Category Archives: Australia

So long Ozzie Hi-Powers…

The Australian government last week announced a sweeping new series of small arms to equip the Australian Defense Force, with SIG Sauer winning big.

As part of the Australian military’s $500 million LAND 159 Lethality System Project, the new outlay includes contracts to supply new sniper rifles, pistols, shotguns, personal defense weapons, and fighting knives to the ADF.

Replacing the island continent’s long-serving Browning Hi-Power Mk3s– one of the last Commonwealth countries still using the venerable old 13-shot single-action classic– will be the SIG Sauer P320 XCarry Pro. It is not the first military contract the XCarry has pulled down, in 2018 Denmark chose the pistol to replace the Swiss-made SIG P210 single-stacks used in that Scandinavian country for more than 70 years.

The SIG Sauer P320 XCarry Pro has been selected as the Royal Australian Army’s platform for the Sidearm Weapon System, which will replace the venerable Browning Mk3 pistol. It will be complemented with SIG’s Romeo Elite reflex sights, and a SIG Foxtrot 2 white light illuminator. (Photo: Australian Defense Force)

And that’s just the beginning….

More in my column at Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022: Bats, Retiring from the Line

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022: Bats, Retiring from the Line

Commonwealth of Australia/Royal Australian Navy image.

Above we see the Tribal (Arunta)-class destroyer HMAS Bataan (I91) of the Royal Australian Navy conducting a replenishment at sea in 1951 while dressed in her distinctive “Chicago Blue” scheme. A witness to the Japanese surrender in 1945, “Bats’” Korean War service was extensive, and she set out for home from her second stint off the coast of that peninsula some 70 years ago this week– only to be rewarded with early retirement.

Background on the Tribals

The Tribals were a new type of destroyer designed for the Royal Navy in the late 1920s to experience gained in the Great War and to match the large, modern escorts on the drawing boards of contemporary naval rivals of the time.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Huron (G24), in dazzle camouflage, sailing out to sea during the Second World War during one of her countless trans-Atlantic escorting runs. The Tribal-class destroyer, commissioned on July 28,1943, also served in the Pacific theatre during the Korean War under the new pennant number 216.

These 378-foot vessels could make 36+ knots on a pair of geared steam turbines and a trio of Admiralty three-drum boilers while an impressive battery of up to eight 4.7″/45 (12 cm) QF Mark XII guns in four twin CPXIX mountings gave them the same firepower as early WWI light cruisers (though typically just three turrets were mounted).

Gun crew on Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Algonquin cleaning up their 4.7″/45 (12 cm) Mark XII guns after firing at the Normandy Beaches on 7 June 1944. Note that the crewman kneeling in the rear is holding a 4.7″ (12 cm) projectile. Library and Archives Canada Photograph MIKAN no. 3223884

Some 32 Tribals were planned in eight-ship flights: 16 for the RN (named after tribal warriors: HMS Eskimo, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu, et. al), eight for the Royal Australian Navy, and eight for the Canadians. Of the Canadian ships, four were to be built by Vickers in the UK and the other four by Halifax shipyards in Nova Scotia. All the Canadian ships were to be named after First Nations tribes (Iroquois, Athabaskan, Huron, Haida, Micmac, Nootka, Cayuga, etc.)

An unidentified Tribal class destroyer in profile

We have discussed the very successful class in prior Warship Wednesdays (e.g., HMS Cossack and HMCS Haida) but relax, they are great ships with amazing histories.

Of the eight Tribals planned for Australia, only three– HMAS Arunta, HMAS Warramunga, and Bataan— were ever completed. All constructed at the Cockatoo (Island) Docks and Engineering Company near Sydney, Arunta and Warramunga joined the war in 1942 while Bataan would follow three years later, and the five others ultimately canceled.

HMAS Bataan was laid down on 18 February 1942 as the last Australian Tribal-class destroyer and was originally going to be named either HMAS Chingilli or HMAS Kurnai, but was renamed in response to the U.S. Navy’s christening in 1943 of the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Canberra (CA-70) in honor of the sunken County-class heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra, the latter lost to the Japanese alongside two American cruisers in the disaster at Savo Island the year prior. As such, she was the only Tribal not to be named after a people or nation of the British Empire (RAN Tribals were named for Aboriginal tribes.)

Mrs. Jean Marie MacArthur, the wife of General Douglas MacArthur, was invited to launch her.

Since she was completed three years after Arunta and Warramunga, Bataan was an updated version of her older sisters including a lattice foremast with an American SC pattern radar, and six single 40mm Bofors as close-range armament.

WWII

Following shakedown, Bataan put on a British destroyer pennant and sailed for the Philippines in July 1945 to join Task Force 74 in Subic Bay, then in company with sister Warramunga, made for Okinawa and the Japanese Home Islands with an eye to the sky, wary of kamikaze.

The Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Bataan (I91) anchored off Manila, Philippines, circn August 1945. She wears the British Pacific Fleet pennant number “D09”. Note her American SC radar fit on the foremast, different from most RN Tribals of the time which usually carried a British Type 268 Cheese antenna” set. Photo by Pte. M.V. Gulliver, AWM 134521.

On the morning of 31 August 1945, Bataan and Warramunga were part of the British Pacific Fleet ships that entered Tokyo Bay, screening the cruisers HMS Newfoundland, HMNZS Gambia, HMAS Shropshire, and HMAS Hobart. At 0930 on 2 September, they stood by for the formal surrender ceremony that took place on the battleship USS Missouri, which MacArthur, among others, attended.

Bataan soon got into the business of coming to the rescue of Allied POWs liberated post VJ-Day in addition to occupation and disarmament duties which kept her in Japanese waters until November. Then came a much less tense cruise home.

Crossing the line ceremony, 1945, via the AWM.

Korea

Returning to Japan on occupation duties in September 1946, Bataan would spend 17 months there in four different tours through 1949 and then would return in June 1950 for her fifth post-war cruise to the rebuilding country. As the North Korean Army crossed the 38th Parallel into South Korea on 25 June, Australia, under UN mandate, was soon in another war.

On 29 June 1950, Bataan, along with the River-class frigate HMAS Shoalhaven (K535) and the cruiser HMS Belfast as Task Group 96.8, was placed at the disposal of the British Far East Fleet commanded by RADM William Andrewes. The ships, joined by the RAAF’s No.77 Squadron– a P-51 Mustang squadron based in Japan– were Australia’s first contribution to the conflict.

