The Royal New Zealand Navy
CHAPTER 7 — Hunting Raiders in the Indian Ocean
Hunting Raiders in the Indian Ocean
AT that time anxiety was felt by the New Zealand Government concerning the safety of shipping in the South Pacific, and a request was made that the Leander should be returned to the New Zealand Station. In an appreciation of the situation prepared for the War Cabinet, the Chief of Naval Staff pointed out that, owing to the increased activity of enemy raiders in the South Pacific, special precautions had been taken to protect merchant shipping, particularly vessels carrying troops, valuable refrigerated cargo ships, and those loading phosphates at Nauru and Ocean Islands. The naval vessels available for the purpose were the Achilles and the Monowai. Valuable help was given by Australian warships, more or less on a quid pro quo basis. After detailing the commitments in the New Zealand Station area, Commodore Parry submitted that at least one more naval unit was urgently needed on the station and that, in view of the strength of the enemy raiders, it should be a ‘real warship’ and not an armed merchant cruiser. The Leander seemed to be the obvious solution.
A telegram from the Governor-General to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs dated 13 January 1941 embodied the appreciation of the Chief of the Naval Staff and stated that the New Zealand Government, while ‘fully appreciating the very heavy calls which were being made on the Royal Navy’, felt bound to ask that the serious situation outlined be given immediate consideration and hoped that arrangements would be made to strengthen the naval force in New Zealand waters. The Government considered that the minimum requirement as far as New Zealand was concerned, and to enable her to co-operate more effectively with Australia, was the addition of one 6-inch cruiser. Clearly, an armed merchant cruiser would be inadequate, and ‘they therefore felt obliged, but with great reluctance, to ask that H.M.S. Leander may return.’
The Prime Minister replied that, in view of the request of the First Lord, the New Zealand Government was prepared to agree that the Leander should remain overseas for another three months. It still considered, however, that in the event of war with Japan, or if the raider situation deteriorated, it was essential that the Leander should return to New Zealand waters.
Events were soon to prove that the decision of the New Zealand Government was a sound one. As a matter of fact, though of course it was not known at that time, the immediate danger from enemy raiders in New Zealand waters was past. The Orion and Komet, which had been operating off the New Zealand coast during November 1940 and about Nauru Island in December, were quitting the South Pacific for the Indian Ocean where other raiders had been cruising with greater success for some time. In the coming months the cruiser from distant New Zealand was to take an active part in curbing their activities.
The Leander was in harbour at Colombo from 21 to 24 January, part of the time in company with HMAS Canberra, which sailed on the 23rd. While on a cross-country flight on 24 January, the cruiser's aircraft had to make a forced landing on a small lake and crashed in the jungle when taking off. It caught fire and became a total loss, fortunately with no casualties among the crew. Meanwhile, the ship had sailed, leaving them to procure a new aircraft. Early that afternoon the Leander had received orders to go to sea, and three hours later she cleared the harbour and proceeded at 25 knots to the southwest.
The cause of the Leander's sudden departure was the interception of part of a distress signal from the British steamer Mandasor, 5144 tons, reporting that she was being attacked by a raider in a position approximately 330 miles east from the Seychelles Islands. Actually, the raider was No. 16 (Atlantis) which had come north after refitting at Kerguelen Island, where she had been in company with raider No. 33 (Pinguin). The Atlantis, which had been operating in the Indian Ocean since May 1940, had laid a minefield off Cape Agulhas and captured or sunk thirteen merchant ships totalling 92,478 tons.
When word of the attack on the Mandasor was received the Commander-in-Chief East Indies made the following dispositions of page 95 his four available cruisers, known as Force ‘V’. The Sydney left Mahé in the Seychelles group at 27 knots to search within a radius of 300 miles on an arc from the raider's point of attack to north by west of the Seychelles. The Canberra and Leander were to cover contiguous areas extending over a wide arc from south-west to west of the Maldive Islands. The Colombo was to patrol along a line from a position about 300 miles west from those islands.
After leaving Colombo the Leander steamed to the south-westward at high speed during the night. At 7.45 next morning the smoke of a ship was sighted and course was altered to intercept the vessel, which was identified as a Dutch steamer on passage from Sabang, Sumatra, to Durban. Carrying on at 25 knots, the Leander passed through One and a Half Degree Channel and two hours later eased to 17 knots for the night. At 7 a.m. on 26 January the cruiser again increased speed to 25 knots and for the next twelve hours steamed at that speed on various courses, searching for the raider. She spoke a Greek steamer during the forenoon, but otherwise nothing was sighted throughout the day. The Leander continued on patrol at reduced speed until the evening of 27 January, when she shaped course to the south-eastward and proceeded at 23 knots for Addu Atoll, southernmost of the Maldive Islands. The Canberra was in the anchorage when the New Zealand cruiser arrived, and sailed about an hour later. After refuelling from the oiler Pearleaf, the Leander sailed at dusk for Colombo, where she arrived on the morning of 30 January.
