HMAS Matafele

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Matafele in 1938
Matafele in 1938
Name: Matafele[1]
Namesake: Matafele district, Western Samoa
Owner: Burns Philp
Launched: 1938
Career (Australia (RAN))
Commissioned: 1 January 1943
Fate: Lost at sea, 20 June 1944
General characteristics
Displacement: 335 tons (gross)
Length: 115 ft 5 in (35.18 m)
Beam: 25 ft 6 in (7.77 m)
Draught: 10 ft 6 in (3.20 m)
Complement: 37 (in RAN service)
Armament: 1 × 12-pounder anti-aircraft gun (in RAN service)

HMAS Matafele was a small cargo and passenger vessel which was operated by Burns Philp from 1938 to 1942 and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) from 1943 until she was lost with all of her crew as a result of an accident in June 1944.[2]


Matafele was built by Hong Kong and Whompoa Dock Company, Hong Kong in 1938 for the fleet of Burns Philp (South Seas) Ltd. From 1938 to 1942 she operated was used in the south and central Pacific as a cargo and passenger vessel.[2] During this period she commanded by white officers and had a crew of Pacific Islanders. Following the outbreak of war in the Pacific Matafele escaped from Rabaul in January 1942 as the Japanese landed near the town.

Matafele arrived in Australia in March 1942 and was placed under the control of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board. She was initially used to transport supplies between Cairns, Queensland and Darwin, Northern Territory. Later in 1942 she was sent to Port Moresby where she was used to transport stores along the Papuan coast and became the first Allied vessel to land supplies at Milne Bay following the Japanese landing there.

The ship was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Matafele on 1 January 1943 and her Pacific Islander crew volunteered to remain with the ship along with RAN officers and ratings drawn from HMAS Basilisk.[2] In RAN service she continued to mainly operate as a stores ship, though for a brief period she was used to buoy channels and erect navigation markers as part of a navigation group.

After a refit in Sydney in February 1944, HMAS Matafele was used to transport supplies between north Queensland and Milne Bay. She disappeared on a routine voyage between Townsville, Queensland and Milne Bay sometime after 18 June 1944.[2] When she failed to arrive by 26 June, a large-scale search was conducted, which did not find the ship or any survivors. While it was believed that she had been attacked by a Japanese submarine, a post-war inquiry determined that no Japanese submarines were in the area at the time. As a result, the inquiry concluded that HMAS Matafele had probably foundered sometime on 20 June 1944 with the loss her entire crew of 4 officers, 20 ratings and 13 Pacific Island seamen.[2]


  1. ^ "Details of the Ship". Plimsoll ShipData. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Wilson, p.59.