The BATHURST CLASS Corvettes of the RAN
Australia’s biggest-ever ship building project
From concept to design to reality
It was 1939 and Australia was at war. Separated by vast oceans from her markets and sources of supply, her trade and her war effort were very vulnerable. So was her physical security. Government and Naval Board moved quickly.
By 10 February 1940, the Australian Minesweeper (AMS) had been designed and the lead ship of the class, HMAS Bathurst, laid down at Cockatoo Island, Sydney. Work proceeded apace at Cockatoo and at seven other Australian shipyards and on 24 May 1944, HMAS Parkes the last of sixty corvettes, including four for the Royal Indian Navy, was commissioned, an incredible average of one every 26 days. This was a magnificent achievement for Australia’s ship building industry.
The corvettes, all named after Australian country towns, were quite complex vessels, capable of operating in the worst weather, with a top speed of about 15 knots and endurance of 2640 miles at 10 knots, their length was 186 feet, beam 31 feet, standard displacement 815 tons. Complement averaged 85 to 90.
For the records, the ex-sailors who created Navy History when they met on October 20, 1980. to found the Royal Australian Navy Corvettes Association were:
Jim Booth - Warrnambool, Frank Bonser - Kapunda, Wall Burke - Strahan, Ken Crawford - Ballarat, Reg Day - Glenelg, Bill Farrell - Ipswich, Cocky Frew - Naval Assoc. Garden Island, Wes Game - Fremantle, Don Graves - Cootamundra (WA), Ted Geer - Toowoomba, Ted Ginn - Burnie (VIC), John Gore - Dubbo, Norm Hibbard - Ipswich (VIC), Ben Hutchens - Broome, Jim Jeffery - Navel Assoc. Garden Island, Wally Jarman - Ipswich, K. Jenetsky - Geraldton (SA), Ned Kelly - Geraldton, Joe Louis - Ipswich, Stan Morton - Bendigo, Les Olson - Geraldton, Ron Patten - Townsville, John Rinkin - Ararat, Bill Richards - Naval Assoc. Garden Island, Jim Stark - Mildura, Cliff Stevens - Ipswich, Junee, Jack Thompson - Kapunda, Roy Ward - Gympie (WA)
(Corvette Magazine March 1999)
CEREMONY ( Corvette magazine October 1990)
This ceremony is based on ancient practices which were performed as dusk. The periods of sunset and sunrise have always had a great impact on the Navy.
The first part of the ceremony comprises the symbolic BEATING TO QUARTERS and firing the evening gun. The second part is the lowering of the ensign at sunset, a ceremony as old as ships and flags.
BEATING TO QUARTERS is one of the oldest Navy customs. It stems from the 17th century when a drum roll, or “BEATING TO QUARTERS”, was played in warships to signify the call to arms when an enemy ship has been sighted. The modern day equivalent is the loud ringing of alarm bells.
In later year, ship’s captains had their cannon loaded and primed at sunset in readiness for possible night battle. One gun was fired to check that the powder was dry. This became known as the “evening gun”. On ceremonial occasions, the firing of the evening gun is often represented by the firing of a volley of musketry.
The finale is a ceremonial version of the age-old tradition of lowering the ensign at sunset, accompanied by the bugle call “Sunset”.
Corvette magazine 1992
THEY ASK US:
"WHY DID THE CORVETTE ASSOCIATION COME INTO BEING?
Australia was at war, our shipping in peril. There was the threat of invasion, the loss of our freedom, the destruction of our cities and our loved ones.
Young men, mere boys in age, yet giants in courage, dedication and patriotism, flocked to the aid of the thinly-spread professional servicemen who faced a challenge immeasurably too great for their meagre numbers.
They surrendered the safety, comfort and financial gains of wartime civilian life, the company of their wives, families and friends. They endured, without complaint, the crowded conditions, sea sickness, ever-present danger.
They stood their night watches, often soaked to the skin, bearing the agony of extreme cold for full four hours or more. The Engine Room and Boiler Room crews in tropics, sweating in temperatures of 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit - tools and wheel spanners too hot for the naked hand.
There was the tenseness of look-out duty knowing that, to survive, they must sight the enemy ship or plane before it saw them. The Asdic operator in his little cabinet seeking an echo from the enemy submarine lest the first indication of its presence be a torpedo explosion.
And the monotony of the cruising gun 's crew standing by its weapon in all weathers awaiting the dreaded alarm which, at least, would relieve their boredom.
During the night, the clamour of the alarm bells! Scrambling into clothing, anti-flash gear, Mae Wests. Scared, excited, Adrenalin pumping, rushing to action stations, yet, at their quarters, disciplined, icy-calm, efficient.
In the magazine, deep in the bowels of the ship, the crewmen experienced the claustrophobic anxiety - not knowing what was happening - as they felt the shock of their ship 's guns and the sledgehammer blows on the hull as depth charges and near-miss bombs exploded.
The Captain and the Officer of the Watch must always be conscious that the survival of ship, ship's company and convoy depended too upon their efficiency and correct reaction to emergency.
Always there was the knowledge that the life of every man depended upon the competence, care and unselfishness of every one of his shipmates.
On rare occasions, these men would go ashore together to enjoy brief taste of relaxation and life 's pleasures. Maybe some would get into trouble, but never would they let down ship or shipmate.
Yes, it was inevitable that one day we would come together again to renew this comradeship. And so has developed this Corvettes Association.
No one who has not shared the experiences of a sailor, not even his loved ones, would ever be able to quite understand - or be part of -this comradeship of shared trust, hardship and danger.
Extract from Corvette magazine
Corvettes – Little Ships for Big Men
by Frank B. Walker
The book is dedicated to the Navy’s most cantankerous, petulant, temperamental, unpredictable, uncomfortable but most lovable ships - Corvettes – and all who designed them, built them and sailed in them.
At Ambon a different sort of drama was played out, well before the surrender in Tokyo Bay. The frigates Barcoo and Burdekin and the corvettes Latrobe, Bundaberg, Cootamundra and Inverell sailed from Morotai in an attempt to free the Australian prisoners known to be at Ambon.
At that stage, nobody knew what the Japanese would do about the prisoners. It was feared they might annihilate them to cover up the barbaric and murderous treatment of prisoners that had characterised Japanese behaviour throughout the war. Bundaberg entered Ambon Harbour at 1155 on August 17, flying a white flag and at action stations, but with guns in their normal position. The captain, Commander Jack Donovan, stopped engines to let the ship drift slowly ahead while he exchanged flag signals with the Japanese ashore.
