|Vice-Admiral Sir George E. Patey, KCMG, KCVO, MVO||1913-1916|
|Rear-Admiral Sir William Christopher Pakenham, KCB, MVO||1916-1917|
|Rear-Admiral Arthur Cavenagh Leveson, CB||1917-1918|
|Rear-Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey, KCMG, CB, CMG||1918-1919|
|Rear-Admiral John Saumarez Dumaresq, CB.CVO.MVO||1919-1922|
|Rear-Admiral Albert Percy Addison, CB, CMG||1922-1924|
|Commodore Thomas Erskine Wardle, DSO||1924-1926|
|Rear-Admiral G.F. Hyde, CVO, CBE||1926-1929|
|Rear-Admiral E.R.G.R. Evans, CB, DSO||1929-1931|
|Commodore L.S. Holbrook, MVO||1931-1932|
|Rear-Admiral R.C. Dalglish||1932-1934|
|Rear-Admiral W.T.R. Ford, CB||1934-1936|
|Rear-Admiral R.H.O. Lane-Poole, CB, OBE||1936 -1938|
|Rear-Admiral W.N. Custance, CB||1938-1939|
|Commodore W.R. Patterson, CVO||1939-1939|
|Rear-Admiral J.G. Crace||1939-1942|
|Rear-Admiral V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC||1942-1944|
|Commodore J.A. Collins, CB||1944-1944|
|Captain Alfred G. Nicholls, MVO||1944-1944|
|Rear-Admiral Harold B. Farncomb, CB, DSO, MVO||1944-1945|
|Commodore John A. Collins, CB (Rear-Admiral 1947)||1945-1946|
|Rear-Admiral Harold B. Farncomb, CB, DSO, MVO||1946-1949|
|Rear-Admiral John A.S. Eccles, CBE||1949 -1951|
|Rear-Admiral John W.M. Eaton, DSO, DSC||1951-1953|
|Rear-Admiral Roy R. Dowling, CBE, DSO||1953-1955|
|Rear-Admiral Henry M. Burrell, CBE||1955-1956|
|Rear-Admiral David M. Harries, CBE||1956-1958|
|Rear-Admiral Henry M. Burrell, CBE||1958-1959|
|Rear-Admiral Galfrey G. Gatacre, CB, DSO, DSC and Bar||1959-1959|
|Rear-Admiral Wilfred H. Harrington, CB, CBE, DSO||1959-1962|
|Rear-Admiral Alan W.R. McNicoll, CBE.GM||1962-1964|
|Rear-Admiral Otto H. Becher, CBE, DSO, DSC||1964-1965|
|Rear-Admiral Thomas K. Morrison, CB, CBE, DSC||1965-1966|
|Rear-Admiral Victor A. Smith, CBE, DSC||1966-1967|
|Rear-Admiral Richard I. Peek, QBE, DSC||1967-1968|
|Rear -Admiral Gordon J.B. Crabb, CBE, DSC||1968-1970|
|Rear-Admiral Hugh H. Stevenson, CBE||1970-1971|
|Rear-Admiral William J. Dovers, CBE, DSC||1971-1972|
|Rear-Admiral Hugh D. Stevenson, CBE||1972-1972|
|Rear-Admiral A.M. Synnot, CBE||1973-1974|
|Rear-Admiral D. Wells, CBE||1974-1975|
|Rear-Admiral Geoffrey Vernon Gladstone, AO, DSC and Bar||1975-1977|
|Rear-Admiral Neil Ewer McDonald, AO||1977-1978|
|Rear-Admiral Guido James Willis, AO||1978-1979|
|Rear-Admiral David Willoughby Leach, CBE, MVO||1979-1980|
|Rear-Admiral Peter Hogarth Doyle, AO, OBE||1980-1981|
|Rear-Admiral John Dixon Stevens||1981-1982|
|Rear-Admiral Michael William Hudson||1982-1983|
|Rear-Admiral R.H. Woolrych, AO, MBE||1983-1984|
|Rear-Admiral I.W. Knox, AO||1984-1986|
New Meaning put into the word Camouflage
WARSHIP CAMOUFLAGE came in some weird and wonderful forms during WW II. But for one of the smaller ships of the RAN it was a case of using the genuinely ‘real thing’ – applied amid exciting and dramatic circumstances.
