- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- History - WW2
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- RAN Ships
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- December 2004 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
A small, lonely memorial can be found near the water’s edge at the westernmost shore of Green Point at Watson’s Bay, Sydney Harbour, recalling the erection of a considerable seaward defence work during WW2. From our archives comes this manuscript address by the late Captain Bill Cook, LVO, RAN. As President of NHS in 1995 he had been invited to unveil it by the Woollahra History and Heritage Society, who had undertaken the project for posterity.
The Naval Historical Society is conscious of the honour you have done its members by asking me to perform the unveiling of this memorial. The preservation of our naval heritage – and this includes maritime history generally – is one of the Society’s aims. We know and understand the difficulties encountered by those who ‘have a dream’ about preserving historical memoriabilia and artifacts, or erecting memorials such as this one. Perseverance and enormous efforts are required in making those dreams come true. I am sure that the Committee, when they began this project, recalled the prayer of Sir Francis Drake: ‘. . . . O Lord, when thou givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory . . .’
To them, the true glory has been yielded – to the satisfaction not only of themselves but also to the benefit of this community, and Australians generally are to be heartily congratulated – we are greatly in their debt. As the Chairman (Peter Poland) has told you, I passed through this boom on several occasions. I was driving a destroyer each time, so we used the EASTERN CHANNEL – the nearer one. It was a routine matter and one tends to forget the individual passages. However, the first time was probably in the old destroyer HMAS Vendetta (old, even in 1944 – her keel was laid down about the same time as mine!!). Vendetta was my first command, so you can imagine how cautiously and nervously I was in taking her – for the first time – through the gate. That reminds me of what I think is a relevant story about a popular and well- known Supreme Court Judge – a native of the Eastern Suburbs – the late Mr Justice Tony Larkins. Tony had just been elevated to the Bench and was presiding in the old Divorce Jurisdiction. The lady (petitioner) in the case was giving evidence and was obviously very nervous and confused. She was most apologetic. ’Your Worship . . .Sir . . .Your Honour . . . this is . . . my first time in this court.’ Tony, with his usual charm and courtesy, replied: ‘Madam, please don’t concern yourself about that – this is my first time too!’
The next occasion of going through the Boom I recorded in my diary – for those of you who are historically inclined, it was Wednesday 27 June 1945! I took the much younger, state-of-the-art fleet destroyer HMAS Nizam to sea, to try out a reluctant main feed pump.
I noted, with some understatement, that I got under weigh at 0930 and ‘ . . . slipped out between ferries’. Coming home I noted: ‘Tricky getting through the East Channel. Dodged in between a ferry and some barges’. But the occasion which most vividly comes to mind was when I came in at night after doing full-speed trials in Nizam. I was in a bit of a hurry, as I had an appointment with a charming young lady at Prince’s Restaurant (of hallowed memory!). I had reduced speed from about 30 knots as we approached the Heads, but I was no doubt exceeding the speed limit as I reached the Eastern Gate. There were a great many lights about (very confusing) and I very nearly dead-heated with an outgoing Manly ferry. He did the gentlemanly thing and backed off, leaving me room to scrape in. I can imagine what the language on his bridge was like! (I hope he mistook me for a British destroyer!!)
I shudder when I recall some of the things we did in those days. But we were young and had come through many years of war at sea where risks had to be, and often were, taken. Thank you for allowing an old sailor to ‘spin a dit’ on this historic occasion.
Again, I commend the enterprise, persistence and hard work of the Committee in achieving the placing of this memorial, and I have the greatest pleasure in unveiling it. (10 October, 1995)
The inscription on the Memorial records the following data:
World War II Anti-Torpedo Boom Net
During World War II, entry into Sydney Harbour was restricted by a boom net. For over three years, all ships including ferries and fishing boats had to pass through one of three gates in the anti-torpedo and anti- midget submarine boom which stretched from Green (Laings) Point to Georges Head.
Construction of the boom commenced in January 1942 and the boom and gates were fully operational by August 1942. The boom was 1,480 metres long with two gate openings for ships, 121 metres at the Western Channel and 91 metres at the Eastern Channel with a 30 metre gate for smaller craft on the west side of the boom gate vessel HMAS Kuramia, a converted 1914 wooden Sydney Harbour ferry.
The central and western portions of the boom consisted of some 49 clusters of four piles with the net, which was made of wire and interlocking steel rings about 450mm in diameter, suspended between them. The eastern, Green (Laings) Point section of the net was suspended from buoys. The eastern and western gate nets were also supported by buoys.
The western gate was normally kept closed and only opened for very large ships and vessels under tow or damaged which needed to use the deeper and straighter Western Channel. The western gate was opened by a tug. All other ships used the eastern gate which was controlled by a boom gate vessel. The gate was opened by hauling it back to the ‘hauling back’ dolphin using winches housed on Green (Laings) Point. The small craft gate was lowered to a depth of 5 metres with a winch on board Kuramia.
On the night of 31 May 1942, one of three Japanese midget submarines became entangled in the western end of the central section of the boom. After trying to free the craft without success, the crew fired charges to destroy the submarine and thereby killed themselves. Two other midget submarines successfully penetrated the then only partially completed boom.
After World War II ended in August 1945 work commenced on dismantling the boom and, by early 1946, all except the large dolphins had been removed. Today, the only evidence of the boom on Green (Laings) Point is the floor of the winch house which can be seen near the plaque.
The stone obelisk nearby was erected earlier – in the 1850s – as a navigational leading mark for the Eastern Channel to be lined up with the back mark (obelisk) still standing on the western side of Parsley Bay.
Researched by Woollahra History and Heritage Society.