Following duty escorting troop convoys from Japan to Korea, Bataan was carved off from the British fleet and joined TG 96.5 for the Pohang amphibious operation, screening the cruiser USS Juneau (CL-119), and clocking in with three American tin cans (Coller, Higbee, and Kyes) for NGFS.

On 1 August, Admiral Andrewes took Belfast and Bataan into the Haeju Man approaches to bombard the shore batteries guarding this potential source of enemy seaborne supply.

HMAS Bataan’s 4.7s in action

She would continue to lend her guns to the fight, supporting mine sweeping and counter-battery fire in the Kunsan approaches in September and covering the amphibious landings at Wonsan in October.

By the end of the year, she was operating in the freezing seas just 12 miles from the entrance of the Yalu under arctic conditions.

British Commonwealth destroyers moored off Yokosuka, Japan, after returning from combat patrols in Korean WatersThe phototo is dated 26 January 1951. The ships are (from left to right): HMAS Warramunga HMAS Charity, and HMAS Bataan. NH 90625

Supporting the fighting withdrawal from the Yalu after the New Year, operating in direct support of the U.S. 8th Army, her first Korean war tour ended on 18 May. During her 11-month deployment, Bataan was underway for more than 4,000 hours on active operations and steamed some 63,292 miles.

Following a seven-month refit and shakedown, Bataan deployed from Sydney in January 1952 for a second Korean tour, relieving HMAS Murchison at Kure the next month.

As noted by the RAN:

It was the familiar pattern on the west coast of Korea, blockade enforcement, shore bombardment and escort duty. The weather, true to the forebodings of old hands in the ship, was bleak and squally with temperatures down to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. On the night of her arrival Bataan was allocated a patrol between Sokto and Chodo, three miles from the enemy held mainland, for harassing fire support.

The patrolling was constant and enemy forces active. On 13 February the destroyer carried out her first air spot bombardment using spotters from HMS Glory to shell enemy troops encamped outside the village of Pungchon. Later the same day as dusk was falling a brief duel began between the ship and 75mm shore batteries, ending with silence from the enemy and a single hit on the captain’s day cabin after 78 rounds of 4.7-inch ammunition had started two fires on the battery positions. The patrol ended on 24 February with a heavy bombardment of enemy positions on the mainland opposite Hodo Island. 543 rounds of 4.7-inch and 75 rounds of 4-inch ammunition had been expended when the ship finally withdrew en route for Sasebo.

Curiously, the U.S. Navy was operating USS Bataan (CVL-29) off Korea while our HMAS Bataan was in the region.

USS Bataan (CVL-29), shown here underway in January 1952 with “Black Sheep” F4U-4B Corsair fighter-bombers of VMF-314 on board, was planned as the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Buffalo (CL-99), she was one of the Clevelands chosen for conversion into Independence-class light carriers and was therefore renamed from her traditional cruiser “city” moniker in honor of the Battle of Bataan. Commissioned on 17 November 1943, the flattop earned six battle stars for WWII and another seven for Korea. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-633888

And, in true naval history fashion, the two even worked together at least twice, in January 1951 and again in March-April 1952.

HMAS Bataan (I91) escorting USS Bataan (CVL-29) off the coast of Korea, April 17th, 1951. NHHC image.

In May 1952, Bataan served as a mothership for inshore daylight guerrilla raids by Wolfpack and Donkey partisan groups while firing 400 4.7-inch shells in close support, bombarding the enemy on eight occasions, leaving her skipper to note that the month was “never a dull moment.” Then came an extended period operating on the screen of the British carrier HMS Ocean.

Korea. Elevated port side view showing detail of the forward part of the destroyer HMAS Bataan (ex-HMAS Kurnai) (D191) as she receives personnel by highline from the aircraft carrier HMS ocean. Note forward twin 4.7-inch Mk XII guns in cp xix mountings, with the breeches of B mounting prominent and the 40 mm Bofors aa gun in the port bridge wing. Behind the bridge are the director control tower and rangefinder tower MK II with a Type 285 fire control radar mounted upon the latter. Note rope stowage in the blast screen forward of B mounting and Carley floats by the forward superstructure with paddles neatly arrayed. The screening destroyer in the background is HMS Consort. (Naval Historical Collection) AWM.

August saw her flirting with Typhoon Karen as she prepared to end her 2nd Korean deployment. On the books were 40,277 steaming miles fothese nine monthsod and arrived back at Sydney on 3 October. In all, she fired 3,462 rounds of 4.7-inch, 549 rounds of 4-inch, 8,891 rounds of 40mm, and 3,240 rounds of 2-pounder pom-pom ammunition in anger in 1950-52. This was only bettered in the war by her sister ship Warramunga.

Operating off the Korean coast, members of HMAS Bataan, load a 4.7 gun for firingin , August 1952. Note the soup bowl helmets but lack of flash gear. Pictured, left to right; Able Seaman A. P. ‘Jock’ Harley, Leading Seaman R. J. ‘Bob’ McArthur, Leading Seaman Hugh M. Currie (rear), and Able Seaman N. B. Cregan. AWM HOBJ3429.

Combat artist Frank Norton was aboard her in Korea and several of his works in which Bataan is at the center are in the AWM collection. On 7 August 1952, Norton was transferred at sea to HMAS Bataan (via helicopter from Ocean to HMS Newcastle than at sea to the destroyer by jackstay) to ride out the rest of the tin can’s last Korean patrol, including Typhoon Karen.

View from the deck of destroyer HMAS Bataan towards unidentified ships at anchor, small craft transferring men to USS Strong (DD-758), an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer of Task Force (TF) 77. Strong deployed to Korea from June to October 1952 and served with the United Nations Blockade and Escort Group on the west coast and was at Pusan, Songjin, and Wonsan.

Norton depicts part of RAN destroyer HMAS Bataan, with motor and sail junks manned by members of the Wolfpack irregular forces alongside. The RAN destroyer HMAS Bataan is not to be confused with the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Bataan.

A view of typhoon ‘Karen’ from the deck of the Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Bataan on the high seas, with unidentified ships on the horizon. In a letter to the Director of the Memorial in September 1952, Norton recalled ‘The day after joining “Bataan”, all ships on the coast were forced out to sea by Typhoon “Karen” – and rode out – the backlash of the storm. Norton strove to convey a sense of the Korean coastal landscape and weather during patrols. In his letter, he comments on the unpleasant conditions at sea caused by cramped living quarters and tropical weather.

Final hurrah!

