A last haven for guns that would have otherwise been scrapped by authorities, an Australian firearms museum is now confronted with the possibility they may have to mutilate their own collection.
The Lithgow Small Arms Factory, which crafted Australian Lee-Enfields from 1912 into the 1950s when they switched to making inch-pattern semi-auto FAL rifles, is an icon in the country.
Some two decades ago, a non-profit group turned portions of the facility into a museum to preserve both the factory and historic Australian firearms. Staffed by volunteers, they take legally in unregistered guns during national firearm amnesty periods rather than have them torched by police. “We exist for the community and display a range of artifacts of historical, educational and community value,” the museum said.
In short, they gave scarce guns a forever home.
Now, they may have to butcher their holdings– which is already under tight security controls and deactivated via trigger locks and removed firing pins– to the point that the often-rare and in many cases unique guns “will be reduced to a metal blob rather than a genuine firearm.”
First flown in 1959, some 757 P-3 Orions were made by Lockheed and Kawasaki by 1990. The Royal Australian Air Force got into the P-3 biz in 1968, one of the first non-U.S. users, when No 11 Squadron started flying the type. In all, 10 P-3C Update II Orions replaced No 10 Squadron’s aging SP2H Neptunes in 1978 while 11 Squadron’s P-3Bs were in turn phased out by 10 P-3C Update II.5 Orions in 1984–85.
In 1997, 18 of the legacy P-3C models were upgraded to the country’s unique AP-3C Orion variants, which have continued to operate. In all, the type put in an impressive 50 years in Cold War ASW keeping tabs on Soviet subs, long-range SAR (two wrecked yachtsmen in the Vendee Globe race were located 1,200 miles from shore in 1996 by a P-3), and support missions all over the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
The RAAF is replacing the type with 12 Boeing P-8 Poseidon (8 of which have been delivered) and as many as 8 MQ-4C Triton UAVs.
One survivor, AP-3C Orion #A9-659, is slated to be handed over to the Australian War Memorial in flying condition to preserve.
Built in 1985, it took its final flight on 28 June 2018, having accumulated 16,800 flight hours. 659 spent three solid decades undertaking operations with the RAAF, including during the Cold War and in East Timor. In 2003 it was one of the first aircraft to deploy to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper.
It also conducted the first Australian P-3C operational combat mission over Iraq during Operation Falconer on 16 March 2003. The craft also took part in the 2014 search for Malaysian Airlines MH370, the largest and longest-range airborne maritime search operation ever conducted.
P-3s are still flown by Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand (who is set to fly them through 2025) as well as 15 other countries. The U.S. Navy continues to fly increasingly limited numbers of P-3C Baseline III Orions until Poseidon is fully fielded.
Commissioned 29 June 1933, HMS Amphion was a Leander-class light cruiser in the Royal Navy. In 1939, she was reborn in a sense and her name was changed to HMAS Perth (D29) on the occasion of her transfer to the Royal Australian Navy.
Her RAN career was tragically short. After much sharp service in the Med during the whole Crete debacle, she was sent back home to assist in the defense of Australia.
After surviving the hell of the Battle of the Java Sea, she picked up four Japanese torpedoes in the space of a few minutes at the midnight pitch-black engagement at Sunda Strait on 1 March 1942.
Of her 681 souls aboard, 353 were killed in battle. Her survivors may have been spared from Posideon’s grasp but had to endure three years as Japanese POWs, with nearly half never seeing home again.
Even her hulk, stripped over the years by unlicenced Indonesian marine salvagers who used explosives to break her apart on the seafloor, was desecrated.
However, her 1939 bell, cast to commemorate her new life in the RAN, was located in Indonesia by Australian wreck diver David Burchell and returned through the auspices of the government in 1978.
The Australian War Memorial on Friday, on the 77th anniversary of her loss, held a special Last Post Ceremony in honor of HMAS Perth, including the striking of the ship’s bell.
Recently four of Australia’s six home-grown Collins-class diesel-electric submarines were spotted frolicing in the West Australian Exercise Area northwest of Rottnest Island near Cockburn Sound. The quartet, HMAS Collins (S73), HMAS Farncomb (S74), HMAS Dechaineux (S76) and HMAS Sheean (S77) were taking part in exercises Lungfish 2019 and Ocean Explorer 2019 in the Indian Ocean.
Able to “snort” at a shallow depth for just a few minutes in a 24-hour period to keep their batteries topped off, the sight of four of these modern SSKs in formation on the surface is rare.
Not to let a good time go to waste, the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN 763) joined in on the synchronized swimming.
The below shows the interesting sight of American Wayne Anderson’s replica Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker triplane in Australia for a trans-Australia air race, cuddled among camouflaged Royal Australian Air Force Mirage IIID and IIIO(A) strike fighters at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales, October 1976.
