JAPANESE ATTACK ON THE SHIP "M.V. NEPTUNA"
DURING AN AIR RAID ON DARWIN, NT
ON 19 FEBRUARY 1942

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"MV Neptuna" (5952 gross tons) along with "Zealandia" was at the Darwin docks, discharging ammunition when the Japanese attacked on 19 February 1942. Both these ships were hit and the MV Neptuna exploded spectacularly and turned on its side. MV Neptunia is reported to have been carrying 200 tons of depth charges at the time in the aft end of the ship (Hatches 3 and 4).

"MV Neptuna" had arrived in Darwin on 12 February 1942. As she was to be at anchor in Darwin Harbour for some time, it was decided to carryout a piston replacement on the port engine leaving only the starboard engine. "MV Neptuna" berthed at the dock using one engine before 9am on 19 February 1942.

HMAS Swan came alongside MV Neptuna's starboard side aft and an RAN party boarded "MV Neptuna" to start loading high explosive anti-aircraft shells onto HMAS Swan. By this time the wharfies (wharf labourers) had started to discharge the general cargo from "MV Neptuna". The wharfies noticed the RAN party unloading the shells from "MV Neptuna" and the wharfies union delegate approached the RAN Petty Officer and stated that the shells were general cargo and should be handled by the wharfies and demanded that the RAN party cease work. The Petty Officer told the Union Delegate to get out of the way or he would be thrown in the harbour. The wharfies attempted to get the Cadets on board "MV Neptuna" to side with them, but they said they would help the RAN sailors to throw the wharfies in the harbour.

At about this stage of the confrontation a sailor from HMAS Swan noticed some aircraft flying over in formation. He yelled out "The Yanks had at last arrived". Another sailor said he thought they were dropping leaflets. Suddenly a huge explosion on board "MV Neptuna" causing them to realise that these were Japanese aircraft dropping bombs on them.

HMAS Swan cast its lines from "MV Neptuna" and manoeuvred full astern and commenced firing her anti-aircraft guns at the Japanese aircraft.

No.3 and 4 hatches on "MV Neptuna" for the ammunition magazine stowage were still open at this stage. The turntable area on the adjacent wharf had received a direct hit, and was completely destroyed. The Third Officer, Brendan Deburca, went to the aft end of the ship to assess the situation.

Oil was now gushing out of the pipeline from the oil tank farm on the shore which had also received a direct hit. The oil was flowing onto the wharf and into the harbour. Any evacuation via this area was no longer an option.

"MV Neptuna" then received a direct hit from a Japanese bomb, which injured the Ship’s Surgeon Dr. J. Hyde and Cadet J. Knight. They both had their legs pinned by debris. A second bomb then exploded nearby dislodging the debris which allowed them to free themselves.

The badly injured Dr. Hyde found Capt. Michie badly wounded and dying on the deck. Cadet Knight ran down to "D" Deck, and crossed the Engineer’s alleyway and then up onto the main deck near No. 3 Hatch. Here he found Third Mate Deburca ordering the Chinese crew to make a gangway onto the wharf using hatch planking, to allow them to escape the badly damaged "MV Neptuna" which was now starting to list badly.

Deburca ordered "Abandon Ship" and supervised to ensure that all survivors escaped the ship. Those who had to jump over the side were given a life jackets. The ship was now burning badly and jumping over the side or escaping via the makeshift gangway were the only two escape routes.

Most of the survivors of the Japanese attack were rescued and taken onboard H.M.A.S. Platypus. Dr. Hyde and the badly wounded Cadet Stobo, who was on a wooden plank, were both rescued from the harbour by a passing motor launch. Cadet Stobo unfortunately died shortly afterwards onboard H.M.A.S. Platypus.

The fire onboard "MV Neptuna" eventually entered No.3 and No. 4 hatches and MV Neptuna exploded so violently that it created mushroom type cloud.

MV Neptuna and other ships were salvaged in 1959 and 1960 by the Fujita Salvage Company!!

 

COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

The following is an excerpt from the Commission of Enquiry into the Japanese Air Raids on Darwin on 19 February 1942:-

 

Document 224

Lowe to Curtin

27 March 1942

Report

FINDINGS OF COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

 

...................................................

 

THE DAMAGE

(a) On Water: The attack upon the harbour caused great damage to installations and shipping.  ... Alongside the inner limb of the pier when the  raid started were berthed the "Neptuna" and the "Barossa". The "Neptuna" had among her cargo a quantity of explosives. She was set on fire by enemy bombs, as was also the "Barossa" on the opposite side of the pier. After the enemy planes had departed the "Neptuna" blew up and caused the destruction of a large section of the inner limb of the pier, and it is probable, too, that the "Barossa" was injured by this explosion.

...

    Other ships lost in addition to the "Neptuna" were the "Zealandia", the "Meigs", the "Maunaloa", the "British Motorist" and the U.S.S. Destroyer "Peary". Ships damaged were the "Barossa", the "Port Mar" (U.S.) and the hospital ship "Manunda".  ...

 

 

The following is a list of 12 killed on board the ship "Neptuna".  This list is from a report dated 23 March 1942 found on the National Archives web site. Another source has suggested that 45 were killed on the "Neptuna":-

W. Michie Master
J. Gillies 1st Mate
J. Forman 2nd Mate
L. Pollard 1st Radio Operator
R. Davidson 2nd Radio Operator
R. Veall 3rd Radio Operator
T. Fowler 6th Engineer
C. Cross 7th Engineer
N.C. Wilson 8th Engineer
J. Rosen Chief Steward
R. Stobe Deck Cadet
Lam For 1st Engine Man

 

The Australian Merchant Seaman's Memorial has more extensive list of 36 persons who were killed on board "M.V. Neptuna". Still short of the other source that quotes 45 killed. More details are also available on the Australian War Memorial Commemorative Roll.

CHAN Kow LAM Piu
CHAN Sui LEE Liao
CHENG Chai LI Kam
CHOW Kwong LO Kan

CHOW Mai

MICHIE William

CROSS Cecil Grant POLLARD Eric Henry
DAVIDSON Robert George ROSEN Jacob "Jack" Lewis
FOO Woon STOBO Robert Henry
FORMAN John Murray VEALL Reginald Pax
FOWLER Thomas WILSON Noel Charles
FU Chung WONG Cheung
FUNG Shing WONG Lin
GILLIES John WONG Ling
HON Fong WONG Mee
HUNG Song WONG Sang
KWOK Chow WONG Tak
LAM For WONG Tit
LAM Man WONG Yee

 

REFERENCES

The Australian Merchant Navy - MV Neptuna
This web site suggests" that 55 crew members of "MV Neptuna" had died.

Roll of Honour - Northern Territory Library

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank John Richards and Beattie Mayo from Darwin, NT for their assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

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©  Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 22 November 2009

This page last updated 23 October 2015