The British Pacific and East Indies Fleets

The forgotten fleets that fought the Japanese in the Pacific and Indian Oceans



Hospital Ship


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Pennant No. B396


Battle Honours







Builder: Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan, Scotland

Displacement: 7,527 Gross tons

Length: 480ft 87in

Beam: 55 ft

Draught: 22.9 ft 6in

Propulsion: 2 x   Quadruple-expansion steam engine, 1,304 BHP, two propellers

Speed: 16 Knots

Armament: None

 Crew complement: Unknown


Commanding Officers


Senior Medical Officer





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Military Hospital Ship MAUNGANUI at anchor off Port Tewfik, Egypt. National Library of New Zealand image ref: DA-01129

Early history:

MAUNGANUI was a 7,527 GRT passenger liner order from Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan on the River Clyde in Glasgow by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. She was laid down as yard number 479 and was launched on August 24th 1911. After completing her sea trials and defect rectification she departed the Clyde on December 27th 1911 and proceeded to Plymouth arriving on December 29th, here she embarked 300 passengers and sailed later that day to continue her maiden voyage to Australia and New Zealand. She could accommodate 499 passenger; 244 First Class, 175 Second Class & 80 Third Class.

HMNZT 49 at Wellington

On August 23rd 1914 MAUNGANUI was requisitioned for war service and she was converted for trooping duties as H.M. New Zealand Troopship 49, a role she operated in until June 1919; she was returned to her owners in July that year. Plans to refit her for a return to passenger service, also a conversion to oil burning, however had to be put on hold as there was no dockyard space to accommodate her so she was laid up. It would be three years before she was ready to renter service; she sailed on her first voyage on the Sydney to San Francisco service on July 6th 1922, calling at Wellington, then Rarotonga, Papeete and finally San Francisco.

The S.S. MAUNGANUI at Mo'orea on one of her voyages on the Sydney to San Francisco service between the Wars


World War Two

The MAUNGANUI was requisitioned for war duties in January 1941 and was selected for conversion into a Military Hospital ship. Plans were made for some 390 patients to be accommodated in 100 swinging cots, 100 single fixed cots and 95 double (two-tier) fixed cots. (The number of cots ultimately provided was 365 – 22 fracture cots, 84 single cots and the rest two-tier cots.) The conversion involved a good deal of reconstruction, which was carried out by the Wellington Patent Slip Company at a cost of about £50,000. Upon completion she was commissioned as Military Hospital Ship No.42; with capacity for 365 patients in eight wards, 112 Army medical staff and 118-Merchant crew.

Conversion work included installation of complete emergency system of lighting as well as electric lifts large enough to convey two stretchers from deck to deck, also with emergency power. A huge 700 tons of fresh water was to be carried in a new tank built in to ensure adequate water supply between ports. Spaces were created on B deck for an operating theatre, X-Ray room, a dispensary and a fully-equipped dental surgery. Further aft on the same deck were recreation rooms for officers, for other ranks and for nurses, while near the stern the plant was installed for a complete laundry, with modern drying rooms attached. C Deck was devoted mainly to wards; each of the eight wards had a different colour scheme, and where the lighting arrangements were changed, diffused lighting was installed over the beds. The isolation ward was a separate structure sited at the extreme stern of the ship on the open deck. Additional toilet and washing areas and accommodations were installed for the female nursing contingent.

One feature in which the MAUNGANUI differed from conventional British hospital ship layout was in the siting of the autoclave. This equipment is usually placed in the theatre block, but in the MAUNGANUI it was sited some distance aft on the same deck. This was undoubtedly a tremendous advantage in the tropics and prevented overheating of the theatre. The various specialist departments were all grouped together: theatre, laboratory, X-ray, dispensary and physiotherapy. In addition, all the main cot wards with one exception opened off this central area. This centralization greatly aided the working of the hospital side of the ship, thus saving time and space. The MAUNGANUI could embark patients, both walking and cot, rapidly.

Above left: A ward made up of cots and bunks is ready for use with mattresses piled high. Above right: Army nursing sisters and orderlies look after the ward and their patients at sea. Below left and right; freshly made up beds in airy wards on the ship’s arrival at Port Tewfik on her first voyage.