The Mirages in the back of the photo are from No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit, the RAAF’s storied fighter training unit, and sport their traditional flash and striking period camo.
The Mirages in the foreground belong to 77 Sqn, which formed in 1942 and flew Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawks over Northern Australia, downing the first Japanese Betty ever shot down over the continent. They later moved with the tide of the war over New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies, flying the borderline obsolete P-40 right until the last days of the war. They later switched to P-51 Mustangs and Gloster Meteors over Korea before switching to Australian-made F-86 Sabre variants that they flew during the Malayan Confrontation and on to the Mirage, which they flew from 1969 to 1988 when they transitioned to the F-18. They are still stationed at Williamtown.
As for Anderson and his Fokker, I can’t find much information on him other than the fact that his was one of some 179 private planes, mostly light single-engined aircraft, that took part in the 1976 Benson & Hedges Australian Air Race from Perth to Sydney, covering some 2,400 miles in four days between 19-23 October.
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time 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 (on a Thursday), Dec. 13, 2018: Franz Ferdinand’s Pacific platypus slayer
Here we see the Kaiser Franz Joseph I-class “torpedo ram cruiser,” SMS (Seiner Majestät Schiff =His Majesty’s Ship) Kaiserin Elisabeth, of the Austro-Hungarian k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, probably soon after her completion in November 1892 while in the Adriatic. She would have a history filled with oddities.
Laid down at Marinearsenal Pola in June 1888 for the dual monarchy’s navy, her only sister, SMS Kaiser Franz Joseph I, was named for the country’s tragic emperor. Old Franz Josef, had lost his brother, Maximillian, after the Mexicans stood him up against a wall in 1866. His only son, Rudolph, died in 1889 in the infamous Mayerling Incident. His wife, Elisabeth, a German princess, had been Empress of Austria for 44 years when she was stabbed to death by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva in 1898.
It was for said consort that our cruiser was named, although she was very much alive at the time of the ship’s construction.
Just 4,500-tons, the 340-foot (overall) torpedo ram cruiser named for the ill-fated Empress earned her designation from the fact that she carried a ram bow (a weapon the Austrians had used to good effect at the Battle of Lissa just two decades earlier) and four 14-inch deck-mounted trainable torpedo launchers for early Whitehead-style fish. That is not to say that she did not carry a decent gun armament, as it should be noted that she carried a pair of 9.4-inch Krupp breechloaders as well as a number of short-barrel 5.9-inch guns.
However, being a steam warship for the 1880s, she was not very fast, capable of only 19-knots when all 8 of her boilers were aglow with Bohemia’s finest coal. Her bunkers could carry over 600-tons of the latter, which enabled her to steam some 3,500nm between station. This set up Kaiserin Elisabeth for overseas service.
Commissioned 24 January 1892, by the next year she was headed to wave Austria’s flag in the Far East.
Although the country had no colonies, Austria was allied to Germany who had several territories in both Africa and the Pacific, which allowed the cruiser ample opportunities for coaling.
Her first mission: take the Kaiser’s cousin and then second in line to the throne, a young Franz Ferdinand, on a world tour that included stops in India, Ceylon, and other points East. (Franz Ferdinand’s father, Karl Ludwig, was at the time first in line to the throne but died of typhoid fever in 1896, leaving Franz to become Archduke).
In May 1893, Kaiserin Elisabeth made port at Sydney, where aboard was Ferdinand, along with other such personages as the Archduke Leopold of Tuscany. As told The Monthly, an Australian magazine, in a 2011 issue, for the next several weeks Ferdinand and company, “accompanied only by his personal taxidermist, three counts, a major-general, the Austrian consul,” et.al. took over 300 animals on a series of great hunts across the Australian continent including kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and at least one likely very surprised platypus for which the Archduke had a “burning desire” to take.
Kaiserin Elisabeth went on become involved in Chinese politics and landed forces in 1900 along with the Austrian cruisers Zenta, Maria Theresia and Aspern to take part in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance.
The two-year conflict netted Vienna a paltry 150-acre concession from the failing Manchu Dynasty in the city of Tianjin in 1902, which was duly protected by a platoon of Austrian marines. During the Boxer Rebellion, the commander of the Austrian force, RADM Count Rudolf Monecuccoli, used Kaiserin Elisabeth as his flagship. He would in 1904 go on to become Marinekommandant (Navy Commander) and Chef der Marinesektion (Chief of the Naval Section of the War Ministry), so it was evidently a good stepping stone for him.
