German force of Polizeitruppe and Reservists that defended
the radio station at Bita-Paka from the Australian invasion
of 1914 did not use any artillery in their defence.
photographs show a couple of very obsolete artillery pieces were owned by
German forces in New Guinea over the years but nothing that
would be of much use in modern warfare. Thus it
is usually written in histories that there was no German
artillery on New Guinea.
This was proven to be wrong when
the gun shown above was spotted at the
Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre in Sydney, Australia.
It is a 7.85cm Krupp Feldkanone C73 and the museum caption
says that it was captured by the Australians in
German New Guinea 1914-
"On 11 Sep 1914 under the cover of His Majesty's
Australian Ships (HMAS) Australia, Sydney,
Encounter, Yarra, Warrego and the submarines
AE1 and AE2,
Reservists of the RAN Naval Brigade landed at Rabaul
in German New Britain as part of the Australian
Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF). Opposed
by 300 German and colonial troops, the Brigade outflanked and
overwhelmed the defenders seizing an important wireless station.
The action cost the lives of the first Australian sailors to
fall in World War I, Able Seaman John Courtney and Able Seaman
Bill Williams. This
gun is the first piece of enemy ordnance captured in combat by
Australian forces in World War I."
director of the
Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre in Sydney, Commander Shane Moore
recently provided this information on the gun in Sydney-
gun is a Krupp 12 pdr (75mm/7.5cm) field piece c1889. It
was not unusual for guns that were aging to be transferred
to Colonial outposts (as was this one c1910) as the most
up-to-date artillery was not normally required. The gun,
when captured, was part of the defensive works that the
Germans had established....Any
shells captured with the gun would more than likely would
have dumped in the ocean. The records show that the gun
was fully operational and fired during the engagement.....
Many 'old' guns transferred to colonial outposts (German,
British, French and Spanish) were more for 'show than go'
but operational (even if obsolete) weapons were still
required (as in this case)."
This is the only reference I have so far found to the gun
having been used in action. The
'Australian Official History of the War' (Vol X, P47, SS Mackenzie)
says the guns had no ammunition and further
mentions in its description of the German forces that there
were two guns at Rabaul-
“A police inspector, a cavalry captain in the regular
army, supervised the training, armament, and distribution
of the native police.
The Colonial Office provided in addition the services of a
senior lieutenant of the regular army; he had charge of the
training of the native expeditionary force, the strength of
which had, some months before the war, been raised to
240. There were no
fixed defences at any place in the territory, nor any field
artillery, and though there were in Rabaul two guns
without limbers, to be used for firing salutes, there was no
effective ammunition available for them. A machine-gun
which had been stored in Rabaul was taken away by the Planet
when she departed early in August ; another was at Madang.
The troops were armed with the Mauser rifle, for which there
was an ample supply of ammunition."
Having no limbers would have made the guns difficult to
move. The fact they limbers were not issued would seem to
indicate they were not meant for action, certainly not on
expeditions to the interior of the colony to suppress
After the surrender of German New Guinea, the former
German acting governor of the colony, Eduard Haber was
repatriated to Germany via America, which was of course
still neutral at the time. While in New York, Haber gave an
interview to the New York Times (published 11th February
1915) in which he described the
German forces and confirmed the possession of two guns-
"Both Rabaul and Herberstohe, the sea ports,
were undefended. There were no fortifications at Toma, simply
open plantations. We had no canon of any kind except two little pieces that
were used for saluting but we had a number of rifles of
the 1898 pattern."
So if there were two guns what
became of them both? In the Australian Archives is a
copy of a dispatch received from the Administrator, Rabaul, New
Britain dated the 11th December 1914. It tells of the guns' fate-
"With reference to the two Krupp field guns taken at
Rabaul...One gun was sent to Sydney ex 'Berrima' which left here on
October 4th.... If it has not been handed over to the military
commandant, it is probably still in the possession of the
naval authorities at Garden Island."
This explains the gun seen above which is now at the still
in naval possession in Sydney
and was until recently at the Garden
Island naval base in Sydney. In the same dispatch, the
Administrator then went on to describe the second gun-
"The other gun is still here, but is without its wheels
which were both damaged beyond repair, caused by the gun
having been thrown into a ravine. I will endeavour to fit it
with wheels but if not successful I will send it to
Australia as is at the first opportunity."
So it appears that the Germans may have attempted to prevent the
gun falling into enemy hands and damaged the wheels in the
process. It seems from later notes that the Administrator in Rabaul was true to his word and
had sent the un-fixed remains of
the second gun onto Sydney at some point.
After the war when
the idea of an Australian War Museum was conceived, the
museum requested that one of the Rabaul guns be added to its
collection. On 5th august 1920 the Australian War Museum wrote to the
Ministry of Defence in Melbourne to say they were interested
in displaying a gun from New Guinea-
"With reference to your letter 55375 of the 21st July, the
War museum would be very pleased to receive the Krupp Gun No 669 now
in Sydney received from Rabaul. This gun will add considerably to
the interest of the collection of trophies and relics connected with the
occupation of the North West Pacific Islands at present in the
possession of the War Museum."
The ministry of defence passed the request onto the
the Ordinance Department of the Australian 2nd Military
District in Sydney who
confirmed to the Museum in Melbourne on
17th September 1920-
"I beg to advise you that in accordance with
instructions received from headquarters, Melbourne, I have arranged to
dispatch per SS Karoola sailing on 18/9/20 the
following:- 1 Krupp gun, No 6695/1892, 1 Carriage, 2 Wheels without spokes, 1 Nave for breech block,
1 Box, breech block"
Note the wheels are without spokes suggesting that this is
the damaged second gun. The first gun in better condition
remained in Sydney.
The museum acknowledged receipt of the delivery on 29th
The Australian War Museum opened to the public on ANZAC Day
1922 but the Rabaul Gun 6695 was not on display. The current
Australian War Memorial does not display the gun either and
has no record of it in their collection. We emailed the AWM
and got this reply from Assistant Curator Mike Eztel-
is mention of a ceded war trophy coastal gun being allocated to
Longreach in Queensland c 1919 of a 3.5 inch (87 mm) Coastal Gun –
Krupp Model C/73 that allegedly came from Rabaul and transported to
Longreach by the SS Austral Glen. The serial number is 6695 (669 S)?
The reference is – War Trophies, from the First World War 1914-1918,
Major R S Billet – Kangaroo Press, 1999 – ISBN 0 86417 977 4. Maybe this
is the missing artillery piece that you are searching for?"
we have emailed the Longreach Tourist Board to see if they know anything of the
gun. So far we have yet to receive a reply.
Sources and Recommended External Links
Australian Official History of the War in the Pacific
Governor Haber's New York Times
Origins of the Australian War Memorial
List of Guns allocated as War Trophies in Australia from
History (no mention of the Rabaul Guns)
List of Guns allocated as War Trophies to the Australian War
Museum (no mention of the Rabaul Guns)
Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre
Article on the C73 Gun on
article was researched by
Thanks very much to him for sharing all his research with us.
Thanks also to Mike
Eztel of the
Australian War Memorial
Commander Shane Moore of the
Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre for their generous