First, the Japanese signalled: ”You should stop your vessel instantly”.
Bundaberg replied: ’’Please send naval officer”.
The Japanese signalled: ’’What are you going to do?”
Bundaberg answered '. ’’Peaceful. Please send naval officer”.
The Japanese signalled back: ”I cannot receive your offer. Please go out of harbour quickly”.
Bundaberg asked: ’’May I send liaison officer?”
The Japanese replied: ’’I have no intention together speak”.
Realising that further attempts at communicating with the Japanese were futile, and not wishing to inflame the situation, Bundaberg turned and steamed out of Harbour, slowly, and with as much dignity as a corvette could muster when staring down the barrels of 8-inch shore batteries.
The ships returned to Morotai and after the surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay, the corvettes Glenelg, Latrobe, Cootamundra and Junee went back to Ambon and took off a pathetic band of 123 half-starved and sick Australians.
They were all that were left of the original Gull Force of 800 who had been taken prisoner. The rest had either been beheaded or had died of starvation or disease. One of the 123 died within a few days of being landed back in Morotai. Some of the survivors weighed only five stone. Thirty-eight were stretcher cases. In between the two Ambon operations, Glenelg, Rockhampton, Junee, Bowen and Latrobe steamed to Manado, in the Celebes and took on board 334 internees, of whom 110 were women and 145 children. The sailors looked after them like mothers.
The work of the corvettes did not end with the end of the war. Mines - mostly laid by the Allies - had to be swept up and harbours had to be cleared of wrecks. It was all of 12 months before the corvettes were back in home waters and even then, they still had to sweep mines around Australia.
Despite their arduous war service, the corvettes were still in such good shape that other navies wanted them. Bendigo was sold to the Chinese Navy and eight of them - Burnie, Cairns, Ipswich, Kalgoorlie, Lismore, Tamworth, Toowoomba and Wollongong - were snapped up by the Royal Netherlands Navy and later became part of the Indonesian Navy. The Turkish Navy took five - Broome. Gawler, Geraldton, Launceston and Pirie - and the Royal New Zealand Navy three - Echuca, Kiama and Stawell. Six became training ships for the RAN - Cootamundra, Fremantle, Gladstone, Junee, Latrobe and Wagga. Two were preserved as museums - Castlemaine alongside a wharf in Port Melbourne and Whyalla on dry land in Whyalla. One - the luckless Colac - suffered the ignominy of becoming a tank cleaning ship, secured alongside any ship that needed any dirty work done.
The fate of the rest was as sad as a dog pound. When their minesweeping tasks were over, they languished on moorings for several years, stripped bare, until various Asian and Japanese firms bought them and towed them away for scrap.
Corvette Magazine January 1997
ADELAIDE REUNION (October 1996)
(Condensed) speech by the guest of honour, Rear Admiral D J Campbell, AM RAN
'There is no doubt your story - the corvette story- is a fascinating one of national historical significance. Indeed, no history of the Royal Australian Navy in World War II would be complete without the many pages devoted to the wide and varied involvement of the Bathurst class. I know you wont mind on this occasion if I recall some of your rich history - our rich history, I should say, because it is a heritage and legacy for all Australians.
The corvettes were hardy and reliable, and in addition to minesweeping, patrol and escort work, they were employed on an endless variety of tasks including the carrying of troops and stores, participation in bombardments and assault landings, surveying and towing operations. Busy ships by any measure. Manned largely by reserve personnel, the corvettes became a familiar sight on the convoy run between Australia and New Guinea. They chalked up the RAN's first sinking of a Japanese submarine when I 124 was destroyed off Darwin on 21 January 1942.
Apart from the South West Pacific area, they served in the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and, briefly on one occasion, even in the Atlantic. They had been the last allied vessels to leave Singapore and the Indies in the days of defeat following Pearl Harbour. As the tide of the war turned against Japan, they were amongst the first to return, ferrying troops and stores in the island hopping campaign, minesweeping, convoying, bombarding, patrolling, surveying. They swept ahead of the victorious fleet which entered Hong Kong on 30 August 1945, after which they were well represented at the surrender activities Tokyo Bay and the island groups of South East Asia.
I can only shake my head in wonder at the wartime activities of your little vessels, but of course, the history, reputation and notoriety of ships is not so much a result the ships themselves, but of the men who served in them. And when people remember the men of the corvettes, it is to the gallant HMAS ARMIDALE and ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean that their thoughts inevitably turn. His story epitomises perhaps better than any other I know, the finest traditions of mateship, sacrifices and courage which characterises the proud history of our service.
Here I borrow the words of Frank Walker, the well-known journalist, and author, who said of Sheean's feat:
It was an act of sublime, selfless heroism. It was not the result or years of training and discipline - Sheean had been in the Navy only a few months. He was not acting on orders. It was his decision and his decision alone. It was not a question of duty - the order to abandon ship had been given and he was free to try to save his own life. Instead, he chose to try to save the lives of his shipmates and to inflict as much damage on the enemy as he could. It was valour about and beyond the call of duty.
It is important that Teddy Sheean's story, that all of your stories are not forgotten. That's why your association is so important. Through your conferences, meetings and informal gatherings, you maintain a network of old friends and shipmates which promotes mateship, pride in Australia and pride in the RAN. From my point of view, the strengths of your association and others like it, lie in the wealth of experience and tradition that you all have to offer. It is for such reasons that we are naming one of the new submarines "Sheean". In honouring him, we recognise all he represents, and in honouring him , we honour you.
All of this was said, and more, at the unveiling of the corvette's memorial on Garden Island last year. Some of you were there - I recognise some weathered faces - but I know you will never tire of hearing these stories told and retold. Lest we forget. Your should all, too, be proud that the hard work, bravery, professionalism and good humour of men like you contributed to the RAN's excellent reputation - a reputation that your Navy enjoys internationally today.
Let me finish by congratulating you for your legacy, and by thanking you for the honour you have done me by inviting me to be with you today. The RAN corvettes of the Second World War carried the names of Australian provincial cities and towns into distant and dangerous waters with distinction - your story is and
will always be, one of the proudest chapters in the annals of Australia's fighting ships. "
Corvette Magazine October 1998
We've made it! our memorial is now paid for
We are entitled to congratulate ourselves - we have now completely cleared our debt on the National Corvette Memorial. Ex-Corvetteers dug deeply into their pockets to raise a total of $ 43,500 which was approx. a third of the total cost of $ 129,000. It was the largest single source of funds.
Corporate donations totalled $ 32,500. RSL and sub-branches gave $ 17,000, incl. $ 5000 from the RSL federal body.
