alongside our port side. It was not unusual to have as many as 3 destroyers tied alongside each other in this fashion.
Just around six in the evening on the 30th November, there was a terrific explosion clearly heard and felt on board. Rushing up to the upper deck, we discovered a torpedo had exploded aboard the KEMPENFELT, and the crew was busy keeping a small fire under control and checking for injured staff.
It seems there was only one casualty fortunately. The following cutting is from a local Sydney paper that recorded the event in some detail. I am indebted to an old colleague met on the Internet - for supplying this copy of the cutting. The result of this mishap meant that our departure was delayed for a further four days, and I had my 19th birthday on board HMS Tyne docked in Sydney Australia.
Our passage to Hong Kong was uneventful. The weather was kind, the sea calm, and for the first time for six years the world's superpowers were not at war.
Read newspaper about the explosion on H.M.S. KEMPENFELT
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