MV Merkur

MV Merkur and sister ship Neptuna built in Germany in 1924 and 1925. They traded to Central America as the Rio Bravo and Rio Panuco during the world wide economic depression at the time the company owning them went bankrupt. They were sold to the Nord Deutscher Lloyd Line of Bremen who in or about 1934 ran them on the service between New Guinea and Hong Kong via ports in competition with Burns Philp. Burns Philp approached the Australian Government to have them prevented from operating out of New Guinea. The Government declined, instead offering to pay the interest on any money Burns Philp borrowed to buy them. This was agreed and they were purchased in 1935.

Of 5952gross tons, length 393ft. and beam of 52ft.the twin screw MV Merkur was placed on on the Java, Singapore and Australia Service in conjunction with MVMarella.

On the outbreak of the war with Japan in 1941, the Commonwealth Government requisitioned MV Merkur to serve the Royal Australian Navy as Fleet Victualling Store Issue Supply Ship (F.V.S.I.S.) She supplied stores to American, British, and Australian naval units in the Western Pacific from Noumea to the Philippines. She was actively engaged in the tactical advance to the north by the American campaign in the Solomon Islands with Australian and New Zealand forces, successfully assisting in pushing the Japanese out of the area and back to the islands to the north, and on to the Philippines. Merkur at all times sailed under the Red Ensign of the British Merchant Navy and was manned by Burns Philp Deck and Engine Room Officers and Seamen. By 1945 reasonably well armed, she was fortunately never singled out for individual attack.

At Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea, MV Merkur was involved in supplying ships preparing for the recapture of the Philippine Islands. From Hollandia she crossed 340 miles to the east arriving at Seeadler Harbour, the largest American Naval Base west of Pearl Harbour. Here the components of the U.S. Army and Navy and units of the R.A.N. invasion fleet assembled. While Merkur was waiting for the arrival of the Australian Navy ships to come alongside for stores, an American Kittyhawk fighter plane streaked down at masthead height, passing between two lines of ships where the bow of a Victory ship was protruding beyond that of a Liberty ship. A moment later there was an enormous cone-like vertical flash and explosion followed by a brilliant ball of fire. It was the ammunition ship U.S.S. Mount Hood blown out of the water and disappearing in one huge explosion. Merkur was abeam at the time and sustained minor damage. Speculation on what caused the explosion, was it the Kittyhawk flown by a Japanese Pilot? was it a high level bomb dropped?, was it a torpedo? Tokyo Rose Japan at the time claimed the sinking of the Mount Hood belonged to a Japanese midget submarine.

Merkur happened to be at Morotai when hostilities ceased, and she sailed independently with navigation lights burning to Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands, where she victualled H.M.A.S. Shropshire to sail for Tokyo for the signing of the Peace Treaty.

From 1946 she remained under charter to the Commonwealth Government and was employed in the transport of Service personnel and stores, to the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces Australian Component's Base at Kure in Japan, the last voyage as such being in 1948. Returning to Sydney she was refitted, handed back to her owners late in 1949, and was finally sold for scrapping in 1953.