Cities and towns after which corvettes were named gave $ 15,200 and the Tasmanian and NSW Government each gave $ 3000. The Dept of Veteran Affairs gave $ 6,100, Naval Associations $ 2,600 and miscellaneous donations totalled $ 3,750. The final donation that pushed us over the finishing line was $ 2000 from a source that insists on remaining anonymous.
We can now take pride in the fact that we have created a permanent memorial to our ships, to our shipmates and to those who designed the ships, built them and sustained them.
They were the most endearing of ships. They never let us down and they forgave us our trespasses, such as banging them into wharves and other fixed objects, pushing them into seas as solid as a block of flats and driving them faster than nature intended. We owed them a memorial. The fund is now closed and any further costs, such as maintenance, will come from the association's general fund.
Long-time serving treasurer Graham Thompson
The Commander Australian Fleet, Rear-Admiral Davyd Thomas, AM, CSC, made a special trip to a Central Coast hospital on 28 March to honour our treasurer, Grahame Thomson, who was seriously ill. He presented him with a commendation for his services to the RAN and to the Corvettes Association. He also gave Grahame a medallion.
The presentation was made at the Brisbane Waters private hospital, where Grahame was a patient. Those present were Grahame’s wife, Wanda, our president, Howard Halsted, vice-president, David Angus, secretary Des Webster, editor Frank Walker and his wife Erika.
The commendation stated:
”The Commander Australian Fleet commends Mr Grahame Thomson for his outstanding service to the Corvette Association (NSW) and in particular for his diligence in maintaining the Corvette Association National Membership Register.
For the past twenty years Grahame has been a member of the executive committee of the Corvette Association (NSW), serving in various positions, including President, Honorary Treasurer and as the National Membership Registrar. In 1985 he constructed a national register of personnel who served in the 56 Bathurst-class Corvettes built during World War II and he has steadfastly maintained that register since then.
In 1980 the first of 15 Fremantle-class Patrol Boats was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy and they are now slowly being replaced by 14 Armidale-class Patrol Boats. The majority of these ships proudly bear the names of Bathurst-class Corvettes that came before them.
Through Grahame’s personal dedication and commitment it has been possible to have veterans who served in those Corvettes attend the commissioning and decommissioning ceremonies for these ships. Likewise, his register provided the source for many commissioning ladies. This commitment resulted in many memorable, ceremonies and connected Navy’s present with its heritage.
The enthusiasm and commitment shown by Mr Thomson to the sailors of yesterday and the Navy community of today, embrace Navy’s core values, are of the highest order and are in the finest traditions of the Royal Australian Navy”.
We pray our prayers for our fighting men, ashore, aloft, at sea,
“Out there” we each have someone, fighting for you and me.
Men in navy or air-force blue, and soldier with stern set lips,
but the men, on whom our fate depends, are the men in the Little Ships.
We cheer our men as they march away, embarking to meet the foe,
and hearts are aching with pain and pride, as we watched our loved ones go.
In crowded transports, through perilous seas where the lurking U-boat slips,
they are taken to their distant goals, by the men in the Little Ships.
The ships that carry a nation’s food go ever upon their way,
through ocean lanes where, but hours before, the murderous minefield lay.
Those globes, which wait with their loads of death, where the reeling forefoot rips,
are all discounted and brought back to naught, swept up by the Little Ships.
The men who handle the Little Ships have got no band to play,
and spend their lives in an endless watch, ceaselessly night and day.
The little craft turn somersaults, where the liner only dips
and crashing seas make music for the men in the Little Ships.
Now, some will ask, the Little Ships, what can these vessels be?
Destroyers, sweepers, sloops, corvettes, the wartime family.
And we’ll win this war, not in the fight when Leviathans come to grips,
but by dogged grit and the endless toil of the men in the Little Ships.
And so today, as the nation fights to right a ghastly wrong,
from every heart the cry goes out “how long, oh Lord, how long?”
So let us live with the well-known hymn for ever upon our lips
“From rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect our Little Ships”
Petty Officer D.C.R.
Our new treasurer is an A.B.
At last, we have a new honorary treasurer to take over from Grahame Thomson, who is seriously ill.
Our pleas for somebody to volunteer drew a blank and we were contemplating engaging an accounting firm when the wife of one of our members offered to take it on. She is Erika Walker, wife of our editor. She will be “sworn in” at our quarterly meeting on 21 August.
Erika is a fully qualified bookkeeper, a counsellor, a computer wizard and a Justice of the Peace. She also knows quite a bit about war – throughout WWII she was in Hamburg, one of the most heavily bombed cities of Germany.
We think she should have a naval rank, so we have made her an A.B. for "Able Book-keeper".
An interesting situation is going to arise in the Walker household when the editor asks the treasurer for extra funds to run colour in Corvette. In our corvette days we knew the pecking order only too well, but in the Corvette Association who is senior and gives the orders – the editor or the treasurer?
21 August 2007
NS Frank was the editor of the Corvette magazine
Seven corvettes made dramatic dash to freedom
by KEN CUNNINGHAM
In 1941-42 Japan's all-conquering armed forces swept away most of their enemies at sea, on land and in the air. But that self-glorification period only lasted six months. Then their defeat at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 set them back on the never-ending pathway toward their eventual surrender in defeat
By February 1942 life in Australia was a grim nerve-racking time. By 1 March 1942 Singapore had fallen, Darwin had been bombed; the Japs were in the Solomons. Timor and Java had been invaded. The Allied fleet which included the light cruiser HMAS PERTH, under a Dutch Admiral, had been destroyed. All hell was loose in the Dutch East Indies (today's Indonesia). On the waters south to Australia and west to Ceylon (today's Sri Lanka), was a flood of shipping of every description trying to escape the oncoming Japanese, on the sea and in the air.
The Japanese had transposed the blitzkrieg war of 1940 in France by their ally, Germany. There was no organised communication, no direction or control of Allied shipping except for the Navies (Australia, British, US and Dutch) and that was uncertain because bases and communications were being lost.
This was the situation in which HMAS TOOWOOMBA and her mates of the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla found themselves. Fortunately one sure voice for the Australian ships was coming through. It came from the Commodore Convoy Escorts based in Java, Commodore John Collins RAN (of HMAS SYDNEY fame). Certainly HMAS HOBART's narrow escape can be attributed to his orders.
By 1 March, the Japanese Second Fleet, under Admiral Kondo, was in full victory mode. Kondo's task was to carry out the primary objective of Japan's war - to secure raw materials by taking the rich Dutch East Indies.