The search for the raider was unsuccessful. In the evening of 24 January the Sydney and HMS Mauritius obtained wireless bearings of German frequencies, a combination of which indicated a possible position of the raider as about 300 miles south-east of the Seychelles. The Sydney searched that area and to the southward on 25 and 26 January, using her aircraft on both days, but nothing was sighted.
The raider had evaded the searching cruisers by proceeding to the north-westward after sinking the Mandasor. A few days later she captured the British motor-vessel Speybank, 5154 tons, about 350 miles north-east of the Seychelles. No distress signal was received from this ship. The raider then steamed to the south-westward and on 2 February captured the Norwegian tanker Ketty Brovig, 7031 tons, approximately 300 miles due west of the Seychelles.
Having refuelled and embarked a new aircraft, the Leander sailed from Colombo on 31 January. She spent ten days on patrol in the area to the southward of Ceylon, but sighted nothing other than four foreign merchant ships. When about 300 miles to the eastward of Ceylon she met HMS Dauntless, from whom she took over the escorting of the troopship Narkunda, 16,630 tons, and arrived at Colombo on 12 February. After a spell of five days the Leander page 96 resumed her patrol south of Ceylon. Numerous merchant ships were sighted and identified during the next two or three days, but nothing suspicious was seen.
At 9 a.m. on 20 February the Leander met the Canberra about 150 miles west of Ceylon and took over from her Convoy US 9, comprising the transports Aquitania and Mauretania, carrying Australian troops, and the Nieuw Amsterdam which had on board some 3700 troops of the third section of the 4th Reinforcements, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, from Wellington. The passage up the west coast of India was uneventful, and the convoy arrived at Bombay in the morning of 22 February. The Leander refuelled and sailed at dusk on patrol to the southward.
In January 1941 British forces had begun simultaneous advances from the Sudan and Kenya into Eritrea, Abyssinia, and Italian Somaliland. British warships co-operated by blockading and bombarding the enemy's harbours. The port of Kismayu in Italian Somaliland was occupied on 14 February 1941. All of the sixteen Italian and German ships which had been lying there were sunk or captured, with the exception of one German vessel. When Merka and Mogadishu were occupied on 25 February some hundreds of British and other seamen from merchant ships sunk by German raiders were released from prison camps. On 13 and 21 February aircraft from HMS Formidable attacked Massawa in the Red Sea, doing damage to ships and harbour works.
After sailing from Bombay on 22 February, the Leander passed down the west side of the Laccadive and Maldive Islands to a patrol area westward of One and a Half Degree Channel, as directed by the Commander-in-Chief East Indies. At seven o'clock in the morning of 27 February the cruiser, steaming to the eastward, was about 28 miles north of the Equator and 320 miles west of the Maldives. Captain Bevan then decided to make a cast to the northward in order to get his ship on the course from west to One and a Half Degree Channel. He gave as his reason for so doing that as a result of the capture of Mogadishu, of which news had been received by radio on the previous day, there was a possibility that Italian ships which had been lying there would have put to sea and might be making for the Far East along that route.
1 Four fast motor-vessels built in 1937–38 for the Italian Government (Ministry of Italian Africa, Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane). Ramb I was a twin-screw ship of 3667 tons with a speed of 17 knots. Ramb II, also fitted out as an auxiliary cruiser, escaped from Massawa to Japan. Ramb IV, a hospital ship, was intercepted off Aden after the fall of Massawa.
The cruiser was now broad on the Italian ship's beam and, at a range of 3000 yards, was an excellent target for its guns and possible torpedo attack. It was fortunate for her that the ship was not a German raider.1 At 11.53 a.m. the enemy opened fire, and thirty seconds later the Leander fired her first broadside. The enemy's fire was erratic and short, and it was estimated that not more than three rounds were fired from each gun. A few shell splinters hit the Leander, which got off five salvoes in one minute and ‘then checked fire to observe results’, signalling by flags: ‘Do you surrender?’ It was then seen that the enemy was abandoning ship and that the Italian flag had been struck. A number of hits had been made, all in the forepart of the ship, and through a large hole in her side it was seen that a fire had broken out.
