HMS BULOLO - amongst other things -  A Communications HQ ship for Combined Operations, the first one in the world! From 1943 onwards, she saw service at  just about every major assault landing in Europe, the Mediterranean and Far East. Many eminent people agree that as WW2 goes the Bulolo is a most unfairly under rated or forgotten naval vessel.  She was without a doubt one the war's famous but uncelebrated naval combatant! An R.N.COMMUNICATOR will be [or dare I say it, should be] far more interested in this story than almost any other branch, and that is why it is told in a Communicators Museum site. ENJOY!


A relative of my wife, one Derek Turner, long long time domiciled in Canada has sent me this fascinating souvenir of HMS Bulolo's homeward bound voyage from the Far East in 1946 after the war with Japan had been won.  In his covering letter he says: "Herewith the Bulolo Times I promised you.  As a matter of interest, on January 23rd [my birthday] I got sippers in the OA's mess and spent the afternoon sleeping it off on the upper deck.  We were steaming up the Red Sea under clear sunshine.  It seemed strange to see merchant ships sailing alone after being so used to convoys.  I shall never forget the crew's strong feelings for Lord Louis, and that says a lot about a leader. This was my last sea voyage.  Since flying to Canada in 1948 I have not crossed a sea again."

  Click to enlarge  The front cover of the ships Times.  The artwork is excellent and the colours as vibrant today as they probably were 57 years ago. I wonder if all the 300 copies requested [see text of the Captains message [page 1] below] had this splendid front cover?

The print quality, the short comings of the old mechanical typewriter, and yes, the typing errors with the subsequent over printing [by hitting the typewriter key very hard] all go to make it less than ideal to use my scanner on the text pages.  Therefore, to make it more easily readable and from that, hoping that you enjoy it more, I have faithfully retyped it, so the words, punctuation,  grammar, syntax etc are not those of my choosing!  

I feel that the  effort is worth while because the article is a contemporary WWII document from a COMMUNICATIONS HQ SHIP which should be preserved for all posterity notwithstanding the contents therein of which I make no comment, except, safe-to-say, whilst most is of a domestic, mundane and rambling nature, there are some parts of historic interest! 

This picture is of the BULOLO as built on the Clyde in 1938 as a luxury cargo passenger/freight ship


Bulolo was built on the Clyde by Barclay Curle and Company of Glasgow having beautiful and graceful lines.  Her gross displacement was 6937 tons.  She is reputed to have cost more per lineal yard in building than any other vessel built on the Clyde. The name BULOLO is both a gold mining area and a river in New Guinea, fitting because she was to have spent all her life in the Australasia area of the world.  Her maiden voyage was in September 1938 [I was two months old] and thereafter, she embarked on her normal peacetime run as a luxury liner 1938, for the Burns Philips Line of Sydney.  She was built as a luxury cargo passenger ship running between Sydney, New Guinea, New Britain, New Zealand and other Pacific islands.  At the outbreak of the second world war in September 1939, BULOLO was taken over by the Admiralty and sailed from Sydney to Simons Town where she hoisted the White Ensign and where she was fitted-out as an armed merchant cruiser.  Her armament was quite impressive to say the very least.  She had SEVEN 6 INCH GUNS, TWO 3 INCH AA GUNS together with SEVERAL CLOSE RANGE WEAPONS.  Her first Royal Navy Commanding Officer was Captain C.H. Petrie DSO RN [later of HMS GLENGYLE fame]. Compare that with our much lauded post WW2 Cruisers Lion, Tiger and Blake with only 4 x 6" guns and 6 x 3" guns.  She was officially an armed merchant cruisers, and I would say a heavily armed merchant cruiser. If needs be, she could punch her weight against enemy shipping she encountered or shore targets suitable for bombarding. She displaced more water than our super DLG's did of post WW2 fame.

