NEARLY 4000 Australian troops, airmen and naval ratings from the Aquitania broke ship last night and to-day. They swarmed ashore in defiance of their officers’ orders when they learned that the transport was not docking at Cape Town and that shore leave had been refused. They swamped every craft that came within jumping distance of the vessel. Refusing to leave, they compelled those in charge to carry them ashore. Some fell overboard but were rescued.
Once ashore they were good humoured and well behaved. The citizens of Cape Town gave them a great welcome in the streets, in cafes, restaurants and stores.
By this afternoon, when the ship should have been ready to resume her voyage from England to Australia, it was estimated that there were scarcely 1000 men left aboard. Nor, owing to the weather delays and the swamping of the supply ships by the transport’s personnel, had she nearly completed taking in the fuel, water and supplies required. The sailing has therefore been postponed until to-morrow.
The authorities have appealed to citizens to co-operate in getting the men back to the ship. Any left behind lay themselves open to a charge of desertion.
All day to-day there were extraordinary scenes at the anchorage – about half a mile to seaward of the breakwater’s end – where the Aquitania is lying. As tugs and launches came alongside with water, stores or passengers to put aboard, they were swamped by the Aquitania’s men before they could even tie up.
Men jumped from the openings in the transport’s side, swarmed down the rope ladders or slid down ropes let down from the decks 70 or 80 feet above. Each had just the one idea of getting a foothold on the shore-going craft. Many slipped. Only the prompt action of their friends prevented them being crushed between the sides of the vessels.
At an early hour all attempts to control the men were abandoned. It was obvious that almost to a man they were determined to get ashore by any means that offered.
The experience of representatives of The Argus who boarded the transport early in the day was typical of those of other visitors to the ship. Without even a “by your leave” men swarmed into the launch, and by the time it was able to back away it was in danger of being swamped.
The skipper was left with no alternative but to set off for shore with his human load, and the representatives of The Argus were marooned aboard the transport for a couple of hours before they could get a passage ashore again.
By midday the men still aboard the Aquitania had got so out of hand that they were swamping the water tugs before the latter could even supply the transport with the fresh water they were ferrying out to her.
With anything up to 1000 men crowding their decks and clinging to their superstructures, and making it impossible to carry on pumping operations and dangerous to remain alongside in the swell that was running, the masters of the tugs had no alternatives but to return to harbour with their unofficial passengers, and to take their water back with them.
The Aquitania anchored about 8 am yesterday to find that the westerly wind the previous day had raised such a heavy swell that craft could only come alongside at considerable risk – and then only on the lee side.
It had been planned that the tanker Europe should tie up on one side immediately after the transport was anchored. This was to tranship 3,500 tons of oil to her, while the three big tugs tied up on the other side to tranship 200 tons of water at a time until the full 2,200 tons the ship had ordered were supplied.
FROM SHORE TANKS
The Europe undocked early in the morning, but before she began the difficult job of tying up to the transport her master was informed that the Aquitania now wanted 4,000 tons of oil. As she had not that quantity in her tanks she returned to dock to take more oil from the shore tanks.
Meanwhile the water order had also been increased to 3,000 tons, and it had been found that only two tugs could moor on the lee side at a time, thus reducing the rate of supply by one-third.
While pumping water across, one of the tugs took aboard just under 200 U.D.F. seconded troops and half-a-dozen Imperial naval personnel booked for Cape Town. She landed them at A Berth shortly before 3 p.m.
During the afternoon the tanker put out for the second time and tried to tie up alongside the Aquitania.
Though the fresh south-easter had flattened the swell a little, the tanker bumped so heavily against the fenders made of large-size motor tyres floating between the hulls of the two ships that she did considerable damage to her hull plates by setting them in, and the master abandoned the attempt to fuel the liner for fear of further damage.
Early this morning the swell had subsided sufficiently for the tanker to make another attempt to tie up, and this time it was successful. Although the ships rolled uneasily all the time, pumping operations were carried on without interruption, and by this afternoon most of the 4,000 tons of oil had been transhipped.
The Aquitania’s men did not know for certain until late yesterday that they would not be given facilities for going ashore.
Captain G. M. Ford, the master of the transport, told a representative of The Argus to-day that when the authorities decided that the ship should not dock, it was still hoped that there might be facilities for transporting the men between the ship and the shore.
When it was found that there were no passenger tenders or other craft available for this purpose, he decided that the only fair thing was not to grant shore leave to anybody. Not even the few civilian passengers were given shore leave.
Captain Ford and Colonel E. H. Llewellyn, O. C. troops permanently attached to the ship, both told a representative of The Argus that those who had gone ashore, except for the few on essential business, had done so without permission.
