- Gillett, Ross
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Burra Bra
- March 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
A SLEEK PASSENGER FERRY for the Sydney to Manly service was launched at the shipyards of Morts Dock & Engineering Co. Ltd., Woolwich, New South Wales, on 17th June 1908. For those in attendance, few would have foreseen that the ferry would one day fly the White Ensign as a commissioned unit of the Royal Australian Navy. The new ferry was christened Burra Bra and commenced official trials on 29th October 1908, entering service on the run to Manly in November.
Burra Bra was a double-ended steel hull vessel, her superstructure, decks and wheelhouses built from wood, with the bulwarks and guardrails manufactured from steel. Top speed attained during her trials was 13½ knots, although normal operating speed would be thirteen. During September 1928, the ferry participated in the Roman Catholic Eucharistic Congress and transported the delegates from Manly to Sydney in a scene of religious ardour never before witnessed upon the waters of Sydney Harbour. For this role she was painted an overall white, with two large crosses fitted one on each side of her single funnel. At her bow she carried the Sacred Host on a small altar. Burra Bra remained in service with the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company until 1940, when she was withdrawn from commission.
The Royal Australian Navy inspected the thirty-four year old ferry and with official approval granted, requisitioned her on 13th November 1942 for use as a target and training vessel. Burra Bra was taken to the shipyards of Poole & Steel Ltd., White Bay, Sydney, for conversion to her new role. The original sundeck was largely removed, as were the aft bridge and wheelhouse, bow screw and rudder. Additions included a single mast and a platform on the stern to mount one 12 pdr. gun. Also carried were two Vickers .303 machine guns and four depth charges, launched from two chutes. Burra Bra was an unusual contrast to her half sisters still operating as passenger boats, but the traditional ferry lines could not be hidden, despite the addition of a gun and naval grey colour scheme.
HMAS Burra Bra was officially commissioned on 1st February 1943, and was subsequently purchased outright by the Commonwealth of Australia on 25th August. Initially the former ferry began duty at Jervis Bay on target towing duties, including exercises with the Royal Australian Air Force. The following extracts from her logbook provide a clearer description of the vessel’s last months in commission.
February 2 1944 Off Jervis Bay
February 13 1944 At Jervis Bay
February 14 1944 Jervis Bay to Sydney
February 15 1944 Arrived Sydney
February 16 1944 Telephone disconnect-ed and secured along-side Cruiser Wharf, Garden Island
March 2 1944 Shifted to Kirribilli Dolphins
March 6 1944 Proceeded to Jervis Bay – RAAF night exercises
At 1200 on 1st June 1944, Burra Bra paid off to Reserve, but continued to give useful service as a source of steam supply for vessels under refit. To accomplish the latter she would be towed around Sydney Harbour and secured alongside the vessel requiring steam. Burra Bra was sold by auction in Sydney during November 1947 to J. Stride, a scrap metal dealer, located on the shores of Rozelle Bay. Scrapping of Burra Bra was completed by the late 1950s.
During the Second World War period the navy requisitioned hundreds of privately-owned craft. Burra Bra, like the others, gave valuable service to a fleet on war footing. She is, like most requisitioned craft, largely forgotten in these modern times.
Burra Bra -As Built 1908
Tonnage: 458.14 gross; 311.54 net.
Length: 195.3 feet.
Breadth: 31.7 feet.
Depth: 13.5 feet.
Machinery: 3 cylinder triple expansion driving a single screw at each end on the ‘push-pull’ principle.
Crew: 11 (as ferry); 4 officers, 31 sailors (RAN).
Passengers (ferry) 1,437 fair weather, 916 rough weather.
Speed: 13 knots.
Registered: 12th November 1908.
Register Closed: 6th September 1944.
(Data as built supplied by A.M. Prescott)