By Dennis J Weatherall JP TM AFAITT(L) LSM
Volunteer Researcher, Naval Historical Society of Australia
Patrol boats have proven to be the most flexible and versatile elements of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) since World War 2. Every day they are at sea patrolling Australian waters and protecting our national interests. They play an active role in the enforcement of Australian legislation pertaining to; illegal immigration, fishing, quarantine and smuggling.
Between World War 2 and 2019 the Royal Australian Navy has operated five classes of patrol boats commencing with the Bathurst class built between 1940 and 1942. Then followed the Ton class, Attack class, Fremantle class and in current service, the Armidale class.
Experience during the period of Indonesian Confrontation (1963-6) with the Ton class demonstrated the value of small vessels for patrol and interdiction tasks. However, the Ton class propulsion system was not suited to loitering and they were expensive to maintain. This experience led the RAN to introduce the Attack class to conduct patrol work in Australian territorial waters.
This paper examines the design, construction and operations of the Attack class and provides some insight into their habitability.
The requirement for a new Royal Australian Navy Patrol Boat design commenced in May 1963 with an official request from Navy for a preliminary feasibility study for a boat of simple characteristics, around 70-80 feet in length with a speed of approximately 12 knots, and accommodation for a minimum of 2 Officers, 2 Petty Officers and 10 Junior Sailors.
From these initial and additional requirements, the final design developed by Department of Navy naval architects resulted in a vessel that could carry out; general duties, harbour defence, pursuit and interception tasks.
The final design required the following;
• Search & rescue
• Seaward defence
• Coast Watching
• Target towing
• Boarding operations
· Radar, transistorised light weight commercial unit
· Gyro compass, similar to Arma Brown commercial units
· Magnetic compass,
· Echo sounder of a type similar to Ferrograph, a Trident Log with a bridge repeater
· Training: for Junior Officers and sailors (PNF and Reserve) in ship handling
for Junior Officers and sailors (PNF and Reserve) in ship handling
A package for both external and internal use for control and navigation.
Maximum, 23 knots
Cruising, 15 knots
A power-operated single Bofor gun on forecastle immediately forward of superstructure with similar mount aft. Provision for small arms and ammunition
At maximum continuous speed: 500 miles
At cruising speed: at least 1500 miles
Water & victuals: 14 days
to approved standards, fitted with air-conditioning for tropical area operation
length 100-120 ft and
draught of 5-8 ft
Twin screw, simple and reliable in operation
14 ft dingy (approximately)
Delivered Capabilities and Specifications
The boat ‘as delivered’ generally met the required specifications, e.g. length 107.5 feet (32.76M), draught 6.2 feet (1.9M) and a speed of 24 knots. Full details of the boat as delivered are at Annex A.
Service Life and Disposal
The original plan was to build twenty boats, although the class type was designated the Attack, the boat bearing the class name was the tenth pennant number allocated, fifth launched and second commissioned four days after Aitape # P84. Pennant numbers ran from 81-95 and 97-101, (20 numbers) but Pennant number 96 was never allocated, nor could I find a reason for skipping this specific number.
The Attack class (A) Boats were built at two Queensland engineering works; Evans Deakin (Brisbane) built 13 and Walkers Ltd (Maryborough) built 7.
Five Patrol Boats were purpose built for New Guinea service and named accordingly. They were used for patrol and general duties in Australian and surrounding waters before transfer to the PNG Defence Force. The boats destined for New Guinea service were HMAS Aitape, Samarai, Ladua, Lae and Madang. These vessels, after Independence, were retitled HMPNG Ships. The table provided in Annex B lists all twenty vessels built; by whom, pennant numbers, dates laid down and dates launched and commissioned.
The Attack class gave good service over more than two decades. HMAS Bayonet, built by Walkers Ltd was the last boat launched (6 November 68) and commissioned on 22 February 69. The last boat to decommission was HMAS Aware on 17 July 1993.