On that same day PERTH was sunk on the northern side of Java, off Sunda Strait, and four RAN Corvettes of the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla led by Commander "Bludger" Cant in MARYBOROUGH, together with BURNIE, BENDIGO and TOOWOOMBA, were following orders to operate from Sunda Strait.
MARYBOROUGH picked up a signal from a sinking US ship warning that the Japs were in the Strait in force. Cant immediately altered course toward the Dutch naval base at Tjilatjap on the south coast of Java. That same morning Commodore Collins, on the orders of his Admiral proceeded overland from Batavia (today's Jakarta) with his staff to the Dutch base.
At the same time a general signal was sent to all British shipping to also report there. However, in the afternoon Collins cancelled that order and directed all British shipping to proceed either west to Ceylon or south to Fremantle. Meantime BENDIGO had fuelled and embarked 89 passengers comprising Collins staff and 77 HMS JUPITER survivors. BENDIGO then proceeded independently to Fremantle.
At 1100 next day, 2 March, HMAS YARRA tried to enter Tjilatjap but Collins stopped her and directed her to take her convoy to Fremantle. However Cant's corvettes, which had been following YARRA, failed to receive the message and entered the base, anchoring at 11.43. WOLLONGONG did receive the signal and so ordered her convoy, S.S.BRITISH JUDGE, to sail for Colombo. In turn, WOLLONGONG then sailed flat out for Fremantle. Cant had made 30 passenger spaces available in each of his corvettes. Regrettably, not all were utilized.
At 1800 that day TOOWOOMBA and GOULBURN sailed for Exmouth Gulf. BURNIE, carrying Commodore Collins and flying his pennant proceeded to Australia at 2000. At the same time MARYBOROUGH also left escorting a Dutch merchant ship which had been deserted by her Dutch crew but was now manned by RN survivors from various sunken ships (41 officers and 108 sailors.)
At 0200 on 3 April BALLARAT was the last Australian ship to leave Java’s waters. She had been directed to embark the crew and certain gear from the minesweeper HMS GF24AS. On completion she was required to sink her.
The Japs were having a field day. Their fleet sailed in and sank 20 ships north of the corvettes’ positions, but the little ships led a charmed life. BENDIGO slipped past the Japs at night and by dawn was 80 miles south of Java. She was the most advanced of all the Australian ships. The rest were scattered with WOLLONGONG 150 miles WNW of the Japanese fleet, BURNIE 150 miles NNW, with BALLARAT 100 miles stern of her. MARYBOROUGH was 300 miles NW with GOULBURN and TOOWOOMBA 120 miles north by west of the Japanese. YARRA and her convoy were 100 miles north of BALLARAT. This independent scatter was extremely dangerous, yet it possibly saved them from being spotted by the enemy. Indeed, research indicates that Japanese air reconnaissance was very poor during the war.
On 4 March at 0630 three heavy (8inch) Jap cruisers and two destroyers of Admiral Kondo’s fleet found YARRA and her convey. All were quickly sunk. YARRA’S fate was dodged by Commander Cant in MARYBOROUGH. It had been a fortunate mishap in not receiving Collins signal to YARRA NOT to enter Tjilatjap. Otherwise, MARYBOROUGH and possibly other corvettes would have proceeded with YARRA. As Cant was senior to Lt Cdr Ranking in YARRA, he would have taken command of the convoy. Equally certainly, all would have been sunk.
On 8 March BURNIE and BENDIGO reached Fremantle. The day before, HMAS WARREGO had become the first RAN ship to reach Fremantle from the Dutch East Indies. The next day BALLARAT, GOULBURN and WOLLONGONG arrived safely in the WA port. Finally, the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla was reunited when MARYBOROUGH and TOOWOOMBA entered Fremantle on 10 March after their unbelievably fortunate escape from the powerful Japanese Fleet. When TOOWOOMBA had made her first port of call at Exmouth Gulf, she did so with her ship’s company starving. MARYBOROUGH escorted the Dutch ship crewed by the RN survivors and those hardened British seafarers had no hesitation in saying just how lucky they were to reach “Freo” safely.
Commander Cant reported to the Naval Board that the ships of his 21st Flotilla had been the last to leave Singapore, Palembang, Sunda Strait, Tjilatjap and Oost Haven. They had been used as minesweepers in areas subject to frequent and heavy air attacks and at all times the conduct of his ship companies under trying conditions was very praiseworthy. In everything they were called on to do, they were keen and reliable.
Commander Cant was a very experienced destroyer commanding officer. He had been one of the team that brought the “V&W” class destroyers to Australia from the United Kingdom in 1932, then in 1939-40 he commanded HMAS VENDETTA in the Mediterranean. From there he had been sent home to stand by the corvettes and train their commanding officers. Cant commanded six RAN ships during WW2.
Who was this bloke?
By Frank Walker
The bloke could hardly wait to get into the Navy when war broke out.
HE was so impatient to get to sea that his training at Flinders seemed a waste of time.
HE was not dismayed to find that the ship he was drafted to a corvette was the smallest warship on the high seas.
HE did not worry that the submarines his ship was designed to sink could torpedo it or surface and sink it by gunfire
HE was undaunted by the fact that any enemy warship would be bigger, faster and better armed and could sink his corvette with impunity.
HE was not concerned that his ship was so slow and its anti-aircraft guns so inadequate that it was highly vulnerable to enemy planes.
HE was not troubled by knowing his ship's hull was as fragile as an eggshell and the ship would sink like a stone if the hull was holed.
HE put up with constant rolling and pitching, heeling and heaving, flying spray, terrifying storms, seas shipped green, stifling tropical heat, and biting cold wind.
HE was scared in action but did not show it.
HE cheerfully accepted cramped, stuffy mess decks, total lack of privacy, repulsive food, seasickness, boredom and little sleep.
HE and the ship he learned to love, answered every call ever made on them.
HE quietly stowed his little world into his kitbag when it was all over and went home largely unnoticed, because that is how he wanted it.
HE is shy about wearing his medals because he reckons destroyer and cruiser blokes did more than he did.
HE finds it hard to believe that the corvettes wrote an indelible page in Australian history. He would be embarrassed to know he was one of the finest breeds of men his country has ever known.
And who was this bloke?