Arriving back home from two lengthy Korean deployments, Bataan was selected for conversion to an anti-submarine escort destroyer in late 1952. This saw the deletion of her WWII anti-air suite, the fit of a Squid anti-submarine mortar, and the replacement of the foremast with a lattice structure. She would sail on exercises with RNZN ships and those of other SEATO members in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, roaming as far as Singapore.

In October 1953, sailing in conjunction with the carrier HMS Vengeance, Bataan would suffer an “intense cyclonic depression” that damaged the destroyer.

Patched up but with a wonky bow, six months later she would be part of the Royal escort for Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit to Australia.

HMS Ceylon escorts the Royal yacht SS Gothic along with HMAS Bataan (I91), HMAS Anzac (D59), and HMS Vengeance (R71), in April 1954.

Vengeance made the occasion unique.

As noted by the RAN, “On seeing the image taken of Vengeance, HM is reported to have commented that it was a most original forgery.'” Photo via the Robert Elliston Glasgow Collection – State Library of Western Australia.

Following that handover of Gothic to the cruisers HM Ships Colombo and Newfoundland in the Indian Ocean, on 5 April, during a replenishment at sea between Vengeance and Bataan off Cocos Island, the destroyer became entangled and cracked up in rough seas against the hull of the much larger carrier.

HMAS BATAAN in a terrifying jam – L.M. Hair, HMAS CERBERUS Museum.

HMAS CERBERUS MUSEUM COLLECTION 156 HMAS BATAAN and VENGEANCE photo L.M. Hair.

As detailed by the Naval Historical Society of Australia:

Former Chief Radio Electrician Bill Robertson, who was on board Bataan at the time, believes the collision was caused by a rogue wave which lifted Bataan’s bow and turned the ship towards Vengeance, when there were less than 10 tons of fuel left to transfer.

“The change in heading couldn’t be controlled by the quartermaster in time to avoid a collision,” he said. “The Venturi effect, so dreaded when two moving vessels are so close together, held Bataan’s port side in contact with Vengeance’s starboard side. “There was an imminent danger Bataan would roll over and be sucked under Vengeance.” Mr. Robertson said, as Bataan slowly slid aft, each time Vengeance rolled to starboard, her AA platforms came down on Bataan’s port superstructure. “Then the port side of the PO’s Mess, the ‘B’ gun deck, and the Bofors platform on the port side of the bridge were all crushed,” he said. “I remember thinking the noise sounded like the damage was going to be expensive.”

According to Mr. Robertson, only the quick thinking of CO Bataan CMDR Glenn Fowle saved the ship. “He ordered, ‘hard a’ port, full ahead together’,” he said. “This forced our bow into Vengeance while kicking the stern out. “When Bataan had pushed itself out to about 45 degrees, the CO ordered full astern together, which separated the ships but didn’t do the bow any favors. “At the time of the action I was on the starboard side of the bridge with a lifejacket in one hand and a roll of toilet paper in the other, somewhat unsure which had priority.”

Her bow banged up even further, Bataan paid off at Sydney on 18 October 1954, having steamed 279,395 miles since commissioning. Placed on the Disposal List, she was soon sold to a Japanese shipbreaker for demolition.

Epilogue

Several relics from the destroyer are in the Australian War Memorial collection including a Hinomaru signed by 55 of her crew in indelible purple ink on the occasion of the surrender of Japan in Tokyo Harbor on 2 September 1945.

The AWM also has her RAN Reports of Proceedings on file as well and the Memorial has digitized them. For reference, the Jan. 1950-Jan. 1952 file for Bataan is 231 pages alone.

Meanwhile, there are several markers to Bataan dedicated around Australia.

In 2021, a 1/72 scale model of Bataan, crafted from brass, copper, and aluminum over two years by one of her WWII vets, was put on display at the entrance to the Sea Power Centre – Australia’s Naval History Section in Canberra. 

Said her 95-year-old maker and former destroyerman, “I’m upset, looking at warships today. They are just steel boxes with a sharp end on them. There’s no shape to them, no flares, they’re not romantic, unlike Bataan,” and I cannot agree more.

As for Bataan’s sisters, both Arunta and Warramunga earned honors for WWII and Korea, then were paid off in the 1960s, experiencing a longer life than that seen by Bats. It is no surprise that these two ships topped 357,273 miles as steamed by Arunta and a half million miles steamed by Warramunga.

When it comes to her expanded Tribal-class family, no less than 12 of the 16 members in British service were lost during WWII and the remaining quartet paid off by 1949. All the Tribals in Canadian service were sold to the breakers by 1969 save for Haida who is the only member preserved as a museum ship, all others turned to razor blades.

Known as “Canada’s most-fightingest ship” Haida (DDE 215) is open to the public in Hamilton, Ontario. Like Bataan, she saw combat in both WWII and Korea, decommissioned in October 1963 after 20 years of hard service. (Parks Canada)

Specs:
Displacement:1,959 long tons (1,990 t) tons standard, 2,519 long tons (2,559 t) deep load
Length: 377 ft (114.9 m)
Beam: 37 ft 6 in (11.4 m)
Draught: 13 ft (4.0 m)
Propulsion:
2 shafts; 3-Admiralty 3 drum type boilers
2 × Parsons Marine geared steam turbines, 44,000 shp
Speed: 36.5 knots (maximum), 32 knots (service)
Complement: 259 (14 officers, 245 ratings)

Armament:

3 x 2 4.7-inch (119 mm)/45 QF Mark XII guns in twin Mark XIX mounts
1 x 2 4-inch (102 mm)/45 Mark XVI QF in twin mount
6 x 40mm Bofors
1 quad launcher with Mk.IX torpedoes (4 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes)
1 rail + 2 Mk.IV throwers (Mk.VII depth charges)


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Welcome back, HMS Anson

Yesterday’s Warship Wednesday profiled the final KGV-class battleship to join the Royal Navy, the sixth HMS Howe (32), and her WWII career which included a stint as the flagship of ADM Bruce Fraser’s British Pacific Fleet in 1944-45. We also touched on her sister, the seventh HMS Anson (79) which joined the fleet the same summer of 1942 as Howe.

HMS Anson dressed in Sydney Harbor for the Australia Day sailing regatta, 1946. The KGV-class fast battleship was commissioned in April 1942 but didn’t become operational until September, joining Convoy QP 14 on the Murmansk run. In all, she would watch over nine such convoys, support the Husky landings against Sicily, tag along on the Tungsten operation to sink Tirpitz and host RADM Cecil Harcourt’s liberation of Hong Kong in August 1945.

