Despite the mine-sweeping efforts conducted along the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, the deaths of the Wimmera‘s crew and passengers were not the last to be caused by the Wolf‘s mines.
Continuing mine-sweeping activities
THE CONTINUING THREAT OF MINES PLUS MINESWEEPING ACTIVITIES
“It has been suspected that some of these came from the New Zealand minefield. A list of the mines found in Australian waters is given in Appendix No. 26. Of the 60 mines laid near New Zealand, 20 appear to have been swept up in 1917; 8 were washed ashore in 1918 (one of these, at Truarangi Point, exploded and killed three Maoris), and 4 in 1919. Sixteen others were found or known to have exploded, 48 in all being thus accounted for. It is assumed that the remainder have long since drifted ashore on obscure beaches or perished.”
Jose, Arthur W. (1987) The Royal Australian Navy. The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume IX. notes p. 664
The Huddart Parker vessel Coogee was requisitioned late in the war and following fitting out, as HMAS Coogee, she was employed to carry out minesweeping operations from 28 December 1918 to Sunday 9 February 1919. Under the command of George D. Warren Lieut. Cmdr R.A.N.R. and in company with the tug James Patterson (which had assisted the stricken Cumberland), she swept two areas between Cape Everard and Little Rome Head.
(Minesweeping in Australian Waters (Pt 2 of 5) 1918/0523)
Following the destruction of the Wimmera, mines continued to be discovered and minesweeping activities continued for some time. … However despite … not all mines proved to be … On 10 January 1919 a mine washed ashore from the Cape Farewell field and exploded on a beach near Awakino:
MINE ON WEST COAST.
EXPLOSION NEAR AWAKINO.
SETTLERS’ STARTLING EXPERIENCE
[BY TELEGRAPH. – OWN CORRESPONDENT]
NEW PLYMOUTH, Monday
The occupants of Budge’s station, at Pihoi, one and a half miles north of Awakino River, were startled on Friday night about ten o’clock by a severe explosion. Next morning fragments of mine-casing were found between the house and the beach. The mine apparently struck a reef in front of the house, which is about 150yds to 200yds above high water mark.
The glass panel in the front door of the homestead was shattered, pieces being found 16ft away. Several hinged windows, previously fastened, were thrown open. The lead heads were torn off a number of roofing nails. Scraps of jagged metal, about ½in thick, were found near the house. One piece, measuring 30in by 6 in, was discovered beyond the house.
It is considered that the mind struck the rocks about 500yds from the house, at low tide. Had it been high tide, the explosion would have taken place much closer, with probable serious results. At Awakino, one and a half miles away, building shook and windows rattled, residents thinking that the gasolene plane had blown up.
The three children of Mr. Avery, storekeepers, rode past the scene 20 minutes previously, and were crossing the Awakino River when they saw a flame and heard the report. This part of the coast appears to receive a considerable amount of driftage from Cook Strait. It is stated that bottles thrown overboard from troopships have been washed ashore there on various occasions, and that a lifebelt was found quite recently.
The New Zealand Herald, Tuesday January 14, 1919
This reminder of the continued presence and dangers of the mines may have prompted the New Zealand Government to consider additional measures in dealing with the problem:
DESTRUCTION OF MINES.
NEW ZEALAND REWARDS.
SUMS OF ₤10 AND ₤5.
INSTRUCTIONS TO MARINERS.
Keen search is still being made for mines which may be fixed or adrift in New Zealand waters. Captain Hall-Thompson, Naval adviser to the Government, announces the following details of rewards offered for the destruction of mines around the New Zealand coast:-
All merchant vessels navigating New Zealand waters are to make every endeavour to destroy or sink mines when sighted. This may be done by rifle fire at a distance of not less than 200yds. If a mine is thus discovered or sunk, a reward not exceeding ₤5, or in special cases ₤10, will be paid. No compensation is payable for damage sustained in destroying or sinking mines.
Merchant vessels should not attempt to salve mines. If the cannot destroy or sink them, they should report the position to the nearest naval authority by wireless telegraphy in plain language, or, if not fitted with wireless telegraphy, by visual signal ir telegraph at the first opportunity. Any other shipping sighted subsequently to the discovery of a mine should be warned of its position. If the mine is moored the position should be marked.
In the case of any vessel, at the request of a naval authority, exploding on the bottom a mine that can be verified as having been previously sunk in the position stated, but not exploded, a reward not exceeding ₤5 will be paid.
For reporting a drifting mine – if such report leads to the destruction of the mine – a reward not exceeding ₤5, or in special cases ₤10, will be paid. The reward will not be paid unless every reasonable attempt to destroy the mine has been made.
For the first intimation of enemy moored mines proved to be accurate and valuable, and delivered at the earliest possible moment, a reward not exceeding ₤10 will be paid.
The reward of the first report of a mine washed up on shore, in case where the mine is ultimately recovered or destroyed will be ₤1. No payment will be made for divergence from course or for loss of fishing.
The New Zealand Herald, Monday, January 27, 1919
In addition to the reward system, it was also announced:
VESSELS FOR MINE-SWEEPING.
HUANUI II TO BE USED.
The steam whaler Huanui II., which has been operating for some years about the Bay of Islands, arrived at Wellington last week, to assist the Tutanekai in her projected mine-trawling expedition in the vicinity of Farewell Spit. Both vessels are expected to leave Wellington on Wednesday. The Huanui II. Is an up-to-date vessel, carrying the usual harpoon gun on her forecastle head.
The trawler Simplon, owned by the Auckland City Council which has been engaged in mine-sweeping operations for about a year past, has not yet been returned to the council. The Mayor states that so far as it is known it will be at least four months before the Simplon will be available for the resumption of trawling.