Returning to Europe, Kaiserin Elisabeth underwent a major two-year refit and modernization starting in 1905 after more than a decade of hard service including two extensive world cruises. This saw the replacement of her dated Krupp 9.4-inch guns with a pair of long-barreled 5.9-inch L/40 K.96s. This gave her a broadside of five 5.9-inch guns on each side, with three ahead and three astern. Her sister, which became a harbor defense ship at Cattaro, had a similar refit.
Caught in the German Chinese colony of Tsingtau when the Great War kicked off, Kaiserin Elisabeth originally didn’t have anything to fear from the growing Japanese fleet that was massing just offshore. This changed when Japan declared war on Austria-Hungary on August 25, 1914– two days after the Empire of the Rising Sun did so on Germany.
While the Germans managed to evacuate most of the ocean-going warships from the harbor during the Japanese ultimatum prior to the balloon going up, the elderly and, by 1914 obsolete, Austrian cruiser was left behind along with the small German coastal gunboats and torpedo craft Iltis, Jaguar, Luchs, Tiger, and S-90. The stripped and crewless old German Bussard-class unprotected cruiser SMS Cormoran (2,000-tons), was also in the harbor, but her crew had already beat feet with the condemned ship’s guns and vital equipment in a captured Russian steamer that assumed the latter’s name.
When the Japanese siege began, Kaiserin Elisabeth‘s 5.9-inch and 3-pounders were removed and mounted ashore in what became known as “Batterie Elisabeth.”
During this period, as the largest ship in the defender’s hands, she suffered no less than three ineffective air raids including the first documented attack by a ship-based airplane when Japanese Navy Maurice Farman seaplanes from the seaplane carrier Wakamiya dropped small bombs around her. If the curiosity of French balsa-wood flying machines piloted by English-trained Japanese pilots bombing an Austrian warship crewed largely by Yugoslavs (and commanded by Hungarians) in a German-held port in China doesn’t make you shake your head, I don’t know what will.
An abortive sortie out of the harbor by the partially disarmed cruiser failed, although it did allow the crew of the German torpedo boat S-90 to escape to nearby Nanking– after she sank the Japanese mine cruiser Takachiho (3,700-tons).
One by one, as the Japanese grew closer, the bottled up Austro-German ships were scuttled and Kaiserin Elisabeth was no exception, being sent to the bottom by her own crew on 2 November 1914, just two days before the city fell.
In all, more than 300 members of Kaiserin Elisabeth‘s crew that survived the siege became Japanese prisoners, with most of them held at Camp Aonogahara, near Kobe, for the duration of the war. They only returned to Europe in 1920– to a country that no longer existed. As for Franz Josef, he died in 1916 while Elisabeth‘s crewmen were in Japanese EPW camps. As for Tianjin, it was indefensible and the Chinese took it over in 1917 after the formality of a bloodless declaration of war.
For our cruiser, she is remembered in maritime art:
Displacement: 4,494-tons FL
Length: 340 ft 3 in
Beam: 48 ft 5 in
Draught: 18 ft 8 in
Propulsion: 2 triple expansion engines, 8 boilers, 8,450 ihp at forced draft, two shafts
Speed: 19 knots (near 20 on trials)
Range: 3,500 nm on 600 tons coal (max)
Complement: Listed as between 367 and 450, although only had 324 at Tsingtau.
Armor: Up to 4 inches at CT, 2.25-inches deck
2 × 9.4 in (24 cm)/35
6 × 5.9 in (15 cm)/35
2 × 66 mm (2.6 in)/18
5 × 47 mm SFK L/44 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
4 × 4.7 cm L/33 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
3 × 3.7 cm L/23 Hotchkiss guns
2 x 5.9 in (15 cm)/L/40 K.96
6 × 5.9 in (15 cm)/35
16x 47 mm SFK L/44 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
4 × 360mm (14 in) torpedo tubes
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If you are in the market for some pre-owned warships, the Royal Australian Navy wants to make a deal. Working through a commercial service, the Navy advertised the HMAS Hawkesbury and HMAS Norman for sale “Sold As Is Where Is.”
The 172-foot long mine hunters have composite hulls designed to “flex inwards if an undersea explosion occurs nearby,” which is always a good thing.
Built in 2000 as part of a six-ship class to an Italian design (Lerici-class, the same as the U.S. Navy’s short-lived Osprey-class MHCs) both Hawkesbury and Norman were laid up in 2011 and have been in storage ever since while the other four ships have remained with the fleet.
Sadly, it looks like their DS30B 30mm Bushmaster cannons and M2 .50-cal machine guns have been removed, but the vendor offering them for sale suggests they could be turned into luxury yachts or charter vessels.
Not mentioned is a Jacques Cousteau/Steve Zissou-style recycle.
No price is listed but the vendor, Grays Online, does caution that the ships have had their shafts and propellers removed and would have to be towed off by the buyer, saying, “inspection is highly recommended.”