Like her four sisters that survived WWII, the battlewagon Anson would remain in mothballs until 1957 and was unceremoniously disposed of shortly after.

Well, the name Anson returned to the Admiralty’s list as the fifth of seven Astute-class hunter-killer submarines, commissioned yesterday into the Royal Navy at a ceremony at BAE Systems’ Barrow-In-Furness site. She had been christened in 2020 via a bottle of cider smashed against the hull– the drink favored by her namesake, 18th-Century Admiral George Anson, as a cure for scurvy.

Of interest, while both battleships Anson and Howe visited Australia in 1945 during the war, Royal Australian Navy submariners, as part of the AUKUS initiative to send SSNs down under, will join British crews to train on newly commissioned HMS Anson as announced yesterday by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. In reflecting this, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and a delegation of RAN officers attended Anson’s commissioning this week.

HMS Anson will join four other Astute class submarines in service with the Royal Navy –HMS Astute, HMS Ambush, HMS Artful, and HMS Audacious– all proud names carried by former vessels. Two further boats that echo historic battleship names – Agamemnon and Agincourt – are in various stages of construction at Barrow.

The Worst Night in U.S. Navy history at 80

USS Quincy (CA-39) photographed from a Japanese cruiser during the Battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal, 9 August 1942. Quincy, seen here burning and illuminated by Japanese searchlights, was sunk in this action (NH 50346).

Known today as the Battle of Savo Island British RADM Victor Crutchley’s Task group 62.6 cruiser and destroyer covering force, subordinated under U.S. ADM Richmond K. Turner for the amphibious landings at Guadalcanal, seemed mighty on paper: three Australian and five American cruisers, 15 destroyers, and some minesweepers.

The thing is, most were huddled around the beach and those that weren’t were separated into a number of smaller groups including:

  • Two tin cans on radar picket (USS Blue and USS Ralph Talbot)
  • A Southern cruiser group with the heavy cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago along with the destroyers USS Bagley and USS Patterson; and…
  • A Northern cruiser group with the heavy cruisers USS Vincennes, USS Quincy, and USS Astoria along with the destroyers USS Helm and USS Wilson.

Running a barricade to defend the landing beaches and ‘phibs, this immediate force of five Allied heavy cruisers and six destroyers– equipped with radar!– seemed a good match for Japanese VADM Gunichi Mikawa’s incoming striking group from Rabaul and Kavieng of five heavy cruisers (Chokai, Aoba, Furutaka, Kako, and Kinugasa) two light cruisers (Tenryu and Yubari) and the destroyer Yunagi.

Seemed.

However, ineffectively deployed into three separate and spread-out forces against Mikawa’s unified squadron, the Australian-American task group was sleepwalking with fatigued crews in the dark without properly using their radar (which was so new that tactics were still being developed for its use) and largely ignoring aerial spotting reports that should have warned the force while the Japanese, skilled in night fighting and armed with formidable Long Lance torpedos, took the Allies out with almost spooky ease, pounded to the seabed while fixed under the gaze of enemy searchlights.

Battle of Savo Island, 9 August 1942. cruisers USS Astoria (CA-34), USS Vincennes (CA-44), USS Quincy (CA 39) shown torpedo attack and shellfire from the Japanese cruisers. by John Hamilton NHHC

Japanese cruiser Yūbari shines searchlights toward the northern force of Allied warships during the battle of Savo island

Heavy cruiser Furutaka during the Battle of Savo Island.

“Night Battle of Savo Island by an unknown Japanese artist.”

In the short pre-dawn hour between 01:31 of 9 August 1942, when Mikawa ordered “Every ship attack” and 02:20 when he ordered them to retire, Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria, and Canberra were all mortally wounded while Chicago and two destroyers were very seriously damaged. Only two Japanese cruisers were damaged but could still make it back to base.

It was a mauling, an execution by large caliber shells at point blank range.

Canberra was hit at least 24 times. Astoria took 65 hits. Vincennes was struck an estimated 74 times. They were the first ships to be sunk in what today is named “Ironbottom Sound.”

HMAS Canberra’s last moments off Savo Island, 9th August 1942

Hits sustained by Astoria at the Battle of Savo Island off Guadalcanal on August 9, 1942

The Allies suffered at least 1,077 killed and missing while the Japanese a mere 58. 

Some 500 no doubt traumatized survivors of the lost American cruisers would be held under Marine guard at Treasure Island for weeks with orders not to talk about the defeat– something that only hit the papers back home nearly three months later. After all, nothing stays secret forever. 

James D. Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, covers this sad tale in great detail. See chapter “The Martyring of Task Group 62.6” in particular.

An interesting conversation on the battle from the Australian point of view– Canberra was the RAN’s largest warship loss in any conflict– the Naval Studies Group at the University of Canberra held a panel of Dr. Greg Gilbert, Vice Admiral Peter Jones, and Dr. Kathryn Spurling to discuss the engagement a few years ago.

Nightmare of the Papuan Jungle

This week marks 80 years since the start of the hell that was the Kokoda Campaign.

On the night of 21 July 1942, Japanese forces of the South Seas Detachment landed on the northern beaches of Papua at Gona and moved to cross the Kokoda Trail overland to reach Port Moresby. The first fighting occurred between the Japanese and elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion at Awala on 23 July.

July 23, 1942: Japanese troops move up Kokoda trail and clash with Australian forces. Painting by Japanese artist Kei Sato from 1943

This soon became a desperate and bloody fighting retreat– including several instances of bitter hand-to-hand combat– along the Trail that would stretch into mid-November is one of the most forgotten ground campaigns of WWII.

A patrol of the 2/31st Battalion negotiates a path through the native cane growing on the swampy river flats bordering the Brown River c 4 October 1942. A two-day rest at the river, during which time it was re-supplied by air, enabling an issue of tobacco and chocolate was “very beneficial”. The men were able to swim and wash their clothes, to light fires, and smoke at night for the first time since the campaign began more than three weeks before. In a month’s time, the 2/31st Battalion would become the first Australian troops to re-enter Kokoda.

Kokoda and the Aussies. Note the Owen SMG, Bren, No III Enfield SMLE rifle, posing among the captured Japanese helmets

Kokoda and the Aussies. Australian captured Japanese Type 11 mountain gun and Type 96 machine gun

As noted by the Australian War Memorial:

The Kokoda Trail fighting was some of the most desperate and vicious encountered by Australian troops in the Second World War. Although the successful capture of Port Moresby was never going to be a precursor to an invasion of Australia, victory on the Kokoda Trail did ensure that Allied bases in northern Australia, were vital in the coming counter-offensive against the Japanese, would not be seriously threatened by air attack. Approximately 641 Australians were killed along the Kokoda Trail and over 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000.