Five boats were gifted to the PNG Government; Aitape, Samarai, Ladava, Lae and Madang. Nine were either gifted or purchased by Indonesia. These were:
|RAN Name||TNI Name|
|Acute P81||KRI Sikuda # 863|
|Archer P86||KRI Siliman # 848|
|Ardent P87 sold privately, then bought by Indonesia.||KRI Tenggin # 865|
|Assail P89||KRI Sigurot # 864|
|Attack P90||KRI Sikuda # 863|
|Bandolier P95||KRI Sibarau # 847|
|Barbette P97||KRI Siada # 862|
|Barricade P98||KRI Sigalu # 857|
|Bombard P99||KRI Siribura # 859|
Two boats were sunk as targets, Adroit on 8 August 1994 and Buccaneer on 8 October 1988.
Loss of HMAS Arrow
HMAS Arrow floundered alongside Stokes Hill Wharf during Cyclone Tracy on 25 December 1974 with the loss of two lives, Petty Officer Leslie Catton and Able Seaman Ian Rennie. Arrow and Attack had attempted to sail Port Darwin and ride out the cyclone at sea, but neither vessel made it out of the port. Arrow was unlucky and was blown under Stokes Hill Wharf and wrecked. Attack was driven ashore at Doctor’s Gully without sustaining any casualties. Arrow was re-floated by DT1 on 13 January 1975 by attaching pontoons to her hull and, with the assistance of tugs, the wreck was towed underwater to the shallows of Frances Bay, where she was surveyed, written off as a wreck and put up for sale.
A local businessman purchased what was once a proud patrol boat, his idea was to restore her, but it proved far too expensive, therefore a decision was made to break her up where she lay.
HMAS Advance was the third boat in Darwin at the time. She escaped damage at sea. One of HMAS Arrow’s name boards is proudly displayed in the Mess at HMAS Waterhen, once her home base.
HMAS Advance is the last remaining Attack class patrol boat maintained as an operating exhibit by the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, Sydney. Advance is a proud reminder of the twenty boats built between 6 July 1967 and 6 November 1968 to protect Australia’s 200nm economic zone, fishing rights and just about any other task directed. They welcomed fleeing South Vietnamese after the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, and towed many a craft safely to our shores. They were work-horses with more sea time than many major fleet units. Once a “boat-man”, you always wished to stay in what was often referred to as “McHale’s Navy”. There wasn’t much of our extensive coastline that we didn’t pass or “drop the pick” in some secluded bay or river entrance, from Cooktown into the Gulf and down the West Australian coast.
Life in an ‘A’ Boat
The combination of a small, relatively junior crew, remote area operations and cycle of 6 weeks on patrol and 2 weeks in home port resulted in close-knit self-reliant ships companies very proud of their boat. Dress standards in the tropics were relaxed with the ships ‘T’ shirt, shorts and sandals frequently dress of the day. Multi-tasking was essential for the conduct of evolutions such as boarding operations and during leave periods. Young and inexperienced hands quickly learnt under guidance from the CO and senior sailors. Training in an ‘A’ boat occurred naturally.
Habitability was adequate but some design shortcomings created frustrations. ‘A’ boats were not designed for crew comfort in heavy sea states! Operations in conditions above sea states 4 and 5 (moderate to rough seas) curtailed many activities particularly boarding operations. They rolled uncomfortably in moderate conditions often creating havoc due to design issues. As an example, the galley range door which was oriented longitudinally would fly open in heavy seas. Local modifications such as attaching a gate bolt to keep what was cooking in the oven were necessary. As an aside, one day before the modification was carried out, I found our LSCK chasing half-baked chickens across the deck after we hit some rather heavy seas! You can imagine the mess of oil (from the chickens), the baking tray and one rather irate cook chasing scran across the deck!
The senior sailor’s bathroom located in the peak of the bow presented another challenge. It was some real fun sitting on the heads when underway heading into a forceful sea state, and an impossibility to shower without a very wet deck when the shower curtain swung to starboard at 40-plus degrees. Laundry facilities were ‘Heath Robinson’ with a washing machine lashed to the mast for use alongside when adequate fresh water was available. The engine room doubled as a drying room.
Throughout their service Attack class boats developed a proud and respected reputation so much so that the Australian Broadcasting Commission produced a television series based on actual events with which they dealt. They certainly lived up to their short sharp mottos which are listed in Annex C.
