Corvette Maryborough 1941-1946
- March 2010
- Harvey K
- Ship histories and stories
- HMAS Ballarat I, HMAS Bendigo I, HMAS Burnie, HMAS Cairns, HMAS Cessnock I, HMAS Gawler I, HMAS Geraldton I, HMAS Goulburn, HMAS Hobart I, HMAS Ipswich I, HMAS Lismore, HMAS Maryborough, HMAS Moresby I, HMAS Toowoomba I, HMAS Vampire I, HMAS Wollongong I, HMAS Yarra I
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
HMAS MARYBOROUGH was built by Walker’s Ltd at Maryborough, Queensland and commissioned by Lieutenant Commander G. L. Cant, RAN on 15th June, 1941. Known as the Bathurst class of mine-sweepers, she was the sixth of the sixty corvettes to be built in Australia and one of the twenty manned by Australian crews, although built to Admiralty account.
With a complement of 5 officers and 85 ratings her shake-down cruise was south to Hobart, where she swept the channel ahead of the troopship Queen Mary, then repeating various exercises in Port Phillip Bay, Jervis Bay and on to Sydney, arriving 20th September. Several weeks of additions, alterations, adjustments, exercising with a submarine, an East Indies specialist joins as navigator and off we go for Brisbane, fell in with the tail end of a cyclone off Cape Byron, a 60ft swell rolled us 55° and surfed us along until reaching the welcome calm of Moreton Bay.
Our first job was to escort a floating dock at 4 knots inside the Barrier Reef to Cairns, then detached for Thursday Island and Darwin for top up. North westwards through Lombok Strait and Java Sea to the RN Base tucked away at the Johore end of Singapore Island 20th November where we joined sister ships Bendigo, Burnie and Goulburn to form the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla, Commander G. L. Cant SO in Maryborough as flotilla leader.
During four days settling in, a very necessary AA gun, single barrel pom-pom, was fitted on the after deck, so fortified we escort and patrol around a cable ship working off the Lingga Islands, a comfortable assignment lasting three days.
On the 28th we escorted a merchant ship to Port Swettenham, stayed overnight and joined other corvettes in the satisfying task of sweeping the Straits of Malacca ahead of Prince Of Wales, Repulse and four destroyers southward to Singapore. Did much the same for a convoy of large troop ships inward board from Colombo several days later.
Japan entered the war at midnight 7th/8th December with an air raid on Singapore, which we view from a patrol area off the Horsborough Light at the eastern end of the Strait. At 0030 the following night the watch-keepers on deck saw the Prince Of Wales, Repulse, and destroyers, Electra, Express, Tenedos and Vampire pass on passage to the Gulf of Siam; this was a fighting move but the news that came back was appalling.
Our relief arrived and with a supply of paint already in store we anchored in a secluded bay to completely repaint the ship in a camouflage pattern of two shades of green in 12 hours; we were learning fast. Back at the Base great efforts were made to increase air defences, temporary repairs were rushed to clear the destroyer Isis from the floating dock, and the destroyers had returned with survivors from POW & Repulse, many of these being de-oiled inside and out, fed, clothed and bedded down by ratings at the nearby Naval Barracks.
The 15th December saw us back on anti-submarine patrol off Horsborough Light where we made the first capture of the Pacific war, a Japanese fishing sampan did not know it was on, our boarding party filled them in with an escort to Singapore.
The pattern was now set, patrol, escort, sweep somewhere close about the Island, Christmas Day at sea, likewise New Year 1942, with particular attention to the deep channel approach to and the Singapore Strait swept channel, also the Berhala and Durian Straits to the south. While patrolling the swept channel east on the 16th January a Dutch merchant ship stopped close by for some reason, drifted off the channel into the minefield and blew up, all gone in two minutes, we picked up 37 survivors and took them ashore.
On the 18th January welcome supporters join the flotilla, the AMSs Ballarat, Toowoomba and Woollongong, sister ships from Australia. Some days later with Woollongong in company we did a searching sweep in the Strait of Durian, this had just been completed and gear stowed when up form astern came six Jap. bombers, made a pass at ‘Gong’ then headed over us. ‘Hard-a-port’, ordered Commander Cant and six bombs rocked us to starboard, shrapnel cutting one of the four wires in the main aerial and chipping paint off the funnel and whaler. Ashore at the dockyard that night we were lit up by some blazing oil tanks nearby, but celebrated at the canteen, where beer and soft drinks only were available, all other amenities having been blown far and wide. A large three funnelled troopship was in the graving dock unharmed, the Japs must want it.