Operations commence as as a Hospital transport ship

The estimated date for completion had been 15 May, but the ship was got ready by 21 April 1941. Under the terms of her requisition she was manned and operated by the Union Steam Ship Company’s merchant navy crew, the ship’s master Captain Whitfield and his officers and ratings drawn from the New Zealand maritime unions. The medical personnel were selected by the Director-General of Medical Services and the sisters were appointed from the New Zealand Army Nursing Service by the Matron-in-Chief. The staff of 104 medical officers, nursing sisters, and orderlies began embarking on April 18th and 21st and on April 22nd HMNZ HS MAUNGANUI left Wellington for Suez, with Colonel Murray as OC Troops, and Miss Lewis as Matron. She called at Colombo on May 13th and arrived at Suez on May 22nd. She remained here until June 10th in order to receive casualties from the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force fighting in Greece and Crete which had been evacuated to Egypt; she sailed for the return voyage to New Zealand on June 10th having embarked 338 Invalids. On the return voyage he called at Colombo and Fremantle, arriving back at Wellington on July 10th.

The MAUNGANUI was to be employed in this patient transport role for a further fourteen voyages carrying her full capacity of invalids on her homeward runs. It was to become customary on her outward trips to pick up British invalids at Colombo and Bombay and take them to Egypt, where they were transferred to a British hospital ship.

On reaching Suez in October 1943 she transited the Suez Canal and entered the Meditteranean arriving at Tripoli on the 17th. After embarking invalids she sailed on the 20th to return to Port Suez where she arrived on the 30th. After disembarking her charges she entered the Canal again, this time to sail for the UK for repairs calling at Algiers and Gibraltar on passage. She arrived on the Clyde on n December 16th and entered a Glasgow Dockyard to days later to begin repairs. Work was completed on March 8th 1944 and she sailed from Greenock on the 11th to return to the Mediterranean on route to the Suez Canal. She called at Gibraltar, Bizerte, Tunisia, and Taranto, Italy before arriving at Port Sad on the 25th to enter the Canal. Sailing from Suez on the 291th she arrived at Colombo on April 9th and Fremantle on the 19th, she reached Wellington on April 28th. She sailed to resume her usual routine voyages to Suez on May 23rd.

She made a third foray into the Mediterranean in late September, entering the Suez Canal on the 28th and arriving at Taranto on October 3rd, and after embarking invalids sailed the same day for Bari, also in Italy, arriving on the 4th. She departed Bari on the 5th and arrived at Part Said on the 8th to enter the Canal the following day. She arrived back at Wellington on November 8th. She also sailed to Taranto on her final patient transport voyage, departing Wellington on December 5th, and arriving at Taranto on January 19th 1945 and sailed to return on the 20th. She arrived back at Wellington on February 27th.


Allocated for service with the British Pacific Fleet (BPF)

When the MAUNGANUI next sailed from Wellington, to return to Suez her orders were changed on passage to Fremantle, she put into Melbourne on the 27th and proceeded to Sydney, arriving on 28th, sailing the next day to join the support vessels of the Fleet Train (Task Force 112) of the BPF (Task Force 57) at Leyte in the Philippines calling at Manus on April 5th and arriving in San Pedro Bay, Leyte on the 11th. The hospital was now under Lieutenant-Colonel F. O. Bennett as OC Troops with Miss G. L. Thwaites as Matron.

Here she joined the British Hospital Ship OXFORDSHIRE which been at Leyte since March 27th, they were joined by the Dutch Hospital Ship TJITJALENGKA on April 19th. OXFORDSHIRE  and MAUNGANUI were to operate as Auxiliary Naval Hospitals at Leyte, each ship being responsible for half the ships moored in the anchorage. Patients were discharged to their own ship or, if this had sailed, to a ship which acted as a pool depot. Some serious cases were transferred to ships returning to Australia. TJITJALENGKA  was to be called forward when needed to operate in the forward area.