Attack Class Successor: The Fremantle Class
Planning for the new Fremantle class patrol boats commenced in 1970. Experience gained from operating twenty Attack class boats identified numerous areas for improvement in the new design. By September 1970 the Navy proposed construction of ten additional new patrol boats to commence entering service between 1976 and 1980. These additional vessels would augment the Attack class and also replace the two General Purpose Vessels HMAS Bass and Banks.
The acquisition of replacement patrol craft was announced in April 1975 with eleven shipbuilders invited to tender. On 22 September 1977 the Minister of Defence (James Killen) announced the PCF450 design had been selected and fifteen boats would be built at a cost of AUD 115 million.
The lead vessel HMAS Fremantle was built in the UK by Brooke Marine of Lowestoft. The remainder were built in Australia by North Queensland Engineers and Agents. Fremantle was allocated pennant number 203 and following commissioning, 17 March 1980 made one of the longest duration delivery voyages in RAN history taking 82 days. Fremantle arrived at her home base, HMAS Waterhen on 27 August 1980. She had sailed 14,509 nautical miles, probably the longest voyage undertaken by a single RAN patrol boat.
With HMAS Fremantle came the new class of patrol boats and additional duties as they were integrated into the Fleet. Attack class boats progressively handed over the reins to the Fremantles until they were all decommissioned. In turn, the Fremantles were superseded by the Armidale Class, but that is another story!
- Attack Class Patrol Boat: Delivered Capabilities and Specifications
- Attack Class Patrol Boat: Key Dates
- Attack Class Patrol Boat: Mottos
- Personal experience from boats on which I served (Dennis Weatherall)
- Design of Patrol Boats for RAN – J.J. Follan M.R.I.N.A. (Royal Institution of Naval Architects Australia)
- Australian Ships of War – John Bastock Published 1975 Pages 372-382
- Welcome to the Armidale Class, Semaphore February 2006, Issue 4
- Australian Patrol Combatants, April 2010, Semaphore 2010 Issue 3,
- HMAS Arrow, Sea Power Centre Australia Website, accessed 30 March 2019
Attack Class Patrol Boat: Delivered Capabilities and Specifications
The following describes the Attack class as delivered to the RAN
Displacement: 100 tons standard, 146 tons fully loaded, length 107.5 ft (32.8m), beam 20 ft (6.1m), draught 7.3 ft (2.2m) at full load, propulsion 2×16 cylinder Paxman YJCM diesel engines 2 shafts, speed 24 knots (44 km or 28 mph), complement 3 Officers/4 Senior Sailors/12 Junior Sailors, armament 1×40 mm Mk 7 Bofor gun, 2 x .50 calibre machine guns, sufficient SLR and AR mix of rifles and hand guns.
Hull: The Attack class main hull was constructed of steel frame, bulkheads, deck beams were designed in mild steel of all-welded construction. The superstructure, funnel and masts were constructed of aluminium alloy of all-welded construction and “huck-bolted” to the main hull structure.
Accommodation was located forward in the bow for 4 Senior Sailors. Senior Sailors’ bunks were two up port and starboard. Officers were accommodated in 2 cabins; Executive officer and Navigator, in a 2-off cabin forward opposite the radio office before entering the Senior Sailors’ Mess, starboard-side. The CO had a single cabin aft of the forward ladder to the lower deck and adjacent the magazine. All three officers shared a bathroom and heads directly opposite the forward ladder, accessible from the wardroom flat. These spaces were lined, with a white laminate and insulated, joins were neatly covered with natural timber trim. The Junior Sailors’ Mess was located aft immediately behind the engine room and forward of the tiller flat. Bunks were steel constructed, 3 up on the port side and 3 on the starboard side, split 6 forward and 6 aft, with a coat locker dividing sleeping area from the general mess.
Fuel Tank Capacity: Diesel, 6 main tanks of 20 tons capacity; 2 ferrying tanks of 2.5 tons;
Fresh Water Tank Capacity: normal capacity 4 tanks of 6.5 tons. Fresh water maximum capacity was 7.5 tons. These fresh water tanks were built into the hull. In order to conserve fresh water, an alternative salt water supply (if needed) could be operated in all three bathroom shower heads. When fresh water was scarce and top-up was impossible due to location, passing rain squalls were a welcome shower alternative on the quarter deck.