Seletar, the Air Base and Changi had also ‘copped it’, the Strait of Johore was now untenable and we were to use Keppel Harbour in future. This anchorage soon became congested and anything looking like a troopship was mercilessly bombed and strafed unopposed, as Allied aircraft were non-existent.
By 2nd February the pall of smoke over Singapore Island had thickened ominously as we sailed escorting a minelayer and two sweepers, some passengers were aboard, the depth charge hold and tiller flat were stowed with hastily packed cases, cartons and parcels of books, documents, records etc. Followed an eventful trip, 550 miles of zig-zags and other diversions south-eastwards through Durian, Lingga and Banka Straits to Tanjong Priok, the port for Batavia, arriving 5th February to find this harbour filling with ships of all descriptions and the docks and fuelling areas jammed tight.
Five days later we ‘won’ a boiler clean at a vital time and in a floating dock made from a gutted out merchant hull, the Javanese dockyard mateys took shelter in old boilers on the wharf alongside during air raids; one particular daylight raid was torn apart by Hobart, which had just arrived.
Ashore the road for several miles to Batavia was lined with Hurricane fighters parked under every tree, a mere few days too late to help the hard pressed defences. Batavia city was still in good shape, the Dutch influence very obvious.
We rejoined the outer harbour patrol line which was extended each day as more and more ships arrived, until 17th February, when Commodore J. A. Collins formed the Sunda Strait Auxiliary Patrol of Maryborough SO, Ballarat, Bendigo, Burnie and three Dutch sloops, their task being to prevent infiltration landings on Java. Our base was at Merak several miles south of St. Nicholas Pt. from where we patrolled the turbulent Sunda Strait by night, closed up at action stations and laid up by day at the base. Japanese aircraft were becoming more prevalent with frequent attacks during daylight hours and by 27th the general situation had become very ominous. On 28th Merak was no longer tenable, Commander Cant ordered the pier blown up and took the flotilla south to Third Point from where ships low in fuel went on to Tjilatjap, we resumed patrol in Sunda Strait with Ballarat, Goulburn and Toowoomba.
During the night a message broadcast by the Dutch destroyer Evertsen reported an attack by Japanese cruisers in the Strait and was beaching on Sebuke Island; now aware of superior enemy forces close by Commander Cant reversed course and shortly after midnight on the 2nd March closed the Jumna – Yarra convoy where Yarra relayed by light a message broadcast by Naval HQ the previous day ordering all British warships to make for Tjilaljap. Some indecision about the state of the swept channel was resolved by shortages of fuel and all four ships entered the port where fuel and water were available in the bomb damaged waterside area.
At 8 p.m. 2nd March the Maryborough, now with passengers aboard, departed Tjilaljap escorting the Dutch merchant ship General Verspijck, which had to be worked by her passengers, naval officers and ratings, the Consul General for Batavia and civilians. Leaving the channel both ships were near missed by a torpedo which ran between them, we set an evading course westwards for several hours then altered southwards. All next day the tension was high, the lookout at their best (we did not have Radar at this stage) as we pressed on in clear weather at 8 knots, this being the best speed of the coal burning General Verspijck. (Alarms, bombing and submarine reports were received from all directions, an enemy bomber circled for an hour during the forenoon on the 4th, but kept a safe distance from our guns, then disappeared northwards. Miraculously there was no follow-up, we had passed unharmed through a Japanese force of cruisers and destroyers intent on wiping out Yarra’s bigger convoy away to the north-east.
By the 6th General Verspijck was firing her boilers with all wooden fixtures and fittings while the convoy speed dropped to 4 knots, but now the welcome aroma of Aussie-land was in the air and next day, 10th March we arrived alongside at Fremantle to hear that all ships of the flotilla were safely home.
From March to May, we fell in with the regular pattern of anti-submarine patrol, sweep and occasionally an escort job south towards Cape Leeuwin. Fremantle was now a strategic base, RN ships were frequent visitors, the US Navy had established a submarine base for whom we towed their disabled Searaven from the Geraldton area back to Gage Roads. In June we shifted to the Albany area, did a searching sweep in St. George’s Sound and patrolled off shore for several weeks, much to the discomfort of the whales. Early July we were ordered east to enter a dockyard at Birkenhead, SA for a refit and much needed long leave to all hands.