The Leander's boarding cutter was lowered with orders to board and, if possible, save the ship. Two lifeboats were leaving the vessel and men were jumping overboard or scrambling down her side. An Italian officer who was swimming hailed the boarding party and warned them not to approach the ship as she was burning fiercely and was heavily loaded with ammunition. The boat, therefore, lay off. As the fire spread aft there was a heavy explosion before the bridge, flames and smoke shooting high above the ship, which was lying head to wind and well down by the bows. At 12.43 p.m. there was a violent explosion, evidently of a magazine. Five minutes later the ship sank under a vast cloud of black smoke from the oil fuel burning on the water. Meanwhile the Leander had picked up her own and the Italian boats while opening out from the burning ship.
1 In similar circumstances, HMAS Sydney was engaged at close range by the German raider Kormoran off the north-west coast of Australia on 19 November 1941. The Sydney sank with all hands, but not before she had damaged the raider, which also sank.
The Ramb I had sailed from Massawa at short notice on 20 February and passed into the Gulf of Aden during the night of the 21st. She was under orders to raid merchant shipping on her passage towards the Dutch East Indies, pending further instructions as to her ultimate destination. Only one ship had been sighted before the Leander was encountered and that was in the vicinity of Socotra, an area considered too dangerous for an attack to be made.
In his report to the Admiralty the Commander-in-Chief East Indies, after referring to the lack of organisation and suitably trained personnel in the ship, said that, in justice to the Italians, he considered they acted gallantly in engaging the Leander. He also said that the Ramb I ‘might well have become a serious menace to our shipping and Leander is to be commended for ridding the seas of this potential raider before she had harmed us.’ The Leander received from the Commander-in-Chief a signal of congratulation on ‘getting a scalp’ and from the Admiralty a message of ‘congratulations on your success and hopes for something bigger next time.’
Leaving the scene of the action, the Leander shaped course to the eastward and arrived next morning at Addu Atoll. There she met the oiler Pearleaf, to whom the Italian prisoners were transhipped, accompanied by an armed guard of nineteen ratings under the command of Commander (A) B. E. W. Logan, RN. He was relieved as flying officer in the Leander by Lieutenant (A) H. A. I. Luard, RN, who had arrived in the tanker. The Leander proceeded to the southward on patrol and the Pearleaf carried on for Colombo.
Wireless direction-finding bearings of radio signals indicated that enemy ships were in the vicinity of Saya de Malha, a vast coralline bank situated some hundreds of miles to the south-east of the Seychelles Islands. This area was, in fact, much frequented by German raiders and supply ships. The pocket battleship Admiral Scheer met the raider Atlantis there about 16 February and fuelled from the captured tanker Ketty Brovig. The Atlantis was in company with the German ship Tannenfels (escaped from Kismayu), the Ketty Brovig and Speybank, and the tanker British Advocate (captured by the Admiral Scheer) at the same rendezvous position from 26 to 28 February.
The Commander-in-Chief East Indies therefore ordered the Leander and Canberra to search the Saya de Malha area. The New Zealand cruiser met the Canberra in the afternoon of 2 March about page 99 100 miles to the eastward of Addu Atoll. The captain of the Australian cruiser, Captain H. B. Farncomb, RAN, boarded the Leander for a discussion with Captain Bevan (senior officer), after which both ships carried on to the south-west for Saya de Malha.
The two cruisers separated on 4 March, and during the afternoon catapulted off their aircraft on reconnaissance flights. At 5.42 p.m. the Canberra's aircraft reported having sighted a cargo vessel in company with a tanker off the northern end of Saya de Malha. When the Canberra ordered them to stop, the ships separated, the tanker steering south and the other vessel north, flying no colours. The latter was suspected of being a raider and the Canberra opened fire on her at 18,000 yards. She did not reply and was subsequently found to be the unarmed German motor-vessel Coburg, 7400 tons, which had left Massawa about 21 February. She was set on fire amidships and the cruiser then ceased fire. The tanker was the Ketty Brovig, 7031 tons, which had been captured by the German raider Atlantis on 2 February. When she was threatened with near-miss bombs dropped by the Canberra's aircraft, her prize crew took scuttling action. An armed party from the cruiser boarded the tanker in the hope of salvaging her, but was unable to stop the inflow of water, the engine-room being completely flooded to the upper deck. The Canberra fired a few rounds into the ship and left her sinking.
When she received the Canberra's enemy report, the Leander steamed at 28 knots to join her. She arrived on the scene at sunset and picked up from the boats fifteen German officers and thirty-three seamen belonging to the Coburg and five Norwegian officers from the tanker. The Canberra took on board three German officers and fourteen hands and thirty-three Chinese, the last belonging to the tanker. The Coburg, which was burning fiercely amidships, sank at 5.49 p.m. The Leander and Canberra then withdrew from the area owing to the proximity of shoal water dangerous to navigation at night.
