MAGNETIC ISLAND BOAT "PALUMA"
WAS ONCE A SUPPORT VESSEL FOR THE COASTWATCHERS
DURING WW2

 

Paluma was built by Mat Taylor. After the war, it was used by Taylor as a commercial operation.

 


Image number: 115963 State Library of Queensland

Paluma being fitted out, Townsville, 1942. Castle Hill can be seen in the background.

 

"Paluma" complete with a deck gun
at Nissan Island in 1944.

 

The launch "Paluma", 45 tons gross, was 66 ft long, with a 14 foot beam, draught of 5 ft 6 ins, and with a top speed of 11 knots. It was fitted with two 0.5" Browning Machine Guns, two .303" Bren Guns and two Mk. VII DC's. It was requisitioned by the Army on 11 September 1941 and purchased on 1 June 1942. It was initially used as a Channel Patrol Boat and was then later allocated to the Allied Intelligence Bureau for Special Operations. It was used as a support vessel for the Coastwatchers.

 

Allied Intelligence Bureau
Our Secret Weapon in the War Against Japan
by Colonel Allison Ind
Army of the United States

Page 77

Although the information relative to Rabaul proper was less than had been hoped for, GHQ was relieved to know that native sympathies still, appeared to be with the "white masters." Accordingly AIB received directives to insert a number of Watchers. One group would ring Rabaul. Others would be strung out along New Britain toward the still relatively secure north coast of New Guinea.

The overworked and undersized S-boats were impractical for inserting such large numbers; aircraft would betray unusual activity. Feldt appealed to Commander Long. Seaworthy small ships were extremely scarce but the Australian Government came up with the Paluma, a sixty-foot twin Diesel, slow but steady and stable. She would sneak up the New Guinea coast from the eastern or Milne Bay end, running at night and hiding by day. Opposite the southwestern end of New Britain she would pick up her Coast Watchers, many of whom had escaped with their lives from New Britain only a few months ago and now were spoiling for counteraction. Then Paluma would resume her nocturnal prowling, this time depositing Watchers here and there on New Britain until she was as close to the Rabaul end as she dared go. After that she would run back.

That was the plan, but it was not to be implemented.

Before the operation could begin, the enemy suddenly lunged southward from Rabaul and struck the New Guinea north coast at two places, Gona and Buna.

 

Page 79

BUNA

His tactical intention soon became evident: the Japanese were going to use their new bases on New Guinea as springboards to stage an overland attack against Port Moresby. As previously explained, to accomplish this they actually were going to try to scale the Owen Stanley Mountains and, coming down on the reverse slopes, take Moresby from the rear.

Gone were American hopes for establishing their own north coast bases, and gone were AIB's plans for implementing the New Britain Coast Watcher plan via Paluma. It appeared to us generally to be a serious setback. Nevertheless, at that bleak hour it was apparent that MacArthur had his own way of assimilating bad news: it was then he issued an order for AIB to activate at the earliest practicable time its hitherto-dormant "Philippine Special Section" and to put me in charge of it with instructions to "...re-establish communications with the Philippines. . . ."

For the moment, however, we were more than fully engaged by the problems in the Solomons and the new complications incidental to putting men into New Britain. Insertion of New Britain parties by inconspicuous small craft still seemed to be the best method. But cheeky as little Paluma could be, she could not defy the combined obstacle of the Japanese land, sea, and air forces to run past Buna. Feldt's "Northeast Area" Section of AIB instituted an intensive search for other small craft that under favorable weather conditions might negotiate the tricky Vitiaz Straits in short hops, then skirt the New Britain coast. There remained to be accomplished much training, equipping, and such coordination requirements as those pertaining to secure codes and radio communication.

 

Page 84

Merle-Smith called AIB. Feldt recommended that a single, inconspicuous vessel be utilized to chart lanes for ships of relatively shallow draft and low tonnage, perhaps twenty tons or so. The difference in value of many luggers of twenty tons that got through compared with any number of big ships that would never get through at all, or get there too late, was obvious, he pointed out. It made sense to Merle-Smith.

