Here at LSOZI, we 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, Sept. 9, 2020: From the Kattegat to Rabaul
Here we see Admiralty V-class destroyer HMAS Vendetta (I96) of the Royal Australian Navy as she hosts pre-surrender discussions off Rabaul, 75 years ago this month. Representatives include Col. Takahashi, aide to Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, commander Eighth Area Army; and Capt. Sanagi, Japanese Navy; with Brig. Gen. E.L Sheehan, Staff First Army; and CDR Morris, RAN, commanding officer of the minesweeper HMAS Ballarat. Vendetta at the time was the last of her type from the “Scrap Iron Flotilla” in the Australian Navy and the only examples of her class still in service were on the other side of the globe.
The “V&Ws” numbered over 100 destroyers ordered during the Great War for the Royal Navy, of which just 67 were completed. The Admiralty V-class subtype, of which Vendetta was a member, accounted for 23 of those hulls. Tipping the scales at around 1,500-tons when fully loaded, they were slim vessels of just 312-feet in overall length. Capable of 34-knots on a turbine powerplant, they carried a quartet of QF 4-inch Mk V guns and 2 triple 21-inch torpedo tube mounts for enemy ships traveling on the surface, and 50 depth charges to account for U-boats below it.
Then-HMS Vendetta (F29) was laid down at Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland in November 1916, just after the British first used tanks along the Somme front in France. She commissioned on 17 October 1917, a couple weeks before the Reds seized the Winter Palace in Russia from Kerensky’s government.
Assigned to the Grand Fleet’s mighty Thirteenth Destroyer Flotilla, she soon scrapped with German minesweepers operating in the Kattegat. Such brushes along the great minefields in the North Sea were dangerous to each side, e.g. one of Vendetta’s sisters, HMS Vehement, was lost to one of those infernal devices.
Detached to support the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron along with HMS Medway, Vendetta took part in the elusive fleet action at the Helgoland Bight on 17 November 1917.
Just days after the Kaiser threw in the towel, Vendetta was dispatched on 24 November 1918 to the Baltic as part of British RADM Sir Edwin Alexander Sinclair’s force of cruisers and destroyers, detailed to intervene in the breakaway former Russian Baltic states.
There, she fought the Reds on several occasions including playing a big part in the capture of the Russki destroyers Spartak and Avtroil.
The Russians managed to somewhat even up the score by sinking the V-class sistership HMS Vittoria, sent to the bottom by Bolshevik submarine Pantera off Seiskari Island. Vendetta and sistership HMS Westminster (L40) also rescued 430 of the 441 crew from the sinking C-class light cruiser, HMS Cassandra, after that vessel struck an uncharted German mine in the Gulf of Finland. Mines also claimed another of Vendetta’s sisters, HMS Verulam.
Following her Baltic service, Vendetta spent the next 14 years in a variety of missions ranging from towing surrendered German warships to escorting royal personages and waving the White Ensign around Europe. In 1923, she again proved an excellent lifeguard, saving the crew of the wrecked merchant ship Imperial Prince off Scotland.
In 1933, Vendetta and three of her aging sisters–Voyager, Waterhen, and Vampire— were decommissioned from Royal Navy service and transferred to the Australians where, along with the 2,000-ton Scott-class destroyer leader HMS Stuart, they formed the Australian Destroyer Flotilla. The ships were replacements for the even smaller S-Class destroyers (Stalwart, Success, Swordsman, Tasmania, and Tattoo) and the flotilla leader Anzac, which were in turn scrapped.
In 1939, she was tasked to escort the body of former Prime Minister Joseph Lyons from Sydney to Tasmania where he was buried on 13 April.
To the Med
Obsolete by the time World War II came around, the Australian tin cans were dispatched to fight the Germans and Italians, seeing heavy action along the North African coast with the British Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean where they served as part of the “Wobbly 10th” Destroyer Division, their original armament augmented by a smattering of .303-caliber Lewis and Vickers pattern machine guns, which were basically spitballs against air attack.
They served in the battles of Matapan and Calabria, helped evacuate Greece and Crete, bombarded the Libyan coast, escorted no less than a dozen convoys between Alexandria and Malta, and put in work as the “Tobruk Ferry Service” running the Axis blockade of besieged Tobruk under heavy fire.
It was during this period that the rag-tag Australian greyhounds were referred to as the “Scrap Iron Flotilla” by none other than German propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels.
