The following paper on the distinguished service of HMAS Anzac (II) was first published in the March 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review available on the Society website. Other ships with her name are; HMAS Anzac (I), acquired from the Royal Navy, commissioned into the RAN in 1920 and decommissioned 30 July 1931. HMAS Anzac (III), lead ship of eight Anzac class frigates commissioned 18 May 1996.
HMAS Anzac (II) – the last ‘Battle’
With the end of World War II in sight the RAN had to plan for replacement ships of its hard worked destroyer force. The remaining ‘V&W’ destroyers HMA Ships Vendetta and Stuart were obsolete and worn out. The effective ‘N’ class had been returned to the Royal Navy and their replacement ‘Q’ class were inadequate for post-war requirements. In keeping with tradition of using Admiralty designs, the Naval Board considered the RN ‘Battle’ class destroyers as suitable replacements, and government approval was forthcoming to build two ships modified to RAN standards. One ship was to be built at Williamstown Naval Dockyard and the other at Cockatoo Island Dockyard.
Originally the names of these ships were intended to commemorate recent World War II Australian naval actions with the names ‘Tobruk’ and ‘Matapan’ selected. While the former name was retained, a decision was made to rescind the second in favour of ‘Anzac’.
‘Battle’ Class Destroyers
The ‘Battle’ class destroyers were built in Britain in two groups. Group 1 of sixteen ships commenced construction in 1942, with Group 2 of eight ships laid down from 1943. A further Group 3 of eight ships was intended in 1944 but with the end of World War II in sight the Admiralty cancelled these orders. However,
two ships of Group 3 were built by the RAN. Two of the RN ships were subsequently transferred to other navies, one to Pakistan and another to Iran.
The 1942 ‘Battles’ were a new class of Fleet Destroyers designed to operate within a Fleet environment and provide anti-submarine and anti-aircraft support. The original armament comprised two twin 4.5 inch Mark IV turrets; four twin 40mm Hazemeyer Bofors (one on each bridge wing and two on the centreline aft); one single 4 inch Mark XXIII (Starshell) gun; and two single 2 pounder pom poms Mark XV or Mark XVI. There were two sets of pentad (5) torpedo tubes as well as depth charge throwers. The depth charges were later removed when the SQUID ahead-throwing mortar was developed. The mortar was sited on the quarterdeck and fired its charges over and ahead of the ship, thereby maintaining improved contact with underwater targets. In earlier versions of the ‘Battles’ the single Bofor mounting on the quarterdeck had to be removed to make way for SQUID.
Construction in Australia
Anzac and her sister HMAS Tobruk were the first major warships constructed in Australia after World War II, and at that time the largest destroyers and most complicated fighting ships ever constructed in this country. Local modifications included upgrading the main armament to two twin Mark VI turrets as opposed to the Mark IV DP (Dual Purpose) turrets fitted in the RN ships, and the gunnery control system was upgraded from Flyplane Mk 1 to Flyplane Mk II, noting that the RAN ships were the only ships with this system, as later ships had the much improved Flyplane Mk III. Improvements were also made to habitability, with better ventilation and higher standards of accommodation.
Anzac was laid down at Williamstown Naval Dockyard on 23 September 1946 and was launched on 20 August 1948 by Mrs Collins, wife of the First Naval Member Rear Admiral J.A. Collins, RAN. She commissioned on 14 March 1951 under Commander J. Plunkett-Cole, RAN, who was also appointed Commander of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla. In the same timeframe her sister ship Tobruk was being built at Cockatoo Island Dockyard.
After workup Anzac joined the United Nations Forces in Korea in August 1951. On arrival in Korean waters she teamed up with Tobruk and the ‘River’ class frigate HMAS Murchison. Her first operation on 6 September was a bombardment of Haeju on the west coast, north of the 38th Parallel. Targets included a two storey building believed to house the headquarters of local North Korean forces, as well as a gun emplacement. The shore facilities were left a smoking ruin with many casualties.
