Small Ships Section Fleet image courtesy of http-::www.usarmysmallships.asn.au:fleet
Small Ships Fleet

This year surviving Veterans and their family members will commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the formation of United States Small Ships Section in Sydney.

The Reunion will be attended by The Republic Of The Philippines Consul General Anne Jalando-on Louis who is a proud supporter and friend of the Association. On this occasion the Consul General will present to the family of George Julian Howell VC the Philippine Liberation Medal and Philippine Defense Medal in recognition of his Service with Small Ships Section.

George Julian (Snowy) Howell VC was an exceptionally brave man. His actions that won the Victoria Cross in Wold War 1 are well documented; (His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officer, Warrant Officer, Non-commissioned Officers and men: No. 2445 Cpl. George Julian Howell, Inf. Bn., Aus. Imp. Force.

For most conspicuous bravery. Seeing a party of the enemy were likely to outflank his Battalion, Cpl. Howell, on his own initiative, single-handed and exposed to heavy bomb and rifle fire, climbed on to the top of the parapet and proceeded to bomb the enemy, pressing them back along the trench.

Having exhausted his stock of bombs, he continued to attack the enemy with his bayonet. He was then severely wounded.

The prompt action and gallant conduct of this N C.O. in the face of superior numbers was witnessed by the whole Battalion and greatly inspired them in the subsequent successful counter attack.).

Georg ‘Snowy’ Howells’s courage in volunteering to continue his Service in World War 2 is, not so well documented. Only 22 years since the horrors of the Western Front, Snowy and his fellow shipmates knew the dangers that confronted them and all volunteered for active Service with U.S.Army Small Ships Section. During the campaign in New Guinea this unit was persistently subjected to fire from the enemy. Whilst suffering from Psychoneurosis brought (about by his WW1 service) ‘Snowy’ Howell continued his Service diligently and his vessel was damaged by enemy action during his participation in the Liberation of the Philippines during 1944.

The U.S. Army Small Ships Section 1942-1947 was formed by Members of the U.S. Army appointed to‘Mission X’, specifically in response to advancing Japanese forces in the South Pacific.

The Australian Government was asked to provide personnel to man the small ships, however could only provide personnel ineligible for Service with Commonwealth Forces and several specialists. At the time service in ‘Active War Zones’ was restricted to personnel 19 years and over for Members of Australian Commonwealth Forces.

Every Australian employed by the U.S. Army was granted approval by the Australian Government Manpower Authority.

Approximately 3,500 Australian men, boys and one woman served Small Ships Section alongside New Zealanders, Filipinos, Americans, Chinese and Merchant Sailors from all over the world.

The crews consisted of men in their 70’s, WW l veterans, men with disabilities, (one arm, one leg, one eye) a Victoria Cross recipient, a World War 1 Flying Ace, an Austrian Aristocrat who was a ‘U boat’ Commander in WW1, and most amazingly of all, boys 15-17 years old who were given six weeks seamanship training prior to Active Service. Small Ships Section ‘Apprentices’ attended school at Walsh Bay Sydney; if the tugboat with the machine guns was available the boys were sent out for the day for instruction on the 30 Cal. and 50 Cal. guns before being transported to New Guinea.

The Small Ships Section commenced with amphibious landings in New Guinea early in 1942 under enemy fire and supplied Allied Troops at the Battle of Buna. This ‘attack fleet’ consisted of British Registered fishing trawlers and sailing ships acquired by the U.S. Army.

Small Ships Section preformed a variety of tasks including supplying ammunition, medical supplies, food, building materials, artillery, deep penetration of commandos and coastwatchers, repatriating the wounded and dead, guarding and removing prisoners to holding camps and many more logistical tasks.

Most often Small Ships could only travel at night due to frequent daylight attacks from both enemy & friendly forces. Many crew Members were required to learn celestial navigation and pidgin English while charts were often non-existent or scribbled on toilet paper which increased dependency on local knowledge. Imagine being a 15 year old and dealing with this.

After the war the Australians who served in the Small Ships Section were officially unrecognised by both Australian and U.S. Governments.

The U.S. Government granted Official Veteran Status during 1988, at which time no publicly available information was available about the Service of Small Ships Section.

Lack of solid information about the Service of Small Ships made official recognition in Australia almost impossible, however that information was forthcoming from surviving Veterans and their family members.The Australian public first learned about Small Ships Section after the publication of ‘Forgotten Fleet’ during 1995, 50 years after the war had ended.

The Australian Government Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal recommended Small Ships Section eligibility for Imperial Awards after a long campaign undertaken by Veteran Ernest Flint M.B.E., O.A.M., E.D. then President of U.S. Army Small Ships Association Inc. Australian Imperial Awards were finally granted by the Government during 2009.

Founding President Ernest Flint M.B.E., O.A.M., E.D. crossed the bar (passed away) during 2015 however the Association remains active.

The purpose of this Association is to promote the service of the Small Ships Section, assist and support the Veterans and their families, and to foster the legacy of the U.S. Army Transport Corps./ Small Ships Section. Any person who believes that their relative may have served with Small Ships Section is encouraged to contact the Association.

 

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