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The Loss of HMAS Alatna

HMAS Alatna was a supply vessel, the official designation being a “tender”. She had a displacement of 28 tons, a length of 62 feet and a beam of 14.5 feet; was propelled by a 275 H.P. engine and had a maximum speed of 20 knots. She was commissioned on 2nd February 1944.

On 21st September 1945 the Alatna together with HMAS Barcoo and several other small RAN ships entered Mascassar, situated on the southern part of the Celebes Island and disembarked an advance occupation force of army personnel from the 21st Brigade, 7th Division, A.I.F. A feature of the ships’ arrival was a guard formed on the wharf by Royal Navy P.O.W.s, survivors of H.M. ships Exeter, Stronghold and Encounter.

In December 1945, HMAS. Quickmatch, a “Q” class destroyer was in the midst of a two-month stint around the Islands (New Guinea, Borneo etc.) checking on groups of Japanese P.O.W.s awaiting repatriation home. Also “showing the flag” to assist the British in the re-establishment of their rule throughout the area.

After typical navy Christmas Day activities in Morotai, the Quickmatch was ordered to Macassar to take the Alatna in tow and proceed to Labuan Island on the north-west coast of Borneo.

The tow proceeded smoothly until about 10.00 a.m. on 1st January, 1946 when the ships had reached the northern tip of Borneo. There a freighter, afterwards identified as the U.S. merchant ship Marine Runner, was noticed steaming on a parallel course at quite a rate of knots. Suddenly, to the astonishment of all who were watching, the merchant ship veered and headed directly for the Quickmatch which took evasive action by increasing speed.

This prompt action saved the destroyer but unfortunately not the tow. The Alatna was rammed and cut in two. The Quickmatch returned quickly to the scene of the collision, lowered boats and searched for survivors. All hands were rescued except one, Ordinary Seaman Raymond G. Dodgson – PA5012 of South Australia. Ray Dodgson was last seen by his crew-mates running aft but was not found in the water. It was considered most likely he was struck and injured or killed on impact and did not come to the surface. He had been in the navy a little less than one year and would have turned nineteen the next day – 2nd January, 1946.

A fitting climax came when a week, to the day, later the Quickmatch was again over the scene of the accident and stopped and carried out a traditional naval funeral service.

HMAS Alatna