Her next patrol was carried out on the east coast off Songjin, just south of the Korean-Chinese border. The mission to harass rail and road traffic was successful, with direct hits on at least one train. She was also involved in guerrilla style operations, landing South Korean Marines to gather intelligence.
After steaming some 23,000 nautical miles on operations in Korean waters, Anzac returned to Sydney in October 1951, having escorted the light fleet carrier HMS Glory to Sydney for refit.
In May 1952, now under command of Captain G.G.O. Gatacre, RAN, Anzac cruised with HMAS Australia (II) to New Guinea and the Solomons. In September she left for a second tour in Korea, relieving HMAS Bataan and serving with units of the USN, maintaining blockades of the enemy coast and bombarding enemy positions. She was shelled off the west coast on 16 November 1952 but Australia Day 1953 saw her shelling the battery position which had shelled her. On another occasion she was called to come to the aid of HMAS Condamine, which had come under fire whilst supporting minesweeping operations. The severe Korean winter posed great difficulties, with the ship and equipment coated in ice and snow.
In April 1953 Captain J.S. Mesley, DSC, RAN, relieved Captain Gatacre in command. On 26 May Anzac steamed into Tokyo, representing Commonwealth Navies during celebrations of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. After returning to the war zone Anzac was relieved by Tobruk in July. She returned to Sydney, having logged 57,000 nautical miles during her tour of duty, which included 140 days in the combat area.
Following a refit at Williamstown and now under command of Commander D.A.H. Clarke, DSC, RAN, Anzac escorted the Royal Yacht Gothic during the royal tour of Australia in February 1954. Anzac then conveyed Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh to islands of the Great Barrier Reef.
In April 1955 Anzac visited New Caledonia prior to engaging in Commonwealth Fleet exercises in South East Asia. During this period she had a succession of commanding officers including Commanders MacDonald, Crabb and Peel. From November 1955, for several deployments up till March 1959, Anzac was attached to the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve based at Singapore. In September 1956, in company with Tobruk, she took part in the first of only two offensive actions taken by the RAN during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) when they bombarded terrorist positions in Johore State.
During gunnery exercises off Jervis Bay in September 1960 a misdirected shot from Anzac badly damaged Tobruk. The cause of the accident was neglecting to correctly apply six degrees of ‘throw-off’; as a result Anzac’s guns, while near maximum range, were directly facing Tobruk. Whilst there were no casualties, Tobruk’s engine room was flooded and her main machinery damaged. She limped into Jervis Bay for emergency repairs and then to Sydney for more extensive repairs but Tobruk saw little sea service after this.
In 1961 Anzac became the Fleet Training Ship with the gradual removal of armament in favour of additional accommodation. The process continued in 1963 when she was further modified with ‘B’ turret and torpedo tubes removed and replaced by classrooms. This once handsome ship was to become rather ungainly in later years.
In February/March 1963, during the royal visit to Australia, Anzac again acted as escort to HMS Britannia.
In October/November 1966 she under-took survey work off the north of Western Australia, and in June 1967 visited Tonga for the coronation of His Majesty King Taufa’Ahau Tupo IV.
In September 1967 Anzac conducted a South Pacific training cruise visiting Tahiti, Western Samoa and New Zealand. Following refit, and although a training ship, Anzac escorted the troop carrier HMAS Sydney to Vietnam in June 1968.
During 1970 she participated in the Captain Cook celebrations at Possession Island, Queensland, the site of Captain Cook’s final departure from Australian shores. In March 1972 Anzac acted as command ship during exercise ‘Planti Manua’, a large patrol boat exercise held in northern waters involving ten patrol vessels. New Zealand was again visited during a training cruise in September 1972.
In 1974 Anzac departed for her final training cruise to Fiji and New Zealand and returned to Sydney on 11 August of that year flying her paying-off pendant.
After twenty-three years of eventful service Anzac was taken out of commission in October 1974 and removed to Athol Bight. This ship, which had fired in anger in both Korea and Malaya, slipped almost unnoticed out of Sydney on New Year’s Eve 1975, under the tow of a Japanese tug on her way to be scrapped in China.
