HMAHS Kanowna

Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force

The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force was a small volunteer force of approximately 2,000 men, raised in Australia shortly after the outbreak of the First World War to seize and destroy German wireless stations in German New Guinea in the south-west Pacific.

Britain required the German wireless installations to be destroyed because they were used by the German East Asian Cruiser Squadron of Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee which threatened merchant shipping in the region. Following the capture of German possessions in the region, the AN&MEF provided occupation forces for the duration of the war.

New Zealand provided a similar force for the occupation of German Samoa.

History

Formation

The AN&MEF began forming following a request by the British government on 6 August, 1914. The objectives of the force were the German stations at Yap in the Caroline Islands, Nauru and at Rabaul, New Britain. The AN&MEF was assembled under the guidance of Colonel J.G. Legge, and was separate from the Australian Imperial Force forming under Major-General W.T. Bridges. The AN&MEF comprised one battalion of infantry (1,000 men) enlisted in Sydney plus 500 naval reservists and ex-sailors who would serve as infantry. Another battalion of militia from northern Queensland, which had been hurriedly dispatched to garrison Thursday Island, also contributed 500 volunteers to the force.

Under the command of Colonel William Holmes, the AN&MEF departed Sydney aboard HMAS Berrima and halted at Palm Island off Townsville until the New Zealand force, escorted by the battlecruiser HMAS Australia, cruiser HMAS Melbourne and the French cruiser Montcalm, occupied Samoa on 30 August. The AN&MEF then moved to Port Moresby where it met the Queensland contingent aboard the transport HMAHS Kanowna. The force then sailed for German New Guinea on 7 September but the Kanowna was left behind when her stokers refused to work.

Landing at Rabaul

Off the eastern tip of New Guinea, the Berrima rendezvoused with Australia and the light cruiser HMAS Sydney plus some destroyers. Melbourne had been detached to destroy the wireless station on Nauru. The task force reached Rabaul on 11 September, finding the port free of German forces. Sydney and the destroyer HMAS Warrego landed small parties of naval reservists at the settlements of Kabakaul and the German gubernatorial capital Herbertshöhe on Neu-Pommern, south-east of Rabaul. These parties were reinforced firstly by sailors from Warrego and later by infantry from Berrima. In fighting at Kabakaul, the first Australian casualties of the war were sustained. The first Australian fatality from enemy action is believed to be Seaman W.G.V. Williams, who was mortally wounded and died the same day. By nightfall, the small German garrison had surrendered.

At nightfall on 12 September, the Berrima landed the AN&MEF infantry battalion at Rabaul. The following afternoon, 13 September, despite the fact that the German governor had not surrendered the territory, a ceremony was carried out to signal the British occupation of New Britain. The German administration had withdrawn inland to Toma and at dawn on 14 September, HMAS Encounter bombarded a ridge near the town, while half a battalion advanced towards the town, supported by a field gun.

German surrender

This show of firepower was sufficient to start negotiations. The terms were signed on 17 September and all military resistance in German New Guinea ceased, with the remaining armed forces, comprising 40 German soldiers and 110 natives, surrendering by 21 September. The German colony at Madang on Kaiser-Wilhelmsland (the New Guinea mainland) was occupied on 24 September but the German cruiser SMS Cormoran, which was lurking nearby, escaped undetected. Over the next two months, the remaining German outposts were occupied.

The terms of the surrender allowed the colony's governor, Dr Haber, to return to Germany while German civilians could remain as long as they swore an oath of neutrality. Those who refused were transported to Australia from where they could freely travel back to Germany.

The losses of the AN&MEF were light, the most significant being the disappearance of the Australian submarine AE1 during a patrol off Rabaul on 14 September.

References

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