The vessel was ML 817, the first of the Fairmiles to go to New Guinea when, in 1943, the war was raging along the New Guinea coastline and these small sub-chasers were to prove invaluable for anti-submarine patrols, convoy escort work, coastal surveillance, harassment of Japanese barge traffic and many other exciting assignments.
Australia went on to build 35 Fairmiles which really were the forerunner of today’s Navy patrol boats. Built by Lars Halvorsen & Sons Pty. Ltd. at Green Point Naval Shipyard in Sydney to an English design, ML 817 commissioned under the command of Lt. Athol Townley who, earlier, had played a key role in sinking one of the Japanese midget submarines that had raided Sydney harbour.
After working-up trials, ML 817 went to New Guinea. With Port Moresby being raided frequently by bombers of the Japanese Air Force, ML 817 spent considerable time by day and by night on anti-submarine patrol along the sealanes approaching Port Moresby harbour.
ML 817 made frequent trips on the convoy run from Moresby to Milne Bay helping escort supply ships. They were trips on which ML 817’s crew members were ever-conscious of the big Japanese air and navy base so close, at Rabaul.
The vessel then became based at Milne Bay and its CO, promoted to Lt. Cdr. Townley, found his ship assigned to the Milne Bay — Oro Bay convoy run through the treacherous reefs on that section of the poorly-charted New Guinea coastline.
Townley and his ship’s company saw several air raids on Oro Bay.
With specially-built mufflers fitted over the Fairmile’s exhaust outlets in the funnel, ML 817 became engaged on a series of raids along the Japanese-occupied New Guinea coast, observing Japanese barge traffic, harassing the supply barges and doing a great deal of surveillance work.
In search for Japanese activities, ML 817 even found herself on one occasion virtually ‘up the river’ – with not enough room on either side to turn the vessel, necessitating the ship having to extricate itself stern first, as crewmen held their breath expecting ‘all hell’ would break loose from the jungle on either side at any moment.
On September 1, 1943, ML 817 was assigned to the United States 7th Fleet Amphibious Force (Task Force 76) for the AIF assault on the Japanese at Lae and Salamaua.
It was ML 817’s task to ensure that the many vessels detailed for the landing of the 9th Div. AIF at Bula Plantation, were shepherded safely from their several dispersal areas along the coast, to the assault rendezvous.
Commander G. Branson of the Royal Navy, who was NOIC New Guinea, travelled aboard ML 817 with Lt. Cdr. Townley – and also aboard was Lt. A.A. Joel, later to become Sir Asher Joel.
Townley took ML 817 out of Buna at dawn on September 3, steaming for Morobe, further up the coast. In Morobe harbour, he placed ML 817 alongside the RAN corvette HMAS Shepparton. No sooner were the lines between the two vessels secured, than 36 enemy aircraft (nine Mitsubishi bombers and 26 Zero fighters) swept in from the south- west and pattern-bombed both vessels.
Starting from 200 yards on the port quarter, the bombs fell in a direct line to a point 300 yards off the starboard bow of ML 817 and HMAS Shepparton.
Although the bomb blasts had thrown him onto his face on the quarterdeck, Lt. Cdr. Townley raced to the bridge and his crew engaged the planes with anti-aircraft fire.
Cdr. Branson later wrote: ‘So quickly did Townley and his crew react to the situation that by the time I had re-boarded across to ML 817 from HMAS Shepparton, the lines holding the two vessels had been let go. ML 817’s Midshipman, with blood streaming down his face from a shrapnel wound, was at his action station directing gunnery fire as ML 817 cleared from HMAS Shepparton.’
Crew members later told of sickening thuds as bomb-metal crashed through ML 817’s side and embedded itself into a cupboard, followed by salt water and seabed sand as the churned-up ocean cascaded through the hole in the ship’s hull.
ML 817 and HMAS Shepparton had been all but swamped by 36 100-kilogram bombs. Both vessels were well straddled. ML 817 had 42 punctures and significant holes in her hull.