The answer, my friend, is you, my shipmates
Collisions at Sea
When you realise that nearly all steaming at night in wartime was without lights of any kind, it is a wonder that more collisions did not occur. Corvettes were not always easy to manoeuvre and many of them were involved in collision:
HMAS BALLARAT collided with HMS WHIMBREL 20 June 1945
HMAS BROOME collided with HMAS AUSTRALIA 06 July 1944
HMAS BUNBURY collided with HM Submarine SEA ROVER 17 December 1944
HMAS BURNIE rammed by ML1079 26 August 1944
HMAS CASTLEMAINE collided with a Manly ferry 11 August 1942
HMAS CESSNOCK collided with a dhow (Red Sea) 08 May 1943
HMAS DELORAINE collided with HMAS GIPPSLAND 07 May 1944
HMAS DUBBO collided with a US submarine 19 August 1944
HMAS FREMANTL collided with HMAS WILLCANIA 27 July 1944
HMAS GEELONG collided with AASE MAERSK 11 November 1942
HMAS GEELONG sunk in collision with US tanker NEW YORK 18 October 1944
HMAS GERALDTON collided with US tanker NEW LONDON 07 December 1943
HMAS GOULBURN collided with US Army tug 02 September 1944
HMAS GYMPIE collided with SS TULLAHOMA 09 November 1945
HMAS KATOOMBA rammed by US tanker PECOS 21 January 1942
HMAS MILDURA rammed by SS BERWICKSHIRE 22 December 1941
HMAS STAWELL rammed by HMAS MILDURA November 1947
The MILDURA was waiting to tow the corvette STAWELL to Sydney. Something went askew with the towing cable and the STAWELL hit MILDURA in almost the same spot as the BERWICKSHIRE.
HMAS WAGGA collided with USS KINTORE 14 May 1943
HMAS WALLOROO sunk in collision with US Liberty ship 11 June 1943
(Source: “Some Recollection” HMAS Mildura Association 2004)
Final Official Function
of RAN Corvette Association Victoria
On 1st June 2011, with 107 in attendance, the Victorian Association held their final re-union luncheon. Everyone received a copy of the final letter, but the presentation was something quite different from usual. Each letter was rolled and tied with a Remembrance Poppy at mid ships. The dining room setting with white table cloths and the predominant Red Poppies was absolutely striking and many comments on the great effect of the presentation were received.
Twelve students from the Star of the Sea Girls College attended and in "two's" were seated among the members and the letter evoked many questions from the girls, who study the wars in which Australians were involved and their effects in their curriculum. Below a summarised version of the letter from the president:
Today is a very sad time for us all, that we are now in the process of "Paying Off", after a very conspicuous period of service to you all. We have developed an alliance with the Star of the Sea College at Gardenvale. The students have been involved in a number of our activities, such as the Annual Commemoration Service of the Corvettes, the June re-union luncheons, Anzac Day at the college etc. The college will be the future of our Association and we will be establishing a Scholarship fund for the college.
It is far from easy to write this letter ultimately saying farewell to those shipmates who served with such distinction in the Corvettes during WWII, and I quote a paragraph from the late Frank Walker's wonderful book "Corvettes - Little Ships for Big Men" which tells of the many experiences we shared on board those ships during those difficult times of war. (With kind permission of Mrs Erika Walker)
"I want to give future generations some idea of what their fathers and grandfathers achieved in Corvettes. I want them to know what it is like to live for years like sardines in ships that could be blown out of the water by pretty well any enemy ship that they met. I want them to know how, even in the blackest days of the war, these sailors never flinched. I want them to know that these balding, stooping, wrinkled old men they see today were once the bright-eyed teenagers who turned into men overnight in Corvettes. I want them to understand why sometimes, as sound or a smell or a voice will spark a memory that will bring an embarrassed watering of the eyes of these old salts. Australian designed, Australian built, Australian manned, Australian as the kangaroo.
The little ship punched her bow into the huge green-black wave, the sea, a lighter green now and frothing, raced along the ships fo'c'sle shooting spouts of water up from the guard-rails, the bollards and the 4'' gun, then smashed into the bridge superstructure and tumbled down into the ship 's waist, and ran along the quarterdeck. The ship shuddered and shook and pushed her cheeky nose up and the water cascaded over the side and into the sea. Then the ship’s stern heaved up as the wave swept aft, and the nose pointed into the trough. The little ship punched her bow into the next huge green-black wave and the next .................
On behalf of the Executive and Committee, I thank you all for your wonderful support over the many years. We hope that you recall the days spent on board, the solid friendships made and retained, with the wish for your good health in the years to come.
SO, WE PIPE YOU ASHORE WITH BAG AND HAMMOCK - TURN RIGHT! DISMISS!
A signal from Reverend Alec Hilliard OAM KSTJ
Today, we sadly bid farewell to our Corvette Association which brought us together in a wonderful way. We pay tribute to all those who have "crossed the bar", to those Old Salts and associated members who have steered a great course of fellowship, fun and reminiscing over many years. Our prayers of gratitude and solemn remembrances go out for all we would seek to honour. God bless us all as we go our several ways. We will always remember those little ships which were our "homes" during our times of serving our Australia, in the struggle for Peace and Justice.
How five corvettes rescued 3000
The story can now be told of how five corvettes rescued 3000 American troops who were on board seven Liberty ships that ran aground on the Barrier Reef on 18 December, 1943. The story is contained in correspondence that our former president Ern Pask has unearthed.
The corvettes were Gympie, Lithgow, Gladstone, Stawell and Castlemaine. The Liberty ships were in convoy TN 192, bound for New Guinea, when they ran onto Bougainville Reef. The corvettes went alongside the Liberty ships, and, in a hair-raising exploit in heavy seas, took off the troops. US Navy PT boats then ferried them across to waiting merchant ships. When the stranded ships floated off in the high tide, the corvettes escorted them to Cairns.
HMAS Gladstone escorted three of them - Ambrose Pierce, City of Fort Worth and Colorado. HMAS Lithgow escorted another three – Charles M Russell, James M Clements and George Sterling. HMAS Stawell escorted the Ludington, HMAS Gympie escorted Peter Desmet and HMAS Castlemaine escorted Willis van Deventer (Most Liberty ships were named after one of the workers who helped build the ship, The name was drawn at random from a hat)
The drama is described in a letter written 50 years later to the RAN by the colonel in charge of a medical unit that was taking passage to New Guinea on board one of the Liberty ships, Peter de Smit. He was Walter E. Teague, of the 44th General Hospital and his letter was endorsed by ten doctors and dentists from his unit.
Colonel Teague wrote :
”I wish to extend my highest compliments to all of those responsible for the valiant rescue effort that began at dawn on 19 December, 1943. The rescue efforts were truly amazing and deserving of our highest compliments for excellent seamanship.