We re-commissioned in mid August with many new faces, a ship repainted back to navy grey and special applause for a single Oerlikon fitted on each wing of the lower bridge. Westward the course to be based again at Fremantle, which had caught the midget sub. disease, many alarms, bumps, and thumps but no periscopes for souvenirs, only dead fish a welcome change from ‘red lead’.
Again something new, our first practice run refuelling from a tanker underway off Rottnest, rigging that crazy, unpredictable fuel line was the only difficulty.
By late October the signs were clear, several extra hands joined, topping up was completed, came 3rd November we sailed as ocean escort to the tanker Erling Brovig which was bound for the Gulf, ourselves to join the Eastern Fleet at Colombo.
Within hours of leaving we received a message warning us, and others, that two Japanese armed merchant cruisers had sailed from Tjilatjap, and sure enough on the 7th messages intercepted indicated that a ‘dust up’ was going on somewhere in our vicinity. Meeting at Diego Garcia we accompanied HMIS Bengal to Colombo, where on the 20th all RN Ships in harbour manned the rigging to welcome the Indian corvette for her part in the setting on fire and consequent scuttling of a Japanese AMC by gunfire from their ship and tanker Ondina, a magnificent victory in any Navy’s history, with the loss of 2 officers and 3 ratings and minimal damage to both ships.
Our next appearance was as escort to a single ship to Bombay, two clear days there and return to base shackled to our buoy in eight days. The good news is that Maryborough is to be fitted with Air Warning Radar, the boilers are shut down, early next morning we are towed to, then warped into the graving dock, here was the bad news. The mixture of oil and ullage aftermath of the air raids in April smothered the floor and walls of the dock and soon this foul mess was carpeting every deck in the ship.
The dockside cooking and ablutions shacks were inferior to the normally low standard of such facilities and amongst all this we existed for four days.
Undocked 20th December, raised steam to one hour’s notice and next morning embarked an army orchestra for passage to Addu Atoll, where the garrison really deserved some entertainment, we returned immediately enjoying an excellent Xmas dinner on the way.
Into 1943 we settled down to the usual routine, but spiced with interesting possibilities such as investigating sighting reports and other mysterious events amongst the maze of Maldive and Laccadive Islands. A short trip around the corner to Trincomalee and return in 3 days, then another to Cochin where we had to wait several days in this foul spot until the convoy was ready. One convoy to Bombay carried on claiming us as far as Aden, surely the ‘bottom’ of the world. Bombay was to become a second home port, a good one too, Eros waved and staff at theatres and canteens knew us.
There was no escaping Persian Gulf time where SNOPG (Snop-gee) was our boss in an AMC off Banda Abbas. We did four convoys from and to Bombay or Karachi with waiting time at a base at Kor Kuwai in the Strait of Hormuz, rowing whalers in 108°F for recreation! During these four months we had met or worked with most of the other twelve Australian Corvettes on the station and many of the RIN ships.
Early May and one way of beating the approaching monsoon season was to leave the Indian Ocean, eight Aussie corvettes did just that, being ordered to the Mediterranean; Maryborough sailed independently, had a spare day at Ismalia where the lucky lads took train for a day in Cairo. Arrived Port Said 15th May and berthed stern to the hard, down a short gangway and 30 yards away was the canteen, other Naval facilities were close by. A single Oerlikon on either side of the quarterdeck and a ‘scrounged’ .5” Breda abaft the funnel were added, to the great satisfaction of everyone.
Commander Cant returned to Australia, Lieutenant J. C. P. Boyle replaced him as CO which meant loss of flotilla leadership; the eight ships were reformed into two flotillas as follows:
- 21st MSF, Gawler SO, Ipswich, Lismore & Maryborough;
- 22nd MSF, Geraldton SO, Cairns, Cessnock & Wollongong
and were attached to existing Allied Escort Groups in the Palestine, Lebanon and Cyprus areas.
On 4th June we joined another group from Alexandria westwards with a fast convoy, but were detached to take a disabled tanker into Tobruk in darkness, stayed overnight and next day wandered about amongst the rubble. Back in Alex. we are handed a ‘special’, a stealthy search in the Derna area for a submarine landing or recovering enemy agents, our gunnery boys rig extra guns but not a ‘bird’ in sight, unfortunately.
