- Haken, J.K., Dr
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Kiama
- September 2019 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Dr J. K. Haken
The development of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was restricted by financial constraints, exaggerated by the onset of the Great Depression and Recovery Years. The situation changed with the deterioration of European conditions, culminating in war. A massive programme of construction of small ships was undertaken. Foremost was the construction of 60 minesweepers, also called corvettes; 36 were ordered by the RAN, 20 by the British Admiralty (which became RAN ships) and four by the Royal Indian Navy.
It had been long desired to produce a general purpose vessel of about 500 tons and while the minesweepers were of greater tonnage, they showed the ability of local industry. In February 1938, as European conditions worsened, the need for a general purpose vessel was realised by the RAN with the Director of Engineering, Rear Admiral P. E. McNeil, in July 1938 given the task of planning a vessel nominally of 500 tons, a speed of 10 knots and a range of 2000 nautical miles. A similarity with the Admiralty Bangor class minesweeper has been observed.
The first minesweeper constructed was HMAS Bathurst, the keel being laid on 10 February 1940 and commissioning on 6 December 1940. This was the first of the Bathurst class vessels. HMAS Kiama was a late construction, being the 57th of the series. The vessel was built by Evans Deakin and Co. Ltd. Brisbane. A manufacturers plate is held by Blue Haven Nursing Home, Kiama1. The keel was laid on 2 November 1942 and the ship commissioned on 3 July 1943. The general characteristics of Kiama are shown in Table 1.
|Length||186 feet 2 inches|
|Draught||8 feet 6 inches|
|Machinery||2000 HP Triple expansion 2 shafts|
|Armament||1 x 4 inch HA gun|
|Captain||LEUT S.J. Benson RANR (S)*2|
*Appointed 04 October 1943 as A/LCDR in 1944 backdated to 1943
After commissioning in Brisbane, a photograph of Kiama was sent to Kiama Council by the Minister of the Navy3. The vessel proceeded via Kiama for war service which commenced in March 1944. At Kiama the Council presented the vessel with the Kiama Coat of Arms4. A/LCDR Benson retained command until 31 October 1945 when he was succeeded by LEUT (later LCDR) H.E. Godden RANR.
Most service was in New Guinea waters; initially the vessel was based at Milne Bay.
Escorting of coastal convoys continued until June 1944 when anti-submarine duties were assigned and conducted in the Solomon Sea until September. Transporting troops from New Guinea to New Britain continued until October 1944 when convoy escort was resumed.
Escort duty continued with only a visit to Cairns. The vessel arrived in Sydney on 21 December 1944 and on Christmas Day she was required to sail at short notice to assist HMAS Quickmatch with the rescue of the crew of the torpedoed and sinking American Liberty ship SS Robert J. Walker. After returning to Sydney they were soon off to Adelaide for refit. After this she proceeded to Fremantle, arriving on 14 February 1945, for exercises with US submarines which lasted for several months.
Kiama then returned to New Guinea, arriving at Port Moresby on 7 May 1945, and during May and June 1945 undertook bombardment of eastern Buka Island and the north eastern Bougainville area. A painting by Keith Swain (who served on the ship) of Kiama conducting the Buka bombardment forms part of the Council’s art collection, and hangs in the Blue Haven Hostel Recreation Room1.
In July 1945 Kiama had the honour of conveying the Governor General, His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, from Torokina, Bougainville to Multipina Point in the Solomon Islands, where his Excellency reviewed Australian troops. The remainder of July saw the vessel carrying troops from Torokina to the Treasury Islands and then making for Brisbane, arriving on 5 August 1945. The stay in Brisbane was limited with Kiama back in New Guinea on 29 August 1945, and until January 1946 she conducted transportation and minesweeping duties. Kiama returned to Sydney on 29 January 1946, thus ending her wartime service.
Kiama’s last official duty was a final visit to her namesake town, arriving at Kiama on 8 February 1946 and departing on 13 February 19464. The Municipal Council, residents and patriotic organisations of Kiama had always supported the vessel, an early report5 requested funds for the purchase of a 16 mm projector for the entertainment of the crew and indicates other possible avenues of support. During her service, donations included a radio and books.
