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HMAS Latrobe (J234)
HMAS Latrobe (J234)
Class overview
Builders:
Operators:
Succeeded by: Ton class minesweeper (RAN)
Cost: 250,000 per vessel
Built: 1940–1942
In commission: 1940–1960 (RAN)
Planned: 60
Completed: 60
Cancelled: 1 (1938 prototype)
Lost: 5
Preserved: 2
General characteristics
Type: Australian Minesweeper (Corvette)
Displacement: 1,025 tons (full war load)
Length: 186 ft (57 m)
Beam: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Draught: 8.5 ft (2.6 m)
Propulsion: Triple expansion, 2 shafts. 2,000 hp
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h)
Complement: Normally 85
Sensors and
processing systems:
Type 128 asdic
Armament: Varying, but generally: 1 x 12 pdr gun or 1 x 4 inch Mk XIX gun, 1 x 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun, 2-3 x 20 mm Oerlikon guns, up to 40 depth charges

The Bathurst class corvettes were a class of minesweepers produced in Australia during World War II. 60 Bathurst class corvettes in total were commissioned; 36 for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), 20 for the British Admiralty (although ordered by the UK they were crewed by Australians and commissioned into the RAN), and 4 for the Indian Navy.[1] All 60 ships were designed and constructed in Australia.[2]

Contents

Design and construction

In the late 1930s, the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board identified the need to design a general purpose 'local defense vessel' that was easy to construct and operate.[3] The ships had to be capable of both anti-submarine and mine-warfare duties.[3] Early specifications required a design of approximately 500 tons, with a speed of at least 10 knots (19 km/h), and a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km).[3] The minimum armament was to include a 4-inch gun, two depth charge throwers, and two depth charge chutes.[3]

In an initially unrelated development, three ships were ordered by the RAN in 1937 for use as 'boom defense vessels'.[3] When the plan was altered in early 1938 to require only two ships, the third ordered, HMAS Kangaroo, was earmarked for construction as a prototype of the 'local defense vessel'.[4] The RAN's Director of Engineering was instructed to prepare plans for the ship in July 1938, which were completed six months later.[5] The ship was to weigh 680 tons, with a speed of 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h), and a range of 2,850 nautical miles (5,280 km).[5] Kangaroo would have been armed with two 4-inch guns and depth charges, and equipped with asdic.[5] The design was based loosely on the United Kingdom's Bangor class minesweepers and Flower class corvettes, but the Australian-designed vessel was larger and better suited for Australian conditions.[6][7] Before construction could begin, the number of boom vessels was increased back to three, and Kangaroo was laid down as a boom defense vessel.[5]

Although the Kangaroo prototype was never built, the design was retained, and in September 1939 the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board approved the construction of seven ships corresponding to a modified version of the design.[8] Additional orders were quickly placed by the RAN, the British Admiralty and the Royal Indian Navy, with 60 ships constructed over the course of World War II; 36 were commissioned into the RAN, 20 were manned by RAN personnel but were paid for by the Admiralty, and 4 were built for the Royal Indian Navy.[7] The ships were officially designated "Australian Minesweepers" (AMS) to hide their intended anti-submarine role, although the Bathursts were popularly referred to as corvettes.[6][7] