- Swinden, Greg
- Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- 817 Squadron, HMAS Kanimbla II, HMAS Tobruk II, HMAS Manoora II
- March 2012 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
CRY HAVOC IN WAR AND PEACE – FAREWELL TO THE LPAs
I am just an aging LPA and in the war’s I used to sail,
and I’ve been deployed to many a waring nation.
Now they say I am old rust bucket and I am fading away,
so they have tied me up and I will go on no more missions.
My crew and I have created history which is beyond belief,
we have steamed through many oceans and transited the reef.
From the Persian Gulf to the Solomon’s and all places in between,
few other ships have gone to the places I have seen.
When a war or crisis happened both near and far away,
the politicians would always stop and ask – where is the LPA?
Now my hull is dented and worn and no longer ships side grey,
a far cry from my service in East Timor, Fiji and far off Banda Aceh.
My engines were tired and old but when the call went out,
we always headed out to sea and of that there was no doubt.
If a ship was needed to fight a war, or just to give a hand,
then off we went to serve at sea, in the air and on land.
Now my time is up after forty years of blood, sweat and tears,
who will they call on now to allay all their troubles, woes and fears?
All my problems were fixable – if the only they had spent the dough,
In troubled times we were the last to know – but always the first to go!
A simple entry in the deck log of HMAS Kanimbla at 1100 on Friday 25 November 2011 announced: ‘Australian White Ensign hauled down HMAS Kanimbla is now decommissioned.’ The event seemingly of no significance drew little media coverage.
To those who knew something of her history the decommissioning of HMAS Kanimbla has brought to a close a dynamic but also very turbulent chapter in the Navy’s history. When Kanimbla and, her sister ship, Manoora were purchased from the United States Navy in 1994 they were quickly christened ‘Lemon and Lime’ by the media because of their poor material state. For many they were the ugly ducklings of the fleet and by some thought fit only to be manned by those not good enough to serve in the frigates. In reality though they were the ships we had to have as without them the RAN, and the ADF, would not have been prepared materially, doctrinally and mentally to make the quantum leap necessary from HMAS Tobruk (a single amphibious ship with limited aviation capability) to the new LHD’s. Put simply without the LPA’s there would no LHD’s and the future amphibious and expeditionary capability of the ADF would not exist.
The purchase of the LPA’s (Landing Platform Amphibious) had its genesis in the fallout from the Fiji Coup of 1987 (Operation Morris Dance) and the Vanuatu troubles a year later (Operation Sailcloth) in which the ADF’s amphibious capability of the Tobruk and the original HMAS Jervis Bay (ex MV Australian Trader) were found to be somewhat wanting; particularly in the ability to provide the lift of troops and equipment from a platform offshore.
Kanimbla was the former USS Saginaw commissioned in 1970 and Manoora was the former USS Fairfax County commissioned in 1971. Both ships had been laid down in the late 1960’s as part of a 20 ship Newport class Landing Ship Tank (LST) program with Saginaw being the 10th and Fairfax County the 15th ship delivered under this program. Both ships operated extensively in the Atlantic and Middle East. They were decommissioned in the early 1990’s and in 1994, after much debate and discussion in the higher circles of the RAN, they were both purchased from the USN. Kanimbla was commissioned on 29 August 1994 and Manoora three months later on 25 November 1994. Regrettably both ships had been ‘let go’ by the USN and were in poor materiel shape with extensive corrosion throughout the hulls; however the decision to buy second hand ships vice building new platforms was chosen due to the perceived delay in building new vessels either in Australia or overseas.