HMAS ANZAC (FFH150) III
Al Faw Peninsula Iraq – NGS MISSION
By Dennis J Weatherall JP TM AFAITT(L) LSM
Volunteer Researcher, Naval Historical Society of Australia
It took 31 years for the RAN to go to war and use a destroyer as a gun platform. HMAS Brisbane was the last DDG to serve on the Vietnam Gun Line and its last NGS mission occurred in September 1971.
HMAS ANZAC departed Fleet Base West for her deployment to the Gulf on 28th October 2002. She was to be the first RAN destroyer since the Vietnam conflict to be used for the duty she was designed, Naval Gun Support (NGS).
ANZAC was under the command of Captain Peter G. Lockwood, RAN, later to become Commodore P.G. Lockwood DSC, CSC, RAN now retired. Commodore Lockwood has been good enough to share his unclassified paperwork with the author.
His Supply officer, CMDR Stuart Wheeler RAN, wrote a paper titled “Five Inch Friday”. This paper was the only article other than the Captain’s post operation report which is still classified. In future this report may become general reading material so there is little information on which to base this paper in open source.
ANZAC was fitted with the following armament:
Single 5 inch 54 calibre (127mm)
Two Raphael Typhoon 12.7mm
Phalanx 20mm close-in-weapons system
Eight Harpoon Surface-to-surface missiles
Mk. 41 vertical launch system – Sea sparrow and evolved Sea Sparrow
Two triple Mk 32 torpedo launchers
Various 12.7mm Browning and small arms
ANZAC third deployment to the Persian Gulf took her through to May 2003, as part of Operation Falconer. On 21st March, ANZAC was called on to support a Royal Marine assault on the “Al Faw” Peninsula. The Royal Marine’s mission was to capture the peninsula before the Iraq forces could sabotage the oil terminals.
On 19th March, US Navy Seals and Polish GROM forces commenced a sea and air assault under the command of Naval Special Warfare Task Group (CTG 561). ANZAC stood by to extract forces if required. The US Navy Seals secured both oil terminals. This action was followed by a wave of “Tomahawk” land attack missiles. Over 800 missiles were delivered in the first 24 hours from 35 allied warships and submarines stationed in the Gulf.
On 20th March, Royal Navy ships Marlborough (Type 23), Chatham (Type 22) and Richmond (Type 23) were detached for bombardment duties.
The Royal Marines were faced by resistance from the Iraq Forces and called for immediate NGS to engage Iraq Command Posts. ANZAC received the first call-for-fire at 05:58. ANZAC fired six ranging salvos followed by a five-round fire-for-effect with the salvoes hitting bunkers and artillery positions. ANZAC answered another call-for-fire destroying a T59 artillery piece in a fire mission of just three rounds. It was extremely accurate fire and at near maximum range.
“Naval Gunfire Support was used to encourage capitulation with success on a number of occasions. It was employed to suppress enemy activity at short notice, to shatter confidence and neutralise fixed protective gun positions. The Battery Commander reported “success on the Al Faw was due to the aggressive use of indirect fire support, especially the swift response to NGS ships which had a huge impact on the ground and shattered the enemy’s will to fight.” A total of 17 fire missions were executed with just 155 rounds of 5 inch and 4.5 inch ammunition being expended”. Vice Admiral Peter Jones: “The Maritime Campaign in Iraq”.
ANZAC completed seven fire missions over a period of three days. The ship received a Meritorious Unit Citation on 27th November for her service during this deployment. In March 2010, ANZAC was awarded the battle honours “Persian Gulf 2001-03” and “Iraq 2003”.
- Semaphore newsletter of the Sea Power Centre Australia Issue # 6, August 2003
- Maritime Campaign in Iraq, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN Rtd.
