- Newspaper, The West Australian
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Nepal, HMAS Nizam
- June 1986 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Courtesy of The West Australian Tuesday, February 11, 1986
HUGH SCHMITT REPORTS on a little- known naval tragedy off the West Australian coast 41 years ago today. Able-bodied Seaman Derek Hammond was in the radar room of HMAS Nizam on the dark, squally night of February 11, 1945, helping the bridge to navigate the ship around Cape Leeuwin when it happened.
The 1,800-tonne fleet destroyer suddenly heeled sharply and shuddered, and the radar set, on which AB Hammond was plotting the coastline, tilted and almost fell on him.
In a matter of seconds that seemed like minutes, the warship righted itself, but continued to roll.
Derek Hammond did not know till he came off watch at midnight that 10 of his watch mates had been hurled or swept overboard when the destroyer was struck by a freakish wave. The mountain of water had hit the ship soon after it rounded the cape to head north to Fremantle.
‘For some time I didn’t know that anyone had been washed overboard,’ recalls Derek Hammond, a retired principal of Highgate school who now lives at Mt Claremont, ‘but gradually the news filtered down that there had been some loss of life.
‘When I came off watch I was told that four able seamen, four ordinary seamen, a leading seaman and a stoker had been lost from B gundeck, the port signalling platform, Oerlikon gun platforms and the upper deck.
‘While I was still on duty the ship had put about to search for the men, but it was pretty hopeless in the dark and with a big sea running.’
Former Able Seaman Hammond’s memories of that night of terror are fuzzy today, exactly 41 years later, but a graphic account of those moments aboard the Nizam are given in a book published by the Australian Naval Historical Society. Called ‘N-Class’, it is written by L.J. Lind and M.A. Payne.
‘At approximately 11.15pm a heavy squall hit the ship,’ recorded the officer of the watch, Lieut-Cdr. Cook, quoted in ‘N-Class’. ‘The wind increased greatly in force and almost simultaneously a freak wave struck the ship on the starboard side.’
Spray from the wind-whipped sea made it impossible to see more than 20 metres from the wallowing ship.
Lieut-Cdr. Cook later wrote: ‘She broached to, keeling an estimated 60 to 70 degrees (official RAN records said it was 75 to 80 degrees) and burying the whole of her port side in the water.
‘I scrambled up and actually sat on the starboard (vertical) sides of the bridge structure and clung on while she rolled and then slowly righted herself.
‘We were doing 21 knots at the time and you can imagine the force and destructive power of the water as it swept down the ship.
‘Boats and davits on the port side were swept away, the splinter shield on the multiple pom-pom was bent back, and some witnesses swore the water reached the lower of the two white bands on our funnel.
‘My first instinct was to stop the engines, but there was little need to ring down the order as the ship was already stopped.
‘It is difficult to describe those few moments – the horror of that dark night, the screaming wind and tearing sea, the wail of lifting safety valves and gyro alarms, cries of men clinging for their lives, a stricken ship, like a beast wallowing with broken legs.
‘When we got under way slowly we cast around looking for those lost overboard, but it was an impossible task.’
The Nizam limped into Fremantle on February 12 with her electrical gear in wretched condition.
Derek Hammond recalls that the N-class destroyers were notorious for their propensity to roll in heavy seas. ‘I think they were probably top heavy,’ he said. In South African waters, early in January 1944, the Nizam‘s sister ship, Nepal, was struck in mid- afternoon by a series of freakish waves, one of which caught her stern, heeling the ship heavily to port. The Nepal continued to list to port and broached-to, burying the lee side deep in the Indian Ocean.
According to the ‘N-Class’ book, an officer claimed to have been thrown in the armchair in which he was sitting from one end of the wardroom to the other – clear of the deck.