Editor’s Note: The full text of Ray’s article described the evolution of HMAS Rushcutter as the Australian A/S School in 1938/39, and the training of both officers and sailors in A/S Warfare equipment and procedures. Since this has been included in other articles in this edition, I have taken the liberty of picking up Ray’s story as Rushcutter’s graduates went forth to practise their new-found skills in the heat of World War II. I trust Ray will understand and forgive my heavy-handedness.
The first of what was to be a steady stream of officers and men soon set off for the United Kingdom. The Cold War ended with the German invasion of Norway. The eight large trawlers of the grandly named 15th and 16th Anti-Submarine Striking Forces, each with an Australian A/SCO, were soon in action in Norwegian waters, operating close to enemy-held airfields. Given the intensity of the air attacks, it was remarkable that only three of the trawlers were lost. All eight Australians survived, winning between them a DSO, a DSC and two Mentions in Despatches.
The conquest of France, Belgium and Holland brought Germany to the sea and confrontation with the old foe. A second struggle with U-boats began, and the transfer to the UK of qualified Australian officers was stepped up. At first, the officers went to trawlers and the new corvettes, while sailors were usually allocated to destroyers. By the War’s end, twenty percent of the specialist officers and sailors in the Battle of the Atlantic had been trained in HMAS Rushcutter.
One Australian who went straight to a command was Lieutenant Commander Arthur Callaway RANVR, who took the trawler Lady Shirley and was able to secure Lieutenant Ian Boucaut, another Rushcutter graduate, as his First Lieutenant. Patrolling south of Teneriffe on the morning of 4 October, 1941, a lookout sighted a distant object, which promptly disappeared. Considering it a possible submarine, Callaway closed at top speed. Contact was gained and a pattern of depth charges dropped, using a stopwatch to replace a faulty Asdic recorder. A U-boat promptly came to the surface, and a spirited close range gun action followed, both trawler and U-boat taking hits and casualties. The U-boat soon sank, and Lady Shirley rescued 45 survivors, only eight, including the Captain, being lost.
After the action, Lady Shirley’s remaining crew of 38 could muster only six unwounded seamen to guard the prisoners on the four-day run to Gibraltar and a hero’s welcome. Callaway received an immediate DSO and Boucaut a DSC, while awards to the rest of the crew included six DSMs, another DSC, and a CGM.
Loss of Lady Shirley
There was to be a tragic sequel only weeks later. On the night of 11 December 1941, Lady Shirley was one of four trawlers carrying out a sweep in the Straits of Gibraltar. Another trawler, Saint Nectan, was not far away when a rain squall cut visibility for half an hour. When visibility returned, Lady Shirley had vanished. Despite an intensive search, no trace of her was ever found. German sources suggest that she may have been torpedoed by U-374, which was transiting the Straits en route to La Spezia, arriving there on 14 December. Normally, a voyage report would have been made, but U-374 was urgently needed in the central Mediterranean, and sailed again after only four days in port, to be in turn sunk by the British submarine Unbeaten off Cape Spartivenito on 12 January. There the story stops, in spite of this writer’s best efforts, and the generous help from Horst Bredow of the U-boat Archive.
Back in Australia, Arthur Callaway had left a tiny son. The infant was too young to have any memory of his father, but it may have been the name he bore that inspired him to join the RAN, and reach the rank of Commodore.
Another pre-war Reservist who took A/S training was Lieutenant Commander Stanley Darling, who on arrival in Britain in October 1940 was given command of the trawler Loch Oskaig, followed by another trawler, the Admiralty Class Inchmarnock, doing months of hard seatime from Gibraltar to the Faeroes. Then in the autumn of 1942, Darling went to North America to command Clarkia, one of the early corvettes, in which work in the Caribbean gave a welcome change of climate. Next, in the autumn of 1943, came appointment to command of the new frigate Loch Killin, which was being fitted with Squid and state-of-the-art electronics, some experimental and all much appreciated by Darling, who was an audio engineer by profession. The final stroke of luck came when Loch Killin was attached to the Second Escort Group under Captain ‘Johnny’ Walker, which was guarding the western flank of the Normandy invasion.