Task Force 57 had sailed from Ulithi Atoll on March 23rd 1945 for operations as part of the U.S. Fifth Fleet under Admiral Raymond Spruance U.S.N. They joined US Task Force 58 on the 26th to begin joint attacks on the islands of the Sakishima-Gunto group in support of preparations for US landings on Okinawa. There were 12 strike days planned against Japanese airfields on these Islands in phase one of operation ICEBERG. Because of the long distances involved between the operational area and the nearest forward base, all replenishment had to be done at sea; TF57 was operating a strike cycle of 2 days on station followed by 2-3 days of replenishment. There were three areas used for fuelling, each was a rectangular area which covered 5000 square miles of ocean east of Luzon, their code names were all called after insects; each area was 50 miles to the south and 100 miles west of' the following positions – 'COOTIE' 21° 52’ N 129° 24’ E; 'MIDGE' 19° 55’ N 129° 40’ E; and ‘MOSQUITO' 20° 17’ N 125° 22’ E. The nominated area could change from one replenishment period to the next. There were 12 strike days planned during this phase before the fleet was to return to Leyte for a longer replenish and repair period.

On April 23rd the ships of TF 57 anchored in San Pedro Bay, 32 days after sailing from Ulithi Atoll; 26 of these days on operations, and 12 strike days had been carried out. Damage repair and defect rectification were the priority and the opportunity was taken to embark store and replacement aircraft. The hospital ships were ready for their arrival; The New Zealand manned cruiser GAMBIA arrived with an epidemic of mumps was still running its course with twenty-three cases isolated on board, in addition to forty already in the New Zealand hospital ship MAUNGANUI. By the end of the month when TF 57 sailed from Leyte on May 1st to return to the operational a large number had returned to duty, but there were still eight cases on GAMBIA and twenty-seven in the MAUNGANUI.

For the first phase of operation ICEBERG all casualties ferried back from the forward area by Escort Aircraft Carriers (CVEs) of the Air Train on completion of their replenishment sorties and transferred to OXFORDSHIRE at the San Pedro Bay anchorage. The frequency of the Kamikaze attacks and the potential delays in evacuating the resulting casualties using only the replenishment CVEs prompted the Commander, British Pacific Fleet to call TJITJALENGKA forward to operate in the vicinity of the replenishment area; she sailed from San Pedro Bay on May 10th to rendezvous with the Logistic Support Group.

The Japanese hit the Fleet Carriers hard on their return to strike the Islands of the Sakishima-Gunto group with increased kamikaze attacks. A second group of casualties arrived on May 8th when the CVE STRIKER arrived at Leyte from the replenishment area carrying 35 casualties, all from the carrier FORMIDABLE injured by Kamikaze attack on May 4th; these were transferred to the MAUNGANUI  This was quickly followed on May 12th by a further 20 casualties delivered to OXFORDSHIRE by the CVE SPEAKER, 1 from FORMIDABLE and 19 from VICTORIOUS which was attacked by Kamikaze aircraft on the 9th.

By the third week of May the BPF was about to undertake it’s final round of strike days before withdrawing to Australia for a prolonged replenishment and repair period before commencing strikes against mainland d Japan in July. Many of the ships of the Fleet Train also began to withdraw from Leyte to Manus, some to Australia. With TJITJALENGKA now in the replenishment area and receiving casualties directly both MAUNGANUI and OXFORDSHIRE withdrew to return to Australia, via Manus; MAUNGANUI sailed on the 21st bound for Sydney and OXFORDSHIRE on the 24th for Brisbane, both ships arrived in port on June 7th. After discharging her patients to RN Auxiliary Hospital, Herne Bay she sailed on June 9th for Wellington.

Base Hospital Ship at Manus and POW evacuation

MAUNGANUI arrived at Wellington on June 12th and was to spend the next two weeks in port making good repairs and restocking her medical supplies before sailing for Manus on the 27th. On arrival at Manus she took on the duty of Base Hospital Ship. She was still at Manus when the Japanese surrender was announced on August 15th. She was now to be re-tasked for humanitarian duties recovering and repatriating liberated prisoners of war and internees. During her time at Manus she admitted and discharged 242 patients before sailing for Subic Bay, the Philippines on August 19th, via Leyte arriving on the 30th where she joined OXFORDSHIRE awaiting order to proceed to Hog Kong.

