4. HONG KONG 1941
CDR. F. G. HART   R.C.N.   8.10.1940
The ROBERT then returned to patrol the South Pacific off the coasts of South America from Mexico to the straits of Magellan. During this period, stops were made at Callao, Antofagasta, Concepcion, and for 24 hours on Christmas day at Valaparaiso. A fast trip was then made to Easter Island in search of a reported German raider but nothing was found. Later in the spring of 1941 saw the ROBERT attached to New Zealand as convoy protection for the airmen coming to Canada for the Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

The ROBERT refitted at Esquimalt during the summer of 1941 and on October 27th, sailed as escort for the AWATEA carrying Canadian troops to Hong Kong. The ROBERT carried four officers and 105 ranks of the Royal Rifles while AWATEA carried the remainder, along with the Winnipeg Grenadiers. The total contingent, Force C consisted of 96 officers, 1,877 other ranks, tow auxiliary Service Supervisors and one stowaway. The latter fortunately made the round trip, as the entire force was lost when Hong Kong fell a month later. Many of those captured subsequently died in Japanese prison camps.

The ships had sailed the night of October 27th via Honolulu and Manila where HMS DANAE was added to the escort. They reached Hong Kong on November 16th, and the ROBERT started the return journey a week later. She passed through Honolulu December 3rd, without an inkling of the Japanese task force already on the way to Pearl Harbor. There were of course rumours (much after the fact) of mystifying signals picked up, but since it is now known that the Japanese task force steamed through the North Pacific under strict radio silence, the rumours are laid.

Four hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, a message was received aboard the ROBERT that the U.S. Navy transport CYNTHIA OLSEN had been torpedoed about 130 miles south of her position. She diverted, searched the sea, but found nothing.

Prince Robert - Hong Kong 1941

Mr. Hillman, 

In perusing your website on HMCS PRINCE ROBERT, I noticed a textual error in Part 4, "Hong Kong 1941". The sunken vessel CYNTHIA OLSON, which the Canadian AMC searched for after the air attack on Pearl Harbor, was NOT in fact a U.S. Navy transport. There are indeed many contradictory claims out there about this ship and her fate, but she had been chartered by the U.S. Army to carry lumber from the Pacific Northwest to Oahu. Her never-found crew, including two army personnel (a radio operator and a medic), may have been the victims of Japanese atrocity. If you're interested, a 2010 book, Stephen Harding's VOYAGE TO OBLIVION (Amberley Publishing), may reveal some of her secrets and straighten out some of the fascinating inconsistencies regarding this vessel.

# Some websites designate her as a full, if recently acquired, U.S. Army Transport (USAT). I'm nearly 100% certain she was not, but rather a steamship chartered by the U.S. Army on a time or voyage basis (very likely NOT a bare boat charter). Indeed, the routing chart you include in Part 4 clearly identifies CYNTHIA OLSON as an army vessel--only the textual part above is wrong.

# She is often termed a steam schooner, implying a wooden hull (and her construction date of 1918 does not rule out such a possibility, as many a wooden-hulled steamer had been constructed during the previous war emergency). She was also a lumber carrier, so there may be some confusion about wood in regard to this vessel. That it took a lot of shells to sink her may indeed imply she was of wooden construction.

# There is some controversy over when I-26--the IJN submarine that would on the night of June 20, 1942, shell Estevan Point Lighthouse, Vancouver Island--surfaced near CYNTHIA OLSON and opened fire, but it appears to have been shortly before the first hostile aircraft appeared over Pearl Harbor. If so, then Cmdr. Minoru Yokota was disobeying orders, because clearly Japan wanted the first overt act to be bombing aircraft over Pearl, not an attack on an insignificant 2100-ton lumber carrier to tip off the Americans. Yokota's act was compounded by his decision to sink the American vessel by surface gunfire, which gave her radio operator time to get off an emergency message. Whatever, the attack on CYNTHIA OLSON was not the first act of war in the eastern Pacific as some websites claim: USS WARD (DD-139) had of course fired on a Japanese midget submarine off the entrance to Pearl Harbor at just after 6:30 a.m.

# The utter disappearance of CYNTHIA OLSON's crew is on the face of it suspicious, suggesting to many that they had been murdered in their lifeboats. I-26 would be no stranger to atrocity--e.g., the 1944 machine-gunning of the crew of SS RICHARD HOVEY in their lifeboats--but that would be under another captain, Lt. Cmdr. Toshio Kusaka, who would be imprisoned for war crimes after hostilities had ended. To support the contention that Commander Yokota did not do such a thing, Lt. Cmdr. Narahara Shogo, captain of I-19, which passed through the area the following day, claims to have provided some food to the men in the lifeboats. Was somebody lying? 

Anyway, I recommend the three following websites for additional information on the history and fate of CYNTHIA OLSON, from both sides as it were:


Nelson Lawry
Rollinsford, NH

Continued in #5: West Coast Defence 1942
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