Lt. Cdr. Townley put a new meaning into the word camouflage that day. With his vessel’s port engine propeller inoperative and with the starboard engine able to make a speed of only three knots, he maneuvered ML 817 close to a small island. The vessel’s hull had been twisted and the propulsion and other machinery thrown out of alignment.
Crew members went ashore and hacked down jungle until the vessel was camouflaged. Then, under cover of darkness, Townley took ML 817 laboriously down the coast to Buna for a temporary patch-up, then on to Milne Bay. With no slipway facilities available at Milne Bay, it was decided ML 817 should be towed back to Sydney for repairs.
Typical of the man, Lt. Cdr. Townley decided to stay on in New Guinea. He assigned ML 817 to a young skipper just arrived with one of the new Fairmiles, which he himself took over.
ML 817 was towed across the Coral Sea to Townsville by the tanker Trinity in a convoy of ships, then towed down the east coast to Sydney by the corvette HMAS Deloraine.
ML 817 was repaired and she did return to New Guinea and operated on escort and patrol work right up into Dutch New Guinea areas until late 1944.
Townley, meanwhile, went on to more exciting ‘excursions’ with his sub-chaser and later commanded a whole flotilla of RAN Fairmiles.
After the war he became member for Denison in Federal Parliament and held several key portfolios, including that of Minister for Defence at the time of his sudden death in 1963.
Flinders Naval Depot – The Cradle of the RAN
ONE RESULT OF THE FAMOUS HENDERSON REPORT of 1910 was the establishment of a naval depot at Crib Point, Victoria. Originally intended to be a fleet base, it was eventually commissioned as a training depot, under the name of HMAS Cerberus, and as such still functions as the RAN’s prime training establishment.
The name Cerberus had been borne by the depot at Williamstown, Victoria, the name ship being the old turret ship herself. On transfer to Crib Point, the name was transferred to the old South Australian cruiser Protector, the old turret ship being renamed Platypus II and utilised as a mooring vessel for the submarine base at Geelong. In 1920 the new depot opened for business, from very modest beginnings. Accommodation was spartan for the sailors, but quite comfortable for the officers. The buildings were brick, the two main blocks being three storey constructions known as A and B blocks. Later additions saw C block, as well as separate blocks for petty officers and chief petty officers. The ratings slept in hammocks in large dormitories, with small wooden kit lockers to hold the large scale kit required by the matelots in those days. Petty officers slept in dormitories, but were issued with beds. Chief Petty Officers had beds and single cabin accommodation. The living quarters were built to form three sides of a very large rectangle, bordering on playing fields.
On the side not used for accommodation was built a drill hall. This building was one of the landmarks of FND. It had many uses, a gymnasium, a church, a drill hall and a stage theatre. It also held the gunners store. Next to the drill hall stood the training battery where young seamen learned the gentle art of gun drill on a mixed battery of BL guns. In those days, and until fairly recent times, the depot was known as Flinders Naval Depot, the name Cerberus being the ‘ship’ name, and the name inscribed on the sailors’ cap ribbons. A captain held the position of commanding officer, his title being Captain Superintendent of Training, Flinders Naval Depot (short title CST FND), but later the post was upgraded to a Commodore’s command. Many of the Navy’s training schools were established, such as gunnery, supply, engineering, etc. and a full scale hospital was opened. In 1927 a band was formed in the depot, the second band in the RAN. Until that date the one and only permanent band was held in the flagship.
The depot was a self-supporting township, it had its own power station, bakery, etc. When the ‘J’ Class submarines were paid off in 1922, they were brought around to Flinders and put on the mudflats, but ‘J7’ was utilised as a standby power station, and performed this duty until sold in 1929.
FND is situated on Hanns Inlet, off Westernport, and in the early days it was possible to bring reasonably deep draught ships alongside; Marguerite was a regular visitor, and Yarra was used as a training ship for a short time. In the 1930s Tattoo was permanently attached to the depot, being replaced in 1936 by Vampire, the channel still being deep enough to allow the destroyer to reach the depot. By the 1950s the channel was becoming quite silted up, and two AMS, Gladstone and Latrobe, became the training ships; they sometimes came alongside, but normally anchored in Westernport. When negotiating the channel the AMS were attended by small wooden ex-army tugs who quite often had to nudge the corvettes off the bends in the channel.