The decision of the Commander-in-Chief East Indies to withhold the news for the time being was justified by the fact that the loss of the Ketty Brovig and Coburg was not known to the Operations Division of the German Naval Staff until after the sinking of the raider Pinguin on 8 May 1941, though it was probably suspected by the raiders operating in the Indian Ocean. In response to representations by the New Zealand Government through the Naval Board, the Admiralty authorised publication of a brief statement in New Zealand and Australia on 12 April.
The loss of the Ketty Brovig and her cargo of fuel-oil caused some derangement of the enemy's plans for the fuelling of his raiders in the Indian Ocean. There was, of course, always a possibility of page 100 the raiders' own supply ships being captured or sunk, and their occasional captures of loaded oil-tankers provided an additional and valuable source of supply.
After she had emptied the tanker Winnetou, which had supplied her with fuel on the voyage from Germany and during her cruise in the Pacific, the raider Orion was assigned the tanker Ole Jacob. This vessel, loaded with petrol, had been captured by the raider Atlantis in the Indian Ocean on 10 November 1940 and sent in charge of a prize crew to Kobe, where the Japanese naval authorities agreed to take over her cargo in exchange for an aircraft and a cargo of diesel oil. Accordingly, the Ole Jacob went to Lamotrek in the Caroline Islands, where she met the Orion and a Japanese tanker to which she transhipped her cargo of petrol. Three German ships from Kobe loaded the Ole Jacob with diesel oil and provisions, and for the next four months she acted as supply ship for the Orion and other raiders.1
At the time of her capture by the Atlantis, the Ketty Brovig was loaded with 6000 tons of furnace oil and some 4000 tons of diesel oil. After refuelling her captor and the Admiral Scheer, she was sent to the north of Saya de Malha to meet and supply the Coburg. The Ketty Brovig was then to have met the Ole Jacob in order to take some 3000 tons of diesel oil in exchange for as large a quantity of her ‘excellent furnace oil’ as possible. It was planned that the Ketty Brovig was to be taken over by the raider Pinguin – a diesel-engined ship – as supply tanker and auxiliary mining ship.
In the meantime the raiders Orion and Komet had arrived in the Indian Ocean from the Pacific – the latter after a cruise to the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. After fuelling the Orion on 20–21 March 1941 and the Komet three days later, the Ole Jacob looked in vain for the Ketty Brovig. The raider Pinguin, in company with the Adjutant, a captured whale chaser, arrived at their appointed rendezvous on 2 April, but after taking 1340 tons of diesel oil from the Ole Jacob they were obliged to proceed, without the Ketty Brovig, to their operational area in the Arabian Sea. The Ole Jacob, without her expected furnace oil, left the rendezvous on 13 April to meet the Orion a week later.
TRACK CHART OF GERMAN RAIDER KOMET
On the morning of 22 February, about three hours after sinking a small Dutch steamer, the Admiral Scheer had been sighted by the aircraft of HMS Glasgow, steering to the south-eastward in a position about midway between the Seychelles and the north end of Madagascar. The German ship was between forty and sixty miles south-south-east from the Glasgow, which altered course to close the enemy, signalling that she would shadow by day and attack by night. Through having to refuel, the aircraft lost touch with the Admiral Scheer, who could not be found again. She returned to the South Atlantic but made no more captures and arrived at Kiel on 1 April 1941.
That the Admiral Scheer had left the Indian Ocean was, of course, not known at the time. Since the sinking of the Ketty Brovig and Coburg, there had been much speculation in the Leander regarding the chances of meeting the Admiral Scheer, and on the lower deck there had been much argument about the possibility of a ‘second River Plate’. Consequently, when at 2.59 p.m. on 5 March 1941 the Canberra's aircraft reported having sighted a ‘pocket battleship’ and the news was broadcast by Captain Bevan to the ship's company, there were ‘great expectations’. Action stations was sounded and at 3.10 p.m. the Leander increased speed to 25 knots.
In the event of contacting the Admiral Scheer it had been planned that she would be shadowed during daylight and that the Leander and Canberra would close her in the dark hours with the object of attacking with torpedoes and gunfire. But at 3.25 p.m. the expectation of action was ended by the announcement that the report was a false alarm. Apparently, in the tropical haze and at a distance, the Canberra's aircraft, which had been flying for three hours when it made its report, had mistaken the Leander with her single broad funnel for a ‘pocket battleship’.