“The Kokoda Trail is one of the most iconic Australian campaigns of the Second World War,” Dr. Karl James, Head of Military History at the Australian War Memorial, said. “Eighty years on, it is important to continue to honor those veterans.”

These days, the Australian Army still takes jungle warfare seriously, conducting regular Butterworth training rotations in Malaysia to keep their skills sharp. 

C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment on Butterworth Rotation 136 in Malaysia, Aug 2022.

RIMPAC on Parade

You gotta love RIMPAC just for the sheer quantity of exotic vessels on display. This year’s exercise draws from 26 nations contributing 38 ships, four submarines, more than 170 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel from June 29 to Aug 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

How about this shot of a Zumwalt with two Canadian Halifax-class ASW frigates and an old British Type 23, now in Chilean service.

U.S. Navy Zumwalt-class destroyer USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001), Armada de Chile frigate Almirante Lynch (FF 07)– ex-HMS Grafton (F80)– along with the Royal Canadian Navy frigates HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338) and HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331), transits the Pacific Ocean to attend RIMPAC 2022. MC3 Megan Alexander

One of the neater aspects is the fact that four different USV platforms will be at work for this RIMPAC, highlighted in this image of three of them traveling in formation:

USV Nomad, Sea Hunter, and Ranger in formation RIMPAC 2022

USV Nomad

USV Sea Hunter

USV Ranger

Let’s look at some of the other interesting units showing up at Pearl this week.

HMAS Warramunga (FFH 152) of Australia. A German MEKO 200 design built in the late 1990s and much-modified with an Anti-Ship Missile Defence (ASMD) upgrade in 2014, as noted by her CEAFAR active electronically scanned array radars fitted.

French Floréal-class surveillance frigate, FS Prairial (F731).

JS Izumo (DDH-183) Japan’s new F-35 carrier

Martadinata-class frigate KRI I Gusti Ngurah Rai (332) of Indonesia, built to a Dutch design.

Patrulla Oceánica de Largo Alcance ARM Benito Juárez (F101) of Mexico. Built by ASTIMAR to a SIGMA 10514 design by Damen– much like the Indonesian frigate above– she is the first of the Reformador-class and carries U.S.-supplied weapons including Harpoons, an eight-cell MK56 VLS launcher for ESSMs, MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes with two MK 32 SVTT triple tube launchers, a Block II RAM, and a 57mm Bofors Mk 110. Keep in mind this is a 350-foot, 2,500-ton vessel. Why can’t the U.S. Navy have 30 of these instead of the LCS classes (and the Coast Guard use the same design for its 25 new Offhore Patrol Cutters?) What could have been, right?

ARM Usumacinta (A-412), of the Armada de México. If the LST looks familiar, she is the former American Newport-class tank landing ship USS Frederick (LST-1184), transferred in 2002. Looking pretty clean for a 54-year-old ‘phib.

ROKN Marado (LPH-6112) RIMPAC 2022

ROK South Korean submarine Sohn Won-yil, ROKS Shin Dol-seok (SS-082), complete with welcome lae

Remembering the ANZACs

While today at dawn is the 107th anniversary of the landings of the combined Australian-New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli in a bid to knock the Ottoman Turks out of the Great War, it is enshrined as a national day of remembrance in that two Oceanic countries, saluting fallen veterans of each “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”

In short, a combined Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

The landing at Anzac, Apr 25, 1915, Charles Dixon, New Zealand National Archives AAAC 898 NCWA Q388

With that, strike up the Waltzing Matilda and lift an outsized can of Fosters for any Kiwi or Ozzie you’ve run into in the past.

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022: Ozzie Bird Boat

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022: Ozzie Bird Boat

RAN Photo

Here we see something of an ugly duckling, the Royal Australian Navy’s seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross in Hobart around 1930 with five of her six early Supermarine Seagull amphibians aloft. She is considered by many to be the first aircraft carrier of the RAN, sparking a tradition that endures almost a century later.

Purpose-built for her role at the Cockatoo Docks, she was the size of a small cruiser, weighing some 7,000-tons (full load) on a 444-foot long steel hull. She was the largest ship built in dominion at the time. Powered by a quartet of Yarrow boilers driving a pair of Parsons steam turbines, she could make 22.5 knots which was reasonably fast for the age. She carried four QF 4.7-inch Mk VIII naval guns with two forward and two over her stern as well as a variety of Vickers 40mm pom-poms and .303-caliber machine guns, equivalent to a decently armed destroyer.

However, her primary purpose and armament was her airwing of up to nine (six active, three stowed in reserve) floatplanes or amphibians. These would augment and support the RAN’s two planned new Kent (County) class heavy cruisers, HMAS Australia (I84/D84/C01) and HMAS Canberra (I33/D33), who would also carry the same type of catapult-launched/crane recovered seaplanes as Albatross. In fact, it was felt that Albatross could operate in conjunction with those two cruisers in the Pacific, with the seaplane carrier forward deploying to anticipated areas in advance of the more capable surface ships to screen their operations with her aircraft. Besides, her cruise speed was the same rate as the warships. 

Her aviation facilities included safe stowage of 9,967 gallons of avgas– enough for at least 80 sorties for the planned floatplanes she would carry– a large forward hangar space, a centerline black powder catapult that launched over the bow, and two (later three) large cranes capable of lifting aircraft aboard.

The 1931 Jane’s entry for Albatross.

She was a much-updated revised design of the first seaplane/aircraft carrier, the Great War-era HMS Ark Royal.

Albatross, the only Australian warship ever named for the large and iconic seabird, was laid down in 1926 and commissioned on 23 January 1929.

The launch of the Royal Australian Navy’s first seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross on 23 February 1928 at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney. Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00035168

It was originally thought Albatross would carry and operate RAN’s fleet of six Fairey 111D seaplanes, which they had received starting in 1921. One was awarded the Britannia Trophy in 1924 by the Royal Aero Club for circumnavigating Australia in 44 days.

