Category Archives: Australia

Shades of Balikpapan

The largest Australian-led amphibious landing and offensive assault in history were the OBOE 2 landings at Balikpapan, Borneo (then the Japanese-held Dutch East Indies) in which some 33,000 troops hit the beach in July 1945. We’ve talked about that operation a couple weeks ago on a Warship Wednesday. 

With the path cleared by UDT-18, 7th Division Australian troops come ashore from landing craft during landing near Balikpapan oil fields in Borneo in July 1945. Some 33,000-strong combined Australian and Royal Netherlands Indies amphibious forces, the largest ever amphibious assault by Australian forces, hit the beach. 

Therefore, it is fitting that this month’s Talisman Saber ’19 exercise saw the largest Australian-led amphibious landing since OBOE with an extended multi-day combined force assault on Langham Beach, near Stanage Bay, Queensland, involving not only the Australians but also U.S. Marines, New Zealand troops, and elements of the British MoD, Japanese Self-Defense Force (ironically) and Canadian Forces.

As part of the exercise scenario, the fictional Pacific nation Kamaria invaded nearby “Legais” island, sparking global outcry and a response from the Blue Forces to liberate the occupied territory. Recon elements were inserted on D-3 with a full-on landing on D-Day with amphibious assault vehicles, landing craft, and helicopters bringing troops to shore.

The imagery was great.

More here. 

Talisman Sabre ’19

I just love PHOTOEX shots!

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anaid Banuelos Rodriguez)

TASMAN SEA (July 11, 2019) The U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), top left, the U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), left, the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Regina (FFH 334), center, the Royal Australian Navy Canberra-class landing helicopter dock ship HMAS Canberra (L02), top right, and the Legend-class cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752), right, transit by the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) in a photo exercise (PHOTOEX) during Talisman Sabre 2019. Green Bay, part of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group, with embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is currently participating in Talisman Sabre 2019 off the coast of Northern Australia. A bilateral, biennial event, Talisman Sabre is designed to improve U.S. and Australian combat training, readiness and interoperability through realistic, relevant training necessary to maintain regional security, peace, and stability.

Hermes, Clamagore, and Newcastle to be no more

Lots of changes among the world’s floating museum ships and those otherwise long in the tooth this week.


Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (R12) bouncing around the North Atlantic with her bow mostly out of the water, 1977.

Laid down at Vickers-Armstrong on 21 June 1944, two weeks after the Allies stormed ashore at D-Day, as HMS Elephant, the RN carrier HMS Hermes only joined the fleet on 18 November 1959 (after 15 years at the builders) with a much-altered plan that included an angled flight deck to allow the operation of jet-powered aircraft at sea. After legendary Cold War service and a pivotal part in the Falklands War in 1982, she was sold to India in 1987 and took the name INS Viraat (R22) and, homeported in Mumbai, served the Indian Navy for three more decades, undergoing a further five refits while in Indian service.

The last British-built ship serving the Indian Navy, Viraat was the star attraction at the International Fleet Review held in Visakhapatnam in February 2016. Her last Sea Harrier, (White Tigers in Indian service), flew from her deck on May 6, of that year and was given a formal farewell at INS Hansa, in Goa two days later. She was to be preserved as a floating museum, commemorating an amazing career.

Fast forward three years and this is not to be. Deli announced this week that she will soon be scrapped.


In formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

Subron-21’s GUPPY IIIs in formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

The submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343), a Balao-class 311-foot “fleet boat” of the type that crushed the Japanese merchant fleet during WWII, commissioned on 28 June 1945– just narrowly too late for the war. However, her Naval service was rich, being converted to a GUPPY II snorkel boat in 1947 and later GUPPY III in 1962– one of only a handful to get the latter upgrade.

Decommissioned in 1973, the boat was still in pretty good shape when she was donated at age 36 to become a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina where she has been since 1981, near the WWII carrier USS Yorktown.

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

Now, she is suffering from extensive decay and, although a group of subvets is trying to save her (and taking the state to court) Palmetto State lawmakers have voted to spend $2.7 million in public dollars to sink the Cold War-era submarine off South Carolina’s shores.