The cruisers' aircraft carried out a search of Nazareth Bank and the Cargados Carajos group of atolls on 7 March, but nothing of a suspicious nature was sighted. The Leander and Canberra arrived at Mauritius at 9 a.m. on 8 March and refuelled from the Admiralty oiler Olcades. The German prisoners were landed and placed in the custody of the military authorities.
At that time the question of the Leander's remaining overseas was again raised in a series of telegrams between the New Zealand Government and the Admiralty, through the High Commissioner for New Zealand in London. The Australian cruisers Sydney and Hobart, which had been operating in the Middle East, had been ordered about the end of February to return to Australia. It seemed page 102 clear that the Admiral Scheer, which was last reported near Madagascar on 22 February, ‘must have moved to another area and the possibility of her appearing in the Tasman Sea cannot be ruled out’.1
On 5 March the High Commissioner informed the Prime Minister that ‘to meet the danger of a probable raider in the Pacific, the Australia or the Canberra [both armed with 8-inch guns] was returning for service in Australia and New Zealand.’ The First Lord of the Admiralty had asked that the New Zealand Government should not object to the Leander's not returning. There would then be the Australia (or Canberra), Sydney, Hobart, and Achilles in Australasian waters. If the position necessitated it, the Leander would return.
The Prime Minister replied that, though the New Zealand Government was ‘not without apprehension as to the position that might develop in local waters in certain contingencies’, it was always happy to feel that New Zealand naval vessels were being used to the best advantage. In the present circumstances, it made no objection to the retention of the Leander abroad, ‘always provided, of course, that the matter could be raised for immediate consideration should the local situation deteriorate.’
The Leander and Canberra had barely arrived at Mauritius when a series of messages from the Commander-in-Chief East Indies indicated that an enemy supply ship, possibly with a submarine from Massawa in company, was making for a rendezvous in the southern Indian Ocean. Based on the general instructions of the Commander-in-Chief, Captain Bevan issued orders to the Leander, Canberra, and HMS City of Durban2 for what was designated Operation SUPPLY. This provided for patrols by the three ships based on a point ‘P’, the assumed rendezvous of the enemy ship, approximately 400 miles south-east of Cape St. Mary, at the southern end of Madagascar.
The City of Durban sailed from Mauritius at 8 p.m. on 9 March and the Leander and Canberra at six o'clock next morning, the last two ships entering the 80-mile circle from point ‘P’ at 5.30 a.m. on 12 March. The patrol was uneventful and nothing suspicious was sighted. In accordance with orders from the Commander-in-Chief East Indies, the Leander withdrew from the area in the early morning of 20 March, leaving the other ships to carry on the patrol until 23 March. The New Zealand cruiser arrived at Mauritius on 22 March and, after refuelling, sailed next morning at 20 knots to patrol an area between Mauritius and Madagascar.
1 Admiralty message of 0128 GMT, 6 March 1941, to Australian and New Zealand Naval Boards and other addressees.
The stranger made no reply to repeated flag and lamp signals asking her name and ordering her to stop. The Leander then fired two rounds of blank ammunition and, when these produced no effect, at a range of 9500 yards a 4-inch shell was fired across her bows, followed by another two minutes later. The ship, which was the French motor-vessel Charles L.D.,1 then stopped.
The Leander sent away a boarding party commanded by Lieutenant J. H. Thompson, RN, accompanied by Lieutenant Saunders, RNZNR,2 as witnessing officer and Lieutenant (E) K. Lee-Richards, RN, as engineer officer. The cruiser signalled the Charles L.D. not to use her radio, but a few minutes later she transmitted ‘Vive Angleterre!’ – presumably an outburst by her pro-British operator – and then sent a coded message to Majunga Radio, evidently reporting her position. On hearing the transmissions, the Leander made the signal in plain language ‘Defendu Radio’, and enforced this by a burst of machine-gun fire over the ship's masthead.
The master of the Charles L.D., who was supported by his first and second officers, declined to assist in the navigation of the ship and protested strongly against her detention. He said his orders were to sink the ship rather than allow her to be seized. By order of Lieutenant Thompson, the boarding party cut the falls of all the boats and the ship's company was assembled on deck. Lieutenant Lee-Richard's party, aided by the pro-British third officer and third engineer, searched the engine-room and in the propeller-shaft passage found a box of dynamite fitted with fuses which was to have been detonated by the chief engineer. Another scuttling charge which was to have been exploded by the master was found by Lieutenant Saunders and thrown overboard.