The Fairey III could carry up to 500 pounds of bombs as well as two .303 guns. When used in a pure recon role, sans bombs, they had a 1,500-mile range on 123 gals of gas, which was long legged for the 1920s. Here are IIIFs floatplanes of No. 47 Squadron on the Blue Nile at Khartoum before departing for a series of exploratory flights over Southern Sudan on 8 July 1930. The aircraft pictured are J9796, J9809, and J9802. RAF MOD Image 45163722

However, the Supermarine Seagull III, an amphibian design by Reginald Joseph Mitchell— father of the Spitfire– superseded the Fairy floatplane before Albatross entered the fleet, with nine of the flying boats delivered by 1927. Able to remain aloft for five-hour patrols, the Seagull III was the direct antecedent of the Walrus (Seagull V), one of the best amphibians of WWII. 

As explained by the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia in reference to the Seagull III:

A total of nine of these aircraft were delivered to the RAAF 101 Fleet Cooperation Flight, who worked closely with the RAN. Of the nine, two were wrecked in (separate) storms whilst at mooring, one crashed after entering a spin during a gunnery spotting exercise (fatal) and six survived for eventual retirement.

Six Seagulls were attached to HMAS Albatross in 1929, but their low freeboard and relatively low powered engine gave poor performance at sea, including the ability to only operate in relatively low sea states.

Wings folded, a Seagull Mk III is lowered onto the foredeck of “Australia’s first aircraft carrier,” the seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross, RAN 1929-1938. Notes on photo: HMAS CERBERUS Museum. It has been kindly made available to the Unofficial RAN Centenary 1911-2011 photo stream courtesy of the Curator, Warrant Officer Martin Grogan RANR. The photo also appears in Topmill Pty Ltd book ‘Aircraft Carriers and Squadrons of the Royal Australian Navy [Topmill, Sydney] edited by Johnathan Nally, p8; also, in Ross Guillett’s book ‘Wings Across the Sea [Aerospace Publications, Canberra 1988] p33.

A great image showing much detail of Albatross’s amidships as she lifts a Seagull Mk III aboard. Note the Naval Number 0 five-cross flag flying, and her two deck guns sandwiched among her cranes. Image via State Library of NSW

A Seagull III amphibian moored in calm water via FAAA

Note the 4.7-inch guns, which surely proved a hassle to plane operations. Nonetheless, she would use them for NGFS at Normandy. 

Although she never operated with more than nine aircraft, measurements of her hangar deck allowed for as many as 14 folded Seagulls.

Albatross’s RAN career was not lengthy, with LCDR Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd)’s Naval History Homepage detailing that she completed trials and workups in 1929 to include embarking the Governor-General and wife for a visit to the Australian Mandated Territories in the Pacific then completed a series of local deployments. The next couple of years were spent in a cycle of winter cruises to the New Guinea area, spring cruises in coastal Australian waters, and various fleet exercises.

HMAS Albatross seen at the fleet exercise area in Hervey Bay, Queensland, “we think this image may have been taken around 1931.” Photo: Collection of the late CPO Bill Westwood, courtesy John Westwood, RANR 1965-1967. 

HMAS Albatross craning an amphibian aboard.

HMAS Albatross maneuvering away from Garden Island dockyard (RAN image)

HMAS Albatross. State Library of Victoria – Allan C. Green collection

She was a very beamy ship

Two Supermarine Seagull III amphibians taxi near HMAS Albatross at Hervey Bay, QLD. (RAN image)

In April 1933, her Seagulls were disembarked, and the vessel was reduced to reserve status, used occasionally to tend visiting seaplanes. While in reserve in 1936 she was briefly reactivated for the installation and testing of a new catapult then returned to storage.

In 1937, the Australian government brokered a deal to swap the still very young and low-mileage Albatross to the British Admiralty in partial payment for the recently completed Leander-class light cruiser HMS Apollo, soon to be the HMAS Hobart (D63). The cruiser arrived in Australia at the end of 1938– and went on to earn eight battle honors for her WWII service: “Mediterranean 1941”, “Indian Ocean 1941”, “Coral Sea 1942”, “Savo Island 1942”, “Guadalcanal 1942”, “Pacific 1942–45”, “East Indies 1940”, and “Borneo 1945,” while Albatross, recommissioned 19 April 1938, waved goodbye to Sydney for the last time that July.

HMAS Albatross about 1938, likely on her way to England. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Meet HMS Albatross

Arriving at Portsmouth in September 1938, Albatross was paid off by the Australians and officially transferred to the Royal Navy, a force that promptly put her in reserve with a wartime mission being to provide air surveillance with a force of Walrus amphibians. Her reserve time would be short, as she was fully manned and commissioned as HMS Albatross in June 1939 on the lead-up to Hitler marching into Poland.

Outfitted with six (later nine) Walruses of 710 Naval Air Squadron, she was dispatched in September 1939 to West Africa with a homeport at Freetown– along with visits to Bathurst in the Gambia and French naval base at Dakar– tasked with searching for German blockade runners, U-boats, and commerce raiders plying the South Atlantic.

Artwork, Supermarine Walrus MKI RN FAA 710NAS 9F HMS Albatross W2771. Note the Walrus was a pusher type rather than the Seagull III’s tractor type, and had an enclosed cabin.

HMS ALBATROSS (FL 3052) Underway, coastal waters. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120269

When France fell in June 1940, Albatross carried Jutland veteran RADM George Hamilton D’Oyly Lyon (CiC Africa Station) to Dakar to try and negotiate the neutralization of the French Fleet there, and her aircraft shadowed the incomplete but still dangerous battleship, Richelieu.

Except for a brief refit in Mobile, Alabama, Albatross would maintain her quiet Freetown outpost station for 31 months until, fresh from her Dixie overhaul, she was assigned to the East Indies Station in May 1942 for trade defense against the Japanese and long-ranging German and Italian raiders/submarines.

Notably, she detached one of her planes at Trinidad (Supermarine Walrus W2738 9A ‘Audrey III’), designated 710 NAS ‘Y’ Flight, which proceeded to the Falklands to provide that island chain its sole air defense/patrol asset for the first part of 1942 against the (remote) possibility of a Japanese naval assault on the windswept South Atlantic colony. 

After sailing around the Cape of Good Hope with convoy WS18– and dodging Axis minefields– she was soon part of South African-born RADM Edward Syfret’s Force H for Operation(s) Ironclad/Stream Line Jane, the seizure of the Vichy French colony of Mayotte, the port of Diego-Suarez, and the island of Madagascar, where the Japanese hoped to base long-ranging Kaidai-type submarines.