- Battle of Al Faw (2003) – 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines
- The War in Iraq – ADF Operations in the Middle East 2003, Australian Ministry of Defence – paper
- Five Inch Friday – paper by CMDR Stuart Wheeler RAN, HMAS ANZAC Supply Officer
- HMAS ANZAC – Ship’s general details RAN ships web page
As told by his son CMDR Vic Harvey, RAN, Rtd
Fredrick Harold Harvey was a proud Geordie lad, born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s suburb of Benwell, on 13 August 1899. Benwell in the West End of Newcastle, with many streets of neat terraced houses, is dominated by its colliery. After leaving school at 14 Fred found work with the tramways and became a tram conductor.
At the time of the Great War on 30 July 1917 he entered the Royal Navy as a Boy Seaman, a month later on his 18th birthday, he signed a 12 year engagement. On entry Fred was only 5 feet 3 inches tall, so he instantly earned the nickname ‘Shorty’, had brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion with a couple of well–earned scars, as Shorty was known for getting into scraps.
At this time there was little shore–side training and his first ship was the formidable looking four-funnel cruiser HMS Powerful, but she was from a past age, had most of her armament removed, and was used as an accommodation ship. He later joined the armoured cruiser HMS Shannon, she had been built pre-war and after Jutland became flagship of a cruiser squadron patrolling in the North Sea. Fred remained in her until she paid off in May 1919. There must have been some action concerning ship salvage as post-war Fred received £4/13/6 in prize money.
It was then off to warmer climes for service with the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron in the Mediterranean in HMS Centaur. On New Year’s Day 1921 Fred was promoted to Able Seaman. With vast post-war reductions to the fleet Fred had quite a few posting ashore to the training depot HMS Vividat Devonport, which later became better known as HMS Drake.Fred was promoted to Leading Seaman while still in Vividon 10 December 1925 and passed out for Petty Officer on 6 July 1926.
At the time his engagement expired on 12 August 1929 he was serving in the distinctive new battleship HMS Rodney. Her main armament comprised nine 16-inch guns in three turrets, all forward of the bridge. From Rodney Fred was issued with a ‘Gunnery History Sheet’ providing a record of his proficiency in gunnery examinations conducted in all his seagoing ships and a ‘Trade Certificate’ signed by Captain F.L. Tottenham, RN (later Admiral Sir Francis Tottenham). The latter document notes ‘a thoroughly reliable Leading Seaman displaying intelligence, energy, initiative and power of command’.
In 1926 Fred married childhood sweetheart Dorothy Elaine Rodgers and they set up house in Plymouth where the first of two boys, Frederick Harold, was born in 1927. But 1929 was not the best of times to be leaving the comfort and security of the Royal Navy with the Great Depression beginning to cast an ominous shadow over industrial England. With little prospect of work the family migrated to Windsor in Ontario where they had relatives. While some work was found conditions in Canada were not much better than England and the harsh winters did not suit Mum especially with young Victor Edward coming along in 1931. The next year they returned to Plymouth.
In the 1920s the Admiralty authorised the establishment of British Naval Missions in various countries with the aim of providing training and support with increased cooperation through targeted ship visits. This in turn aimed to demonstrate British technical expertise and encourage foreign shipbuilding orders.
In 1932 a conflict erupted between Colombia1and neighbouring Peru regarding a border dispute in the region of the Amazon River. This led to the re–establishment of a Colombian naval service, which had previously been disbanded. A Royal Naval Mission was quickly dispatched to assist the Colombians. This was mainly in response to a potential ‘Red Threat’ with Peru acquiring two older Russian destroyers, renamed Almirante Villar and Almirante Guise, from the politically unstable Republic of Estonia in 1933. Colombia is strategically placed between South and Central America with many neighbours and responsibility for its naval waters over both the Atlantic (Caribbean) and Pacific oceans. In this instance the Peruvians, with their naval forces based only on the Pacific coast, sailed a task force into the Atlantic – so the threat was real.