There were two passengers in the Charles L.D., one of whom was the senior naval officer at Diego Suarez, going on leave to France; the other, a Mauritian, was making his way home from France. The latter, who was most co-operative as an interpreter, said the ship was bound from Diego Suarez to Reunion to load coffee, cocoa, and sugar for France, of which the greatest part would have gone to Germany.
The Leander's boarding party was relieved by an armed guard under the command of Lieutenant Stevens, RNZNR,1 with Lieutenant Saunders as second-in-command and Lieutenant Lee-Richards and two engine-room artificers for the general charge of the engine-room. With the exception of the master and his first and second officers, the ship's company were prepared to work her on condition that they would receive the agreed rates of pay accruing to them. The Charles L.D. then proceeded for Mauritius, where she arrived in the afternoon of 24 March.
For the next five days the Leander remained on patrol to the eastward of Madagascar, the search being extended daily by aircraft reconnaissance. Shortly before sunset on 27 March the aircraft reported having sighted a tanker about 150 miles east from Tamatave. The cruiser overtook the ship, which proved to be the British tanker Trocas, 7406 tons, on passage from Mauritius to the Persian Gulf. No other ship was sighted during the patrol.
After refuelling at Mauritius the Leander sailed to the north-eastward, her aircraft making a search of the main atolls in the Chagos Archipelago during the passage to Colombo, where she arrived on 3 April. The cruiser then proceeded to Madras, whence she sailed on 11 April escorting a convoy of four large transports carrying Indian troops for Singapore. Next day the Leander turned the convoy over to HMS Ceres and shaped course for Trincomalee, arriving there in the morning of 13 April to refuel. Nine hours later the New Zealand cruiser was ordered to raise steam and sail at once for Colombo, where she arrived the following afternoon.
A situation which for a time was very threatening to British interests in the Middle East developed when the Government of Iraq was overthrown on 3 April by a coup d'état engineered by Rashid Ali. It was this disturbance that dictated the movements of the Leander during the next fortnight. The Commander-in-Chief East Indies (Vice-Admiral R. Leatham, CB) embarked in the New Zealand cruiser on 14 April, and after fuelling she sailed that evening for the Persian Gulf. The flag of Admiral Leatham was hoisted next morning. Proceeding at from 26 to 27 knots, the Leander arrived at Bahrein at 3 a.m. on 18 April and, after fuelling, sailed six hours later. She anchored off the mouth of the Shatt-el-Arab late that night, and at five o'clock next morning the Commander-in-Chief transferred to HMS Seabelle and proceeded to Basra. The Leander sailed soon afterwards and arrived at Kuwait about midday.
The British Government had accepted an offer by the Indian Government to send troops from Karachi by sea and to Shaibah by air. It was laid down that no offensive action was to be taken except in retaliation: if the landing of troops was resisted, force was to be used. HMS Emerald arrived at Basra on 13 April and the Leander on the 18th, a few hours after the troopships from India. The landing was unopposed and the official attitude friendly for the time being. The Leander returned to the Shatt-el-Arab in the evening of 22 April and embarked Admiral Leatham early next morning. She refuelled at Bahrein and then proceeded on her return passage to Colombo, whence, having landed the Commander-in-Chief, she put to sea again in the afternoon of 29 April.
Earlier in the month the Government had again raised the question of the retention of the Leander overseas. In a telegram dated 12 April to the High Commissioner in London, the Prime Minister said the Government would not, of course, press the matter unduly if the Admiralty, ‘on balancing their requirements in all theatres of war’, still felt that an extension of the New Zealand cruiser's period of overseas service was desirable. Nevertheless, the need for another cruiser for the protection of shipping in the New Zealand area was still greatly felt and the Leander ‘could very usefully be employed’ there.
Replying on 1 May, the High Commissioner reported that the First Lord of the Admiralty had informed him that the Leander was engaged in most important duties and that HMS Neptune would leave (for New Zealand) in late May or early June.1 Both the First Lord and the First Sea Lord were grateful for New Zealand's assistance by allowing the Leander to remain overseas and they hoped that the loan of the Neptune would be satisfactory. The Leander would be returned later if circumstances warranted.
The Government asked the High Commissioner to convey its thanks for the decision to send the Neptune to New Zealand and to raise for consideration by the Admiralty the exchange of the Achilles and Leander. It would be unacceptable to be without the services of a 6-inch gun cruiser on the New Zealand station, but the Government would agree to the Achilles leaving for the East Indies Station prior to the return of the Leander to New Zealand waters provided the period during which neither ship would be available for service on the New Zealand Station was a short one.
