The Battle of Bitapaka

Australian naval squadron's first action


The PNGAA has, through the collection of articles in Una Voce over the years, put together materials that throw light in unexpected ways on some of the events occurring around that time. One relatively singular source is an extract from the diary of Petty Officer HH Kemsley. He was in Rabaul during the capture of the wireless station at Bitapaka and took part in a search for AE1, the Australian submarine lost in early September 1913 off Rabaul. In February 1915, Kemsley was awarded the Bronze medallion and a Bar of the Royal Humane Society for saving lives at sea on two occasions. His diary entry records that as a member of the crew of HMAS Encounter. On 12 August 1914, a bare 8 days after the outbreak of war, they:

Arrived off the coast of New Britain and New Ireland at 6 am. German possessions, Destroyer and Sydney went inside to destroy the Wireless Station whilst Encounter patrols outside with Australia and Melbourne. 10 am sight ship on the horizon. Thinking it a German Cruiser we cleared ship for action. All movable gear thrown overboard; we steamed full speed ahead to meet her only to find the British Merchantman, SS Zambezi. We sent a Boarding Party to search her. We find she is chartered to the Germans and is carrying a German spy with important dispatches for the Islands. He also has a complete set of wireless gear. Fetched him onboard as a prisoner; also take charge of the ship by putting a ‘Prize Crew’ on board to take her to Sydney.

[Kemsley's diary extract was supplied to Una Voce by his son, PNGAA member, Jim Kemsley. The extended entries can be found in Una Voce at How and When New Guinea was won, Una Voce, June 2009, pp 46-48]