The trouble, the representative of The Argus learned from inquiries aboard the ship and in the harbour, began late yesterday when a few of the more daring spirits boarded harbour tugs alongside the transport and refused to go back. When more followed, their officers appealed to them not to break ship. Colonel Llewellyn also spoke to the men, but without result.
In an attempt to stop the movement the officer commanding the large draft of Royal Navy ratings who are travelling in the ship to Australia, announced over the ship’s broadcast system that any ratings who left the ship would be court-martialled on their return.
While this cooled the ardour of most of the ratings, the Australian troops continued to scramble across to the craft alongside, which were forced to carry their uninvited passengers ashore with them.
This went on all night as the tugs ferried water and stores between the shore and the ship. By early to-day the ratings had joined the troops almost to a man, and one tug alone brought more than 500 ashore.
A ferry service will operate between the Docks and the Aquitania right through the night, and “everything that can float” will be pressed into service at dawn, to return the Aquitania’s men to the ship, the naval authorities stated this afternoon.
“INVASION” OF CAPE TOWN
MEN GRATEFUL FOR HOSPITALITY
The unofficial “invasion” of Cape Town started late yesterday afternoon when six Australian airmen climbed down the scrambling nets and boarded a tug. By midnight hundreds of men had followed suit and come ashore in tugs.
One of them told a representative of The Argus that before the ship arrived they heard Cape Town had arranged to welcome them with generous hospitality. It was not till the ship arrived in Table Bay that they were told she would anchor in the bay instead of entering the docks.
“We naturally felt bitter,” he said. “We have been at sea for a couple of weeks and have a few more weeks at sea ahead of us. We looked forward to having an enjoyable break in Cape Town.
“Rumours spread all over the ship, and last night we were told that there was a possibility of the Aquitania docking in the morning. But we had had it and decided to shove off.
“We put the scrambling nets over the side and piled onto the tugs. Nothing was done to stop us, as we feel sure the O.C.s were really sympathetic, although naturally they could not officially sanction our going ashore.”
Many of the men who came ashore last night slept in waiting rooms and railway coaches at the railway station. Others found accommodation in private homes and hotels.
To-day the staff of the S.A.W.A.S. canteen in the Mayor’s Garden were called out at 7.30 a.m. and hurriedly prepared breakfast for hundreds of Australians. Free bus tickets were issued to the men by S.A.W.A.S. and arrangements were made to provide lunch at the Mayor’s Garden canteen and the Good Cheer Club. A military van patrolled the streets broadcasting to tell the men where they could get lunch.
Thousands of the men took the opportunity of having meals at the canteens, which were thronged all day. Excellent fare was provided and the men were most appreciative and said “This is the finest food we have tasted for a long time. We had almost forgotten the taste of good food.”
Throughout the day the S.A.W.A.S. transport section took men for drives round the Peninsula, but were instructed not to take them too far.
The men who remained on board the Aquitania were not forgotten and the S.A.W.A.S. and Australia and New Zealand Association sent oranges, cakes, dried fruit, nuts, sweets, books and games to the ship.
In response to a special appeal they also sent four deck-chairs for chronic invalids, a German dictionary and embroidery silks for a serviceman who is whiling away the time doing fancy work.
A large number of the visitors took the opportunity of going up Table Mountain by cableway, which had its busiest day for a long time. Others concentrated on shopping, and jewellery, watches and materials for women’s dresses were in great demand.
Each tug that came into the docks from the Aquitania was packed with men, and the record load was estimated to be 700 in one tug.
The men were good humoured and the scenes in town were quiet. A canteen worked described the men as “placidly quiet and charming”. They were determined to come ashore and once ashore they were perfectly happy.
As far as is known, there was only one mishap during the scramble to get ashore in tugs. One Australian fell into the sea but was picked up little the worse for his ducking.
Two other Australians – ex-p.o.w.s – came ashore with their full kit after telling their companions: “We are barbed-wire happy and are going to stay here for a few months.”
The Mayor, Mr. A. Bloomberg, yesterday issued the following statement:
“As Mayor of Cape Town I would have welcomed the visit ashore of the Australian and New Zealand troops who are travelling home in the Aquitania. Indeed, in collaboration with the Officer Commanding, Cape Command, and the S.A.W.A.S., I had made arrangements for their reception and the transport to take them round the Peninsula.
“As a member of the Harbour Advisory Board I know of no reason why the Aquitania should not have been brought alongside. It is my intention to raise the matter publicly at the first opportunity, with a view to ascertaining the authority responsible for the decision.