This picture below shows the BULOLO [maintaining its build name] as HMS Bulolo ready for active service as a warship. Note her vast W/T aerial areas on all three masts [fore, main and mizzen] with three aerial gantries, one forard and one aft of the funnel and one of the mizzen mast. Not only did she serve as a unique warship but a formidable vessel packed with a gunnery outfit befitting that of  a light cruiser, with a communication outfit and personnel befitting that of a battleship or battlecruiser. 

As Admiral (the Earl) Mountbatten had been appointed to head up the Combined Operations Command in October 1941, he came up with the idea of using Landing Ships which would be able to operate as Headquarters during amphibious warfare.

On March 25, 1942 the Bulolo was sold to the Admiralty who had her converted into the very first ever “Landing Ship and Headquarters” (L.S.H.). Thus the Bulolo was stripped of all non essential equipment and she was fitted with a most extensive and sophisticated communications systems ever to be placed into a ship. This so called 'stripping' saw the end of her impressive weaponry being only lightly armed for self defence.  Thus, she had full control systems for the three forces, ‘Army’, ‘Navy’ and the ‘Air Force’. For the time, she had the finest brand new available high tech communications equipment and control room facilities.

For instance, there were complete sets of wireless instruments in order that contact could be maintained with landing forces, the Bulolo became the perfect ship with equipment in order to enable the “Operational Planners” to stay in touch with London, seeking and receiving information as required in any situation. As one crew member stated who had been in the Radio Room; “We were operating just as if we were in Great George Street London [the main road which run past Big Ben in the very nerve centre of London and England.]  In fact we could send off at least thirty wireless messages at the very same time as well as a host of other communications.”

Just one of several W/T Offices

Part of the main ops room


Days before the most famous of all invasions ever [BC, AD, Bc and BCE]*  D-Day 6th June 1944 on the Normandy beaches which brought about the defeat of Germany and heralded the end of WW2,  amphibious vessels  in their high hundreds took up their position under the belly of England, with HMS Bulolo the pivotal anchor of the invasion control-wise,  was anchored firm and fast in the BEAULIEU ROADS awaiting  the Kings presence. The King had travelled by mainline railway from London and then by  royal yacht  barge to the Beaulieu river and its Roads.  A roadstead [modern name for roads],  can be an area of safe anchorage for ships waiting to enter a port (or to form a convoy); if sufficiently sheltered and convenient it can be used for transshipment (or transfer to and from shore by lighters) of goods and stores or troops. In the days of sailing ships, some voyages could only easily be made with a change in wind direction, and ships would wait for a change of wind in a safe anchorage, such as the  Yarmouth Roads.  Anyway this roadstead/roads were at the estuary of the river Beaulieu having  the naval brains of the invasions, namely in HMS Bulolo, were awaiting His Majesty pleasure, was domiciled from as early as the 24th May 1944 many days before Eisenhower order the advance. 

This picture shows the king shaking hands with the captain of the Bulolo almost an unusual and rare event and and  meet-up even for capital ships. Bulolo is currently anchored in Beaulieu Roads where she stayed establishing her many communication circuits ready for an all hell let loose twelve days later. Note that Captain McCrum has removed his right hand brown leather glove [holding it in his left hand] before he touches the hand of the King.

The ships company and officers appointments was formed by RN and WRNS personnel with Army, Marines and RAF operators.  Here theKing inspects the WRNS.

and below the RN 'comms crew

The Royal barge flying the Kings Royal Standafrd forard and white ensign aft in the Beaulieu River leaving Bulolo after his long and very successful visit to this float commcen.



*For the uninitiated to modern accepted jargon,  BC and AD remain as always meaning BC could have meant billions of years or just 1 hour, and AD likewise meaning anything from 1 day to currently 2020 years so indeterminable periods. They have been augmented with  Bc = before current time and BCE = before current era,  for example "steam power ushered in a new mode of transportation. Sorry, but don't shoot the messenger. I am only bringing you up to date in historical time-wise jargon.

