1941: Holmwood attack recounted

Evening Post, 9 January 1941, p 9

LOSS OF HOLMWOOD
THREE SHIPS INVOLVED
CAPTAIN’S REPORT

A preliminary report on the sinking of the Holmwood after being caught by three German raiders has been sent by Captain JH Miller, her commander, to Captain S Holm, managing director of Holm and Company Ltd, owners of the steamer.

Capt James H Miller of SS Holmwood
Capt James H Miller of SS Holmwood. Photo: Evening Post, 3 Dec 1940, p 8
“It is with great regret,” writes Captain Miller, “that I have to report the loss of the SS Holmwood on November 25 by enemy action 27 miles west-by-south to 1/2 south from the western reef of the Chatham Islands,” stated Captain Miller. “I had sailed from Waitangi (Chatham Islands) at 2.30 am, being on the bridge myself till the west reef was cleared at 5.10 am. At 7.25 pm the second mate, Mr. Clarke, called me and reported that a large steamer was overtaking us fast astern on the port quarter.

“I immediately went on to the bridge and saw a strange ship showing Japanese colours about two miles on the port quarter, with three hoists of flags showing. I altered the course of the ship and brought the strange vessel astern, and gave the order for all women and children to dress and for the boats to be out in readiness. I heard what I thought to be a gun fired and at the same time observed two other ships closing in on either side.

“The one on the port quarter and the one amidships on the starboard side had us covered with 8-inch guns, flashing by Morse signals ‘Stop immediately!’ The hoists of flags were made out to read, ‘For the benefit of your company you should stop immediately.’

“The ships being in close proximity I realised it would be useless to attempt to use the wireless. Furthermore, I could not possibly leave the bridge. The engines were stopped at 8 am. All the ship’s papers — wages sheets, account book, letter book — were seized by the raiders’ officers. The cash, amounting to £57 7s 4d, I stowed away in the hope of bringing it up before I left the ship, but this unfortunately went down with her.

“The passengers and crew were taken on board the raiders. A large number of sheep were taken on board also, the remainder, including the horse on board, being slaughtered before the ship was sunk by shell fire at 1 pm.

“All hands managed to save a certain amount of their belongings, though I regret that a considerable amount of their effects were lost. I should like to add that the coolness and courage displayed by the officers, engineers, crew, and passengers was most admirable throughout. I will give further details on my return to New Zealand.”


Auckland Star, 13 January 1941, p 8

IN A TRAP.
STEAMER’S FATE.
MESSAGE IN MORSE.
GUNS TURNED ON STOCK.

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.


Evening Post, 14 January 1941, p 8

CAPTURE OF HOLMWOOD
NO CHANCE OF ESCAPE
THREE SHIPS FORM A TRAP

(By Telegraph—Press Association.)
AUCKLAND, January 13.

“The officers and crew of the steamer Holmwood must be treated with every respect. Breaches of this rule will be severely dealt with.”

This notice in German on the raider under the name of Manyo Maru was translated by a member of the Holmwood’s crew.

Members of the Holmwood’s crew told interviewers that the rule was strictly adhered to, and that in many cases friendships sprang up between captors and captured.

The second officer of the Holmwood, Mr AA Clark, said the ship was caught in a trap formed by three enemy raiders. The Holmwood had no chance.

STOCK KILLED IN THE WATER.

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

He added that after the officers, crew, and passengers were 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 machineguns. It was humane to end their misery. Then the enemy ship steamed north with the two other enemy ships.

RANGITANE A SURPRISE.

Mr Clark said he did not get the idea that the raider people had inside information. They said they were surprised to get the Rangitane, which was sunk a few days later after being shelled.

The Holmwood’s victims were kept below during the shelling. They were treated well and the food was fair, Mr Clark said. On reaching the Tropics every man was provided with shorts, a singlet, and a cap cover. There was, however, a shortage of water. Time hung heavily, but the captives were allowed on deck every day for exercise. German wireless news was given in English.

When they landed at Emira [sic] Island everybody made the best of it. After being taken off they reached another place in 20 hours, and the Red Cross there gave them 20 cases of clothing. They had a wonderful reception when they reached an Australian port, and again the Red Cross was very good to them.