“I regret the set of circumstances that precluded the troops from coming ashore, where they would have been most welcome.”
The order to service the Aquitania at the anchorage was issued by the Director of Sea Tranport in London, the charterer of the liner, last Thursday, according to a joint statement issued in Cape Town late this afternoon by the Chief Representative of the Ministry of War Transport in the United Kingdom in South and East Africa, and the Principal Sea Transport Officer, South Atlantic Station.
It is assumed in informed shipping quarters in Cape Town that the Whitehall decision was made after the Aquitania’s master had made the usual request on behalf of his owners, the Cunard-White Star Line, for an indemnity from the Admiralty for any damage that might be done as a result of the ship berthing in Table Bay harbour.
It has been customary during the war for the owners of all the largest liners operating under Admiralty control to ask and be given such indemnities before docking at any port.
There was no run noticeable in the Duncan Basin to-day, and there was only a slight south-east breeze blowing. Senior Table Bay Harbour officials told a representative of The Argus that there would have been no difficulty at all in berthing the Aquitania as originally planned.
Mr. J. W. Mushet, chairman of the Table Bay Harbour Advisory Board, said this afternoon that the board was greatly concerned at what had happened about the Aquitania. He thought that the order from London not to dock the ship had been given for reasons of policy, and not purely for fear that the ship might be damaged as a result of range action.
“The unfortunate impression has got abroad that this is not an all-weather port,” he said. “If shipowners were afraid to let their big ships come here because of range it becomes urgent that the range problem must be solved.”
Mr. Mushet disclosed that the Aquitania episode and the whole problem of range would be discussed at a meeting on Thursday between the board and the new Chief Harbour and Shipping Development Manager, Mr. H. A. du Plessis, and the Shipping Manager, Mr. Malan, who are coming specially from Johannesburg.
“I much regret that the owners of the Aquitania could not make use of the docking facilities available at Cape Town harbour during the ships visit to this port, since all arrangements to dock the ship had been made by the railway authorities,” said the Minister of Transport, Mr. F. C. Sturrock, in an interview today.
“Cape Town harbour is competent in every way to handle the Aquitania and even bigger ships. A special deep-water berth, 45 feet deep at low water, is provided for vessels, while the harbour equipment generally is equal to modern requirements.
“The Aquitania has, for instance, already been successfully docked at Cape Town on several occasions.
“The South African Railways at no stage expressed doubt as to the ability of the Duncan Dock to take the Aquitania. In fact, up to Friday last the ship was expected, and arrangements were made accordingly. The decision not to dock the vessel was taken by the British authorities and owners of the vessel, but I have no knowledge of the reasons for this.
“The railways did not ask the Admiralty or the Aquitania owners for an indemnity against risk.”-Sapa.
£20,000 IN STORES
One of the largest peacetime shipping orders for provisions was taken on board the Aquitania yesterday and to-day. Altogether more than 100 tons of stores, valued at about £20,000, were delivered to the ship.
One lighter was loaded on Saturday in preparation for the ship’s arrival yesterday but owing to the heavy swell could not go alongside until yesterday afternoon. The work of unloading the lighter was carried on throughout the night and completed at 6.15 this morning. The balance of the stores was taken out in a second lighter this morning.
Among the provisions delivered to the Aquitania were 72,000 eggs, 50,000 minerals, 25,000 lb. of fresh vegetables, 3,360 tins of canned fruit, 300 bags of Canadian white flour and 95,000 slabs of chocolate.
Although the order for the chocolate was only placed yesterday afternoon, it was delivered to the ship this morning.
Another order of tinned meat arrived by train from Natal yesterday afternoon.
A number of the ship’s requirements could not be met owing to local shortages. None of the 4,200lb of kippers or 3,000lb of smoked fish ordered could be provided.
Another order for apples was cancelled owing to the high price in Cape Town. The only fruit delivered to the ship was 210 cases of oranges, lemons and grapefruit. An order for biscuits had also to be cancelled because of the shortage of flour.
The Aquitania is not taking any butter or cheese, as arrangements have been made for her to fill up with dairy produce in Australia.
The question of the docking of the Aquitania was referred to briefly at the meeting of the Cape Town City Council to-day.
Before the council started the business on its agenda Mr. G. E. Ferry asked whether the Mayor would raise “this very important matter, which affects the prestige of the city,” at the meeting.
The Mayor, Mr. A. Bloomberg, said he could only refer to his statement in the Press, “from which it is obvious that the City Council is not to blame in any way for this unfortunate incident.”
The Mayor added that he proposed taking the matter up to acertain the full circumstances and to find out who was responsible.
Several Australian airmen were in the gallery during the meeting.