Post WWI the Admiralty invited requests from British shipyards for new destroyer designs. The winning designs were from Yarrow and Thorneycroft resulting in the construction of one ship from each yard, HM Ships Ambuscade and Amazon. A year after commissioning in 1928 these ships were sent on a cruise around South America, which included calls at Colombia and Peru, and home via Panama and the West Indies.
The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 called for significant reductions in naval tonnage resulting in the Royal Navy having no suitable ships to offer Colombia. However a class of six new destroyers based on the Ambuscade design was being built for the Portuguese Navy. The first quarter of the 20th century was tumultuous in Portuguese politics as Britain’s oldest ally transitioned from a catholic monarchy to a socialist republic, cumulating in a 1926 military coup. Despite this two ships were built in Britain (NRP Vouga and Lima) and the remainder in Portugal.
With British assistance two of the Portuguese built vessels were purchased off the stocks by the Armada Nacional Republica de Colombia (ANC) and renamed Antioquia and Caldas. The Portuguese then built two further replacement ships. Royal Naval support was provided in commissioning, storing, manning and working up these vessels.
Leading Seaman Frederick Harvey joins the Colombian Naval Service
A recruitment campaign was undertaken in England to help man the two new destroyers. No mean perk for those in the know, with a two year contract being offer on very similar conditions to service to those afforded under Kings Regulations & Admiralty Instructions (KRAI) which included medical cover, insurance and death benefits. The real incentive, in these times of grave unemployment, was 33⅓% additional pay in £stg for an equivalent RN rank. While this was a single man’s posting, at the completion of the contract a fully paid return passage to England was provided, plus an additional two months pay in lieu of leave.
On 23 February 1934 a formal ‘Contract for Ratings’ (written in English) was entered into between the Chargé d’Affaires of Colombia representing the Government of Colombia and Frederick Harold Harvey. This was witnessed by a Royal Naval officer. On New Year’s Day 1935 another bonus was received with Fred promoted to Petty Officer.
There is an interesting aside in the report of a football (soccer) match between the two ships when working up. This notes that Antioquia’s goalkeeper ‘Shorty Harvey’ accidentally collided with an opposing player with the result that Shorty lost most of his teeth but with true British grit he continued playing with his ship winning 5 – 1. Shorty was not carted off to hospital until the end of the game.
Eventually both new destroyers reached their home port of Cartagena in Colombia on 14 May 1934. They were more of an insurance policy as the dispute with Peru had been settled before their arrival. We are not aware of Fred’s service in country but it does not appear to have been arduous and, strictly in accordance with his contract, he returned home on 22 February 1936. Upon return, with tales to tell and employment gradually improving, Fred became a postman in his native Newcastle. He also joined the RNR.
Had Fred remained in Antioquia he might have seen some unusual action. On 21 January 1936 on the occasion of the death of King George V the Bermuda Militia Artillery were instructed to fire a ceremonial salute from their 4.7-inch gun battery. This salute consisted of 70 blank rounds – one for every year of the sovereign’s life. Because of damp storage conditions there were insufficient blanks so the shortfall was substituted with life rounds fired at maximum elevation. As they opened fire the gunners were unaware that Antioquia was making for the Royal Naval Dockyard, where she was scheduled for refit. Although straddled the ship was not damaged.
Once more with the outbreak of war in 1939 Fred volunteered for naval service but was knocked back. This did not stop him from joining the Army as a private. Now over forty years of age he remained in the United Kingdom, mainly employed as a Batman/Driver to a senior officer based in Scotland.
After the war Fred was welcomed back into the Post Office where he worked as a driver until the time of his death in 1963. He is buried in Newcastle. His widow Dorothy came to Australia and lived with her son Victor and his wife Connie until her death in 1986. The eldest son Frederick Harold (junior) with his wife Violet migrated to Canada where they made successful business careers and raised two children. Finally younger son Vic continued the family tradition, joined the Andrew and, with many years of distinguished service in the RAN … but that is another story.
- 1. In terms of population, present day Colombia, with a population in excess of 49 million, is the second largest country in South America.
