- Deakin-Bell, Don
- History - post WWII
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Watson (base)
- March 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The premier naval training establishment celebrated its 60th anniversary since commissioning at Sydney’s prominent South Head.
The ship’s company of HMAS Watson (Captain Ian Middleton, RAN) marched through Double Bay, Sydney, on Saturday 12 March 2005, with bayonets fixed, drums beating, bands playing and Colours flying, exercising its right to the Freedom of Entry to the Municipality of Woollahra, NSW. The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie, AO, took the Salute and together with the Mayor of Woollahra, Councillor Geoff Rundle, reviewed the parade.
The parade coincided with Watson’s celebration of its Diamond Anniversary of Commissioning in 1945. Watson has served the nation well in the 60 years since 1945 and has been a proud member of the Woollahra community during that time.
HMAS Watson especially values the right of Freedom of Entry (granted in 2001 by Woollahra Municipal Council, in recognition of the special bonds between this naval establishment and the local community), which is the highest distinction that a city may bestow upon a unit of the Australian Defence Force.
Sixty years ago Australia was at the end of a long war. The RAN’s training base at South Head was established in 1942 as a radar school. Radar, the new and secret war-winning invention, required skilled operators to interpret dots on a screen into decision-making information. To train the sailors in this arcane skill, a location with natural vantage points to set up actual radar installations was required, and the Army’s School of Artillery on South Head was perfect.
What was a temporary measure, set up as HMA Establishment Radar, became a permanent establishment on 12 March 1945 when HMAS Watson was commissioned, with LCDR J.L. Bath, RAN, as the first Commanding Officer. The Base was named after Watson’s Bay (in turn named after Robert Watson, a quartermaster of HMS Sirius, Flagship of the First Fleet in 1788). Many of the original ship’s company were WRANS personnel. By the end of the Pacific campaign, 2200 officers and men had been trained at the establishment. Allied navy personnel and merchant marine crews were also trained in the use of radar at Watson.
Mortar Mk10 firings
In May 1952, the Action Information Centre, the most modern in the southern hemisphere, came into operation at HMAS Watson. Before this it had been necessary for training classes to visit ships of the Fleet; now the ships’ companies could hone their skills ashore in this state-of-the-art facility. The Torpedo and Anti-Submarine School was added in 1956, and some people today can still recall A/S Mortar Mk10 firings being conducted into the waters of Lady Bay. (That mortar mounting is now located as a monument at Watson’s front gate).
In 1961 the Chapel of St George the Martyr was completed and consecrated as a memorial to members of the RAN who had lost their lives in the service of their country. Over the following years the Chapel has been used to celebrate naval weddings, christen the children of naval families and to hold memorial services for loved ones on their passing.
Maritime Warfare training
Today Watson is the centrepiece of the RAN’s Maritime Warfare training effort. Last year (2004) Watson trained over 300 junior sailors as combat system operators and prepared almost 150 midshipmen for their bridge watchkeeping certificates afloat. Advanced warfare training was conducted for over 100 senior sailors and 28 graduating principle warfare officers (these PWOs are the watchkeeping tacticians, responsible to their commanding officers for directing warfare operations in their ship).
Every commanding officer in the Navy is trained at Watson, from lieutenants in command of minor war vessels, to captains commanding frigates. A very advanced Bridge Simulator Trainer provides high fidelity methods of rapidly acquainting bridge staff with simulated operations at sea. Representative Operations Rooms of different ship classes can be linked together to experience ships’ teams through realistic training scenarios.
‘by the beat of a drum’
The origins of granting ‘Freedom of Entry’ to a city dates back to mediaeval times, when the walled cities of Europe trained their soldiers in defensive measures, for the protection of the city against bands of hostile forces. Such freedom of entry was granted only to friendly armies and carefully controlled by city leaders. The ancient City of London, holding a city charter from the King, based it strength and independence not only on its trading ability, but also on its power to raise and train city regiments for its own protection. It was during this later era that the practice of regimental detachments entering a city and raising recruits ‘by the beat of a drum’ first evolved.
In modern times, the granting of ‘Freedom of Entry’ bestows no legal right or privilege on the recipient body as honoured. However, it is a great honour that Watson once again has been able to exercise this esteemed privilege on this special occasion. It looks forward to many more years of preparing men and women of Australia’s Navy for service as Maritime Warfare specialists.
On 14 March 2005 HMAS Watson celebrated its actual 60th anniversary of first commissioning by dressing overall, with traditional dress ship bunting displayed from the mainmast, overlooking the training schools below.
(The author is the Visits Liaison Officer at HMAS Watson. This article has been edited for incorporation in this Review for space reasons. Ed.)