During the Second World War many temporary blocks were built to house the influx of recruits, and these were numbered from D block to J block. These were built behind the original brick blocks, and since then new permanent blocks have replaced the old temporaries. In 1931 the RAN College was established in the depot after its transfer from Jervis Bay. This was a very sound idea, as besides being a good economical move, it allowed the sailors to see at first hand the tough training carried out by the thirteen-year-old cadets, and gave the sailors a better understanding of the officers.
Over the years many improvements and modifications have been made to the depot, and of course many old points of interest have gone. Heating used to be obtained by a boiler house near the main blocks. This consisted of a bank of Babcock and Wilcox coal fired boilers, and hand fired at that. This was known as the ‘giggle house’. The powerhouse proper was situated away from the main accommodation, near the engineering school. It contained two B&W boilers and a Yarrow boiler, as well as the electric generating equipment. This has now been modernised.
Sport has always been a big thing in the Navy, and at FND all sports were catered for. The large playing fields near the main blocks are in constant use, there is an indoor swimming pool, heated in winter, a rifle range and of course enough water for boat pulling and sailing. Internal transport in the depot was, and probably still is, normally by push-bike.
All officers seemed to acquire one of these machines, and when the training classes were marched down to their ‘parts of ship’ it was usual for the officers to ride up to the falling in point and then hand their ‘velocipedes’ over to one of the men. This was very popular with the sailors as they would rather ride than march. Dutymen rode bikes, as did the duty officers. One story told regards the DXO’s bike. During the night watches the depot maintained a fire party, the members of which had to ride around the depot looking out for fires. On return to the fire party dormitory the duty fire party man would enter that ’rounds’ were correct. One particular DXO was in the habit of waiting until the firemen rode past the wardroom, and then hauling down the Commodore’s flag.
When the man returned to the fire point he would fill in the log ’rounds correct’. In would amble the DXO, read the log, then produce the flag. How could rounds be correct if the Commodore’s flag was not flying? He would then proceed to ‘dash the offender in’. One night the worthy carried out his usual childish prank, and then ambled over to the fire point to carry out phase two of the operation. He read the log, spluttered, and raced out as fast as he could. The entry read ‘Commodore’s flag not sighted. DXO’s bike sighted at the truck’. If any one remembers the height of that mast outside the wardroom they will understand the job the DXO had in getting his means of transport down again. From all accounts he never tried the trick again.
FND was the RAN’s home of pomp and circumstance. Divisions on Friday was the big event of the week. The ship’s company dressed themselves up in their best uniforms, and were inspected by the CST. After the inspection, CST positioned himself on a platform outside the drill hall, facing an asphalt covered area known as the quarterdeck, and took the salute as Divisions marched past. On Sundays a smaller edition of Divisions was held, after which the sailors marched into the drill hall that had been ‘rigged for church’. After church, the duty watch would ‘unrig church – rig cinema’. The seats were turned around 180°, a flap was lowered to conceal the pulpit and another one raised to reveal the screen. Side screens were lowered and presto, the church facing west had been converted into a cinema facing east. The evolution took about five minutes. With the building of two chapels in the 1950s this evolution became a memory.
Over the years many changes have been made to the depot, and today it is one of the most modern of its type in the world. In its early days it was a very dismal place, isolated from civilisation as it was. Vice-Admiral Sir John Collins, in passing a few comments about FND in its early days, told of how, when asked to play a selection at an official function. Bandmaster Joe Ventry had his band play ‘Down On Misery Farm’, a fitting description of FND at that time. In these modern times the title of FND has greatly been dropped, CST is now known as Commanding Officer, HMAS Cerberus, but to the older ex-naval men it will always be FND.
COALING SHIP is now a thing of the past, a forgotten evolution, but fifty years ago it was a much too frequent task. In this story, Cliff Stevens recalls the routine of filling the bunkers in one of the old Town class cruisers of the RAN with great clarity. The ship in question was Brisbane, the last of the coal burning light cruisers.
Sleep is shattered! Through the nettles of my hammock – at point blank range – the bugle’s ‘Reveille’. Ignoring the suggestions coming from within the hammocks as to what he should do with his bugle, Sticks continues through the mess decks collecting the wrath of the sleepers as he goes. The time is 0400.