Steering Gear was fitted as a “Mathway” light weight power-assisted unit. It could be operated from either the Bridge, Wheelhouse or the emergency steering position in the Tiller flat, also known as the Bosun’s Store aft, directly over the ship’s rudder area. In the event of any hydraulic failure, this equipment could function without any power assistance but extremely hard on the arms.
Deck Machinery on the forecastle consisted of an anchor windlass of one cable lifter and two warpends driven by a 4.5 hp electric motor through an enclosed worm reduction gearbox. The windlass was also arranged for emergency hand operations.
Anchor was a 180 pound (81.8 kg) “Danforth” type fitted with 11/16 inch chain cable.
Galley was located immediately aft of the Wheelhouse on the main deck before exiting the forward superstructure. All equipment was electric and consisted of one single oven range with four hot plates and a grill plate. A 15 cubic feet upright refrigerator, one 7.5 gallon hot water urn for brews (always ready for use 24 hrs/day) and one use-all mixer/mincer.
Provisions Room – located at the bottom of the aft ladder into the Junior Sailors’ Mess directly opposite their bathroom, it took up the entire compartment, 21 cubic ft capacity in which we stored all meats, frozen milk, bread and the beautiful, pre-packed “guinea pig” vegetables such as broccoli, sweet corn and peas. Each Mess (x 3) also had a 5 cubic ft ready-use refrigerator – they also suffered from the same fore & aft placement onboard ship as our galley stove/range and often the fridge lock would spring open and whatever was inside quickly deposited itself on the deck!
Attack Class Patrol Boat: Key Dates
The following table provides key dates (builder, pennant number, date laid down, launch and commission) for all twenty boats.
|Commissioning Date||Decommissioning Date||History Post RAN Service|
|Acute||P81||Evans Deakin||26/8/67||26/4/68||6/5/83||Indo KRI Sikuda # 863|
|Adroit||P82||Evans Deakin||3/2/68||17/8/68||28/3/92||Sunk as target, August 1994|
|Advance||P83||Walkers Ltd||16/8/67||24/1/68||6/2/88||Museum, ANMM Sydney|
|Aitape||P84||Walkers Ltd||6/7/67||13/11/67||14/11/74||Transferred to HMPNGS, scuttled 1995|
|Samarai||P85||Evans Deakin||14/7/67||1/3/68||14/11/74||Transferred to HMPNGS|
|Archer||P86||Walkers Ltd||2/12/67||15/5/68||21/5/74||Indo KRI Siliman # 848|
|Ardent||P87||Evans Deakin||27/4/68||26/10/68||6/1/94 and Reclassified as TRNG NAV # A243. Paid off Dec. 1998||Sold to Pvte Indo 2002 KRI Tenngeri #865|
|Arrow||P88||Walkers Ltd||17/2/68||3/7/68||Lost in Darwin, 25/12/74 Cyclone Tracy|
|Assail||P89||Evans Deakin||18/11/67||21/7/68||18/10/85||Indo KRI Sigurot
|Attack||P90||Evans Deakin||8/4/67||17/11/67||21/2/85||Indo KRI Sikuda # 863|
|Aware||P91||Evans Deakin||7/10/67||21/6/68||17/7/93||Sold Pvte, scrapped 2011|
|Ladava||P92||Walkers Ltd||11/5/68||13/11/67||14/11/74||T/fs to HMPNGS|
|Lae||P93||Walkers Ltd||5/10/67||3/4/68||14/11/74||Transferred to HMPNGS|
|Madang||P94||Evans Deakin||10/10/68||28/11/68||14/11/74||Transferred to HMPNGS|
|Bandolier||P95||Walkers Ltd||2/10/68||14/12/68||16/11/73||Indo KRI Sibarau # 847|
|Barbette||P97||Walkers Ltd||10/4/68||16/8/68||15/6/84||Indo KRI Siada
|Barricade||P98||Evans Deakin||29/6/68||26/10/68||20/5/82||Indo KRI Sigalu #857|
|Bombard||P99||Walkers Ltd||6/7/68||5/11/68||12/9/83||Indo KRI Siribura # 859|
|Buccaneer||P100||Evans Deakin||14/9/68||11/11/69||27/7/84||Sunk as target 8/10/88|
|Bayonet||P101||Walkers Ltd||6/11/68||22/2/69||26/6/88||Scuttled 21/9/99 in Victoria|
Attack Class Patrol Boat Mottos
The following is a list of mottos allocated to each boat.