The New Zealand Herald Monday, January 27, 1919
Several months later, in April 1919, another mine exploded on a beach further north of Awakino. This explosion caused immediate fatalities, the second as a result of the Wolf’s activities in New Zealand waters:
GERMAN MINE TRAGEDY.
MAORI’S TERRIBLE FATE.
BODIES BLOWN TO PIECES.
The scene of the tragedy at Waikoria Beach, where three natives lost their lives on Monday last week as the result of an explosion believed to have been caused by a derelict German mine, was visited on April 23 by Sergeant Cowan, of Pukekohe, and Constable Taylor, of Tuakau. They were accompanied by Mr. Dynes Fulton, J.P., of Tuakau, who went out to hold an inquest on the bodies.
The beach at which the fatality occurred lies at the mouth of the Waikoria stream, midway between Raglan and Port Waikato, on the west coast. The spot is an extremely lonely one, and is visited by few but Maoris. The first indication of the tragedy was received by Mr. Michael P. Ryan, a farmer, living in the vicinity. He was at his house, situated about three miles from the beach, at about nine o’clock on Monday morning, and hearing a loud explosion, looked in the direction of the beach, when he saw a dense volume of black smoke rising above the sand hills. Thinking something was amiss, he saddled a horse and galloped down to the beach, where he found the mutilated bodies of three horse floating in the water.
A Gruesome Discovery
Continuing his search, he found the remains of a human body about 100yds along the beach. This comprised only the lower portion of the torso and the left leg partly clothed. He then went for assistance, and returning to the beach with a party of settlers made a complete search. This resulted in the finding of a human foot and arm and other gruesome remains of both men and horses. Badly battered saddles and clothing were also in evidence.
There was on the occasion of his first visit no sign of any crater in the sand, but there was ample evidence that a terrific disturbance had taken place, the beach being strewn for hundreds of yards with loose sand, which had evidently been showered upon it. The party found fragments of twisted metal strewn about the beach, but nothing of sufficient size to indicate the form or nature of the object of which it had been part, although it was quite clear that one side of the metal had been subjected to the action of an explosive by its blackened and corroded nature. The reverse side was galvanised. One of the larger pieces had a distinct concave form, the galvanising being on the outer side.
Constable Taylor visited the scene on April 23 and with the aid of a number of natives made another search, with the result that more remains were found on the beach and pieces of shattered metal were discovered on the hillside a quarter of a mile away from the scene of the tragedy.
The Three Victims.
An endeavour was made to identify the victims, and this was done to the satisfaction of the police by Maori relatives of the deceased, mainly by the clothing.
As stated, the victims were Tuhura Tuhura, Kauahi Tuhura and Eruera Whare. The first named and Eruera Whare were married men, aged 25 and 26 respectively, the former having one child, while Kauahi Tuhura was a single man, 23 years of age. A great deal of the clothing found showed signs of singeing, while a silk handkerchief was found almost completely burned.
Mr. Ryan, who heard the reports of the explosion, stated that there were two explosions. The first was a dull boom followed almost immediately by a sharp deafening report. On examining the beach he found parallel lines drawn on the sands in the direction of the water as if some heavy object had been carried in by the tide, dragging on the sand as it came ashore. It is surmised that the three men seeing the object on the beach went out to inspect it and tampered with it with fatal results. It is also suggested that the mine may have been buried in the sand and exploded by one of the horses standing on it. The Maoris, however, had no occasion to go along the beach at this point as their track lay along the inner edge of the beach a quarter of a mile from the accident. The three horses had their heads blown off and their chests horribly mutilated, and the fact that the bodies of the men were even more seriously mutilated would indicate that they approached the mine leading their horses and were standing in front of the animals when the explosion occurred.
A pocket wallet belonging to one of the deceased was found about 100yds from the bodies. It had been struck by a piece of metal, which had passed through the thick cover and through some letters. It had then encountered a penny, which it had doubled up and forced out through the other side of the wallet.
Opinions of Settlers.
Settlers in the locality stated that the sea current set into the bay, formed by the curve of the beach, and more debris came ashore here than was the case with the coast generally. It is surmised that the southerly weather experienced on the coast brought the mine from the minefield in the vicinity of Cook Straits. Some years ago a large cask of oil, presumably from a wreck, came ashore on this beach, and heavy logs are frequently coming ashore. The fact that no crater was fund is explained by the fact that the beach is composed of shifting black sand, marks on the sand being completely and quickly obliterated.
Mr. Dynes Fulton opened an inquest at Mr. J. Dromgool’s residence, Waikoria Valley, with a jury of local settlers. After taking evidence of identification, etc., the inquest was adjourned sine die to enable expert evidence to be obtained as to the probable cause of the tragedy. The natives were given permission to bury the remains, and preparations are now in hand for a tangi at Pukerewa.
The Auckland Weekly News, May 1, 1919
Despite resulting in the second … of deaths in New Zealand, the Maori incident appears to have been … in the nation’s wartime history.
Although not officially recognized as victims of the Wolf, several other ships and their crews disappeared without trace, or were lost. Amongst these, the loss of the 429 ton coastal collier S.S. Undola has been attributed to a drifting German mine. The Undola departed Bellambi Jetty north of Wollongong shortly after 6 pm on the 20th December 1918. She was bound for Sydney with a full load of coal but failed to reach port and, despite rough seas and a strong gale, was suspected as having struck a floating mine, one of which was reported to have been sighted in the area of Wollongong. Wreckage from the vessel washed ashore at Marley yet none of her crew members were ever found.
© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021