Departed Port Said 14th, Malta bound we had difficulty with some stragglers, then a submarine alarm which kept three ships busy, but from then on nothing dangerous. Off Malta we and two other escorts were detached to take two supply ships to Tripoli (Libya) where the harbour was nearly filled-in with sunken ships and wrecked installations, but the city and suburban areas appeared to be in fairly good shape. A boiler clean was allowed and some shore leave in restricted areas, plus a strong ‘buzz’ of something big brewing.
By 5th July the ‘brew’ was hot as we steamed eastwards across the Gulf of Sirte next day, met Gawler, Ipswich and Lismore off Benghazi that night to join supply convoy MWS 36 for ‘Operation Husky’, the invasion of Sicily.
On the 7th we cruised among the convoy delivering a bag of secret documents to each ship, then settled in our position on the starboard wing, the monitor Erebus was well screened in the middle of the centre column. 9th July a fast convoy of troop and landing ships escorted by cruisers thundered past, their engine and propeller noises could be heard and felt miles ahead.
A norwesterly and lumpy sea moderated during the night, floating mines drifted by, the initial landing was timed for 0245-10th on the eastern side of Cape Passers, our convoy eta was 0600-10th.
The landing looked to be going well as all corvettes and some destroyers formed a continuous circular patrol, shooting at anything nasty, until 0100-11th when we joined a convoy of empty ships for Alexandria.
Departed Alex. 18th with convoy MWS 38 arriving off Syracuse late afternoon 24th, the enemy made a prolonged air attack over the harbour during the night from which we copped plenty of side effects offshore. The Focke Wulf night fighter-bombers were tough customers and shook us up with a near miss astern.
Return to Alex. with various ships and to a mooring alongside the KGV, the frogmen scare was still on but the big ships’ answer to this was to have one propeller turning at dead slow day and night.
Conditions in this historic city were fairly good considering that it was nearly swamped with Allied authorities and armed forces, but we were able to wander so far as the east side beach resort and at night found there was much going on under the blackout.
Early in August we joined another Escort Group comprising the RN sloop Shoreham SO, corvettes Hythe, Rye, Romney, Whitehaven and our 21st MSF Gawler, Ipswich, Lismore and Maryborough, departed Port Said with convoy MKS 21 of 28 ships bound for Gibraltar 1,900 miles to the westward. There were joiners and leavers on passage, the only calls being at Bizerta for fuel and Oran to unload a batch of prisoners.
Friday, 13th August just after sunset near Alboran Island, 37 Heinkel 111′s and 8 JU 88′s torpedo bombers came in low from the north receiving a devastating reception from every gun in the convoy and escort, another wave of aircraft crossed ahead attacking the port side, Maryborough being in the thick of it and hard pressed managed to get one shot from her 4” and a burst from each of the port Oerlikons into a low level attacker which would have wiped us out otherwise.
This plane crashed and we were credited with the kill. It was all over in 7 minutes the only evidence being a trail of smashed German aircraft, and in an area where ‘no Allied fighter protection was thought necessary’!
Enemy losses were 9 shot down, others severely damaged, convoy 8 men wounded, 2 ships torpedoed but towed to Gibraltar, escorts one man wounded and minor damage.
The following night ashore at Gibraltar was unforgettable. A W/T message was received as follows: ‘Shoreham (R) FOC Gibraltar, Admiralty from C-in-C Med. Fleet. I congratulate you, the escort force and convoy MKS 21 on your sterling defence of convoy against torpedo bomber attack. The enemy got a sore head he is likely to remember.’
The group sailed from Gibraltar 16th, westwards through the Strait, surprising but not for long, 120 miles out we took over a laden convoy and proceeded on the long haul back to Port Said. The usual warnings of enemy torpedo boats and planes now working out of Sardinia were received but no alarms, the most interesting event was singling up the 65 ship convoy to pass another convoy on opposite course in the swept channel off Cape Bon, not one incident or mishap, the Allies were well versed in this business. This trip had been nonstop arriving Port Said at daylight 27th August, proving the accepted figures for the course of 11 days at 7½ knots.
For the next convoy we were appointed ‘SO Escorts’ to a convoy to Sicily. On to Sicily, past Catania where the convoy entered, we carried on independently almost up to the Strait of Messina where many Italian ships were surrendering, the announcement having been broadcast at 6.30 p.m. the previous day, 8th September. We were ordered south at best speed to escort two enemy submarines to Malta where we went alongside at Sliema.