P81 Acute “Swift to the Point”
P82 Adroit “Quick and Secure”
P83 Advance “Never Look Back”
P84 Aitape “Tread Warily”
P85 Samarai “United We Stand”
P86 Archer “Swiftly Sure”
P87 Ardent “Flame and Fury”
P88 Arrow “Straight as an Arrow”
P89 Assail “Cut Deep”
P90 Attack “Never Waver”
P91 Aware “Forever Alert”
P92 Ladava “Fight the Good Fight”
P93 Lae “Dare All”
P94 Madang “Our Ship Your Shield”
P95 Bandolier “Dressed to Kill”
# 96 not allocated. Reason unknown
P97 Barbette “Taut and Trim”
P98 Barricade “They Shall Not Pass”
P99 Bombard “Hit Hard”
P100 Buccaneer “Seek and Find”
P101 Bayonet “We Fix”
 Huck-bolting is a patterned fastening, similar to a rivet, used frequently to fasten unlike metals together such as mild steel and aluminium. It’s a screwed thread with a clamp nut.
On 1 March 2019 a ceremony was conducted at the Royal Australian Navy Memorial, ANZAC Parade, Canberra to mark the Australian Navy’s 118th Birthday. The program of events included a Birthday address by Vice Admiral Michael Noonan AO RAN, Chief of Navy and a Navy Birthday Reading. These are reproduced below along with a historical retrospective on the RAN in 1919, 100 years ago. The birthday greeting was written by Mr John Perryman, Director of Strategic and Historical Studies, and delivered by Able Seaman Brooke Atkinson. The retrospective was written by Mr Greg Swinden, Senior Naval Historical Officer.
Royal Australian Navy’s 118th Birthday
Chief of Navy’s Message
As a Nation and a Navy, we gather to acknowledge the 118th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy – our Navy. On 1 March 1901, the States transferred their naval and military assets, their Sailors, Officers and Public Servants to the Federal Government.
Today, we give thanks to all who have served our Nation in our Navy. The qualities shown by those who have gone before us, lead us to strive to embody our Navy Values of Honour, Honesty, Courage, Integrity and Loyalty; these values underpin our Australian Navy.
Since 1901, the Royal Australian Navy has continually demonstrated that when called upon by the Nation to ensure Australia’s growth. prosperity, and security- whether at war or in times of peace – we have been ready in all respects to take up the challenge.
Our Fighting Navy is improving capability to be more lethal, agile and able to fulfil the tasks required of it now and into the future.
Our Thinking Navy can adapt to the ever- changing strategic environment; it is a leading edge and integrated maritime force. prepared for the scenarios in which Australia may find itself during the 21st Century. Our Australian Navy is part of a truly national enterprise, where every sector of the Nation. from industry, education, research and development, finance. government and the broader community, work together for the good of our Nation. Together, we will deliver our future force.
We continue to remember and honour the legacy and history of 118 years of our Royal Australian Navy. Thank you to all who have served and continue to serve in our proud Navy.
Navy Birthday Reading
By: Able Seaman Brooke Atkinson
In 1901 a nascent Australia was looking ahead to securing its frontier – the sixth largest coastline in the world, encompassing three great oceans over which all seaborne trade, in and out of our country, must pass. The security of those oceans and seas for Australia’s prosperity was understood by our earliest naval thinkers, admirals, politicians and citizens alike, who recognised the requirement for a strong and versatile Navy to serve and protect Australia and its broader interests.
While celebrated as the Australian Navy’s birthday, the first of March 1901 was in fact the essential inception of a 12-year gestation, culminating in the arrival of the Australian Fleet Unit in October 1913 .. Less than a year later, the Royal Australian Navy would find itself at war but ‘in all respects ready’. Since then, 2658 members of our Navy have made the ultimate sacrifice defending Australia’s interests in warlike and peacetime operations across the globe. Today, as we celebrate our Navy’s birthday, we also remember them.