Hong Kong was liberated by elements of Task Group 111.2 (TG111.2 )which comprised the Carriers INDOMITABLE and VENERABLE, Cruisers SWIFTSURE, EURYALUS, and PRINCE RUPERT (RCN) with Destroyers KEMPENFELT, URSA, WHIRLWIND and QUADRANT; they had sailed from Subic Bay on August 27th, and met with of TG111.4 (Battleship ANSON and her escorting destroyers) off Hong Kong on the 29th to await completion of minesweeping operations before entering the harbour. The main elements of TG 111.2 and 111.4 entered Hong Kong on August 30th, VENERABLE was ordered to remain at sea and maintain a continuous air patrols over the colony. MAUNGANUI and OXFORDSHIRE entered the harbour on September 2nd to embark recently liberated POWs and civilian internees from camps in Hong Kong. MAUNGANUI embarked 111 patients before sailing for Kiirun, Formosa, to embark a further 108 patients on September 9th. On the 12th she called at Keelung, Tiawan before setting course for Manila where another 156 patients embarked, some were disembarked for onward passage. When she sailed for New Zealand on the 119th she and 362 patients on board.

She arrived at Wellington on October 7th where, except for some Australians her charges were immediately transferred to a U.S. Hospital Ship for onward passage to Sydney, they received hospital and convalescent treatment before being finally repatriated to their own countries. Those embarked at Hong Kong included civilians as well as service patients, and many of those embarked at Formosa were British service personnel who had been taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore; At Manila patients included many Australians from a U.S. Hospital and a POW reception depot there.

Patient transport voyager to the UK and return

On November 23rd the MAUNGANUI sailed from Wellington for Sydney where she arrived on the 29th to embark British patients for passage to the UK. She departed from Sydney on December 1st 1945 and called at Fremantle, Colombo, the Suez Canal, Algiers, and Gibraltar collecting additional patients on route; she docked at Southampton on January 10th 1946.

Once all patients had been disembarked she sailed for London on the 12th and entered a Dockyard at Gravesend on the 19th to undergo repairs which were completed on February 1st. She departed Gravesend on the 2nd bound for Gibraltar on her return voyage to New Zealand, collecting the last of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force invalids from Italy and Egypt. After leaving Gibraltar on the 6th she was due to collect New Zealand invalids from Naples but her destination was changed to Taranto where she arrived on the 10th and proceeded to Port Said the next day. She arrived at Port Said on the 14th and entered the Canal three days later. On exiting the Canal she sailed directly to Colombo, then on Fremantle and arrived back at Wellington on March 20th.

This had been her last voyage as a Hospital Ship, during her service she had carried 5,677 patients.

One final military duty

The MAUNGANUI departed from Wellington on April 20th 1946 carrying the official New Zealand contingent to the Commonwealth victory celebrations in London, this time making the voyage via the Panama Canal, arriving in London on May 27th. While in London the ship underwent some Dockyard work before sailing on July 3rd to carry the contingent home, via the Suez Canal to arrive back in Wellington on August 13th having circumnavigated the globe. She was released from government service on December 9th 1946 and returned to her owners the Union Steamship Company.


Return to civilian service

The SS MAUNGANUI was now 35 years in service and the company felt it not worthwhile refitting her and therefore she was laid up. In January 1947 she was sold to Cia Naviera del Atlantica, Piraeus and renamed CYRENIA. She underwent an extensive refit and merged with accommodation for 240 First Class, 300 Second Class & 300 Third Class passengers and operated a service from Genoa and Piraeus to Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney, carrying Greek, Italian and Jewish refugees and migrants. She was further sold in 1949 to Hellenic Mediterranean Lines but continued to operate the same immigrant service as before. She left Melbourne for the last time on November 1st 1956 bound for Savona, Italy arriving on February 6th 1957 for breaking. 


Last modified: 16 August 2023


Primary information sources

Additional sources:

BT-389-20-198 - BT-389-35-180 - BT 389/39/190 WW2 Ship's record card held by the UK National Archive

‘The Royal New Zealand Navy CHAPTER 24 — With the British Pacific Fleet






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