The ship they were seeking was the Pinguin, one of the most successful of the German raiders which, during her cruise of eleven months, sank or captured thirty-one vessels totalling 156,910 tons. On 7 October 1940 she captured the Norwegian tanker Storstad off the north-west coast of Australia. This ship, which was given the name of Passat, was used as an auxiliary minelayer and laid mines in Bass Strait and off Wilson's Promontory and Cape Otway, while the Pinguin herself laid mines between Newcastle and Sydney and in the approaches to Hobart and Spencer Gulf, South Australia. These minefields caused the loss of the coastal steamer Nimbin, 1052 tons, near Newcastle, the Federal Line steamer Cambridge, 10,855 tons, off Wilson's Promontory, the American steamer City of Rayville, 5883 tons, off Cape Otway, and serious damage to the Federal Line steamer Hertford, 11,785 tons, in Spencer Gulf.
Returning to the Indian Ocean with the tanker, the Pinguin during November 1940 sank four large refrigerated cargo ships – the Shaw Savill and Albion steamer Maimoa, 10,123 tons, the Port Line vessels Port Brisbane, 8739 tons, and Port Wellington, 10,065 tons, and the British India Company's steamer Nowshera, 7920 tons. The Pinguin then proceeded to the Southern Ocean, where, in January 1941, she captured the whaling ships Ole Wegger, 12,200 tons, Solglimt, 12,246 tons, and Pelagos, 12,383 tons, and eleven whale chasers. With the exception of one chaser which she retained under the name of Adjutant, all these vessels were sent to France in charge of prize crews. The Pinguin then spent about a fortnight at Kerguelen Island, where she refitted and took in water, stores, and an aircraft from the supply ship Alstertor.
About the middle of March 1941 the Pinguin refuelled from the tanker Ole Jacob which, in company with the raider Orion, had arrived in the Indian Ocean from the Pacific. The Pinguin then proceeded to the north-west area of the Indian Ocean where, on 25 April, she sank the Empire Light, 6950 tons. No distress message was picked up from this ship, whose radio-room was wrecked by gunfire. Three days later the Pinguin sank the Clan Buchanan, and it was a wireless message from that ship that started Force ‘V’ on the hunt for the raider.
The Cornwall sailed from Mombasa, Kenya, at midday on 28 April and proceeded at 25 knots for her search area. She was page 107 followed from that port by the Eagle and Hawkins. After leaving Colombo, the Leander proceeded at 25 knots and passed through Khardiva Channel in the Maldive Islands about seven o'clock in the morning of 30 April. She then eased to 20 knots on a westerly course for her search area. The Leander launched her aircraft on reconnaissance morning and afternoon during her patrol but nothing suspicious was sighted. The Pinguin had, in fact, made off to the north-west after sinking the Clan Buchanan and so, for the time being, evaded the searching ships of Force ‘V’.
On 1 May the Leander, then about 450 miles west of the Maldive Islands, turned and shaped course for Colombo, where she arrived in the afternoon of 3 May. Three days later she was called upon to escort a convoy of three big transports, two of which were carrying New Zealand troops to Egypt. The Mauretania and the Dutch Nieuw Amsterdam carrying the 5th Reinforcements, 2 NZEF, numbering about 5800, and a draft of 57 naval ratings (including six for the Leander), had sailed from Wellington on 7 April 1941 for Sydney, where 1240 Australian troops embarked in the Dutch ship. The two ships then joined up with the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, and Île de France, carrying Australian troops, to form Convoy US 10, which sailed from Fremantle on 19 April. In the vicinity of Sunda Strait the Nieuw Amsterdam left the convoy and proceeded to Singapore, where she landed her Australian troops and transhipped the New Zealanders to the Aquitania. In the meantime the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary had gone on to Trincomalee and the Mauretania and Île de France to Colombo, where they were joined by the Aquitania. The two Queens went on to Suez as Convoy US 10A, the three ships at Colombo being designated Convoy US 10B.
The Leander sailed from Colombo on 6 May 1941, escorting Convoy US 10B for Suez. Proceeding at nearly 25 knots, the ships shaped course for Nine Degree Channel between the Maldive and Laccadive Islands. Soon after clearing the channel next morning the Leander sighted the Canberra. Then, in accordance with wireless orders from the Commander-in-Chief East Indies, the Canberra took over the convoy, and at noon the Leander steamed independently at 25 knots to the westward. The hunt for the elusive German raider was on again.
After sinking the Clan Buchanan on 28 April, the Pinguin had proceeded to the north-westward. On 4 May she fuelled and provisioned the Adjutant, which was sent away to wait at a rendezvous, probably south of Saya de Malha Bank. Shortly after five o'clock in the morning of 7 May the Pinguin intercepted and sank the tanker British Emperor, 3663 tons, on passage from Durban in ballast for Abadan, in a position about 375 miles east-south-east page 108 from Cape Guardafui. The tanker was able to transmit a wireless distress message when she was attacked.
