- Stephen, Kerry
- History - post WWII
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Creswell, HMAS Melbourne II, HMAS Voyager II
- June 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On the passage to Jervis Bay at 28 knots Air Nymph passed the three MCMVs that had been at anchor as they headed out to the area of the collision. Communications were established with the Marine Section Wireless office and a message was passed to Creswell advising that Air Nymph was returning to the Marine Section with survivors from the Voyager on board, ETA at approximately 0025. I also requested that medical personnel, ambulances and transport be available on the wharf when we berthed. At this stage Creswell was not aware of the situation at sea.
During the passage to Jervis Bay, the Ordnance Engineer from Voyager, Lieutenant Chris Nisbet, came up to the bridge. I advised him that Air Nymph was proceeding at full speed to Creswell to offload the survivors as it was too dangerous to transfer them to Melbourne. It was then that he told me he had been in the Wardroom with most of the off duty officers when the collision occurred. He said that when the Melbourne hit the Voyager, the whole of the forward section rolled upside down and he heard the two 4.5” gun turrets fall out from their mountings, which then allowed the forward section to roll upright again. When it did that, the Wardroom bulkhead split open and he was sucked out the side into the sea, injuring his hand and arm as he went through the ship’s side. He was one of only two who escaped from the wardroom, the other being LCDR Peter Coombs.
Transfer of survivors
Air Nymph arrived at the Marine Section wharf at approximately 0030 and it was pleasing to see the ambulances, transport and personnel waiting as requested. It was a great shock for the personnel ashore to see all the Voyager survivors sitting or lying on the upper deck of the boat. However, they very efficiently assisted the survivors ashore, treating those who were injured or in shock, before transferring them to the Creswell facilities. It was ascertained at that time that there were 34 sailors recovered from the water and landed at Creswell.
I then went into the Marine Section building where I found the Captain of the RAN College, Captain Dacre Smyth, on the phone to Fleet Headquarters in Sydney. It was apparent at that time that Fleet Headquarters was not aware of the seriousness of the collision. I was able to confirm that only the stern of Voyager remained above water and there were likely to be many casualties. Shortly afterwards, the second SAR, Air Sprite arrived back at the Marine Section with another 36 survivors on board, making a total of 70 rescued by the two SARs.
At 0045, as soon as all survivors had been landed and the boat refueled, Air Nymph with the duty crew sailed again to return to the collision area to continue the search. It took approximately an hour and a half to reach the area where debris was located and the search continued again throughout the remainder of the night. A loud hailer was used to call out to any person who could hear it and the searchlights were used to spotlight the areas where debris was clearly visible. A splash target and a stretcher were recovered from the water, but there was no sign of any further survivors.
Two incidents of note occurred during the search that night. The first was when a sunken life raft floating just below the surface was caught in the port propeller. One of the AB seamen volunteered to jump overboard with a knife and cut the life raft free. This action took about 20 minutes in the pitch dark, but was successful allowing the search to continue. The second was about 30 minutes later when a massive bubble suddenly broke on the surface about 50 metres ahead of Air Nymph. The searchlights were trained on the spot and it was ascertained that the wooden whaler or motor cutter from Voyager had apparently broken free from the davits, and the buoyancy tanks had allowed it to broach on the surface. It was assumed that the remains of the hull of Voyager were somewhere below where the search was being conducted at that time.