EXTRACT FROM VERN STONE DIARY 5MWS
The 17th April saw us embarking on to LST barges, great beaching craft of about 6000 tons and carrying tremendous loads of trucks, tractors, plant etc. Four of us were detailed to stand by as duty officers in case machinery broke down on the way to the ship. For 36 hours we stopped they’re without relief and having to direct heavy equipment into place. We could hardly keep our eyes open at the end of that time.
About 7 o'clock that evening we pulled off the beach at Lae and dropped anchor in the harbour to wait for dawn on the following morning. At five we left in a convoy of four barges with a destroyer and a corvette for escort. Six hours later we pulled once more into Finchaven to join a great convoy of ships waiting for the final command to start this big action. Light Cruisers, Destroyers, Sub chasers, LST barges, transports, and just about every type of ship were to accompany us. It looked like a big battle looming.
We stayed the night of the 18th, beached on the coral shores of Langmak Bay, Finchaven, waiting for the following day to form up in convoy positions. On the 19th some of the cruisers had left us but we formed up in order of convoy and showed quite a covering of square miles of sea. The following is the order in which the ships ran: -
5 - 6000 ton LST barges on the left flank,
5 - Troop transports, about 10,000 tons in the centre line,
1 - 6000 ton LST barge following transports,
12 - 6000 ton LST barges on the right flank,
11 - Escort vessels consisted of Destroyers, both heavy and light and a corvette making continual circles around the whole convoy of troop ships.
We had an air cover too and each ship was heavily armed against raiders. Our destination lies far up into Japanese territory evidently by the Japanese held bases of Wewak and Madang and the drive is aimed at forcing the yellow Devils out of New Guinea for once and always.
Thursday evening at dusk we sighted the Admiralty Islands. Strange us being in this part of the Pacific if we are going to northern New Guinea unless we came this way to throw the Japs off the scent. But another day or so should be about zero hour and then we'll know where we are really headed for. The Admiralties are still occupied by Japs in places but it looked peaceful enough from the water.
The golden sea in the sunset was studded with small groups of islands and our dusky convoy drifting through a gap between two larger islands made a picture any artist would want to paint. From this group of islands we changed position in the convoy and the course altered to a direction a bit north of west. All that evening, and the following day we held to that course and the conjectures of our final destination were many.
Friday evening and the ship started a gentle rolling the first sea movement since we came aboard to any great extent. Early on Saturday morning we changed our course to the south-west and in the evening half our convoy went west again, evidently heading for Hollandia. We held to our course, about 25 ships in all. We prepared for disembarking in the morning and our packs were put together with just the bare necessities and most of us retired early, as zero hour was at 7-00am and all the checked. Breakfast was scheduled for 4-00am.
The Sabbath dawned slowly and quietly. In single file the L.S.T.’s and Troopers moved in to the shore of Aitape while destroyers, cruisers and torpedo boats stood off two small islands about a mile of the main shoreline. As the sun gradually lit the sea the land became clearer. There was a slow rumble and a flash, which indicated the start of a bombardment. From that moment all hell let loose from the warships.
Four-inch guns from the destroyers and eight inch from the Cruisers poured steel and shrapnel into the two islands. Slowly our ships went through the barrage. Two explosions landed too close for comfort at the rear of our ship. The noise was terrific. The air was filled with the tang of cordite and everywhere was smoke and flame licking out from land and sea alike.
A low hum gradually grew into the roar of planes. Seemingly out of nowhere Hellcat dive-bombers appeared. I counted sixty of them then lost count. Down they came in a long dive and - whoosh!! Went the bombs. God, it was terrific. The very sea shook. For an hour it continued and not one plane was lost.
Suddenly there was a lull, noticed more because of the indescribable din that had been going on. Then I notice a long string of barges leaving the side of a ship loaded with troops. They sped to the beach of the island and our cheers were loud on their behalf. God bless the infantry.
It came to our turn to beach and we stood by to see the doors open and our first vehicle went down the ramp to land at Aitape The landing became very hard with several machines breaking down at the crucial moment and a couple of us were flat out repairing them. At 7-30am, Sunday morning, the doors of the barges opened and at 12-noon it was strenuous and tiring work but we snatched a few moments in the surf and then wandered off on to the only road that the Japs had in the place. No sooner had we left the beach than a vile stench came to our nostrils. Shacks made of cane and bamboo were littered with dead; been there for two days and very much in a state of decomposition. They were horribly cut about, half naked and it was a tragic and ghastly sight. I walked into the bush and everywhere there were traces of Japanese in foxholes, under bracken, down wells; it was putrid.