HMS Cornwall had just crossed the Equator on her way to refuel at the Seychelles Islands when she intercepted the British Emperor's message. She was then about 520 miles south of the indicated position. Altering course to north-north-west, the Cornwall increased speed to 20 knots. A plan for intercepting the raider with the aid of aircraft was worked out on the principle of closing the enemy's ‘furthest on’ line and then starting a search to cover the largest possible variations of the raider's speed and course. During the morning the Cornwall increased speed to 25 ½ knots and headed north to cover the gap between the Seychelles and the Chagos Archipelago.
In accordance with the dispositions made by the Commander-in-Chief East Indies, the Leander was steaming westward at 25 knots from Nine Degree Channel towards Socotra, while HMS Liverpool, from an early morning position due north of Cape Guardafui, proceeded towards Eight Degree Channel on her way to Colombo. HMS Glasgow, also from the Gulf of Aden, passed Cape Guardafui that morning at 23 knots to a position about 100 miles south-east from that headland, and then steamed south-west at 20 knots towards a position on the Equator about 300 miles from the African coast. Farther west, HMS Hector, armed merchant cruiser, covered shipping by patrolling from the Equator to a position 300 miles to the southwest.
During the afternoon of 7 May the Cornwall flew both her aircraft on reconnaissance for three hours and then shaped course to get on the line of the main Vignot search. This was plotted for a mean speed of 13 knots for one hour after the time of the raider report, on the assumption that the raider would take an hour to deal with the British Emperor and then proceed at full speed until dark. At 9.30 p.m. the Cornwall altered course to east-south-east and reduced speed to search on this line before the moon set. The direction of search was correct.
At daybreak the Cornwall launched both aircraft on a search to cover a variation of three knots on either side of the enemy's estimated speed. The cruiser herself altered course to east at 18 knots and was then steaming away from the raider. At 7.7 a.m. one of the aircraft sighted a ship of the suspected type going south-west at 13 knots, about 65 miles west from the Cornwall, but made no report before returning about eight o'clock. At 8.25 a.m. the cruiser altered course to about west by south and increased speed to 23 knots. The second aircraft was launched again at 10.15 a.m., and when it returned at 12.23 it reported that the unknown ship was steaming at 15 knots and had hoisted signal letters. These were identified as those of the Norwegian motor-vessel Tamerlane, which the raider page 109 closely resembled but which was not in the Cornwall's list of expected ships.
The cruiser accordingly increased speed to 26 knots and at one o'clock to 28 knots. At 1.45 p.m. she catapulted an aircraft to keep her informed by wireless of the bearing, course, and speed of the suspected ship, which was finally sighted from the bridge of the Cornwall at 4.7 p.m. The stranger then began sending wireless ‘raider reports’ stating that she was the Tamerlane. Notwithstanding frequent signals ordering her to heave-to and two warning shots from the cruiser, the ship kept her course and speed for more than an hour until the range was inside 12,000 yards. At 5.10 p.m. the Cornwall turned to port and the stranger, apparently convinced that the former was about to open fire in earnest, made a large alteration of course to port and got in first blow by opening fire with five guns just before 5.15 p.m.
Due to mechanical failures, the Cornwall was unable to reply for a minute or two and was frequently straddled by rapid and fairly accurate gunfire before getting off two salvoes from her forward 8-inch turrets. Her fore steering gear was disabled by a 5·9-inch shell hit, but the after steering gear was quickly brought into use and the ship was out of control for a matter of seconds only. By 5.18 p.m. all the Cornwall's turrets were firing, and at 5.26 a salvo hit the enemy ship, which blew up and sank in a position about 300 miles from where the British Emperor was sunk and about 500 miles north of the Seychelles. The ship, which was, in fact, the raider Pinguin, had a complement of about 350, as well as 180 prisoners from merchant ships sunk by her. The Cornwall picked up 58 German and 25 British survivors.
While the Cornwall was carrying on her search the Leander had been steaming at 25 knots for twenty-four hours on a course of west by north. At 8.30 a.m. on 8 May her aircraft was launched on a reconnaissance flight and, an hour later, the ‘hands prepared the ship for battle’, though at that time the raider had been sighted by the Cornwall's aircraft far to the south-westward. The Leander carried on to a position about 300 miles east from Cape Guardafui and then returned to Colombo, where she arrived on 14 May.