S.S. Kanimbla

Ship details:  

Tonnage: 10985 tons gross
Complement: 345
Length: 468.8 feet
Beam: 66.3 feet
Draught: 24.4 feet
Machinery: Diesels
Twin screws
Commissioned (RN):
6 October 1939
Commissioned (RAN):
1 Jun 1943
Laid Down: July 1934
Launched: 15 December 1935
Armament (Main): As an armed merchant cruiser
Seven 6 inch guns
Two 3 inch AA guns
2 Lewis light machine guns

As a LSI
One 4 inch AA gun
Two 4 0 mm Bofors AA guns
Two 2 pounder AA guns
Twelve 20mm Oerlikon AA guns

Builders: Harland and Wolff Limited, Belfast
Completed: 26 April 1936
Speed: 19 knots
Accommodation: 1280 troops (as a LSI)

The 10,985-ton twin screw motor vessel Kanimbla, built in Belfast in 1935 for McIlwraith, McEacharn was the last large passenger ship built specifically for Australian owners. The notable fact about the passenger liner Kanimbla is that it was the only ship in the entire history of our world in which a radio broadcasting station was constructed into the ship at the time when the ship was built. The electronic equipment was manufactured by AWA in Australia and shipped to Ireland for installation while the ship was still under construction. The "Kanimbla" plied with passenger traffic backwards and forwards on the southern route between Western Australia and Queensland, and the ports of call in this shuttle service were: Fremantle in Western Australia, Adelaide in South Australia, Melbourne in Victoria, Sydney in New South Wales and Brisbane & Mackay in Queensland. 

Designed for 400 passengers, the vessel seemingly partnered the Manoora, west in summer and north in winter, but in 1939 was commissioned into the Royal Navy and sent to Hong Kong for refit as an armed merchant cruiser. In April 1943 she transferred to the RAN, converted to an infantry landing ship, and subsequently took part in all major landings in the South-West Pacific. Resuming the summer and winter schedule in 1950, the Kanimbla was sold in 1961 and broken up in 1974. 

Upon the outbreak of war she was converted to an armed merchant cruiser at Sydney and commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS KANIMBLA on 6 September 1939.

Armed merchant cruisers were employed in long ocean patrols for enemy raiders and blockade runners, supplementing built for the purpose cruisers and allowing them to be released for the more arduous fleet duties.

Under the command of Commander F.E. Getting RAN, and with a complement drawn almost entirely from the RAN, she departed Sydney on 13 December 1939 for Hong Kong. The first half of 1940 was spent patrolling of f the Chinese and Japanese coasts in the course of which she intercepted and took in charge the Russian vessel V. MAYAKOVSKY, known to be carrying contraband. This ship was boarded and searched and, suspicious cargo being found, was eventually handed over to a French cruiser to be escorted to Saigon for investigation.

As European countries were occupied by Germany KANIMBLA was involved in attempting to ensure that their ships in the Far East came under Allied control. To this end she boarded ten Norwegian and a Danish ship off the mouth of the Yangtse River during April 1940 and sent them to Hong Kong. In June 1940 she was detached to Singapore and en route visited to Saigon in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the French warships their to join the Free French forces.

After moving to the Singapore area KANIMBLA undertook patrol and escort duties around Malaya and the East Indies, eventually extending out into the Indian Ocean. On 25 March 1941 Getting, now promoted to captain, was relieved by Captain W.L.G. Adams RN.

On the night of 24 August 1941 KANIMBLA, with 300 Indian troops embarked, led a heterogeneous flotilla in a surprise attack on the Iranian port of Bandar Shahpur, capturing eight German and Italian merchant enemy vessels with valuable cargoes, two Iranian gunboats and a floating dock. KANIMBLA went alongside the burning Italian tanker BRONTE and fought the fires while engaging a train with her main armament and aircraft with her 3 inch guns. She remained in the area until 11 October, supervising the port and carrying out salvage work on the captured vessels, including a major effort on the German freighter HOHENFELS.