To replace their aging Adams (Perth)-class DDGs, the Royal Australian Navy in the 1980s ordered a six-pack of Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates. Known locally as the Adelaide (FFG01)-class in RAN service, the first four vessels were built in the U.S. at Todd in Seattle, while last two were constructed by AMECON of Williamstown, Victoria.

Besides the names of large Australian cities, the vessels carried the names of past RAN vessels including two HMS/HMAS Sydney’s that fought in WWI and WWII, and Oz’s two aircraft carriers.

Photo by ABPH Tracey Casteleijn/RAN/ #950365-10

Photo by ABPH Tracey Casteleijn/RAN/ #950365-10

Canberra and Adelaide were paid off in 2005 and 2008 respectively, then sunk as dive wrecks. Sydney struck in 2015 and began scrapping soon after, while Darwin was broken up in 2017. Melbourne and Newcastle were to stick it out until the new Hobart-class destroyers arrive to replace them by 2019.

With that, HMAS Newcastle (FFG06), was put to pasture this week after she traveled more than 900,000 nautical miles, visited over 30 countries, conducted six maritime security operations and earned battle honors in East Timor, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Graney salutes during the national anthem as part of HMAS Newcastle’s decommissioning ceremony at Fleet Base East, Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2019.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Graney, RAN, salutes during the national anthem as part of HMAS Newcastle’s decommissioning ceremony at Fleet Base East, Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2019.

The final Australian FFG, Melbourne (FFG05), is set to be decommissioned 26 Oct 2019 and, like Newcastle, will be sold to Chile to begin a second career on the other end of the Pacific. Should that somehow fall through, the Hellenic Navy has also expressed interest in acquiring these classic but hard-used Perries.

And the beat goes on…

Jack Warne has passed the bar

Jack Warne spent over 50 years in the gun industry across two continents. (Photo: Warne Scope Mounts)

Firearms designer and gun culture legend John “Jack” Llewellyn Warne, responsible for the birth of at least three iconic shooting industry brands, has died at age 96.

Raised in the small town of Kimba, South Australia, a 23-year-old Warne went on to found Sporting Arms Limited, best known as Sportco, in 1947. At the time, Sportco was the only private gun maker in Australia and over the next three decades produced dozens of rifle models, with Warne at the drawing board for their designs.

Of course, he would later leap the Pacific in a single bound and, with his son, found Kimber of Oregon and Warne scope mounts.

Vale, Jack. You were one of a kind.

The Last Ozzie Aardvark

Back in the 1960s, there were big plans for the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark. It was intended to arm both the U.S. Air Force and Navy as well as overseas allies as an interceptor and fighter bomber that could be used as a strategic bomber and recon plane in a pinch. Most of those roles– and users– never materialized but in the end, some 563 F/EF-111s of all kinds were produced and used by the U.S. and Royal Australian Air Forces.

Photo Courtesy of RAAF (1 Squadron F111 A8-114 near Cunningham’s Gap, Qld) F-111C

RAAF No. 1 Squadron F-111C #A8-114 near Cunningham’s Gap, Qld

While the USAF pulled the type for good in 1998, they continued to soldier on Down Under until much more recently. Flown by No. 1 and No. 6 Squadron RAAF out of Amberley, the 28 Australia-unique F-111C/RF-111C models were on the front line until 2010, arguably the most capable strike aircraft in South East Asia.

One of the more historic of the RAAF fleet was RF-111C #A8-134, which was delivered by Gen Dyn in 1973. After service as a strike bomber, in 1980 reconnaissance and tactical equipment was added to a special bay in its underbelly to turn it into a camera bird, a task it maintained until retirement on 3 December 2010.

Handover of RF-111C #A8-134 by the Royal Australian Air Force to the Memorial May 29, 2019

A8-134 has now been handed over to the Australian War Memorial and will be housed at the Treloar Technology Centre in Mitchell.

