History of the ML 850 – a live account by Michael J. Wimbury (Sub.Lt., R.N.V.R.)
Here we have an interesting, live account of one of Knysna’s little ships from the time she left Simon’s town. Those who were associated with the building and the launching of the ships at Knysna, and those who adopted them and in other ways were associated with them, will feel almost a pang of pain when they read of the ultimate end foreshadowed for these ships.
From the ‘Knysna Advertiser’, Friday 15th February 1946
“Now perhaps you would like to hear a little about 850’s activities since she left Simon’s town on March 9 of last year (1945). It was early in the afternoon that we headed across Simon’s Bay, on what was to be the first lap of the long journey. Port Elizabeth was reached in fine weather, amazing luck for this windy corner. When we entered the harbour, 4001 and 4002 were already waiting for us. In all, three days were spent there, fueling and having one or two repairs done. If our arrival was in fine weather then the departure made up for it. No sooner had we left the shelter of the long curving southern mole, than we were in it; the roughest seas that we have ever experienced. However, as we neared Durban the wind died down, and all that remained was a long heavy swell. Durban was our last contact with civilization, so we took full advantage of the 10 days there, in storing the ship with all our needs.
The next leg of the journey was a fairly long one, over to Tulear, a very small reef-bound port on the south west coast of Madagascar. Our next halt was at Majinga, on the north west coast. Here the Governor threw several parties in our honour; possibly his Port Elizabeth wife had something to do with it. Then off again, to our last port in Madagascar, Ontsirane, in the bay of Diego Saurez. Of all these places visited on the island, Majinga was the most likeable, with its profusion of luxuriant vegetation.
I had heard a great deal about the beauty of our next port, Seychelles,and I was not disappointed. Addu Atoll, at the southern extremity of the Maldive Islands, formed our midway fueling point between Seychelles and Colombo. It was roughly six weeks since we had left Simon’s Bay and four since we had left Durban: here we were in Colombo, our destination. No sooner had we arrived than we were all sent off into the hills for a few days rest. V.E. day occurred about that time and we held several parties on board. About ten days later we sailed round to Tincomalee on the other side of the island. Altogether we spent six months there, during which time we did several exercises with the fleet.
It was not until the afternoon of V.J. day that we headed out of Trincomalee, bound for the Nicobar Islands. Due to the delay in the peace negotiations we spent a whole week anchored off Great Nicobar, the only excitement being two air raid alarms. It was here that 4001 ended her sea-going career. She hit an uncharted reef at about 14 knots. The keel had been so badly damaged that at one place there was only about two inches of thickness left! Certainly a good point for Thesens’ construction. Anyway, with the help of a temporary repair she was able to make the remainder of the journey with us. Our next halt was at Penang, where more delay was caused by the Japs. Indeed it was not until Nelson issued a bombardment ultimatum that any headway was made.
Eventually however, we set off down the Malacca Straits, heading for Singapore, narrowly missing a mine en route. Thus it was we led the relieving force into Keppel Harbour on the morning of September 3rd. Crowds lined the quays to watch us come in and it was very unfortunate that we were unable to set foot on terra firma for another nineteen days.
After we had settled down here with our depot ship, we commenced to operate round the many small islands lying off Singapore. Usually our job was to bring back Jap garrisons, military police, P.O.W.’s, refugees, etc. But occasionally some of our craft would be sent to find graves, diaries, or buried valuables and do a hundred and one queer jobs.
I must say it was very interesting because it would often entail a trip up a river, or seeking a gap in a coral reef, or nosing into a narrow passage through a mangrove swamp. One of the islands visited early on was Sugkop, lying about 100 miles south of Singapore. Another trip, our last, was to Palembang, 50 miles up river in southern Sumatra. Then after a few more days in Singapore, we went round to the Naval Base on the northern side of the island. At last we were to be paid off. This took from the 23rd December, when we arrived, until we de-commissioned on the 4th January, handing 850 over to the shipbreakers. To my mind it seemed a great waste to dismantle these practically new ships. The last two that Knysna produced, 4001 and 4002, are at the moment awaiting a similar fate in Trincomalee.
Still, I suppose that we have had a good innings: Knysna to Simon’s Town to Singapore!”
Source: ‘Memories of Knysna’, researched and compiled by Mrs Margaret Parkes & Mrs Vicky Williams