The following story was first published in the June 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review. At the time, very little news about the RANs day to day activities was reported in the Australian media, apart from the occasional ‘good news’ story in Navy News. The remote location of Coalition naval forces in the Persian Gulf was the most likely reason.
A brief outline of this incident originally appeared in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper on 26 January 2006, announcing awards of the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) to both LCDR Johnston and PO Keitley, for coolly defusing a situation that could have ballooned into a major international incident.
The Courier-Mail article was subsequently republished in the February 2006 edition of TOUCHDOWN (the Australian Navy Aviation Safety and Information Magazine), acknowledged as the basis of this NHS article, with the kind permission of its editor, LCDR Shane Firkin RAN. Additional details were obtained by later discussions with LCDR Johnston, for publication in NHSA Review.
This unusual incident developed from a routine boarding operation carried out by the guided missile frigate HMAS Adelaide (Commander Bruce Victor RAN) on patrol at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab river at the extreme head of the Gulf on 6 December 2004. Acting on directions from the (USN) naval force commander, Adelaide was sent to investigate a large roll on/roll off (Ro Ro) cargo ship which had run aground on a sandbank and remained stuck there for an extended period. The boarding party was despatched several miles distant from the ship in two Rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) (standard 7m and 12m seaboats carried in most RAN vessels, configured specially for carrying out boarding operations) to check the status of the vessel. This had been checked on several occasions previously. Overhead observation and top cover of the operation was conducted by the ship’s embarked Seahawk helicopter Adelaide’s Flight Commander, LCDR Tony Johnston, was airborne as TACCO and Mission Commander, along with Pilot Lieutenant Sam Dale and Sensor operator (SENSO) POA Andrew Watson. Once the boarding party of twelve personnel and two interpreters led by POCD Keitley had embarked without incident on the vessel and the boats had laid off, the helicopter departed to conduct a surface surveillance mission in the Northern Arabian Gulf (NAG).
Sometime after the helicopter had departed, the boarding party sighted a small boat in the distance coming towards them at speed. The unidentified boat was soon followed by several others. These were assessed as belonging to the Iranian Republican Guard Navy (IRGCN) – a maverick organisation known to have carried out the detention of a similar Royal Navy boarding party earlier in the year.
While the boarding party went about their business, Adelaide’s boats came under threat from the newcomers, and with only the coxswains remaining onboard, withdrew from the scene to avoid any escalation. At the height of the confrontation with the Iranians, as many as six IRGCN armed boats circled the stranded vessel, with their crews brandishing AK-47 rifles, assorted small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and rocket launchers. The Australian boarding party, armed only with light side arms, 9mm pistols and two shotguns, prepared to fend off the threatening boarders.
LCDR Johnston in the helicopter had by now completed his surface patrol and was returning to Adelaide. Once onboard, Johnston was informed of the developing situation by the Command Team and began making immediate preparations to relaunch. Upon returning, the aircraft had been released for programmed maintenance, which was quickly stopped. The flight maintainers set to, to return the helicopter to full serviceability, which they achieved in less than half an hour, enabling a rapid response to the unfolding crisis.
Johnston and his crew, now supplemented by Lieutenant John Flynn in the rear cabin, took up a watching position two miles to the west of the incident ship at 1000 feet. From this vantage point the aircraft could easily surveil the entire area and its approaches, keep clear of weapon envelopes and maintain good communications with all parties.
The boarding party was advised to maintain a low profile and stay out of sight as much as possible. It was with some relief that they realised that the Iranian gunboats could not get close enough to the merchantman in the shallow water. An attempt was made by some of the gunmen to board the ship via a commandeered cargo dhow, but this proved unsuccessful when the boat grounded on a sandbar some 65 yards short.
It was decided that it might be too risky to send the RHIBs back alongside to re-embark the boarding party, as the boats might be attacked, captured or sunk in any escalation, so they were ordered to return to the Adelaide. Indeed, the entire boarding party would run the risk of capture during a boat transfer back to the ship. Johnston decided to return to his ship refuel and to brief his command on the tight situation facing the recovery of the boarding party. PO Keitley later commented that the Iranians appeared to be testing the Australians’ resolve by being highly aggressive at times, then mellowing again afterwards.