The heavy guns could still be heard about a mile into the jungle forcing the fleeing enemy across the airstrip. We moved up towards the strip camping on the side of a track on that night. Anywhere we could get shelter we put up a net and fell asleep only to be woken by the whir of bullets from Jap snipers. We had our own Vickers and .5s and they rattled off shots into the dark eerie jungle. For two nights we kept it up the second night they’re being a light counter attack from the yellow devils, but it was completely repulsed and with a sigh of relief and weariness I lay back to sleep.
During our souvenir hunting we came across several signs of Japanese women. In one case there was a very pointed sign in the form of a body of one who was obviously sleeping with a Jap soldier. There was sake everywhere so it looked as though the entire Japanese personage had been engaged in a bout of feasting drinking and other vices.
We were camped by the roadside for a few days waiting for our final campsite to be prepared. We worked all hours of the day and night shifting heavy plant and digging out bogged trucks. The roads were terrible, just tracks slashed through the jungle. Sometimes a truck will sink down to the cabin in brown murky mud and it takes everything on wheels to shift and recover it.
Our Engineering Officer is a chap who was at Goodenough Island with us and is quite a sport. He hops in with the boys lending a hand with the tough jobs. It gives the boys a bit of heart. But he has his peculiar ways like most Air Force Officers.
A few days after landing we moved out to our permanent campsite about two miles further on up the road. It is right on the beach, which stretches for a few miles up to the village of Aitape proper, which are situated on a jutting, point covered in coconut palms. We have been working like slaves settling in here, but have just about got things in running order.
After things had settled down a bit it became my particular job to be general roustabout in the office Checking jobs and keeping tabs on all equipment was no mean task believe me. Several times there were some very pointed arguments. My chief growl was when getting out in the O/C's jeep or utility he'd grab me for a different job and I'd miss out on a drive. Several visits to the airstrip were very interesting. The planes were landing on it only 48 hours after we landed but it is the roughest strip I've seen. There were and still are many crashes. It is built in the middle of swampy land with bottomless mud everywhere. Several tractors have disappeared from sight in mud and had to be dismantled to get them out.
Bomb craters are everywhere some up to 70 feet across and 30 feet deep. Japanese kites lay everywhere, Perspex, and aluminium could be had for the taking in the early stages. All night and day the artillery can be heard mopping up the 3000 odd Japs that are coming up from Wewak. Many have given themselves up but there is stiff resistance in other places.
One night a lone Jap bomber came over and hit a liberty ship causing a bit of damage but the next day another ship towed it back to Lae. The shipping that comes into this harbour is astounding. I've counted as many as 30 ships in some periods including a great white hospital ship on two occasions.
Into June and on the 6th came the great news of Europe's invasion. The most gigantic undertaking ever known and our prayers were for the boys on the other side taking part in a full on war. We think it is tough here but God only knows what it is like over there. As the days go by we hear more news on the progress in Europe. It cheers us considerably that the thing we have waited so long for is finally happening. Also Japan being bombed by the great new bombers is an occasion of good news.
Speaking of news we are told that early in July we are to take part in another landing in a section of the Schouten. Group and so once again 5MWS is packing up. The usual hard work follows with little rest until everything is mobilized waiting for the L.S.T. to pick us up once again. A rest of several days gives us time to swim, sleep, and spine-bash.
Saturday, 2nd of July, two L.S.T landing barges beached at the same spot where we landed at first and at about 12 o'clock we started loading again. All Saturday, Saturday night and Sunday we worked snatching about 3 hours sleep early Sunday morning in the front of a truck. The hours passed by until at 6 O'clock on Sunday 3rd July we floated off the beach to anchor in deep water at dusk. The contrast of the place from when we arrived could clearly be noticed sitting out in the water. The flash of heavy guns shattered the darkness of the morning when we sailed in but leaving Aitape it is cheered and brightened by electric lights stretching for miles along the beach. A peaceful sight far different from the fiery reception it first was.
On the Monday we lifted anchor at 12-30pm and with escort of one destroyer set of with our sister ship evidently to Hollandia into another country, the property of Queen Wilhelmina.