 From January 1940 until April 1943 BULOLO was employed on convoy escort duties and patrols in the Atlantic, during which time she achieved the remarkable record of escorting over 400 ships without losing one.  In 1940-41, she steamed over 175,000 miles in the Atlantic.  In 1942, she was taken into dock and emerged as the first Combined Operations Headquarter ship in the world; the principal task of such a ship being to carry the Naval, Army and Air Force Commanders and their staffs, and, through her communication equipment fit, integrate the whole of the assault build-up, execution and consolidation.  How brilliantly Bulolo and her sister HQ ships did their job is abundantly clear from the wonderful results obtained from 1942 onwards. She was present at the landings on North Africa; Sicily; Syracuse; Anzio; Normandy, after which she refitted in Southampton before being deployed to the Far East station where she arrived in June 1945.  She was to be the Flagship for 'Operation Zipper' [the landings which would have recaptured Singapore from the Japanese] but the war ended a few weeks before Zipper's D-Day when the Japanese surrendered. She spent the summer months in pleasant conditions in and around Singapore waters.  In October she assisted in a mercy mission to Surabaya, bringing back 530 women and children to the relative safety of Singapore. She left Singapore on the 4th January 1946 and arrived Portsmouth on the 15th February.  Bulolo refitted to become once again a  luxury cargo/passenger liner and was taken back home to Sydney commanded by Lieutenant Commander Monteith RN.  She was broken-up in Taiwan in 1968 aged 30.

There can be no better example of an amphibious force as that assembled and used on D-Day 6th June 1944.  However, this landing in particular centred upon three basic and best know units, namely on the units actually landing on the five main beaches Sword, Gold, Juno, Utha and  and its "saving Private Ryan savagery; the hundreds of rescue small craft out from the UK, and the support given by just a few [relatively speaking] naval unit used for bombarding the shores immediately ahead of the beaches proper and the RAF fighters keeping as best they could the Luftwaffe out of the fight. The navy, other than the ubiquitous array of landcraft deployed was hardly mentioned.

This rather busy picture destroys that assertion. Although at first glance it seems excessively complicated it is an easy read top-down map.

1. The two vast and major fleets, which contrary to their names 'American' and 'British'  Task Forces are supported by other allied naval vessels French, Canadian and others, Stay to seaward of the black dotted line. 

2, From 1 above heading ultimately for the beaches either to land on them or to support off-shore, those doing the assault proper, come the heavy bombardment ships from each of the two Task Forces, and Assault Forces U, O, G, J and S.

3.  They in turn head for  their assigned assault beaches, namely, UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO and SWORD, each beach control by a Communications and HQ ship shown in WHITE.  USS Bayleaf controls UTAH, USS ANCON  controls OMAHA, HMS BULOLO controls GOLD, HMS HILARY controls JUNO and HMS LARGS controls  SWORD.  Notice where they are berthed, yes right in the thick of it  and moreover stationary so EXTREMELY vulnerable to shore batteries and the Luftwaffe. Note the numbers  involved over the five landing beaches total approximately 156,000 men. 

4. The units marked in red [exempting those in white] are warships in harms way supporting those 156,000 men. If you count them, there are roughly 85 of all sizes, types hitting power to combat a sea attack [submarines and e-boats], a Lutfwaffe air attack and a shore attack - a formidable naval power, this over and above the amphibious power.

5.  The R.N. with its three HQ and Communication ships Hilary, Bulolo and Largs controlled the beaches Gold, Juno and Sword, and the British admiral in overall command was the owner of a stately house with a large garden part of which was sold off to a builder who built three houses on the plot, one of which my wife and I live in today. His name was Vice Admiral Rivett-Carnac and at Rememberance times I put poppy sticks in his grave in the village church. See

Since D-Day was CRITICALLY IMPORTANT TO WE ALLIES, I often wonder why early naval historian didn't  fly the flag for the navy and its top of the shop IMPORTANT TASK and/or for our magnificent communications and its specialist ships like the BULOLO for example.  I'll FLY IT NOW.

Had the Germans known what those ships marked here in white and in clear view from shore observation were and then taken them out,  it is highly probable that the landings would have failed or part failed.  That they didn't and communications were maintained was to our everlasting advantage. A major BZ to the navy and our combined ops.