This article discusses Awarua Radio's support to coastwatching services during the Second World War.
On 26 August 1939 the 6101 ton German steamer Erlangen quietly slipped its moorings in Dunedin and departed for Australia. The vessel had only a small quantity of coal aboard and had advised it intended to bunker (refuel) at Port Kembla. It was fairly obvious that war would soon be declared against Germany, so there was interest in the movements of the vessel, this being heightened a few days later on 3 September 1939 when war was declared.
However, the Erlangen never arrived in Australia causing some speculation about her location. Some months later the vessel was reported to have arrived at Santiago, Chile under sail.
This event and reports of German raiders in the Pacific led the NZ Government to establish a coastwatching presence on the uninhabited sub-antarctic islands of Campbell and Auckland Islands.
Between 1940 and 1945 sub-antarctic coastwatcher operations were maintained at three locations, one each at the northern and southern ends of rugged Auckland Island at Port Ross (Ranui Cove) and Carnley Harbour (Tagua Bay) and the third in Perseverance Harbour, Campbell Island. To keep the presence low-profile the activity was given a public cover name of 'The Cape Expedition' which had a weather reporting and scientific study role.
The party establishing the site in Carnley Harbour found further evidence of the Erlangen when exploring deep into the harbour. Hidden behind Figure of Eight Island at the end of the North Arm they found a large area of Rata had been chopped down. In addition there were some tools lying around which bore German markings. The Erlangen's captain later confirmed he had hidden in Carnley Harbour for five weeks while his crew chopped timber and loaded the vessel, while other crew members manufactured sails. Ultimately, towards the end of their voyage to Chile they found that they had still not enough fuel and resorted to burning some of the wooden fittings of the vessel.
The connection for Awarua Radio with the Cape Expedition was to receive the daily weather reports from the three stations and also to respond to any vessel sighting reports they might issue.
At the time of writing (September 1915) there is one remaining member of the Cape Expedition living. As a young lad of 18, John Stuart Jones was sent south as one of the team members deployed at Ranui Cove. His role was that of radio operator, so he communicated daily with Awarua Radio for his year-long posting. John also received a second posting to Ranui Cove in 1944. For his first posting his station callsign was ZLB2 and for the second posting was ZLBZR. From 1946 (and now as a married man) he worked as an NZPO telegraphist at Wyndham, Gore, Bluff, Carterton, Hamilton, Auckland and Te Awamutu. He retired in 1980 and still lives in Te Awamutu.
While no enemy vessels were reported by the coastwatcher parties, their weather and scientific work was found to be extremely valuable and in later years these roles were augment by deployment of specialist meteorological observers, scientists and a survey party.
In 1945 the Auckland Island stations were closed down, however the Campbell Island station was retained for weather reporting services. A purpose-built weather station was commissioned at Beeman Point in 1957 and regular radio communication was maintained with Awarua Radio and later to other NZ Post Office stations. The manned station was closed in 1994 when the weather service was automated via satellite link.