For each person stranded on the Liberty ships the transfer to rescue vessels was an experience never to be forgotten. Since the rescue had to be done in open seas with swells from four to six feet the rise and fall of the corvettes presented a perilous transfer for personnel.
Castlemaine was the first to secure alongside and proceeded to embark 251 troops. Lithgow and Gympie followed, completing the transfer from Peter de Smit. As rescue ships reached the high point of a swell, a minimum of eight personnel would jump across. In this manner the transfer of all personnel from the seven Liberty ships was completed without incident by 1132 hours
I feel it is proper and fitting as we gather to mark the 50th anniversary of victory in the Pacific that our warm admiration and highest compliments be extended to the Royal Australian Navy for the superb outcome of the rescue efforts of 19 December. Etched in our hearts and minds will always be the extraordinary seamanship of the crews of Castlemaine, Lithgow, Stawell, Gladstone and Gympie.
In sharing the report of this event with fellow officers of the 44th General Hospital, I wish to state that they heartily concur with the high admiration and compliments thus extended”
Ern Pask (ex-Lithgow) still has vivid recollections of that day. “We were able to go alongside the after part of Peter De Smit,” he writes. “There was quite a heavy swell running, so we were moving up and down a lot and the seamen manning the fenders between the two ships had an interesting time, to say the least.
“We were there for some hours taking personnel off and managed to get them all without loss or injury. When the rescue was complete we continued our trip to Cairns. It was a rather rough passage and we had some very seasick Americans aboard”.
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST & THE HONGKONG TELEGRAPH
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 4, 1945
AUSTRALIAN ENSIGN - Southern Cross Mine-Sweeping into Hongkong
JAPANESE BARGES GIVE UP
Among the flags now flying from warships in the harbour none flutters more proudly than the blue Australian Ensign with its Southern Cross, for the little ships of the Royal Australian Navy were amongst the first to enter Hongkong on August 30.
The Australian corvettes Mildura, Stawell, Bathurst, Broome, Wagga, Fremantle, Castlemaine and Strahan were hastily formed into a mine-sweeping flotilla and swept the approaches to Hongkong before the entry of the larger ships.
The end of hostilities found these ships scattered throughout the East Indies and even as far south as the West Coast of Australia. For months they had been on convoy escort work, submarine hunts, patrols and little private bombardments from New Guinea right through to Borneo. A good deal of their work had been escorting the Australian troops who subsequently landed in Borneo.
Hurried signals diverted them from the work they were doing and the complete flotilla assembled at Subic Bay in time to sail with Maidstone and her flotilla of submarines. The Australian ships carried out a preliminary sweep of an anchorage off Tamkan Island on August 29, and on the morning of August 30 swept a passage into Tathong Channel. Since then they have been engaged patrolling, on pilotage duties and even as tugs. While on patrol at the harbour entrance on Friday morning Strahan received the surrender of 11 Japanese barges which came from seaward waving white flags.
SIGNALS by the KING JAMES BIBLE
Pirie and Kalgoorlie were assigned to sweep mines in the Endeavour Strait off Thursday Islands in 1944.
I was the signalman on the morning watch when Kalgoorlie apparently snagged a mine as she suddenly disappeared in a huge sheet of water, kite, buoys and wire etc. thrown hundreds of feet in the air. We thought she had “copped it” but she emerged her signalman already flashing the ‘AA”.
The signal read something like “see Ezekiel chapter 4 verse 16”.
It’s a long time ago so the bible reference isn’t accurate, but the text is well remembered. It was customary then to have a bible on the flag deck, as it seemed that naval officers used it to pass certain messages. The Kalgoorlie skipper’s message was:
"I am like an eunuch amongst prostitutes"
I still marvel at the Lieutenant using such an opposite quotation, but even more so at his having it ready for the contingency.
Sent in by Ron Vickress ex HMAS Pirie
JAPAN ENTERS THE WAR - CORVETTES in Action
The DISASTROUS MALAYA/JAVA CAMPAIGN found the corvettes Maryborough, Burnie, Bendigo, Goulburn, Ballarat, Wollongong and Toowoomba immediately in the heat of the action when Japan entered the war on 8 December 1941, together with other units of the RAN, the RN, the RIN and the Netherlands Navy. Soon HMS Repulse, HMS Prince of Wales were sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers. We lost many merchant ships and HMAS Perth and HMAS Yarra were destroyed by overwhelming surface forces.
The corvettes for three months, although subjected to intense air attack, sometimes three or four times a day, miraculously survived and continued with their tasks of shepherding their convoys, towing disabled ships, rescuing people from burning ships, destroying equipment which could be used by the invaders. Frequently they were only hours ahead of enemy forces. By March 1942 they were back in Australian waters.
It’s a dog’s life in the Navy
Reg Kay (“Danny”) ex-Cowra has written in reminding us about the Great Dane who made his home at HMAS Watson during WWII. He was called Horse, because he was nearly as big as one, and he used to go with the blokes in the bus to Kings Cross. He knew which bus to get back to the depot and anybody not wearing a white cap didn’t get past the guard-house at the main entrance.
Reg also sent us an article about a Great Dane who served from 1939 to 1944 at HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment at Simon’s Town, South Africa. His owner ran the United Services Institute at Simon’s Town and he became very popular with the patrons, mostly sailors, who would feed him snacks, pies and beer and take him for walks.
He regarded all men dressed in bell-bottom trousers and square blue collars as his friends, and studiously ignored people wearing any other sort of uniform. At the naval base he would lie on the decks of ships, mostly at the top of the gangplanks. Since he was large, even for a Great Dane – two meters tall when standing on his hind legs – he presented a sizable object for those trying to board or disembark. He was regarded as just a nuisance and became known, affectionately, as Nuisance.
Nuisance also liked to follow the sailors around and he began taking day trips with them as far away as Capetown, 35 km and 27 stations away.
Conductors would put him off the train if they discovered him, but that was no problem for him, as he would just wait for the next train. Occasionally travellers would offer to pay his fare, but the railway company would have none of it, and threatened to have him put down unless he was kept under control and prevented from boarding trains.
When the sailors heard that Nuisance might be put down, they asked the Navy to do something about it. They first thought of buying him a season ticket, but that made no difference, so the Navy decided to enlist him, which would entitle him to free travel as a member of the armed forces.
