A Letter Home from the Combat Zone: An Encounter with a Submarine

| December/January 1994

Lt. Col. U.S. Army (Ret.) 17164 Courtney Lane, Huntington Beach, California 92649

It was my ill luck to be thrust into the Pacific War soon after the Japanese attack on the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Fighting was still raging on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines when we arrived at Thursday Island.

Never before having been in combat, my arrival there was a shocking introduction to the war making power of the Japanese. The waterfront area of Thursday Island (T.I.) was a shamble. T.I. was the pearling center of the Southwestern Pacific, and thus, was the home port for hundreds of pearling loggers (A logger is usually a sloop rigged sailing craft of fifty to sixty feet in length). The beach was littered with the wreckage of these beautiful boats. The meager port facilities had been bombed to bits. T.I. was not the only target of attack in the immediate area. Port Moresby, the most important settlement in New Guinea, which lay just across the Torres Straits, was under daily attack, with Japanese land forces making steady progress along the Kakoda Trail aimed at Port Moresby. Our neighbor to the west, Darwin, was virtually cut off from the rest of Australia, with its harbor littered with sunken supply vessels and warships which had been caught in the port.

Hell was busting out all over. The Japanese intentions were clear, Australia was to be invaded, and here we sat right in the path of this onrushing formidable war machine. The first reaction was to get the hell out of there, but one couldn't entertain thoughts like that when we knew all the armed forces of Australia were fully engaged in fighting the Germans in North Africa and the Japanese in Singapore and Malaya.

In that kind of situation, even though we had no experience in warfare, everybody knew we had to defend as best we could with whatever equipment we had. And that brings me around to my encounter.

Much on my own initiative, I had developed into a specialist on machine guns, especially the American made Browning automatic weapons. As a tiny piece of lend-lease, a quantity of these weapons were allocated to an Australian Reserve Force being organized to defend the northern entry into the Great Barrier Reef, some fifteen or so miles from Thursday Island.