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Table of Contents

War History of the Australian Meteorological Service




Chapter 1: D.Met.S.—Australia's Wartime Weather Service

Chapter 2: The Weather Factor in Warfare

Chapter 3: Met in the Retreat
The Evacuations from Ambon and Namlea
Fall of Salamaua
The Singapore Expedition/ Brief Visit to Singapore
Trek across Timor/ The Retreat in Timor
Sea Escape from Tulagi
Vila and Noumea Bases
The Attacks on Darwin and Broome

Chapter 4: Met in the Advance

Chapter 5: Meteorology in Aviation

Chapter 6: Central Forecasting Services

Chapter 7: Met With the Army

Chapter 8: Research and Personnel Training

Chapter 9: Instrumental Development and Maintenance

Chapter 10: Scientific Developments in the RAAF Meteorological Service

Chapter 11: Divisional Bureaux and Their Work

Appendix 1: List of Reports Provided by D.Met.S. for Advances Operational Planning and Other Purposes

Appendix 2: List of Service Personnel RAAF Meteorological Service

Appendix 3: List of Civilian Personnel Who Worked Together with Service Personnel of the RAAF Meteorological Service

Appendix 4: List of Locations at which RAAF Meteorological Service Personnel Served


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Sea Escape from Tulagi

A leaky old copra schooner provided the escape medium from Tulagi, the seat of the government of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, when the Japanese approach drove the meteorological observer and other members of the RAAF from the secret advanced operational base established there. Actually the base was on the nine acre island of Tanambago, about three miles to the south-east of Tulagi, where FO (later Sqn Ldr J. L. Williams and Sgt (later Fl Sgt) T. E. Hore arrived to set up a weather station in late September 1941. At the outset their duties were to supply meteorological information to the Catalinas engaged on reconnaissance flights from Port Moresby, but after the entry of Japan into the war these were increased greatly as the Tanambago base came more and more into use.

Japanese long-range Kawanisi flying boats began to bomb the area in January 1942 but they were at a disadvantage initially through lack of certainty as to which island housed the RAAF base. Naturally every attempt was made by the Australians to encourage the belief that the establishment was on Tulagi—a task that involved filling in bomb craters, flying the Union Jack from the Commissioner's residence, leaving empty oil drums on the wharves, hanging washing from lines and anchoring small boats around the Tulagi jetties—so that for a time the enemy was deceived. Before long, however, their chief attention was devoted to Tanambago and Gavutu, an 11 acre island linked by a 200 yard causeway, where a small detachment of AIF commandos was in possession.

About this time FO Williams was transferred from the island, leaving Sgt Hore as the single weather man at Tanambago, charged with carrying out standard observations and supplying reports to the Catalinas, plus special hourly reports to Townsville when cyclones appeared.

However, the days of operation for this base were numbered. As the Japanese forces moved down through the Solomons from Rabaul their bombing and strafing raids became more frequent. Twice Sgt Hore returned from a slit trench to find mercury all over the floor of the meteorological office, when a nearby bomb blast had so increased the air pressure that it was forced through the top of the barometer, and after almost every raid it was necessary to renew the barograph charts because of ink thrown everywhere by the madly oscillating pen. By April the enemy had occupied the New Georgia group of islands, a few hundred miles to the northwest of Tanambago, and it was apparent that Tulagi and its satellites would be next. On 2 May 1942 the Japanese began to bomb and strafe the area with monotonous regularity, beginning each day about dawn. Since the Catalinas reported an enemy convoy headed for Tulagi it was decided to destroy what was left of the base on Tanambago and make for Florida, a comparatively big island lying adjacent. An hour and a half later the enemy landed on Tulagi.

Once on Florida the RAAF party divided into two detachments, one under the charge of Sgt Hore, making for Dende Bay on the other side of the island. It was pitch dark, with heavy rain, as the unhappy men pushed on through the tropical jungle, crossing several creeks known to be crocodile-infested, with the natural result that many became lost. Sgt Hore was accompanied by only two of his original party of 15 when the rendezvous was reached, but ultimately all members arrived. Then followed another long wait for the second detachment, which had also lost its way, before boarding the old copra schooner, Balus, owned by W. R. Carpenter & Company, the island traders, which had been camouflaged and hidden amid the mangroves some time previously when the fall of Tanambago seemed imminent. Balus is the local native word for pigeon, or big bird, but the name was a singularly inapt one. The old vessel was about 60 feet long by 12 feet wide, built high forward and aft with about two and a half feet freeboard where the copra hold was located, but it had an experienced master in Captain Charles Bird, an employee of W. R. Carpenter & Company, and also a native crew, while a good stock of tinned rations had previously been built-up in the hold.

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Haldane, T. 1997 'War History of the Australian Meteorological Service in the Royal Australian Air Force April 1941 to July 1946', Metarch Papers, No. 10 October 1997, Bureau of Meteorology

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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