After saying goodbye to Peter and Melinda, I quickly packed my luggage, and I was back on the transport boat, heading back to the ship, as I sadly waved goodbye. Back onboard the ship, I was allocated VIP quarters, which gave me my own cabin with bathroom, it was small but I had the cabin to myself, and as I sat in my cabin I looked around at the bare walls, which will be my home for five days, and thought back to the days when I had served onboard a number of naval ships, and as I was thinking this I spotted the envelope that was peeping out of the side pocket of my duffle bag.
Inside I found a large amount of cash, plus three sheets of paper, the first being a letter. “Lewis, we are sad that you had to leave us earlier than expected, thank you for all your hard work during the charters, it was noticed by both of us, we have included wages still owing and a bonus, I hope that you put it too good use.
We have also included a Letter of Reference, in case you decide to go into being a crew member on other charter yachts. Good luck, and we hope to see you out on the seas one day. Kind Regards Peter and Melinda”. I had tears in my eyes as I read this, and it hurt a lot that I had to leave them, especially when they had been so good to me, and I took a quick look at the reference, before my stomach announced that it was time to get some lunch, but first I had to find my Naval uniform, if it was packed, since I am still in the Navy.
Once in uniform, I made my way to the officer’s mess, and I was welcome in, as I sat down, and a steward served me some lunch. Shortly before dark the four Royal Australian Navy ships, slipped out of the bay at the Cocos Keeling Islands, and headed west north west for 2600 km’s to my new home, on the Chagos Archipelago. On the last day of the journey at dawn, after a shower and change of uniform, I made my way to the bridge, and asked permission to enter.
“Permission granted Commander Shaw, we are just 50 kilometres away from our destination, so no doubt, we will receive word from the Americans, as we should be in their radar range by now” the Commodore said to me, as he stood next to the ships Commanding Officer, who has the same rank as me.
Just a few minutes later, the communications officer of the watch, brought our attention to an incoming call, and he flicked a switch to allow us to listen in. “…I repeat, this is the US Naval Base - Diego Garcia, to the approaching ships coming from the east south east, you are entering a restricted naval area, return at once to your previous location, do not approach this area” we heard the caller say.
“If I may sir” I said turning to face the Commodore, “Might as well, as it is your territory as of today” the Commodore replied, and I walked over to the Communication area on the bridge, and received the given headgear with microphone, and nodded my head in thanks.
“This is Commander Lewis Shaw, appointed Administrator of the Chagos Archipelago Territory of Australia, do not take any action to the approaching 4 Australian Naval ships, as we are here to take over control of this territory, over” I said clearly. There was a long period of silence, before a response came back. “This is Commodore Andy Harvey, US Naval Air Support Base, Diego Garcia, who am I talking too?” came a gruff voice over the speaker.
“Commodore Harvey, my name is Commander Lewis Shaw, Royal Australian Navy, and appointed Administrator of the Chagos Archipelago Territory of Australia. As stated in the notice forwarded to your Government nearly three weeks ago, your United States Defence Force, are to leave the island, in less than two weeks, and all civilian contract workers, should have left Diego Garcia before our arrival today, by order of the Australian Government” I responded.
“I am sorry Commander, but until I receive orders from Washington, we are staying right where we are” came an unexpected reply. “Very well, we will stay 37.1 km’s or 20 nautical miles outside of Diego Garcia, and you are not to threaten or harass our Naval ships in any way, we are not leaving either, over and out” I replied in an annoyed tone, before handing the headpiece back.
“Just great, on my first day on the job and I have diplomatic problems already” I groaned, which the two most senior officers chuckled, before I frowned at them.
“Sorry Commander, what now?” the Commodore responded, “Two can play that game, get me our PM in Canberra, then I will call the UK PM in London, and I will take the calls in the conference room please” I replied.
The Commodore indicated to the Communications officer to do as I requested as I left the bridge, with the Commodore following close by. “If I may, I would like to be present for the calls, so I can get direction on any forthcoming orders” the Commodore said to me.
“… Yes sir, that is correct, your newly appointed Administrator for the Chagos Archipelago Territory, it appears that the Americans are refusing to leave, until they receive orders from Washington. I was going to suggest that you contact our Australian Ambassador in the USA, to speed things up… I would also like to suggest that we speak to our British friends, to see if they have any ships in the region to support us” I said in conversation with our Prime Minister.
“…Yes sir, the Commodore seems very peeved off with the situation, he is standing near me and listening to this conversation… Yes, I do, it is 2.30 am in Washington, and 7.30am in London now sir, very good sir, good evening” I said as the call was ended, and I turned to the Commodore.
“Very interesting, I am glad that our PM is supportive of your suggestions, I am sure our Ambassador in Washington won’t be too pleased about been woken up this early in the morning, to pass on a message from our PM” the Commodore said to me, and I gave a small smile and nodded, as he went to the wall and called the bridge, asking for the second call to be made.
A few minutes later after waiting to be connected a tired voice came onto the phone, “Administrator for the Chagos Archipelago Territory, wishing to speak to your Prime Minister, under the directions of our Prime Minister” I said to whoever it was that answered the call. “This is the Private Secretary to the PM, hold please and I will direct your call” the man said, and after another few minutes of waiting we were finally connected.
“This is the PM, who is this calling me so early” came a tired sounding voice, “Sorry to call you this early in the morning your time sir, it is nearly 3pm where I am. This is Administrator Lewis Shaw, appointed Administrator for the Chagos Archipelago Territory, in the Indian Ocean speaking” I replied.