The war in the Med, for sure, took a toll on the squadron.
On 29 June 1941, Waterhen was heavily damaged by Axis aircraft and she sank the next day, the first RAN ship lost to combat in World War II.
Looking to increase her AAA suite by any means available, Vendetta’s crew installed a locally acquired second-hand Italian 20mm/65 Breda and installed it amidships.
Finally, with their machinery shot and suffering from breakdowns, the three remaining RAN V&Ws were sent back home for refit in late 1941.
There, while at Ghost Island, Vendetta had a stick of Japanese bombs fall just 200 yards away from her at 04:20 on 8 December 1941. A whole new war had begun.
The brunt of the Japanese war machine was not kind to the Allies in 1941 and 1942. Vendetta’s sister, Voyager was damaged beyond repair by Japanese bombers off Timor. Another sister, Vampire was sunk on 9 April 1942 by Japanese aircraft while escorting the doomed carrier HMS Hermes from Trincomalee.
Her refit, which included more AAA guns, wrapped up by September 1942, Vendetta was tasked with a variety of convoy escort duty– shepherding 19 different convoys in ten months– and coastal patrol work around the Australian continent for most of 1943, routine work that was nonetheless vital.
By 1944, she shifted to New Guinea waters where her expendability, low draft, and high speed suited her for the role of a destroyer transport, a concept the U.S. Navy at the time repeated in their APD “Green Dragons” with old flush-deckers. In this role, she landed both uniformed set-piece ANZAC units to the shifting front as well as delivered shadowy AIB Special Unit officers and guerillas behind the lines in New Britain and the Solomon Islands.
Deemed by this time an “escort destroyer” Vendetta landed her torpedo tubes for even more AAA mounts and acquired a Type 272 surface search radar.
Vendetta continued her New Guinea taskings into 1945, providing naval gunfire support, escorting slow convoys, and engaging in coastal anti-submarine patrols, increasingly boring duty as the war wound down in the area. By September, she embarked Brigadier Sheehan and his staff to negotiate the Japanese surrender at Rabaul, a task that was completed by 6 September.
The surrender ceremony itself took place on the new fleet carrier HMS Glory, after which Imamura was detained and tried for war crimes in his time at Rabaul including the execution of Allied prisoners of war. He served seven of a ten-year sentence imposed by an Australian military court.
Following the surrender, Vendetta stood by to retrieve Allied POWs.
Her final war concluded, the veteran Vendetta was paid off 27 November 1945, having steamed 120,639 miles during her Pacific campaigns alone. She earned seven battle honors under RAN service in WWII, trading licks with all three of the primary Axis powers. This added to her previous service against the Kaiser and the Bolsheviks.
Scrapped above the waterline, her hulk was scuttled in 1948.
As for her Royal Navy Admiralty V-class sisters, four— HMS Venetia, Vimiera, Vortigern, and Venetia— were sunk in by the Germans in British waters during WWII. The remainder were still afloat at VE-Day but were soon discarded.
Vendetta’s name was recycled for a new 3,600-ton Daring-class destroyer (D08) which was commissioned in 1958. The ship battle honors for service in Malaysia (1964-66) and Vietnam (1969-70) and was paid off in 1979.
Further, the Royal Australian Navy band today has the dedicated Scrap Iron Flotilla Theme as part of their repertoire.
Displacement: 1,090 tons standard, 1,470 full
Length: 312 ft
Beam: 29 ft 6 in
Draught: 9 ft. 8 in standard, 11 ft 9 in deep
Machinery: 3 Yarrow boilers, twin Brown-Curtis turbines, twin screws = 27,000 shp
Speed: 34 knots
Range: 3,500 nmi at 15 knots
Complement: 6 officers 133 ratings as designed, larger in WWII as AAA guns were added
4 x single QF 4-inch Mk V guns
1 x single QF 2 pdr (40 mm) Mk II pom-pom anti-aircraft gun
2 x triple 21-inch torpedo tubes
2 depth charge rails, 4 depth charge throwers= 50 depth charges
2 x single QF 4-inch Mk V guns
2 x single QF 2 pdr (40 mm) Mk II pom-pom anti-aircraft guns
4 x 20mm/65 Oerlikons
7 x .303 Vickers and Lewis guns
(Note, at least one 40mm/60 Bofors single is shown on Vendetta in 1945)
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