After further work in Indian waters during the latter part of October and November KANIMBLA proceeded to Singapore and escorted the first convoy out of that city after the Japanese attack on Malaya. She arrived in Port Melbourne on Christmas Day. She carried out further convoy work of the Australian coast and in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Captain Adams was relieved by Acting Commander F.R. James on 2 Feb 1943. On 2 April KANIMBLA arrived in Sydney to be converted to a Landing Ship Infantry (LSI) for operations in the Pacific.

The conversion involved the removal of her 6 inch guns and the augmentation of her anti aircraft armament by the addition of a 4 inch gun and 2 pounder and 20 mm close range weapons. Radar was also added. She was fitted to carry 16 to 24 landing craft, which were raised and lowered by davits fitted to either side of her superstructure . Scrambling nets were fitted to enable troops to quickly enter the landing craft after they had been lowered. The ship' s interior wood panelling was replaced by steel sheets and all available space was converted for the carriage of 1280 troops although more were carried on occasion. On
1 June 1943 she recommissioned as HMAS KANIMBLA. On 30 July Commander James was relieved by Commander N.H. Shaw RAN.

KANIMBLA departed Sydney for Brisbane on 22 October 1943 and remained in that area until January 1944 when she undertook a voyage to New Guinea. The next month she was involved in exercises in Trinity Bay, near Cairns. After proceeding again to New Guinea she carried out exercises with elements of the US 24th Infantry Division at Goodenough Island in early April in preparation for the landings at Hollandia. On 22 April, in company with HMAS MANOORA, five other transports, 16 landing craft infantry and seven landing ships tank, KANIMBLA landed her troops at Tanahmerah Bay without incident.

Subsequent to this operation KANIMBLA was involved in training and transport duties in New Guinea waters. Commander Shaw was temporarily relieved by Lieutenant Commander S.H. Crawford RANR(S) on 18 June until the arrival of Commander A.V. Bunyan RANR(S) on 10 August.

Arriving at Aitape on 1 September, KANIMBLA began preparations f or the Morotai landings and on 9 September embarked 1215 officers and men. On 10 September, with 36 other landing ships and supporting vessels of the White Beach Attack Group she departed for Morotai. The landings took place on 15 September with little opposition and few casualties to Allied forces. On the 16th, in company with MANOORA, KANIMBLA departed for Humboldt Bay, arriving on the 18th.

At Humboldt Bay, in company with MANOORA and WESTRALIA, KANIMBLA overhauled equipment and embarked troops and supplies for the landings on Leyte. A full scale rehearsal was carried out at Tanahmerah Bay on 10 October. On the 13th the three Australian LSIs departed for Leyte as part of a large assault convoy escorted by a covering force of American and Australian cruisers and destroyers. The Australian landing ships were part of the Panaon Attack Group which detached from the main group at 2.00 am on the morning of the 20th and arrived off Panaon at 8.45. Again no Japanese resistance was encountered. Cargo was discharged by 4.00 pm and the ships sailed for Humboldt Bay arriving on the 25th.

KANIMBLA returned to Leyte on 14 November, transporting troops as part of a 26 ship convoy. On 30 November she arrived at Torokina and, with MANOORA and WESTRALIA and 15 other ships of Landing Group A, commenced embarking 1320 troops and stores for the Lingayen landings. KANIMBLA and the rest of Landing Group A then proceeded to Lae where, in company with Landing Group B, practice landings were carried out. The ships then sailed for Manus. On 31 December they departed Manus to execute Assault Mike I on Luzon Island in Lingayen Gulf.

As part of Task Force 79, the Lingayen Attack Force, KANIMBLA passed through Surigao Strait and proceeded up the western side of the Philippine Archipelago to Lingayen Gulf, arriving on 8 January 1945. As the ships made their final approach to the gulf they came under air attack, KANIMBLA being near missed by a Zero fighter bomber which was shot down. The troops were landed on the 9th, supported by a heavy bombardment. KANIMBLA and her consorts discharged their cargoes rapidly and left the area that evening to avoid further air attack, returning via Leyte to Morotai. After further transport duties in the New Guinea area KANIMBLA was back in Sydney on 7 March after an absence of nearly 17 months.