Two Japanese two-pounder mountain guns captured at Rabaul were presented by LCDR Godden to the Council on 6 February 19466,7 at the Civic Welcome on the wharf. One gun was mounted at the front of the Council Chambers where it remains today. In the evening, the officers and crew enjoyed a Welcome Dinner at the Drill Hall. During the visit the ship’s company were also guests of Kiama Cinema, attended a dance at the School of Arts arranged by the Jamberoo Football Club and a farewell dinner at the Oddfellows Hall, organised by the CWA Younger Set. A church service was held at Christ Church where the Captain presented a ceremonial White Ensign for safekeeping8.
Kiama is further commemorated by plaques unveiled in Hindmarsh Park, Kiama and at Birdwood Avenue, Shrine Reserve, Melbourne. The Bathurst class of vessels and their sailors have been commemorated in a number of locations. In South Australia, HMAS Whyalla is preserved on land at Whyalla as a tourist venue9 and contains a memorial. Local plaques stand at Fremantle in Memorial Hill Reserve. Corvette memorials are located at Williamstown Victoria10, New-stead in Queensland11 and Holdfast Bay, South Australia12. The RAN Corvettes Association commemorates the group of vessels with a plaque in Brisbane13. At the RAN Heritage Centre at Garden Island. Sydney. a monument commemorates the vessels, while in the Garden Island Chapel a stained glass window names the vessels.
The Old Pilot’s Cottage Museum operated by the Kiama Historical Society has many records of Kiama including a crew list, and the ship’s large brass badge is on permanent display. Kiama was decommissioned on 3 April 1946 and passed into F Reserve. Any future ship named Kiama is entitled to the Battle Honour New Guinea 1942 – 1944.
After six years of reserve service Kiama and three of her sisters, ex-HMA Ships Inverell, Echuca and Stawell were transferred without refit to the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) on 5 March 1952. In New Zealand, the vessel, now HMNZS Kiama, was modified to become a training vessel. The 4-inch gun and minesweeping equipment were removed and two 40 mm AA Bofor Guns and an aft deckhouse installed, as part of the conversion to a training ship. Subsequently the vessel joined the 27th Fisheries Protection Squadron and transported scientists to remote islands around the New Zealand coast.
Two goodwill visits were made to Kiama, the first on 5 November 196614 and again in March 1969. During the 1966 visit mountainous seas forced the vessel to shelter in Port Kembla Harbour. The crew had to travel by road to attend a dinner hosted by the local service clubs8. On the first occasion the battle flag of the vessel was presented to the local Sea Scouts and another ceremonial White Ensign was presented to the Anglican Church8.
While on a training cruise off Fiji, HMNZS Kiama assisted and carried the crew and passengers of MV Willisien to Suva, Willisien being declared a total loss on 8 May 196715. HMNZS Kiama was decommissioned on 19 August 1976, and broken up for scrap in Auckland in 1979. The mast was retained and installed at the Paeroa Historic Maritime Park located on the North Island. Following the final decommissioning the Royal New Zealand Navy presented Kiama Council with a ship’s plaque and an informative panel. These relics are now at the Blue Haven Nursing Home1. The Royal New Zealand Navy Museum at Devonport retained the ship’s brass bell which is of great sentimental value, the inner rim inscribed with the names of children who were christened on board.
- Blue Haven operations are initiatives of Kiama Municipal Council
- Navy List October 1944
- Anon, Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal 21 June 1944 (Published 1899-1947)
- William A. Bayley, Blue Haven History of Kiama Municipality NSW
- Anon, Kiama Independent and Shoalhaven Advertiser 16 February 1946 (1863-1947) renamed Kiama Independent 1947
- Anon, Kiama Independent 18 October 2018.
- Anon, Illawarra Mercury 8 February 1946 p 7, Publication 1856-1950.
- pdf, Kiama Historical Society
- HMAS Whyalla Maritime Museum, Lincoln Highway, Whyalla 5600
- Nelson Place, near Gern Pier, Williamstown 3016
- Newstead Avenue, Newstead Park Newstead 4006
- Adelphi Terrace, Glenelg Holdfast Bay, South Australia 5045
- Ann Street, ANZAC Square, Shrine of Remembrance Crypt, Brisbane 4000
- Anon, Canberra Times Saturday 5 November 1966, p 30
- Anon, Pacific Islands Monthly 38 No. 6 p 105, 1 June 1967