The extended Madagascar operation was a sideshow, historically significant as it was the first British amphibious assault since the disastrous landings in the Dardanelles in 1915. During the seven-month campaign, Albatross provided care and feeding for her pack of 710 NAS Walruses used in ASW patrols against Japanese RADM Noboru Ishizaki’s 8th Submarine Squadron and five locally-based Vichy subs as Syfret had the large the aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Indomitable— equipped with a mix of Martlets, Albacores, and Swordfish– for heavy lifting and to cover the landings themselves.

Embarrassingly, the old battleship HMS Ramillies was heavily damaged while in the “protected” Diego-Suarez harbor at the end of May after Japanese midget submarines, launched from IJN I-16 and I-20, penetrated the layered defenses.

USN ONI image of Albatross 1942 with a CVS (carrier, anti-submarine) designation

Post-Madagascar, Albatross would continue her Indian Ocean service as a headquarters and combined operations training ship at Bombay until July 1943 when, as the Japanese threat to the region had receded, she was sent back to European waters. The Walruses of 710 Squadron were put ashore at Kilindini and ferried to Nairobi before the ship sailed without aircraft, the squadron disbanding at RNAS Lee-on-Solent soon after arrival.

Arriving at Devonport in September, Albatross was paid off for conversion from a seaplane tender to a floating repair ship, a change that included the removal of her catapult and forward main armament while her hangar space was converted to workshops. As she would be sent in harm’s way still, a Type 286 air search radar was fitted as was a half dozen Oerlikons.

Assigned to Force S for the upcoming Operation Neptune, the RN’s support of the D-Day landings at Normandy, she was part of the huge invasion fleet on 6 June 1944 on “The Longest Day.” Her role would be to help install and tend the Gooseberry 5 (Sword Beach) breakwater while plying her repair services there for small craft.

She had a busy month, as noted by Mason, logging an air attack from a German Me109, taking shore fire that killed one rating, providing naval gunfire support and AAA defense of the anchorage, surviving the infamously fierce gale of 19 June, and saving 79 craft from total loss while enabling 132 others to resume service off the beachhead.

By July, Albatross was given a short break to resupply and was then back at it, working repairs off Juno Beach. There, in the pre-dawn darkness of 11 August, she was hit by a new type of German long-range/low-speed circling torpedo– a G7e/TIIID Dackel (dachshund) fired by S-boats (S79, S97, and S177 engaged in the attack, with 10 torpedos fired) of out of Le Harve that killed 66 men and left her with a 15-degree list.

Towed to Portsmouth by a “Free Dutch” salvage tug, Albatross spent most of the remainder of the war under repair with the eye to keep her around as a minesweeper tender. However, as the conflict soon wound down, on 3 August 1945 she was paid off to the reserve and laid up at the Isle of Wright.

Post War career

Placed on the Disposal List in 1946, she was sold to the South Western Steam Navigation Company for continued merchant use. Initially named SS Pride of Torquay in line with a plan to convert her to a floating casino by the Chatham Dockyards, in October 1948 she was bought at auction by the Greek-owned China Hellenic Lines, and she soon became SS Hellenic Prince, ostensibly to recognize the birth of Prince Charles in November, himself the son of Greek nobility, WWII-naval veteran Prince Phillip. Her bread and butter would be to carry World War II refugees to new lives abroad.

SS Hellenic Prince

Reuben Goossens, who details the lives of classic 20th Century liners, has an interesting page covering Hellenic Prince’s short career with the CHL and Pacific Salvage Co. Ltd, which included turning “migrant voyages into a living hell” from Europe to Australia that included allegations of mutiny and a stint as a troopship taking Commonwealth ground forces to Kenya to fight the Mau Mau.

He notes this about the vessel:

The completed 6.558 GRT (Gross Registered Tons) SS Hellenic Prince was certainly no luxury liner, was able to accommodate up 1,200 persons in 200 cabins and dormitories with up to 20 persons, as well some eight and some 4 bunk cabins all having the most basic of facilities, yet all accommodations were fully air-conditioned. The spacious Dining Room seated 560 persons and this venue at certain times also was used as a lounge area, for there were no formal lounges, but there were two Cinemas for entertainment. In the three bays of her hangar deck there were three separate Hospitals – one for men, one for women, and an isolation Ward for sick children who would most likely have come out of one of the concentration camps of post-war Europe.

SS Hellenic Prince (former HMAS Albatross), in rough condition, between 1949 and 1951. State Library of Victoria.

Sold to a British Ship-breaker in 1954, ex-HMAS/HMS Albatross was broken up in Hong Kong where she arrived in tow on 12th August 1954. As far as I can tell, there is little that remains of her in terms of relics.

A Portuguese sister?

Portuguese Navy Capt. Artur de Sacadura Freire Cabral was famed for the first flight across the South Atlantic Ocean in 1922– a 5,200nm trip from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro that took 79 days to log 62 hours of flight time! His aircraft was dubbed Lusitania, a Fairey III-D seaplane specifically outfitted for the journey and, if you remember, the same type of aircraft the Australians intended to operate from HMAS Albatross.

Portugal this month celebrated the centennial of that feat. 

Sadly, Cabral would disappear two years later while flying over the foggy English Channel and never be recovered.

In a salute to him, the Portuguese Navy in 1931 planned the acquisition of a seaplane tender based on Albatross to be constructed at an Italian yard. To be built at Cantieri Riunii dell Adriatico at Trieste as part of an extensive naval shipbuilding program, funding was never realized and all we have is the 1931 Jane’s entry for the vessel.

Sacadura Cabral, based on HMAS Albatross, per Janes.

Epilogue

Albatross is remembered in Australia via a variety of maritime art.

HMAS Albatross operating her Sea Gull III amphibian aircraft. Painting by Phil Belbin. (RAN Naval Heritage Collection)

HMAS Albatross watercolor by John Alcott. AWM ART28074

The Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, including four squadrons of helicopters (723, 725, 808, and 816) along with one of UAVs (822X Squadron), and the Fleet Air Arm Museum, are located at a shore establishment near Nowra, New South Wales. The base, originally formed in 1942 by the Royal Australian Air Force as RAAF Nowra, was transferred to the RAN in 1944 and commissioned in 1948 as HMAS Albatross, recognizing the name of the old seaplane carrier.

RAN MH-60R crew with 725 Squadron at HMAS Albatross

Further, the RAN would revisit aircraft carrier operations with the Colossus-class light aircraft carrier HMS Vengeance (as HMAS Vengeance, from 1952 to 1955) along with the Majestic-class light aircraft carriers HMS Majestic (as HMAS Melbourne, from 1955 to 1982) and HMS Terrible (as HMAS Sydney from 1948 to 1973), spanning a solid 34 years of running fixed-wing flattops.