Paluma was still at Townsville. Orders went out to arm her with .50-caliber machine guns "f save us from havin' t' carry ruddy fishing gear when we're hungry," in the words of Lieutenant Ivan Champion, who became her commander. He knew small ships, he knew the waters, and he had those other requisites, resourcefulness and courage. It was he who had piloted the vessel that had been responsible for saving Mackenzie and many others from New Britain at the outbreak. Outsize fuel and fresh-water tanks were added. Paluma likewise carried Teleradios and lights that could be attached to buoys. After refitting delays that brought Willoughby's hot wrath and Merle-Smith's cold wrath upon us, Paluma cleared Townsville with a crew that defied classification as one American naval commander later discovered. On that occasion Paluma had come alongside the American officer's ship to transfer Lieutenant Commander Brooksbank, brother of that civilian Brooksbank in Melbourne, for a conference. The American officer presumed Brooksbank to be Paluma's skipper. No, it was explained, the chap in the Australian airman's uniform was her skipper. The American blinked. And the fellow next to him? Oh, he was an army sergeant who was her boatswain and the device on his hat was his idea of an anchor that he had fashioned from the metal of a crashed Zero. The American officer looked at Brooksbank as if to dare him to answer his next question, which was that since her skipper was an airman and her boatswain was an army sergeant, just what was he, a proper naval officer, to Paluma? Managing a straight face, Brooksbank answered: "Oh, sir, I'm nothing; I'm a passenger."

By night Paluma moved up the coast. By day she slipped into hides made the better by a canopy of cut greens. But in part of the area to be charted her work required daylight runs. Then she became open season for all airmen, Allied and Japanese. Paluma herself played no favorites and when attacked she opened up with splendid impersonality on friend or foe alike with her fifties. Doubtless the preoccupation of pilots concerned with missions of a broader scope saved her life, for most of them considered her worthy of only a few "squirts" of fire although they bothered to report her "strafed and sunk" with monotonous frequency.

Whenever Paluma found a reef she would place an inconspicuous buoy which could be activated with a light at night. Then she arranged for shore stations that would relay Teleradio directions to the ships that would follow the path which she was laying for them. Men from her crew would man those lonely stations. At one place Corporal L. P. V. Veale of the Australian forces, in Paluma's crew, sighted an enormous reef unmarked on any existing map. All modern marine charts refer to "Veale Reef" in his honor.

The little ship put her last shore party down only fifty miles southeast of Buna. Lieutenant B. Fairfax-Ross of the Australian Army was to push on with a small party to Oro Bay and be ready with Teleradio and lights. Oro Bay one day would become a major Allied supply dump and a steppingstone to places well beyond Buna.

Paluma had survived. She had been joined by others to hasten the work, and about the time events were moving to a crisis on the other side of the Solomon Sea at Guadalcanal, AIB got Champion's signal that he was ready to smuggle through the first of the supply ships.

The ships were ready at Milne Bay, thanks to diligent scrounging by the Australian Government. Paluma met them. Champion boarded one of the supply vessels to act as pilot, while Paluma went on ahead under the command of her erstwhile engineer, Rod Marsland. The small convoy slipped out under cover of darkness and headed toward Buna.

Night after night, for more than a month, the stealthy operation was repeated as the small ships came on: converted destroyers, luggers, even captured enemy barges, laden with gunners, ammunition, and other supplies of aU kinds. Of course makeshift charts dissolved in the rains; native pilots recruited to help Champion became confused; engines broke down; vessels drifted out of position and scraped coral. But they came on, more and more of them. Soon there were tanks and field guns to help the cruelly worn infantry before Buna. One Australian gunner used his twenty-fivepounder cannon as if it had been a rifle; with deadly marksmanship he sent fiery tracers straight into bunker entrances.

 

Page 87

NEW BRITAIN TOLL

Although she had survived these expeditions, it still would have been suicidal for Paluma to have run the Buna gantlet in order to implement the original plan of having her transport Coast Watchers to New Britain. Under Feldt, Lieutenant J. H. Paterson had coordinated things well at VIG Port Moresby and, partly through the efforts of the restless Watchers themselves still hiding out on the Rai coast, he had commandeered a small covey of launches. They were made ready to take all teams except one across the Vitiaz Strait as far as Rooke Island, where there would be a separation and further emplacement.