He was duly enlisted as Ordinary Seaman Nuisance and since he would have to have a first name he was called Just Nuisance. He signed the enlistment form with his paw and his trade was recorded as “bonecrusher”. His religion was “scrounger”, but it was later changed to the more formal “Canine Divinity League (Anti-Vivisection)”. Because of good behaviour he was promoted to Able Seaman and he married another Great Dane, Alinda, who produced five little Great Danes
Just Nuisance did not ever go to sea, but he made himself known at the nearby naval air station, where a pilot took him up in a coastal reconnaissance plane, a Fairy Fulmer, on a patrol looking for submarines.
Just Nuisance’s service record was not without blemishes. Sometimes he went absent without leave, sometimes he lost his collar and he often refused to leave the pub at closing time. For sleeping in an improper place, namely a petty officer’s bed, he was sentenced to have all bones removed for seven days. He also fought with mascots of visiting ships, resulting in the deaths of two of them. One was the mascot of HMS Shropshire, which later became HMAS Shropshire.
Eventually he was involved in a car accident and was paralysed, so on 1 April, 1944, he was taken to the naval hospital and put to sleep. Next day his body was draped with the White Ensign and buried with full military honours, including a gun salute and the playing of the Last Post.
Since then, the life and story of Just Nuisance has become a part of Simon's Town - a statue of him has been erected on Jubilee Square and simple granite headstone marks his grave on Red Hill, which is a regular stopping point for visitors.
The Simon's Town Museum has in its collection all Just Nuisance's official papers, his collar and many photographs. A special display has been mounted in the museum and a slide show giving the story of this famous dog is shown daily to children and tourists from all over the world. An annual parade of Great Danes is held and a look- alike is chosen and appropriately honoured.
What the Stokers did!
Those of us who were not engine-room staff knew very little about what went on down below, so Les L. ex Pirie has written the following account:
"The boiler room was equipped with two Yarrow tube boilers, each with a steam drum and two water drums. The steam drum forced the apex of a triangle with the two water drums at the base. Each water drum was connected to the steam drum by about 400, 1 1/2" steel tubes. The furnace was lined with fire bricks which were usually repaired or replaced during boiler cleans.
There were six oil sprays firing each furnace. Each spray had a steel cone positioned in the furnace to spread its oil. Carbon formed on the cones depending on the quality of the fuel oil used. It was the stokers' on watch main duty to keep the cones clean with a steel poker.
A Stoker Petty Officer and two stokers maintained the boiler room watch while the ship was under steam. The boiler room was pressurised with an airlock and fan to maintain the correct air pressure. There were inspection holes to check the furnace for smoke. White smoke meant too much air and black smoke not enough air. The steam left the boilers at 210 lbs per square inch to the main engines, tiller flat, mine-sweeping winch, galley and capstan on the fo'scle.
When under steam, the engine room was manned by an E.R.A., a Leading Stoker and a stoker. The E.R.A. supervised the watch, while the Leading Stoker carried out the instructions received from the bridge via the voice-pipe or telegraph. The stoker regularly oiled around the main and auxiliary engines and when the main engine were doing high revolutions, felt around the main bearings for overheating. Several times during the watch the stoker visited the tiller flat and oiled the steam steering engine there.
The main engines were 1000HP, triple expansion, capable of driving the ship at 15.5 knots at 230 RPM. A Southern Cross Diesel, for'ard of the main engines supplied power in harbour. Above on the catwalk was a Gardiner Diesel used specifically for charging the Degaussing batteries. An evaporator for'ard of the port engine distilled sea water to feed the boiler and at times for drinking water."
Now we know!!
Corvette Magazine July 1993
The Legal Implications of Dropping Anchors in Error
The following report is alleged to have been received by the director of an American Nautical school. Although it is not a letter to the Editor, it is possible that, some of our more erudite nautical people may relate to some or all of it. Ed.
It is in haste and with regret that I fax this report to you. Regret that a small misunderstanding should create problems as I will detail below and haste, that you will be able to form your own conclusions from my report before being contacted by the press which will be sure to over-dramatise the matter.
After taking the Pilot aboard, we proceeded under his control. The apprentice had changed the "G" flag for the "H" flag and was having difficulty in rolling the flag correctly. I took time to show him how to do it.
Coming to the last part I told him to "let go." Although willing, the lad is not too bright and it was necessary for me to repeat the instruction in a louder voice. As I did so, the First mate came out of the chart room and perhaps thinking that I was referring to the anchors, repeated "let go" to the Third mate standing on the focsle. The port anchor had been cleared away ready for use and was immediately slipped. Letting the anchor go when the ship was travelling at Harbour speed, proved to be too much for the windlass brake which failed, allowing the full length of the cable to run out. I fear that damage to the cable locker may be considerable.
The braking effect of the anchor dragging steered the ship's head to port towards the swing bridge which crosses one of the tributaries of the river up which we were proceeding. Showing admirable presence of mind, the bridge operator was able to swing the bridge open before we reached it. He had, however, neglected to stop the road traffic. As a result we received a Volkswagen, two cyclists, one jogger and a cattle truck on the fore deck.
I instructed the Second Officer to get names and addresses of these people, as, not having passed through Customs, they should not have gained entry to my vessel. My ships company, as I write, are rounding up the contents of the truck which smell and sound like pigs. In his well-meaning attempts to take way of the ship, the Third Officer ordered the starboard anchor to be dropped. This fell onto the cabin of the Swing bridge, being, I fear, a poor reward for the operator's efforts.
After the port anchor had gone and we started to steer to port I gave a double astern ring in order to rapidly
take way of the ship. After some delay the duty engineer came to the phone, gave me the sea temperature and asked if he might have leave ashore tonight. I believe I may have been somewhat terse.
Up to now I have confined my report to the activities at the forward end of the vessel. Aft, they were having their own problems.
At the time the port anchor was being let go, the Second Officer was supervising the making fast of the after tug and was lowering the towing hawser to the bow of that craft. The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the tug to run in under the stern. This coincided with the engineer finally providing full power astern. It seems that one of the propeller blades may have punctured the hull of the tug. The towing hawser, providentially, delayed the sinking of the tug long enough for her crew to climb to our poop deck.
Oddly enough, at the time the port anchor began to slow the ship, there was a black-out ashore. The fact that there were "Submarine Cable" signs on either side of the channel may explain this matter. It is perhaps fortunate that the overhead cable that was brought down by the foremast was not live, as we might have suffered some injuries on deck.
It never fails to amaze me how foreigners act and behave during moments of minor crisis. For example: The Pilot is at this moment mumbling to himself while helping himself to my bottle of gin. The tug master has had to be forcibly restrained by my deck crew, he having made various threats to my person. The tug crew seem to be engaged in an altercation with the deck crew and with the driver of the cattle truck. I enclose the names and addresses of the drivers of the various vehicles on the fore deck. You may wish to make claims on their insurance companies because of the damage caused by their vehicles.