Now the Quarter Master – ‘All watches of the hands, Daymen and Stokers, will coal ship at 0430. Dress of the day – Optional’. One tries to ignore this rude disturbance, but in the distance comes the gravel voice of the ‘Jaunty’ – ‘All hands, all hands, heave ho, lash up and stow. Come on now. Show a leg. Rise and shine!’ What’s the good! Swing out, lash up and stow the hammock in the bin. Don one’s most tattered clothes, which will be discarded at the end of the day’s work. Time for a quick mug of ‘Kye’ and a wash.
Again the bugle, and the pipe – ‘All watches of the hands fall in. Stokers muster on the Quarter Deck, Daymen in the starboard waist.’
Quickly detailed by our Captains of the Tops we double away to our stations. Some bearing shovels to the mountain of coal 150 yards way beyond Suva’s coaling wharf, others to man the running gear of the derricks, davits, booms, etc., rigged to get the ‘black diamonds’ aboard. Soon light tramlines are run from the various shipside embarking points to the coal dump. Stoker POs stand by capstans and winches.
Below in the claustrophobic bunkers wait the stokers. A babble of voices and orders from the scores of men engaged. At first it seems chaos, but suddenly everything is going like clockwork – filled baskets being raced on the trolleys at breakneck speed to the ship’s side, hoisted on deck and their contents tipped and shovelled down the chutes, threatening to engulf the trimmers as they shovel frantically to stow it. All hands sweat and toil as slaves never did – yet cheerfully, enthusiastically. Much good humoured banter. Officers and petty officers concern themselves only with the control and safety of the evolution. These men need no driving.
From time to time we glance up at the pennants at the starboard yardarm – Numeral 15. Then a little later Numeral 25 as the tons of coal come in. A glance about at the rigs worn – tattered shorts and shirts, overalls, ancient No. 3s, over their padded brassieres and scanties, a Snotty with a dirk and a battered cocked hat, a brawny AB with a wig of tow and an O/S floral dress, the Leading seaman at the for’ard triatic stay whip wearing a grass skirt and a cutlass, a tattered pirate, a seductive Squarie with red lips, bobbed hair, skirt above the knees (SHE is the ship’s featherweight champion). A day for sweating and skylarking.
0700 – Numeral 140. ‘Hands to breakfast on the upper deck.’ None of us wishes to carry this coal dust to the mess decks. The cooks bring hardboiled eggs, bread and butter and hot tea. We brush the coal from our hands and put ourselves outside the scran.
0715 – ‘Out pipes,’ then five minutes later – ‘Hands coal ship’.
We gather speed. Clouds of black dust hang in the still air. Enthusiasm the keynote. ‘Hurry up down there, Spike. Hook the bugger on, Shiner.” Down slack on the whip. Hoist handsomely. Roundly. High enough! Lower away roundly. Light to, and so the job goes on. Numeral 305. The day warms up. Must be 90° now.
At the coal dump, working from the face on the level is too uninteresting. ‘Dusty,’ ‘Ocker,’ ‘Spud’ and ‘Hec’ run their rails to the top of the coal to make a ‘Big Dipper.’ The other parties follow suit. The trollies, each jockeyed by two sailors, scream down the dump, round the curves on two wheels, somehow remaining on the rails.
In December 1941 CPO Don Walker was instructed to take a group of seamen, train them as a crew for a 3.7 inch howitzer and, when they were considered to be efficient, to take them and the howitzer out to the Boot Hill Cemetery at Flinders Naval Depot. The howitzer was then to be dug in and used as a coast defence gun. The gun had been in store at FND for some time and was one of three such guns purchased by the RAN in the mid- 1920s. In 1941 there were two of these weapons at FND but one was incomplete, having no shield.
This event received no mention in the official history of the RAN in WW2, but CPO Walker took a roll of film during the two months that the gun was emplaced as an operational weapon. The film shows the sequence of events, getting the howitzer into position. In February 1942 the gun was returned to FND and turned over to the army. These were kindly supplied by Mr. Don Walker, a member of the Naval Historical Society, and as far as is known, are the only photographs ever taken of this event.