- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Ship histories and stories
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- RAN Ships
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- June 1975 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At the end of World War II most of the older small ships of the RAN, which had served valiantly in peace and war, were disposed of. At this time war and warships were not fashionable and the ships were disposed of almost secretly. One of these ships was HMAS Moresby, a ship which during her lifetime had been as famous as any eight-inch, three funnel cruiser and had in fact achieved a more lasting reputation.
MORESBY WAS BUILT by Barclay Curle Ltd. in 1918, as a sloop of the Racehorse Class and christened HMS Silvio. She had not resembled the more usual naval vessel of that time, for her design incorporated certain ‘Q’ Ship features (‘Q’ Ships were built as submarine decoy ships). To the Sydneysider she looked most like an overgrown Manly ferry, for she appeared to be double ended, with two equal height, straight masts, two rounded bridges, and a funnel midway between them.
In 1925 the RAN required another surveying vessel to assist the aged Geranium in the big job of charting our coastal waters – the Silvio, renamed the Moresby, was the vessel for the job.
She arrived here that year under the command of Captain J. A. Edgell, RN, with Lieutenants J. A. Collins, RAN, and H. A. Showers, RAN (later Flag Officers) among her officers.
She immediately began surveying the Cumberland Passage in the Great Barrier Reef waters, and continued until 1929, when shortage of funds caused her to be paid off.
In 1933, with the deterioration of international affairs, money was found for her to begin the strategic survey of the approaches to Port Darwin, a job which she continued until 1939. In these years the Moresby became known as the ‘White Lady of the North’ as she toiled resplendent in the white and buff colour schemes of the survey service.
Her lines, although unusual, had a gracefulness of their own.
When Japan entered the war, her saluting guns gave way to an old Mark II 4-inch gun and the taut wire machine on the quarterdeck was replaced with depth charge racks and throwers as Moresby went back to her original role of submarine hunter. She escorted convoys round the east coast of Australia in the dark days when our merchant ships were being sunk only a few miles from Sydney Heads.
By the end of 1943 the coastal waters were somewhat safer and a greater need was felt for her services in charting the north coast of New Guinea. This time the ‘White Lady’ went north with a new makeup of Chicago blue and task force grey, which was more becoming to her role as flagship of Task Force 70.5.3. Her force consisted of several AMS (corvettes as they were then known) and several smaller tenders, all engaged in hydrographic duties under the US Seventh Fleet.
In 1944 she returned to her pre-war ground in the approaches to Darwin. Here she acted as ‘Master’ ship, doing the triangulation, with five ‘slave ships’ AMS sounding, all at fixed and accurate radar ranges from her, thus covering a large area in a short time. The surrender of the Japanese forces in Timor, which was signed on her quarterdeck in Koepang Harbour, was the highlight of her long career.
After this she returned to make the preliminary survey of Yampi Sound coincident with the commencement of the mining of iron ore there by the BHP. Future events showed a prophetic twist of fate here.
In 1946 she returned to Sydney and joined in the general paying-off of the RAN, which was then proceeding. After being in reserve for a short time she was listed for disposal. Strange to relate she was purchased by the BHP and towed to their Newcastle works for breaking up. To do this they cut her down deck by deck; only about two feet remained above the water line.
Then the hulk was towed up river, where the remaining 420 tons of the hull was beached and hauled in 30-foot stages on to the bank.
However, several parts of the ship are still to be found. Possibly the biggest pieces intact are the main steering engine and telemotor, which are now used for instructional purposes at the Newcastle Technical College.
The hydrographic service demands long hours of hard work. The Moresby’s motto was Je le ferai durant ma vie (I will work all through my life). She lived up to it. The many men who served in her must often look back with mixed feelings to the ‘Old White Lady’.