I am closing this report as I find it difficult to concentrate with the noise of various sirens and the associated flashing lights. I feel constrained to point out that none of this would have happened had the apprentice remembered that pilot flags do not have to be flown after sunset.
For the weekly accountability report I have assigned the following numbers: T/750101 to T/750199 inclusive.
I remain your obedient servant, H. Bloggs, Master.
Source: Australian Heritage 1994 sent in by J. Goodall
Corvette Magazine January 1999
Are we corvetters or corvetteers?
Pat, ex Cairns, has written to us suggesting that we use the term "Corvetters" instead of "Corvetteers", which he says has unfortunate connotations with words such as mouskateers. This drove us to a frenzy of consultations with reference books, from which the following rules emerged:
the suffix EER applies to nouns denoting a person who is involved in activities connected with the noun, such as 'engineer" (involved with activities connected with "engine"), "mountaineer" (mountain) etc.
the suffix ER applies to nouns designating a person's occupation or origin (eg cricketer, villager, southerner, footballer, lawyer) and to verbs (eg teacher is one who teaches, an employer is one who employs, a flier is one who flies).
On this basis, the correct word is "corvetteer", even though most of us regard both corvetter and corvetteer as ungainly and inelegant. Perhaps some reader can come up with a suggestion for something better.
Corvette Magazine March 1999
The issue hammock, the beloved pusser's sack, one of man's most endearing inventions, has vanished from Navy mess decks. It has been replaced by the impersonal between-deck bunk.
Yes, the sack has gone, but it is certainly not forgotten. Those who have long experienced the pleasures of the snug, canvas cocoon have many a warm memory to share and treasure. To those who sailed the stormy seas or served ashore in Navy bases during the war, the humble sac was perhaps the sailor's most important possession.
It was much more than merely a sleeping contraption. It was extra storage space, and a great hiding spot for a bottle of the best or a box of mum's cookies. It was a clothes press, a reading room, sometimes a life saver, or a patch to mend a damaged hull. Even in the continuing constant welter of the crowded mess deck, it offered an inland of privacy. Slung high above the confusion, the occupant was secure in its warm embrace, above the maddening crowd.
The sailor's introduction to his hammock was generally an innocuous affair - it was issued along with jumpers, singlets, bell-bottoms, cap and blankets. All were lugged back to the new sailor's quarters. Here, the vast wide expanse of canvas was folded lengthwise. Add a thin bed and two white blankets. Under the careful supervision of an old hand, with canvas, nettle and lanyards for each end, the young sailor has a finished hammock, his best friend.
On that first night came frustrations in slinging at the right height and tension. Then once you sat inside, the beast seemed to want to smother you or turn turtle. After many a furtive check to see if the knots were holding, the new mate-lot fell asleep until "wakey, wakey, rise and shine" echoed through the mess deck.
Over the months he would liberate a pillow and learn to press his trousers between the mattress and canvas. He would customise it, to make it his own and give it a special personality.
The sailor and his hammock - a real love story.
Small and stumpy unassuming,
typically of Australian breed,
knowing only that she's vital
in this hour of Australia's need.
Nothing fancy in her make up
often than not she is caked in brine
testimony of her journeys
North and south and over the line.
Cruelly though the oceans beat her
she has proved their might in vain
treating Neptune's fierce endeavors
with a woman's proud disdain.
Never knowing - never caring
where her mission leads her to go.
Ever watchful. Ever daring
waiting to chance to smite the foe
small she is - but tough
Never minding for her duties have been met
trusting only in her daring
Corvetters to see her through
THOU PROUD CORVETTE.
This poem appeared in the programme of the RANCA reunion dinner in Melbourne October 1986
Earthquake damage jams phones, Internet Hong Kong DECEMBER 28, 2006
INTERNET and phone services have been disrupted across much of Asia after an earthquake damaged undersea cables, leaving one of the world's most tech-savvy regions in a virtual blackout. From frustrated traders seeking in vain for stock quotes to anxious newshounds accustomed to round-the-clock updates on world events, millions of people from China to Japan to Australia were affected on Wednesday. The disruption was widespread, hitting China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and elsewhere, with knock-on effects as far away as Australia. (Reuter)
Aussies did it 61 years ago
Nature did only what two Australian sailors did 61 years ago they cut the cables between Hong Kong and Tokyo and hastened the end of World War II. The Australians were Lieutenant Max Shean, RANVR and Sub-Lieutenant Ken Briggs, RANVR and their exploit ranks as one of the most heroic deeds of the war.
The Allies had learnt how to crack the Japanese secret codes and Japanese radio signals were being intercepted and transmitted to Bletchley Park, in England, where experts deciphered them. The Japanese suspected that their codes were being cracked, so they switched all signal traffic to cables. Their heaviest and most important traffic was between Singapore, which they were using as a naval base, and Tokyo, via Hong Kong and Saigon.
It was vitally important to force the Japanese to resume sending their signals by radio and the only way to do this was to cut the cables. To send a surface ship, such as a cable-layer, was out of the question, as the cables were within sight of an enemy-held shore and not far from Japanese airfields. Midget submarines, known as X-craft, might have a chance, but it would be extremely hazardous. Max Shean, who had already distinguished himself in midget submarine operations in Europe, agreed to take it on.
The RN submarine HMS Spearhead acted as mother-ship and on July 31 1945, towed Shean's midget submarine to a point 17 miles from Cape St Jaques lighthouse, in the mouth of the Mekong river, near Saigon. Shean slipped the tow and began the perilous run inshore to grapple for the cable. Several patrolling junks were cruising about, but Shean managed to manoeuvre his tiny craft to the spot where the cables were thought to fie. He towed an improvised grapple over the area until he felt it hook onto something solid, then one of his five-man crew, Ken Briggs, of Brisbane, got out of the submarine and severed the cable with hydraulically-powered cutters. He returned on board with a piece of cable as evidence.
The job, however, was only half done. The cable they had cut vas the Saigon-Tokyo link, but now the Hong Kong-Saigon cable had to be cut. Shean manoeuvred his submarine to where the other cable was supposed to be, trailed his grapple again until he felt it tug on something. He sent crewman Adam Bergius, a Scot, to investigate and Bergius found the cable and severed it. Shean then linked up with the mother-submarine and his midget craft was towed back to HMS Bonaventure, the surface mother-submarine moored at Rranei. Once again Shean had carried out a hazardous operation precisely according to plan.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order - his second and Ken Briggs was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.