“Yes, Administrator Lewis, how can I assist you” the PM responded, “Well sir, today is meant to be the first day that we officially take over control of the Chagos Archipelago Territory, but the US Defence Force is refusing to budge, we have 4 Naval ships in our group, but we have been warned to stay away, we are wondering if by chance if any of your Naval ships are in the region to assist” I asked.
“This is not going to be like another Falklands war is it, because I don’t think the British people or Parliament would be too happy about that” the British PM said to me, “No sir, it would be more of a show of force that is all” I responded, “Very well, I will speak to the Lord of the Admiralty this morning, and see what we have, and I will pass that on to the Australian High Commissioner here in London” the British PM said.
I was pleased with the response that we received from the British PM, and I asked the Commodore to pass on the response of the conversation back to Canberra. When we had reached the 20-nautical mile barrier, that I had set, the ships came to a stop, while we waited to see what responses we would be getting.
About three hours later, in the late afternoon, when we received a message from London. “Aircraft Carrier – HMS Queen Elizabeth, currently in Duqm, Oman, setting sail today to your location, ETA 5 days, Submarine HMS Victorious and Guided Missile Destroyer, currently in Mombasa, Kenya, setting sail tonight, ETA 5 days, will inform you if other units are activated to the area”.
“Well that gives us two very big guns and another Sub, that should be enough to shake them up a bit” the Commodore said after he had read the message after I had read it. I asked the Commodore if we can use the 4 ships we have, to form a perimeter around Diego Garcia, to make sure no US Naval ships sneak in, and he gave the order for that to happen.
Once this was done, I asked if there was any way of getting real time satellite footage, to see what naval ships and aircraft they have at the island presently. The Commodore put a call through to the ASIS. “Commander Derricks, this is Commodore J B Holland, onboard the HMAS Canberra, we would like to get some real time information please” the Commodore said once the call was connected.
“Yes sir, I know who you are and where you are, do you have a Commander Shaw with you sir?” came a reply, and I grinned, as I served alongside Commander Derricks when I was with ASIS.
“Yes, I am here Jack, how are you going” I responded, “Very well thankyou sir, congratulations on your promotion, award and new appointment, you will make a great Administrator” Jack Derricks said.
“Thanks mate, now can you help us with some real time satellite footage, we want to know exactly what the US has at Diego Garcia, and if there are any US Naval ship in the area, that may be heading our way” I responded.
“Sure, no problems, we can get that information to you within two hours, a satellite goes over there just before sunset your time” Jack Derricks replied, “Thanks mate, really appreciate it. Over and out for now” I answered, before ending the call. By morning, we should know where we will be, and what we may be facing.
About another hour later, as it was not getting close to sunset, we received another message from London. “RAF No. 83 Reconnaissance Group, based in Qatar, is doing regular high-altitude surveillance of your region, along with British Forces and the Royal Gurkha Rifles, are preparing to air drop into northern islands of the Chagos Archipelago, at dawn tomorrow”
“Wow, now I didn’t expect that much cooperation, but it will be gratefully received” I said after reading the message, and I handed it over to the Commodore to read, while I headed over to the charts table, and looked at the islands in the Archipelago.
“Commodore, can we send a reply back to London, and recommend to them that their forces, land on the Egmont Islands at these coordinates, they are the closest main islands, about 120 km’s to the north-west of Diego Garcia, and that one of our Naval ships will be by to pick them up at about noon tomorrow” I said, and the Commodore did as I requested.
About half an hour after dark, a message from Canberra came through, along with several satellite photos of the area and close ups of Diego Garcia. “Hope these will be helpful, regards Jack” was the short message that came with the photos, which I spread over the chart table to have a closer look.
“Two supply and 4 maintenance vessels, no naval vessels of any kind, and four large aircraft hangers, but nothing showering if there is anything inside. Well at least that gives us a slight advantage over them” I said after studying the photos carefully. Moments later there was another message, this one from the RAF Reconnaissance plane. “One US Naval Destroyer, leaving Singapore, ETA to your location 6 ½ days, US Naval Frigate leaving Kuwait, ETA to your location 7 ½ days”.
“Well it looks like you have made the correct call, to predict the US would send support into the area, lucky for us, we have ships already in the area, and three more coming, plus the ground forces arriving tomorrow” the Commodore said to me.
“Sir, I would like to recommend, that when the British support does arrive, that we position the Aircraft carrier, 40 kilometres to the north–east, and the Destroyer 40 km’s to the north-west, this side of the Egmont Islands, and the British Sub 40 kilometres to the south-west, that way with us to the East of Diego Garcia, and our sub to the West, we have all the area covered.
They cannot approach from the north, because of the reefs, which is a huge advantage to us, so they cannot approach our barrier net, without being detected” I said smiling. “I would say, that it is game, set and match, wouldn’t you Commander?” the Commodore said also smiling.
I slept surprisingly well that night, and when I woke the next morning, showered, shaved and changed into a fresh uniform, I headed to the bridge to get an update on what is happening.
“Good morning Commander, you will be happy to know, that because the US is sending chips into the area, the three British ships have increased their speed to get here quicker by half a day” the officer on deck, a Lt Commander said as I entered.
This meant we had a two-day head start, to get organised before the first of the US ships arrive, but what worried the most was flights being able to come into the area, with the British Aircraft carrier not in - flight range for its aircraft, for another three days.
Copyright August 2018, Preston Wigglesworth, All rights are reserved.