HMNZS Leander

Page 5 – Recovery and repair

The Battle of Kolombangara in July 1943 was a disaster for the numerically superior Allies. HMNZS Leander lay dead in contested waters in the dark as crewmen struggled to keep their ship afloat. The Japanese Long Lance torpedo hit the cruiser with the full force of a freight train. At first some sailors thought they had collided with the US cruiser St. Louis in the confusion of the night.

Unfortunately, too, it hit in a very vulnerable place, just abaft the ‘A’ boiler room. Almost 500 kg of high explosive killed everyone in that boiler room and the blast, venting up through the boiler room duct, also blew eight men from the No.1 102-mm mount over the side, where any survivors drowned. The ship’s torpedo tubes were left dangling over the side.

The Leander quickly lost way as seawater flooded into the port side through the forward boiler room, main switchboard room, forward dynamo room, low-power room and the transmitting room. The ship took a list to port, blind and plunged into darkness as electricity failed. Gradually, however, damage control crews restored some limited services, carrying messages by hand until the telephone system could be restored. Bulkheads were shored up, holes and cracks patched and enough steam was got up to enable Leander to get up 12 knots. With the galleys out of action, sailors were fed on sandwiches.

Fortunately, the Japanese did not return and American destroyers and aircraft took turns to escort Leander on its 18-hour voyage back to Tulagi. The casualties had been heavy.

The Leander entered Tulagi with the chaplain reading prayers for the 26 dead and missing. For a week, officers and men sweated away making basic repairs. Concrete and boxing patched damaged steel bulkheads. Other men probed below decks to look for bodies. Somehow the ship made it back to Devonport, where the dockyard staff quickly saw that full repairs were beyond their capability.

But the horror did not end with the ship’s arrival in Auckland. ‘Volunteers got the bodies and remains out of the damaged part, and then there was a funeral’, Engine Room Artificer James Murphy recalled.

We always wore an identity disc around our neck, a little bit of hard red plastic stuff with your name and blood group and artificial number on it ... To identify people. But they couldn’t identify anything except two of them, just bits and pieces, body pieces. At the funeral they were buried in the one grave as the unknown sailor, but there are headstones and funeral plots for the other two now.

How to cite this page

'Recovery and repair', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/hmnzs-leander/recovery-and-repair, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012