As we look forward: Australia’s reliance on the sea remains vital to our future and we find ourselves in the midst of another period of gestation as the Navy and the Nation work towards completing the modernisation of our fleet, establishments and supporting facilities to face new and unknown challenges.
Birthdays are important occasions and while we should not bury ourselves in the past. we should concentrate on what is at the heart of the celebration. Today we can be thankful to those who advocated for an Australian Navy and in particular we give thanks to all who have served, and continue to serve, in it, and those family and friends who support and enable us to do what we do so well.
100 Years Ago: 1919 in Retrospect
By: Mr Greg Swinden
The guns had fallen silent on the Western Front and the soldiers were coming home. Many of the Royal Australian Navy’s ships would also soon be heading home after four long years of war – but there was still work to be done.
1919 began with the RAN continuing to conduct operations. The cruiser HMAS Brisbane was alongside in Izmir (Turkey) having completed operations in the Black Sea with the Royal Navy, supporting the White Russian forces against the Bolsheviks. She sailed on 4 January and headed to England to join HMA Ships Melbourne and Sydney, six Australian destroyers and the battle- cruiser HMAS Australia, undergoing maintenance after hard service in the North Sea and Mediterranean before returning to Australia: a country many of the sailors had not seen since 1914.
In Australia, the cruiser HMAS Encounter was completing a period of quarantine having returned from Samoa and Tonga. The Cruiser had provided critical medical support following an outbreak of Spanish Influenza in December 1918 that killed a quarter of the population in both locations. Australia was not to be immune from this disease, brought to our shores by sailors and soldiers returning from Europe and claiming over 15,000 Australian lives. In Sydney, HMAS Sleuth patrolled off the North Head Quarantine Station to prevent returned soldiers from escaping before the end of their quarantine period. In Bass Strait, the RAN Reserve-manned minesweepers Coogee and James Paterson, supported by HMAS Protector, continued to search for mines laid by the German raider Wolf in mid-1917. In Darwin, HMA Ships Una and Encounter were sent to restore order in the aftermath of the ‘Darwin Rebellion’ – a riot by members of the Australian Workers Union: and members of the RAN Radio Service continued to support the Australian Army Tropical Force providing essential communications duties in New Guinea.
The first of the returning ships began to arrive in Australia in May 1919 but the return was marred by a mutiny on board Australia while alongside in Fremantle on 1 June. Fremantle was the first Australian port on her return journey and her crew were welcomed so enthusiastically that many of her personnel refused to take the ship to sea when ordered to sail. Five men were convicted of mutiny and sentenced to gaol sentences but after public outcry all were released in December 1919.
HMAS Sydney also had an interesting return journey to Australia. She arrived in Singapore on 6 June but her departure was delayed, On 19 June riots broke out in the Chinese quarter and Sydney put a landing party ashore to assist with restoring order. Sydney then headed to Penang, where similar riots had broken out, landing armed patrols on 25 June to restore order. She eventually arrived in Sydney on 18 July 1919. Also, among the ships returning to Australia were the submarine depot ship HMAS Platypus and six J Class submarines – the latter a gift to the RAN that had lost its two E Class submarines on operations during the war.
On arrival in Australia many of the war-time personnel were demobilised and returned to civilian life.
Meanwhile in France, the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 bringing to an end a war that that had cost over 62,000 Australian lives,
By December 1919 all the ships of the RAN were back in Australian waters and the RAN continued to recruit new personnel, train for war and keep its ships ready to sail: when and as required.
The following paper describes the experiences of a young Royal Navy conscript, Gordon Cansdale who served in the Fleet Air Arm from 1945 to 1947. Gordon describes the highs and tragic lows of service in the carrier HMS Theseus which visited Australia in 1947 to demonstrate naval air power and the capabilities of an aircraft carrier.
Gordon later settled in Australia where he has lived for more than 63 years.
The old saying that one only remembers the good times can be quite true, but in my case there was one bad time in particular that I will never forget.
