War Diary of Captain Alan W. Willis (Lieut.Cmdr. R.D. R.N.R. Ret’d )

sea trials, they were to patrol many of the remote islands of the Indian Ocean and to provide escort for convoys in the area. Because of the considerable number of ships being sunk by German submarines their operations were to extend to New Zealand and Australia .It is significant to note that during the War the British India Line alone was to lose a half of its fleet -over 50 ships - sunk by enemy action. Apart from the inherent danger, this was a singularly pleasant period of the war for Alan. His ship visited Samoa and Fiji, they feasted and danced barefoot in Tonga, and met with Queen Salote’s family. Returning to New Zealand, they arrived in time for the home-coming of the cruiser H.M.S.Achilles from her encounter with the German battleship “Graf Spee” which she in company with ‘Ajax’ and ’Exeter’ defeated at the battle of the River Plate. From there they covered a large area hunting for a German raider which had been responsible, by sowing mines in the area, for sinking the bullion ship ‘Niagara’ shortly after leaving Wellington (N.Z.) , but without a sighting - hardly surprising in such a vast ocean. On one of her patrols Hector’ arrested an oil tanker at sea suspected of supplying fuel to enemy submarines .In escorting her charge to Wellington (N.Z.) the two ships accidentally collided causing severe damage to Hector’s bows. They were eventually able to proceed to port at much reduced speed. There followed a lengthy period in dry dock as repairs were effected. In June 1941 they returned to the Indian Ocean where they were to provide convoy escort along the Indian coasts to the Red Sea and S.Africa until early in the following year when they were sent to Colombo for decommissioning preparatory to conversion to a new role as a troopship. By this stage of the war, the useful life of armed merchant cruisers was coming to an end, and although there had been a large number used in the early days, their lack of speed, manoeuvrability and armour-plating ensured their withdrawal from their role as soon as suitable replacement escort vessels came on stream. Yet they did provide a remarkable service and who will forget the story of one - the ‘Jervis Bay’ on duty in the Atlantic in November 1940, whose convoy was attacked by the battleship ‘Admiral Scheer’, immediately turning towards the enemy, having given the convoy the order to disperse, and in the time it took for her to be annihilated by the German ship, enabled the bulk of the convoy to escape. H.M.S.Hector had been de-ammunissioned and, her conversion completed, was lying outside the harbour when in April 1942 Japanese aircraft struck the port. It was not the first such attack and a British cruiser had recently been bombed and Page 5
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