 

Page 110

On that New Year's Eve of 1942, while in Brisbane the noisy crowds contrasted with the lonely vigil Read was keeping on the silent Bougainville beach, while toasts were being drunk in the blacked-out Paluma's cabin to a job well done and leave soon to come, while Stavermann and Freyer waited patiently in Port Moresby for an air lift toward Hollandia that never seemed to come, and while Noakes and Bridge "crouched in the bush like ruddy kangaroos" near Buna while all this was going on, other individuals and other events that were to have solid impacts against the enemy were casting their shadows before them.

 

 

Paluma was sold by the Military on 30 April 1946.

There was another much larger vessel called Paluma. It was 120 ft long Survey Ship of 420 tons. It was launched on 5 February 1946 and originally called AV2073 Elsa. It was used by the Army and then transferred to the RAN.

On 15 December 2005 Michael, great grandson of Matt Taylor advised as follows:-

Les Taylor (Matt's son who also helped to build her) worked her around Townsville during the 70's. She sat in Townsville's Ross Creek for a few years as Les's health deteriorated, and she was eventually sold to a group of businessmen who did a little home renovation on her, the most heartbreaking of which (To Les, that is) was to cut out many of her ironbark supports to lighten her up.

They then took her over to Perth as yet another boat watching the defence of the America's cup.

She somehow found her way back to the East coast, and spent some time as a charter-boat out of Airlie Beach. I saw her moored once, but unfortunately there was no-one on board. The locals said the owner was fascinated with her history and was collecting as much info on her as he could find. He was in negotiations with the Maritime Museum in Brisbane for her sale when she was heading back to her mooring after refuelling and caught alight. Nobody was hurt as far as I am aware, but  she burnt to the waterline and nothing remains.

On 18 September 2006 Raymond McQueen told me that Paluma had been used as a Dive-boat. It was based at Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays and operated by a company called Tallarook Sail and Dive. Paluma burned to the waterline about 8 years ago and sank in Pioneer Bay. Her sister ship, Malanda, was a rotting hulk beached on the mud in Boathaven ("Muddy") Bay also at Airlie Beach having steamed across from Hamilton Island many years ago. Malanda was recently broken up and removed as part of the development of that Bay into a marina.

 

Bridge Light recovered from HMAS Paluma

 

Compass from HMAS Paluma

 

Ships helm from HMAS Paluma

 

Close-up of Ships Helm from HMAS Paluma

 

An even closer look at the rope work on the helm of HMAS Paluma

 

Colin Jones told me on 18 May 2005 :-

Taylor's Paluma was 66 feet long. She was taken up by the Royal Australian Navy before she ever went into service. She was never used as an island ferry as Bob Hayles kept the Malita on the run as best he could during the war and despite the Navy's dismissive comment that the island population was now minuscule so that a proper ferry service was not required.

Of Hayles other boats, the Malanda was taken up by the Navy in Cairns, so the Merinda was left to him for services between Cairns and Cooktown.

The two Brisbane boats were taken up by the army.

When he extracted the Malanda from the Navy's grasp he demanded compensation for the way they had treated her and the Navy gave her to Taylor to survey to ascertain what they might owe him. Hayles was incandescent!

I remember the Paluma in the early 1950s offering a 'walk the reef' cruise.

Stanley Gage contacted me on 10 February 2006. Stanley had joined the Coastwatchers in 1943. He joined Paluma from Camp Tabragalba in March 1944 after being outfitted at Milton Tennis Courts. They travelled to Port Moresby only to find his posting had been cancelled. After doing some odd jobs such as escorting stores to Lae he returned to Australia in October 1944 and was eventually posted to the Lugger Maintenance Section, in Darwin.

 

I'd welcome any more information on "Paluma"
or any Hayles boats that were used by the military during WW2

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Michael Tracey for his assistance with this home page. Michael's grandfather was a Coastwatcher with the American forces in the islands during WWII. Michael often travelled to Magnetic Island in the 1960's on "Paluma" when he used to play in rock group at dances on the island.

I'd also like to thank Colin Jones and Raymond McQueen for their assistance with this home page.

 

REFERENCES

"Royal Australian Navy; A - Z Ships, Aircraft and Shore Establishments"
by J.H. Straczek

 

 

 

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This page first produced 4 January 2003

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