The Grand Harbour was once again crammed with shipping, Valetta devastated, but deep underground was for living, the conducting of Naval affairs and a signal office.
From late September we were on jobbing work in the Levant area, one particular run to Castellorizo Island had to be quick and sharp, arrive after dark and leaving before daylight to evade the Germans, who were very savage in and about Rhodes. On the way back we picked up an Italian survivor from an open boat south of Crete. Cyprus had to be maintained and several convoys were taken via Haifa or Beirut to Famagusta during October and last one early in November.
The other seven ships had already returned to the Eastern Fleet; Maryborough, having done six months service, was the last to leave and on 15th November sailed for Bombay arriving on the 27th. We soon had a convoy to the Persian Gulf and the return was with a large passenger ship crammed with refugees to Karachi. Sailed for Durban 12th December, called at Port Victoria in the Seychelles group, then westward to Mombasa, Kenya, known as Kilindini Base.
There we joined Gawler to escort the SS Burma carrying 1,000 POWs, the trooper rammed the boom gate then promptly ran onto a reef 3 miles south of the harbour, our two ships assisted with ferrying the ‘castaways’ back to base, then pressed on southwards, Gawler to Port Elizabeth, ourselves to Durban for an overdue refit, 30th December. The ship was put in dockyard hands and long leave was taken in places as far inland as Johannesburg, Randfontein and Krugersdorp, amongst very hospitable people.
Rejuvenated we departed Durban 1st April 1944 as escort to a Dutch passenger ship bound for Colombo, the only alarm was a suspected submarine contact investigated without result and resumed course in miserable SW monsoon weather. The following seven months became monotonous with coastal convoys to Bombay or Vizagapatam, a port about halfway between Madras and Calcutta, interspersed with special trips to Addu Atoll and investigating suspicious events amongst the scattered Maldive islands.
The RN had requested that all corvettes be made available north of Australia for defence of the bases of the British Pacific fleet. The last four ships Maryborough, Toowoomba, Burnie and Lismore departed Colombo in mid November, arrived Fremantle 2nd December 1944 and sailed immediately for the eastern States.
Off Cape Nelson, south western Victoria, we were ordered to search for a submarine which had attacked the Greek ship Ilissos, but 30 hours later no hostile sight nor sound having been made, we resumed course arriving Melbourne late 11th. Next day with Lieutenant Commander M. W. Lancaster aboard as CO, found us with all gear streamed, sweeping between Cape Otway and Wilson Promontory for four days without result, then sailed for Sydney arriving on 18th December. The contentment of being at Sydney during Christmas and New Year was profound, particularly for men who had been in foreign waters for two and a half years.
Early in January 1945 we picked up a ‘cushy’ job for several weeks of night patrols off Sydney Heads, lying up by day at Watson’s Bay, what could be better!
Come February and off we go with a mixed convoy, leavers and joiners to Milne Bay, Madang, Hollandia and terminating at Manus (and its ‘ice-cream boat’!). Returned much the same way, poking about north and east of New Guinea, on to Sydney and Birkenhead SA for a refit arriving the 4th April.
We re-commissioned in May with many new faces amongst the crew, a new 4’’ HA/LA gun on the fo’csle and a Bofors in place of the pom-pom. From Sydney we were attached to a convoy for Manus where escort work with the Fleet Train continued for some months. Shortly after peace was declared we moved to Hong Kong for three weeks sweeping channels and minefields, then transferred to Amoy to assist in clearing that harbour.
Notably, our first CO Commander G. L. Cant was the Senior Naval Officer present aboard HMAS Moresby with Brigadier Dyke who accepted the surrender of all Japanese forces in Timor, at Koepang at noon on the 11th September, 1945.
Maryborough with Toowoomba were detached and sent to Swatow to clear the harbour and approaches, then three weeks later returned to Amoy for further sweeping, where, unfortunately two men were wounded when a mine exploded close astern.
In mid November we headed for home via Morotai where 28 AIF passengers came aboard, Thursday Island, Townsville arriving Maryborough, Queensland, on Thursday, 6th December, 1945, 4 years after commissioning. The mayor and councillors, Walker’s shipyard people and the citizens gave her a great welcome and made the crew their guests for the next four days.
On 11th December 1945 we sailed for Brisbane where HMAS Maryborough was eventually paid off on 12th August 1946, her log recorded 173,495 miles.
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