Guns of Muschu
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Tales of the South Pacific?
 
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.The Adventures of HDML1321
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Since publishing "The Guns of Muschu" I've received many calls and emails from WW2 veterans who've kindly provided additional information. One of these veterans, a Mr Ron Reynolds of Mount Gambier, South Australia, was the radio operator on board HDML1321, the Australian Navy patrol boat, that inserted the men of Operation Copper onto Muschu Island and later took part in the search for the missing men.

Ron has related a number of stories about HDML1321 that have confirmed what I suspected about the ship, her crew and its commander, Navy Lieutenant Ernie Palmer. In brief HDML1321, probably encapsulated everything we've heard about the Australian fighting spirit, love of adventure and disregard for authority. It apears that HDML1321 took the war to the Japanese in many ways that aren't fully recorded in the official histories and created havoc wherever she went - including our allies. Hopefully one day, these stories will be told.

One anecdote Ron told me that appeals to me in particular, as ironically many years later during the Vietnam War, men in my unit performed similar light fingered deeds. Ron's story goes as follows:

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"We'd been operating along the coast of New Guinea for a month or so, sneaking into coastal areas and bays where we knew the Japs were, and hitting them with everything we had. HDML 1321 was fitted fairly heavily for a ship of her size, with a 40mm Bofors up front, two 35 mm cannon amidships, a couple of 50 calibre Machine guns and some Lewis 303 machine guns.

We'd called into Aitape early in the morning - it was at the time an American air base. A mate of mine and I asked Ernie Palmer if we could go ashore - I had a cousin that was serving in the army at the time and his unit was at Aitape. Ernie agreed, the boat was going to be there for a while, we needed refueling, more ammo and a few spare parts, so there was no rush.

As my mate and I left the boat, Ernie called out to me, asking me to "see what could be done about fixing the two midship cannons..."

 
P39 Aircobra. Note the cannon in the propeller hub

These were two 35mm weapons - both rapid fire guns - that had originally been used as the main armament in the American P39 Aircobra. The aircraft has one mounted in the nose, firing through the center of the propellor hub. We'd originally scrounged a pair of these and had them adapted to pintel mounts and they'd proved to be excellent weapons with a good rate of fire and packing a hell of a whallop.

However, after months of heavy use shooting up Jap targets, the barrels were wearing out, and other parts were also giving trouble. Our naval armourers couldn't do much for us because "officially" we didn't possess the weapons and the Australian "system" didn't carry any spares.

But Ernie had remembered that the Yanks at Aitape had a couple of squadrons of P39s. His reminder to "see what we could do..." wasn't an order, just a subtle hint that maybe we should consider a temporary career diversion as larcenists while we were ashore.

So we went ashore, walked into the naval base area which was mainly US at the time, found a jeep parked outside an administration hut and "borrowed it".

After finding my cousin in a signals unit a couple of miles away and having a few beers with him (which he'd obtained from the Americans) my mate and I drove over to the airbase and nosed around. And there parked near the strip in a maintenance area were two P39s undergoing repair - and as luck would have it - both having their 35mm cannons replaced. Sitting in crates were two brand new weapons still packed in grease waiting to be fitted.

We hung around nearby looking as if we were busy doing nothing, until the ground crew knocked off and were driven away for their lunch break. While they were gone we zipped into the area, loaded the two cannons into the back of the jeep, then drove sedately off. Didn't want to draw suspicion by speeding now, did we?

Twenty minutes later the "borrowed" guns were safely aboard HDML1321, and an hour later sitting on their mountings as if they'd been there forever. We figured the best place to hide two guns is where they belonged - just in case anyone came looking. We quietly dropped the used cannons overboard under the jetty. I then returned the jeep to where I found it so it wouldn't draw the crabs and that afternoon we idled out of harbor and resumed our patrol."

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