KANIMBLA' s next operation was the invasion of Brunei. Departing from Morotai on 4 June, again in company with MANOORA and WESTRALIA and a large group of American vessels, mostly landing ships and landing craft, she arrived off Brunei on 10 June. She commenced landing her troops on Green Beach just before 9.00 am with little or no opposition. She unloaded her cargo that day and set sail for Morotai on the 11th, arriving on the 14th.

The final amphibious landing of the Pacific War was at Balikpapan and KANIMBLA and her two sister LSIs took part. On 25 June at Morotai, she completed the embarkation of 1267 officers and men, mostly from the 2/9 Battalion, as well as 361 tons of cargo. She sailed for Balikpapan the next day, arriving on 1 July. That day was spent disembarking her troops and unloading the cargo and she sailed for Morotai at 7.30 pm. She arrived on the 4th, embarked reinforcements and departed the same day, returning to Balikpapan on the 7th. She sailed the next day and spent the remainder of the war on transport duties around New Guinea, the Philippines and Borneo .

After the cessation of hostilities KANIMBLA was engaged in repatriating Australian servicemen from the Pacific Islands and returning Dutch dependents to the East Indies. Commander Crawford again became her commanding officer from 6 September 1945 until 18 January 1948 when he was relieved by Captain A. P. Cousin RANR(S), who remained in command until she was decommissioned. Between October 1946 and June 1948 she made a number of voyages between Sydney and Japan transporting members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. In the course of these voyages she also called at various Pacific Island ports transporting persons and cargo caught up in the postwar adjustments in the Pacific. In 1948 KANIMBLA took personnel and stores to the United Kingdom to commission HMAS SYDNEY, returning with British personnel who had enlisted in the RAN as well as 432 displaced persons. After one more voyage to Japan she was decommissioned in Sydney on 25 March 1949 and, after refitting, returned to her owners on 13 December 1950. In 1961 she was sold to the Pacific Transport Company and renamed ORIENTAL QUEEN.

Offshore radio station: VK9MI ("Radio 9MI") from April 26th 1936 till early September 1939. 

The "Kanimbla" was granted by the PMG Department in Australia a radio broadcasting license with the experimental callsign VK9MI. The radio station consisted of two studios; one for group broadcasts, and the other for announcer presentation. The crystal controlled transmitter was rated at 1.5 kW, though the QSL card states that the output into the antenna system was just 50 watts. This would seem to suggest that the original broadcast transmitter mal-functioned quite early and that the broadcast programs were then radiated from the ship's communication transmitter. The original AWA transmitter could operate on any wavelength between 20 & 50 meters. 

The first test broadcast from 9MI was made on April 21, 1936 during sea trials in the Firth of Clyde. The new MV "Kanimbla" began its delivery voyage from Northern Ireland to Australia at 4:00 am on April 26, 1936. It is reported that the radio station 9MI made four test broadcasts each day during this 15,000 mile journey to Australia.

The official inauguration of the new radio broadcasting station VK9MI was made in a special broadcast to Australia while the ship was south of the continent in the Great Australian Bight,1,000 miles from Sydney. At 8:00 pm Eastern Australian Standard Time, VK9MI went on the air shortwave and the program was picked up and relayed thoughout Australia over the ABC mediumwave network.

This inaugural broadcast from 9MI was made on 11720 kHz, though subsequently the regular channel was 6005 kHz, though this was modified in April 1939 to 6055 kHz. The at times irregular schedule from VK9MI was usually half an hour or an hour a few evenings a week. The announcer and manager was Eileen Foley, who also signed the QSL cards.

The local AWA mediumwave stations on land in each of these areas frequently relayed the shortwave programming from VK9MI to the local audience. Among these stations were 2AY in Albury New South Wales, 3BO in Bendigo Victoria, and 4CA in Cairns (pronounced as in air) Queensland.

On many occasions, radio station VK9MI was heard on shortwave throughout Australia and New Zealand, and many QSL cards were signed by the famous woman announcer, Eileen Foley. As time went by, the transmitter began to malfunction and it produced a noisy wide signal in the 49 meter band.

At the outbreak of the European War at the beginning of September 1939, the radio staton VK9MI was silenced. [Information by Dr. Adrian Peterson]

Location: International waters off the Australian coast

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