Today, the RAN’s pair of Canberra-class LHDs, big ships of some 27,500-tons and 757-feet overall length, can carry as many as 18 helicopters and it is thought they could eventually operate F-35B models, continuing the legacy the humble Albatross began a century ago.

September 2021, HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

Specs:

As seaplane tender/carrier
Displacement: 4,800 tons (standard), 7,000 full
Length 443 ft 7 in
Beam: 58 ft molded, 77.75 ft at sponsons
Draft:
1930: 16 ft 11.5 in
1936: 17.25 ft
Propulsion: 4 × Yarrow boilers, 2 x Parsons Turbines, 12,000 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 22 knots
Range:
4,280 nm at 22 knots; 7,900 nm at 10 knots on 942 tons of oil
Complement: 29 RAN officers, 375 RAN sailors, 8 RAAF officers, 38 RAAF enlisted
Armament:
4 x 120/40 QF Mk VIII guns
2 x single 2-pounder (40-mm) pom-poms (later replaced by quadruple pom-poms in 1943)
4 x 47/40 3pdr Hotchkiss Mk I saluting guns
Aircraft carried: 9 aircraft (six actives, three reserves)

As Hellenic Prince (1949-54, Lloyd’s specs)
Tonnage: 6.558 GRT.
Length: 443.7 ft
Width: 61ft
Draught: 17.25 ft
Propulsion: 4 × Yarrow boilers, Parsons Turbines, 12,000 SHP
Speed: 17 knots service speed, 22 maximum.
Passengers: around 1,000, but up to 1,200 maximum in Steerage.
Crew: 250


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Saluting AB Clark, late of HMAS Sydney

From the office of the Australian Defense Minister:

Eighty years after the Australian warship HMAS Sydney (II) sunk off the West Australian coast, the only body recovered from the tragedy has now been identified.

New DNA evidence has confirmed Able Seaman (AB) Thomas Welsby Clark from New Farm in Brisbane as the previously unidentified sailor.

The Sydney sank on 19 November, 1941 following an intense battle with the disguised German merchant raider HSK Kormoran, about 120 nautical miles (222 km) west of Steep Point, WA.

AB Clark is believed to be the only sailor to have made it to a life raft after the ship went down.

Despite surviving the battle and the sinking, he tragically died at sea in the life raft. His remains were found near Rocky Point on Christmas Island nearly three months later.

DNA samples collected from his body in 2006 have been extensively tested over the past 15 years and revealed both mitochondrial DNA, passed from mother to child, and Y chromosome DNA passed from father to son.

Research facilitated by the Sea Power Centre – Australia has successfully identified two living direct relatives.

Minister for Veterans Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel Andrew Gee said the formal identification was a significant development in Sydney’s story and an historic moment for Australia.

“To finally learn Tom’s name, rank, service number and home town, 80 years after he was lost is truly remarkable”, Minister Gee said.

“It is says a lot about Australia that, despite the decades that have passed, our nation is still working so hard to identify those lost in war and ensuring we honour the sacred commitment to remember them.

“I know this is a terribly sad time for Tom’s family. Like his brave shipmates, he died defending Australia, our values and way of life. His family should be immensely proud.

“The Office of Australian War Graves has agreed that next year Tom’s grave in Geraldton War Cemetery will be marked by a new headstone bearing his name. He will be ‘unknown’ no longer.

“By identifying Tom, our nation honours all those who lost their lives in HMAS Sydney (II).

“His story helps Australia understand the immense sacrifice made for our country and also the loss and grief that is still felt by the descendants of those who perished on that day.

“Today our nation also extends its deepest sympathies to the descendants of the 644 other crew members who were sadly never recovered after that infamous battle.

“They gave their lives protecting our nation and fighting tyranny, and by ending the threat posed by the Kormoran they undoubtedly saved many other Australian lives.

“At this time we remember them and all of the 39,000 Australians who lost their lives in the Second World War.”

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mike Noonan said AB Clark was just 21 years old when he died and was representative of the many young lives lost in the battle.

“Of Sydney’s total complement of 645 men no one survived. This included six Royal Australian Air Force members, eight Royal Navy personnel and four civilian canteen staff. Eighty-two officers and sailors were killed in Kormoran,” said Vice Admiral Noonan.

“We revere the service and sacrifice of all who perished.

“Solving this World War II case involved specialists in DNA analysis, forensic pathology and dentistry, ballistics, anthropology, archaeology and naval history. I commend the combined effort spearheaded by the Sea Power Centre to confirm AB Clark’s identity.

“The Australian Federal Police National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons was instrumental, as were the Australian National University, Australian War Memorial, University of Adelaide and University of Sydney, not to mention Able Seaman Thomas Clark’s family.”

“His long voyage is complete, may he Rest in Peace.”

Dr Leigh Lehane, (a retired academic) was surprised and saddened to learn her Uncle Tom was the unknown sailor.

“To be quite honest it was a bit upsetting,” she said.

However, she said establishing the truth was important.

“I am so grateful for the many, many people, well over a hundred, who helped ascertain the truth about his identity,” Dr Lehane said.

She was born in July 1941, the month before her Uncle Tom joined Sydney. According to a family story he met his new niece on a final visit to Brisbane.

“He came and held me as a little baby. That’s a very pleasurable thought because I don’t think anyone else is alive now who knew Tom sort of eye to eye,” Dr Lehane said.

To Find a Path

77 Years Ago Today:

Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. 1944-11-06. Members of B Company, 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion aboard the former Hawkesbury River (New South Wales) vehicular ferry, the Frances Peat, which is to transport them to Pomio Village where the unit is to establish its headquarters. Identified personnel is company Sergeant Major Kube (with machete).

Note the machetes, Owen SMGs, No. III Lee-Enfields, dog tags, and British kit– along with not much else. Interestingly, many of the men have bicep dressings, possibly from recent inoculations. AWM Photo 076702 https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/076702

One of four battalions raised in New Guinea during WWII, 1 NGIB was formed in March 1944 from a cadre that had been in the ranks as early as 1942 and soon started deploying company-sized elements in support of combat operations on Bougainville and on New Guinea, where their particular skillset was in high-demand in the thick jungle.

The unit was folded into the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment (RPIR) before being disbanded in June 1946.

Reformed in 1951 as part of the Australian Army, the RPIR became part of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) in 1975 and carried the battle honors of the old 1 NGIB on its crest. In an ode to their old task of ranging and scouting, the RPIR’s motto today is “To Find a Path.”

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