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- December 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Fairmile ships of the Royal Australian Navy
by Peter Evans, AM
Australian Military History Publications,
13 Veronica Place, Loftus. 2232. $40.00
Reviewed by Max Thomson
Of all the ‘wet’ ships in the Royal Australian Navy during WW2, few if any were ‘wetter’ than the Fairmile patrol vessels.
As the smallest of the Navy’s ocean-going vessels, their crews copped incessant drubbings as the Fairmiles embraced a spectrum of incredible assignments, so many of which they were never designed for.
These patrol vessels, described by newsmen as mini gunboats, were denied the dignity of a name but instead were allocated numbers – 424 to 431 and 801 to 827.
For the well-organised Fairmile Association of Australia, veteran Navy man, historian and wartime Fairmile crew member Peter Evans AM has published the first of two enthralling books embracing the whole saga of the Fairmile patrol vessels.
Volume 1 documents the success Fairmiles enjoyed in the UK, especially during commando raids along the German occupied French coast. It details the Australian Government’s decision to build these anti-submarine ships in Australian boat-building yards in a way that would not interrupt those shipyards frantically producing corvettes, frigates and destroyers for the war at sea. The story of those yards and how they built the 35 Australian Fairmiles plus the smaller Harbour Defence HDMLs is splendidly documented.
Volume 1 concentrates on those Fairmiles that were based on Darwin – then preserves for posterity the incredible saga of assignments in which the Fairmiles figured as they undertook convoy escort work, anti-submarine patrols, enemy coastal surveillance, encounters with enemy barge traffic, commando operations and all the routine of day by day naval activities.
Volume 2 next year will document the operations of the Fairmiles that operated in New Guinea waters.
Painstaking research, colourful first-hand accounts from the men who served in these ships, access to dramatic photographs, sketches and plans; recording of the full spectrum of Fairmile construction specifications, armaments and manning and training requirements complete a splendid documentation of the Fairmiles frantically produced in 1942 and 1943 at a time when Japanese submarines were rampaging off our east coast.
National Fairmile Association President Greg Percival OBE in his foreword emphasises the immensity of detail extracted during five years in which Peter Evans AM researched ‘Fairmile ships of the Royal Australian Navy.’