1941: Holmwood’s second officer describes attack

Auckland Star, 13 January 1941, p 8


Caught in a trap formed by three enemy ships, the small New Zealand trader, Holmwood, had no chance. The vessel was four hours out from the Chatham Islands with general cargo, live stock and passengers, and her destination was Lyttelton. The second officer, Mr CC Clark, was on watch, and this morning, when interviewed, he said that the Holmwood was doing about eight knots at the time.

“One of the raiders made a flag signal,” said Mr Clark, “and then came a Morse message to stop. It was said later that two shots were fired across our bows. I did not see them, but I did hear a ‘plop’ in the sea.”

Mr Clark described the sinking of the Holmwood after her officers, crew and passengers had been taken off. The Germans took off some of the live sheep for food, but the majority of the 1400 were left to drown, also a polo pony. The Germans opened fire on the struggling stock with machine-guns. It was regarded as a humane action to end their misery.

From the bridge of the Holmwood, Mr Clark soon found himself on the Manyo Main, which, he said, was a vessel of about 8000 tons. She was very heavily, armed, and her captain was directing the other two raiders. The Manyo Maru, definitely a German ship, had a black tunnel, yellow and buff upperworks like a Japanese freighter, and also Japanese flags on her sides.

Then the enemy ship left the vicinity of the Chathams and steamed north, with the two other enemy vessels in company. One was the Tokyo Maru, a vessel of about 10,000 tons, and the third vessel was larger still. She kept in a shadowy background. Very little was found out about her. They called her, for want of another name, the Black Panther.

Courteous Treatment.

Mr C Clark, reunited with his wife and family in Wellington, 14 Jan 1941

Mr C Clark, reunited with his wife and family in Wellington, 14 Jan 1941. Photo: The Press, 16 Jan 1941

Mr Clark said that he did not get the idea that the raider people had any inside information, and they said that they were surprised to get the liner Rangitane, which was sunk a few days later, after being shelled. The Holmwood victims heard the firing, but they were kept below out of sight. He added that they were treated well on the Manyo Maru. The food was fair, and on reaching the tropics every man was provided with shorts, a singlet and a cap-cover. The enemy captain and his officers were courteous, and a notice was put up, warning the German crew that the captives had to be treated well. There was, however, a shortage of water.

Time hung heavily on the hands of the captives, but they were allowed up on deck every day for exercise, and, fresh air. There was a first-class radio set on board, the German wireless news of the day was given in English, and English records were also played. The fact that wreckage from the Holmwood had been cast up on the Chatham Islands was also announced over the radio.

Mr Clark had the opportunity of casting a practised nautical eye over two of the enemy raiders at close range, and he noted that the Manyo Maru was specially fitted up for the reception of prisoners of war.

Mr Clark said that when the captives were landed at Emirau Tsland everyone made the beet of it, and a message was soon sent for help. They reached another place in twenty hours when taken off, and the Red Cross authorities there gave them twenty cases of clothing. They had a wonderful reception when they reached an Australian port, and again the Red Cross people were very good to them. He could not speak too highly of the Red Cross activities on the victims’ behalf.