Decision to recover
Meanwhile the tense situation had been relayed to other Allied forces in the area, to summon strong support in the event of outbreak of hostilities, or to prevent the capture of Adelaide’s boarding party by the Iranians. Ultimately the requested support was not forthcoming, and in the event, LCDR Johnston decided to recover the entire boarding party by winching them off the merchantman, without risking the boats. A dummy pass was made at low level to observe the reactions of the Iranian boats. This action tended to confuse them, although one in particular took up a close-in position, possibly to threaten the Seahawk in the hover.
Having relayed his intentions to PO Keitley, Johnston came in again and hovered low over the bridge. He winched off seven of the boarding party and promptly flew them safely back to Adelaide, less than 10 minutes away. He took off again immediately to attempt a similar operation for the remainder of the boarding party. This time the Iranian gunboats appeared more alert and tense, and Johnston was forced to carry out a series of approaches to mask his real intentions. Finally he came down low to winch the remaining members of the boarding party from the upper deck. Subsequently, while the evolution was precisely conducted in a remarkably short period, Johnston records it appeared to take ‘… an extraordinarily long five minutes…’ in the hover, and he swept away when PO Keitley was finally winched onboard, blindsiding the most aggressive of the Iranian boats by departing in the opposite direction to his earlier approach. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, the remaining boarding party members were returned safely to Adelaide.
Commenting on the situation much later, LCDR Johnston maintains that the ship’s previous mission-capability training, including the winching drills for all boarding parties, paid dividends when the crunch came in this unexpected incident. It was a measure of the dedication and professionalism of the entire ship’s team that a successful conclusion was achieved in the face of increasing threats and adversity, without having to rely on external armed support, which may well have led to a need to ‘fight it out’, perhaps with ensuing casualties, loss of prestige, adverse propaganda, or the indignity of capture in the circumstances.
The citation for the award to Lieutenant Commander Anthony Johnston of the Distinguished Service Medal reads:
‘For distinguished command and leadership in action as Mission Commander of HMAS Adelaide’s Seahawk helicopter during Operation Catalyst.
During December 2004, facing overwhelmingly superior and hostile forces and without the support of coalition aircraft or firepower, LCDR Johnston showed exemplary leadership, courage, composure and determination as Mission Commander and Scene of Action Commander to facilitate the safe extraction of HMAS Adelaide’s boarding party from perilous and harmful circumstances. ’
In another well-publicised incident, a group of fifteen sailors from HMS Cornwall, operating in circumstances not dissimilar to those described above, were taken prisoner by the Iranians and held for about two weeks. In light of the similarities between that incident and the one described above, I invited LCDR Johnston to clarify the means by which helicopters, and more particularly RHIBs, fixed their positions in such potentially contentious waters. His reply:
‘Re navigation. The Seahawk nav system is an integrated package that combines inertial x 2, Doppler and GPS. The boats have their own GPS. The ship has an excellent nav package itself.
In the case of 6Dec04, the ship easily established the exact location of the target vessel within Iraqi waters. They were only eight miles away, unable to close due to the shoal waters that had claimed the merchantman, as well as other duties precluding same. This check had occurred well prior to any boardings taking place.
We had all been operating in the area for almost 4 months and knew the region intimately. Weather and visibility on the day were excellent, allowing us to visually cross check our position with some well known local and coastal features. I also have radar coverage from a very watchful air controller onboard Adelaide to keep me honest. The bottom line here is that all of this is SOP and we all know where we are.
Clearly, I cannot speak for our ‘friends’, but you have to think that they have some sort of electronic navigation assistance. The simplest indication of where you are is whether you are North East or South West of the SAA channel as this is the inter-national boundary (as can be seen on any chart). The ship was obviously South of that line – placing it in Iraqi waters without doubt.’