As a teenager I learned a song that went something like this:
“Memories are treasures locked in my heart I mean to keep evermore. Of all the treasures one stands apart, saved from the dear days of ‘Yore’.“
Years ago, (1945) I received notice that I was to be conscripted into the armed forces. I was hoping that it would be the Navy as my father had served in the Navy in the 1914-18 war.
YES!! I was selected for the Royal Navy, better still, the Fleet Air Arm, a dream come true. Fighter aircraft, Rolls Royce engines, a chance to see the world, and of course a navy uniform.
So, my adventure began by first learning how to march, handle firearms, and not forgetting plenty of naval discipline. Next step was the Rolls Royce School of Technical Training. THIS WAS IT!! learning about the mighty Merlin engine.
On completing this course, I was posted to a shore establishment HMS Blackcap inhibiting engines for storage. This didn’t last long, as I soon learned that I had been given a sea-going draft. I was to become a member of 812 Squadron (Fireflies) and join HMS Theseus in Ireland.
After a short training period ashore in N. Ireland it was off to see the world. Those faraway places with strange sounding names. Gibraltar, Suez, Aden, Trincomalee, Andaman Islands, Nicobar Islands, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea.
The reception we received in Australia and New Zealand was just great. The street marches with the whole ship’s company through the streets of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland and Wellington. The people were just fantastic, with dances and sight-seeing trips. They also organized home visits, and food parcels for our families back home.
BUT! it wasn’t all plain sailing, whilst flying and demonstrating for the Royal Australian Navy there were several disasters. Two Fireflies collided in midair over Port Phillip Bay and crashed into the sea killing both air crews. One of the engines was pulled up out of the sea some fifty years later, and is now in the Australian F.A.A. Museum in Nowra which I often visit with an old ‘oppo’ Totty Allman. The same day a Seafire crash landed on deck, the arrester hook striking a seaman in the walkway and killing him.
For me the worst was yet to come (my disaster day). It was the job of the ground crew to assist the pilot out of the cockpit on landing. I was the fitter of the Squadron CO’s aircraft (Lt Cdr Wynne-Roberts) and would compete with my rigger mate ‘Spiv’ Daly to be first up on to the plane to do the job. The winner would then have pole position sitting on top of the cockpit to watch the remainder of the aircraft land.
It was 6th August 1947 and Spiv had won the race, sitting on top of the cockpit, I had to settle for a seat on the wing. The next aircraft landed OK, the crash barriers were lowered and it taxied forward. THEN ALL HELL LET LOOSE. The third aircraft missed the arrestor wires and bounced over the crash barriers. To my horror I realised it was heading straight for us, so I dropped off the wing and ran for the ship’s side. It then clipped the second aircraft and dropped on top of ours. On impact, debris was showered everywhere, and as I was dropping into the safety net, the batteries burst and I was splattered with acid. Minutes later I was lifted out of the safety net and rushed below to sick bay, washed down, and treated for acid bums. My clothes had to be replaced as they were covered in holes, burnt by the acid.
I asked about Spiv and was told that he was missing, presumed killed. I couldn’t believe that I was with him just a short time before, and the last person to see him alive. Could easily have been me.
The things I will always remember are the noise of the plane bouncing, the terrific noise of the impact, and someone shouting “There’s somebody down in the net” ME!!! As they lifted me out there was a wheel, and Oleo leg nearby. All that remained of two aircraft.
When the deck was finally cleaned up, the last aircraft carne in to land, also bouncing over the crash barriers. It clipped the Island before crashing into the starboard gun sponson, then tipped over nose first into the sea. Luckily the aircrew were recovered safely.
From Australia, our next port of call was the Solomon Islands which was very interesting as there were ships and a submarine on the beach, Jap relics of the war a couple of years previous.
Port Moresby in New Guinea was also interesting, with a trip out to. Jackson airstrip which still had the odd Zero fighter, and a Betty bomber smashed up. Also, a wine bar.
Back to Singapore where I learnt I was to leave Theseus and return home for demob with others who had the same demob number as me (72).
The rest of my service was spent at HMS Nuthatch, doing maintenance, cutting grass, painting fences etc. Finally, my demob and the end of a great adventure with many good times, and a few bad. Plus, many great friends, and a lot of MEMORlES.