Colossus, the original

The Royal Navy has counted six warships named HMS Colossus over the centuries to include– possibly the best known among modern scholars– the Colossus-class dreadnought battleship of Jutland fame. Other famous vessels with the same name are the class-leading WWII-era light aircraft carrier that went on to be the French Indochina-era flattop Arromanches (R95), and a previous early battleship of the 1880s.

Going even further back, the first Colossus in the Royal Navy was the 74-gun Courageux-class third rate ship of the line launched at Gravesend on 4 April 1787. Fighting at the Siege of Toulon and the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, the latter one of the greatest British naval victories that no one has ever heard of, she was lost in bad weather off Samson Island in the windswept Isles of Scilly in December 1798.

Extensively salvaged in the 20th Century, divers discovered eight cannons in the 1970s and brought to the surface. Five were retained by a chap named Roger Smith, who brought them to Tasmania, Australia. One was provided to Penny Royal Gunpowder Mills where it takes part in displays.

Now, three of Smith’s guns, a 32-pdr, and two 24-pdrs, just went to auction with an estimate of between $4,000 and $5,000. Too bad it was in Australia.

Z Unit, actual

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the suppressed M3 Grease Guns and Attack Force Z, here we see Capt. Henry William Nicholls, MC, (NX15737) of the Royal Australian Army Z Special Unit in 1945. Note his paratrooper’s “cherry beret,” and STEN gun– which was much more commonly used, along with the native Australian Owen, than the M3.

Portrait by Geoffrey Mainwaring IWM ART24249

Prior to joining the Z commandos, Nicholls served and a lieutenant with 2/1 Australian Pioneer Battalion in Benghazi and Tobruk where he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at the age of 20. He celebrated his 21st birthday during the epic North African siege. After service in Palestine, Nicholls returned to Australia and qualified as a paratrooper with 1 Australian Parachute Battalion.

In 1943 he joined Z Special Unit. Operating in New Guinea, he led a party ashore in the Wewak area prior to its capture by 6th Australian Division and in Borneo helped recover the six survivors of the Sandakan death march.

Nicholls was discharged after the war, but in 1950, he re-joined the army to fight in Korea. As a major with the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, he was twice recommended for decoration in 1952 and 53, a ripe old man at 33.

Silent Grease

When I was a kid, I loved the early 1980s Australian action flick, Attack Force Z, which was loosely based on the Z Special Unit actions of WWII.

Sadly, and not to ruin the movie, but Z ops often turned into suicide missions in which many teams just were never heard from again. Especially great in the movie is the first few minutes, which show a Royal Australian Navy Oberon-class submarine surfacing and, decks almost awash, discharge the commandos in their boats.

Of note, the Z commandos in the movie use suppressed M3 Grease Guns to good effect. So naturally, I went all a ga-ga when I saw this in Indy last month.

More in my column at

What a great collection of uniforms and mustaches, 123 years ago

Members of the New South Wales Medical Staff Corps School of Instruction held on 5 & 6 May 1896 in Newcastle, Australia, showing an excellent cross-section of NSW militia uniforms in the last days of the 19th Century.

(Photo Australian Department of Defence through A.J. Withers)

They are, from the left (standing), NSW Artillery Corps Officer name unknown, Surgeon Captain J.L. Beeston, Surgeon Lieutenant F.H. Wrigley, Lieutenant G.R. Short of the NSW Artillery Corps; (seated), Surgeon Captain W. L’Estrange Eames, Surgeon Captain W.D.C. Williams and (rank not known) Nickson a surgeon in the NSW Naval Brigade. Captains Beeston and Williams and Lieutenant Short all served in the AIF, Short as a major and quartermaster in the 17th Battalion. Captain Eames commanded the Australian Voluntary Hospital (later known as No 32 Stationary Hospital) with the British Army in France.

You just thought they were preserved

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.

The Australians from the ANZACs of Gallipoli through Korea, more often than not, carried Lithgow-made Enfields, and then they switched to Lithgow made FALs…

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.”

The museum houses this incredibly rare No 6 Mk I Lithgow Enfield “Jungle Carbine,” one of only a handful made. It is slated to have a steel rod welded into its barrel, and that’s just for starters.

More in my column at

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