CHAPTER IV

The Role of the Royal Navy and

Merchant Navy

As early as February, 1956, H.M.N.Z.S. Lachlan visited the islands of Christmas and Malden to carry out surveys of the Operational Area which had been selected as a result of a Joint Service air reconnaissance in an R.A.F. Shackleton in the autumn of 1955.
    At the same time as Lachlan was carrying out her survey the scale of sea-borne effort required was being assessed by the Admiralty in London.
The task, broadly, was twofold: firstly, the provision of sea-borne support, involving not only the shipping of equipment, stores, provisions and fuel into the area, but also the provision of port facilities for offloading; secondly, in the Operational Phase, naval units would be required to act as weather ships and to provide Technical and Operational Control facilities in the Forward Area.
    After the preliminary overall planning for Operation "Grapple", obviously the first task was to transport all the necessary men and mass of equipment over the 9,000 miles from the United Kingdom to Christmas Island. The only means of achieving this was by a fleet of ships. The responsibility for providing this fleet and co-ordinating the work of the other Services and A.W.R.E. movement staffs to dispatch stores and personnel to the Operational Area became that of the Naval Staff of the Task Force. Troopships and Merchant ships had to be chartered by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, tankers and provisioning ships assembled, and finally RN. ships fitted out for their specific tasks. Other responsibilities facing the Naval Task Group in the area were to provide, man and maintain the Landing Craft, Naval Store Tenders, a water boat and other boats for transportation; co-ordinate the landing organization; commence dredging; lay buoys along the channel and erect navigational beacons; man and maintain the shore distillation plant provided by the Army, and co-ordinate the supply of water, oil and provisions from the ships.
    The first members of "Grapple", led by the Deputy Task Force Commander, landed on the disused World War II airstrip in an R.A.F.
Shackleton on the 19th June. Four days later the first bridgehead was established when the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Beauharnois arrived as logistic support and temporary Headquarters ship. She was closely followed by the L.S.T. Reginald Kerr and the troopship H.T. Devonshire, and very soon after these came the stores ship T.E.S. Ben Wyvis and the tanker R F.A. Gold Ranger. Thus the stores build-up began right away and since that time a steady stream of supplies has been taken in support

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