The Story of an Army Small Ship
By Jack Peel
Published by BIG SKY PUBLISHING
RRP $29.99 in paperback
This book has been singled out for considerable praise by readers who have universally described this book as ‘well researched’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘easy reading’.
Author Jack Peel graduated from the Army Apprentice School as a fitter and turner in 1961, completing his trade training in the engine room of AV 1379 Tarra.
For the next seven years, he was employed as an engine room watchkeeper with the Royal Australian Engineer’s Transportation service, where he served on all four Landing Ships Medium of 32 Small Ship Squadron and the cargo vessel John Monash, as the ships visited Papua New Guinea, Borneo, Singapore and South Vietnam. He attained the rank of temporary Warrant Officer in 1969. Later commissioned as a Captain, Jack served as the Cadre Officer 33 Terminal Squadron and then as the Officer Commanding the Army Maritime School at Chowder Bay from 1985 to 1987, retiring as Second in Command 10 Terminal Regiment in 1988.
It is this early link with the Tara and his subsequent career that made him the ideal candidate to undertake this labour of love in recording the 20 years of service of this 125-foot Wooden Cargo Vessel, launched in 1945, and operated by the Australian Army until it was deemed uneconomical to repair it and sold in 1965. The ship was to meet its ultimate fate months later in huge seas off the north coast of New South Wales.
During the war in the South Pacific, the only mode of transport available to provide food ammunition and supplies to the fighting forces and civilian population to the north of Australia, other than aircraft and pack horses, was seagoing small craft and small ships.
The Tarra story follows her launch in Tasmania in 1945, when the ship was employed in dumping ammunition off the east coast. Based in Newcastle and later in Cairns, she was seconded to the Graves Registration Unit during the establishment of the Bomana War Cemetery, and then lent to the civil authorities to collect copra from remote islands.
Tarra provided the only form of transport for materials and personnel for the construction of the Vanimo Outstation of the Pacific Islands Regiment on the Indonesian border in 1952.
Tarra and her sister, Vasse, played a key role in training soldiers to become sailors, particularly in the Citizen Military Forces and in the development of the Australian Regular Army after the war.
In declining condition, she was sold to the Societe Marine Caledonian and renamed Milos Del Mar in April 1965.
The dramatic rescue of her civilian crew eight months later and her abandonment to sink slowly in rough seas was described on the front pages of major newspapers at the time and by the commander of the Air Force Sea Air Rescue aircraft, thereby completing Tarra’s story. Water Transport continues today, with Landing Craft operated by 35 Water Transport Squadron RACT.
Jack Peel has in fact completed the task begun years before, but never published, of recording the history of this ship and thus ensuring that her service to the nation does not fade ‘into oblivion’. And he has included enough technical and statistical details to satisfy the most discerning of readers.