SS Mangola

Mangola built at the Commonwealth Naval Dockyard Sydney, was of 3350 gross tons length 341ft. and breadth 48ft. Launched in 1920 she was originally named Eudunda. The Burns Philp Group acquired her from the Australian Government's Commonwealth Line of Steamers in 1926 and renamed her Mangola.

She was an Isherwood type shelter deck longitudinal framed vessel, a design said to provide greater strength than the more conventional transverse type framing. This was a great asset to Mangola, as this remakable ship's history of loggings, bombings, strafings, collisions, and wartime campaigns with the Allied Services 1939 to 1945 well shows.

Her pre-Second World War Service included various destinations, Singapore Malaya (now Malaysia) Burma (now Myanmar), Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia. She participated in the population evacuations following the May 1937 severe earthquate and volcanic eruption at Rabaul.

Her valuable war service was eventful, despite being interrupted for most of 1944 by the need for repairs after a grounding on the Great Barrier Reef.

In December 1941 Mangola left Sydney for Singapore heading north with general cargo. On reaching Port Moresby it was found that owing to the war the Torres Strait was closed to shipping and she returned to Sydney, leaving again for Singapore via Fremantle, where she joined a convoy, which included Marella.

The southward advance of the Japanese made Singapore untenable and after they had passed through the Sunda Straits, some ships of the convoy were ordered back to Sydney. Others including Mangola and Marella were ordered to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Djakarta, Indonesia). Shortly after this diversion another vessel collided with Mangola causing damage to the steering gear aft. The Engineers and crew rigged a jury steering apparatus to keep the ship on course; she eventually reached Batavia on 8 February 1942. At that time constant bombing by the Japanese caused chaotic conditions in the port and cargo could not be discharged.

The master was mistakenly told that all communication was restricted to the Armed Forces and that he could not get in touch with Sydney. After much delay in taking on essential water and missing one convoy, he was directed to rendezvous with another on 21 February On arriving at the marshalling position to which the ship had been directed there was no sign of the escort or other ships and with the critical state that existed and the possibility that escape through the Sunda Straits would be cut off with the occupation by Japanese forces, it was decided to sail independently and still under jury steering. On 2 March Mangola reached Fremantle where repairs were carried out on the damaged steering gear. She arrived in Sydney on 2 April 2024 with the cargo still on board. Then placed on the southern Australian ports- Papua- New Guinea cargo service, Mangola became a frequent visitor to the crucial port of Port Moresby. Loss of Port Moresby to the Japanese would have had incalcuable, disastrous results for Australia.

Port Moresby was the entry port for stopping any Japanese land advance southward, a fear which materialised after the July Japanese landings on the north coast. Its defence relied on the the 30th (Militia) Infantry Brigade, comprising the 39th, 49th, and 53rd Infantry Battalions supported by some field artillery and a battery of heavy anti-aircraft artillery. Merchant Navy ships were troop transports and cargo carriers. High octane fuel, petroleum, ammunition, every piece of war equipment and hardware depended for transportation to the war effort's forward bases on the fleet of Merchant Ships manned largely by Australian Merchant Mariners. There was only one place for the merchant seaman, at sea in his ship exposed to attack by submarine, surface raider or aircraft at any time, with the added risk of enemy minefields laid in coastal waters. This was the state of affairs existing to Australia's north at the latter part of 1941 and 1942.

Support and protection afforded shipping generally at Port Moresby was inadequate and the Report's by the Ships Masters were scathing and critical.

Captain J Campbell, Master of Macdhui sunk in Port Moresby 18 June 1942, wrote "The anti-aircraft fire was quite ineffective on the 17th and 18th June, and on neither occasion were there any Allied fighters making any attempt to break up Japanese formations."

Captain L Millar, Master of Mangola in Port Moresby 10- 11th July 1942, reported at 26,000ft two formations, seven and fourteen tackled Mangola and dropped about 100 H.E. bombs. No damage sustained. Next day they came over again in perfect formation, and pattern bombed Mangola, they all let go with about 190 H.E. bombs ranging from 250 to 500lbs each.

"Nothing is more certain that unless we get more protection we are going to lose many valuable lives and ships, and as far as we are concerned the whole can only be described as a "sitting shot." In other words, Japanese aircraft are attacking the shipping without opposition. We are putting on a Roman Holiday for all concerned and being attacked from the air with complete impunity."

In May the Directors of Burns Philp had approached the Ministers for Army and Defence: "As Macdhui and other of our vessels are constantly on the Port Moresby itinerary, we would be extremely grateful if we could be assured of receiving good anti-aircraft support in the event of raids while our ships are there."

The general question being asked by crew members at the time was "Would Ships Be More Precious Than Men?"

The unrelenting Japanese advance southward continued, but the Allies had assembled sufficient strength by August to prepare to turn the tables. Milne Bay was to be a key location of resistance, and U.S.A. forces carried out the first landing against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands.

To Milne Bay, predominantly defended by Australians, Mangola brought from Newcastle (loaded during the shelling of that port by Japanese Submarines) a sizeable cargo of marsden matting (a steel mesh type plating laid down after the jungle type vegetation had been cleared by bulldozers, graders, and earth moveing equipment), and large quantities of 44 gallon drums of aviation gasoline, spares, stores, and equipment, all in anticipation of the arrival at Milne Bay of 75 & 76 Squadrons R.A.A.F. Their contribution to the first Australian repulse of the Japanese advance,a turning point of the war, was invaluable.

During a voyage from Darwin to the eastern States in December 1943, Mangola was caught in a cyclone off Princess Charlotte Bay North Queensland, and blown aground onto Corbett Reef, being stranded and left high and dry. There was extensive damage to the ship but fortunately no lives were lost. (The Union Steamship Companies Wanaka was caught in the same cyclone, and completely capsized, with the loss of 12 lives on nearby Eden Reef.) The well-known firm of Johnson, Williams, and Heard (of Niagara gold fame) salvaged both vessels, this being one of the many epic salvage jobs achieved by the Australian Commonwealth Salvage Board, in the South Pacific war zone. There being such a shortage of ships due to the vast amount of shipping being sunk and losses suffered it was imperative that ships were salvaged whenever possible. The refloating of Mangola was successful with the aid of the Salvage Board Tugs, Bars1, Bars2, and Tancred after the dumping overboard of the spare propeller, tail shaft, jumbo derrick and guns, to lighten the ship. These were retrieved after the war.

By September 1944 repairs were completed in Sydney. New armament was fitted comprising one 4 inch gun, two twin Oerlikons, two twin machine guns, and anti aircraft weapons. Mangola sailed again, now with ten R.A.N.gun crew to man the new weaponry, a great change from 1939, at the beginning of hostilities.

Voyages were made to Darwin with continued calls to Thursday Island, and Melville Bay, to service and supply the military installations in the north of Australia.

Mangola resumed trading in the Singapore service at the end of hostilities and was transferred to the Papua New Guinea service in 1949. An eight day stranding on Kar Kar Reef north of Madang in 1953 carried on her tradition of surviving near misses.

Mangola's last voyage for Burns Philp ended on her arrival in Sydney on 3 May 1957. Sold to Hong Kong owners she was later owned by the Peoples Republic of China. She was acquired by Hong Kong ship breakers on November 1964. Thus ended the life of a ship well-remembered by all who sailed in her under the Red Duster of the British Merchant Navy, and the Scottish Thistle House Flag of Burns Philp & Co. Ltd. General Merchants with its Hong Kong, Saigon, Java, Singapore, and Island Line of Steamers.