We finally had all the available fighters assembled. On 2 February 1942 the ground personnel of the 9th, 88th and Headquarter Squadrons returned to Ascot Race Track in preparation for going to Java. At 2:00 A.M. (0200) on 3 February 1942 we were all awakened because there was a report an aircraft carrier was off the coast. We were formed into several groups, each group to be protected by one individual armed with a .45 caliber automatic pistol. I was one of those with a pistol. We were each issued 12 rounds of ammunition. Although I had been on guard duty my entire stay in Australia and had a .45 pistol on my hip most of that time, I had never fired one. I probably would have been more of a danger to those I was supposed to protect than I would have been to the Japanese. Fortunately, by sunup it was learned that it was an Allied carrier.
On 4 February 1942 we ( 88th, 9th and Headquarter Squadrons) were again loaded on a ship ("USAT Willard A. Holbrook"). We sailed at about 11:00 P.M. (2300 ).This time our destination was Java. As most of the islands to the north of Australia had fallen into Japanese hands by this time, we had to go completely around Australia in order to reach our destination. This time I was assigned to a .30 caliber antiaircraft machine gun. Our shifts were 4 hours on and 12 hours off.
Accommodations on the "Holbrook" were much better than we had experienced on the "Republic". Many things were the same, but there were far fewer troops on board, so we were not nearly so crowded. We still had two meals a day. This time, though, much of our food consisted of sheep. We said we had four kinds of meat available: ram, lamb, sheep, or mutton. Greasy, cold mutton sandwiches can get old pretty quickly, though.
We stopped in Melbourne, one of the most up-to-date cities in Australia, at 9:00 P.M. (2100) on 7 February 1942. We expected to unload in Melbourne. We had all our gear on deck, ready to get off. However, we eventually were told our orders had been changed, so we were to stay on board. This really made the troops unhappy!!
We spent four days in Melbourne, while stevadores loaded bombs and torpedos in the hold of our ship. This activity went on 24 hours a day until just before we sailed at 5:00 P.M. (1700) on 12 February 1942. We could all imagine that big X just below the water line on the hull of the ship where a Japanese torpedo would hit us below the water line and blow us to Kingdom Come.
We picked up the rest of our convoy the morning of 13 February 1942.
We then proceeded to Fremantle, the principal seaport of Western Australia. We reached Fremantle at 1 :00 P.M. (1300) on 18 February 1942. The anti-aircraft machine guns had to be manned constantly, even though we were in port. This was really impressed upon us on 19 February 1942 when 150 Japanese carrierborn aircraft attacked Darwin, Australia. F our carriers from the Pearl Harbor force led the attack. They damaged harbor installations and sank a number of ships. Although this was several hundred miles north of our position, it was entirely too close for comfort. I did not get to see much of Fremantle or Perth ( her sister city) as much as I would have liked. However, I did get into town a couple of times. Both towns were fairly modern and appeared rather prosperous. There is a great deal of mining done in Western Australia, which accounts for most of the prosperity.
When we arrived in Fremantle, we tied up beside the "USS Langley", the first American aircraft carrier. The "Langley" had been converted to a seaplane tender . Now its deck contained 32 P-40s that our group ( 7th Bombardment Group and the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron) had assembled at Amberly and Archer Fields ( near Brisbane). We were both to become a part of Convoy MS-5, heading for Java. Convoy MS-5 consisted of five ships, escorted by the cruiser "USS Phoenix". The other ships were the "Langley","Holbrook","Duntroon", "Katoomba" (we called it "Smoky Joe" ), and" Sea Witch". We left Fremantle on 22 February 1942, but returned to Fremantle before we were out of sight of land. Java was beginning to be evacuated. The next day (23 February 1942) at noon we set sail again, but headed for India rather than Java. Some time after midnight (I was on gun duty at the time) the "Langley" left the convoy, headed for Java. (It was sunk on 27 February 1942 before it reached Java.) The "Sea Witch" left the convoy 25 February 1942 to make a run for Java (it had 18 crated P-40s in its hold. It reached Java, but there was no one to assemble the planes, so the crates were dumped in the harbor of Tjilatjap, Java and the "Sea Witch" successfully escaped.) The "Phoenix" left our convoy on 1 March 1942 when a British light cruiser joined us.
(The cruiser "Phoenix" that accompanied us on this trip was later sold to Argentina by the U.S. Navy after World War II as Navy surplus. It was sunk during the Falklands War by hover craft from the British Air Force. The Liberty ship "Sea Witch" that went to Java was sunk in New York Harbor after colliding with a ship in the dark in 1990.)
I think the higher authorities did not know exactly what to do with us, since we did not have any equipment with which to fight. From 18 February to 5 March 1942 we did not see land. The hold of the ship was completely filled with explosives of all types that had been loaded aboard in Melbourne, which made all of us on board very uncomfortable. To add to our discomfort, a Japanese submarine was sunk at the entrance of the harbor of Colombo, Ceylon the night before we arrived. We doubled the watch and most of us saw submarine periscopes all night. Fortunately, it was the only one in the region.