1941: Captain describes attack on Holmwood

Evening Post, 9 January 1941, p 9


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.”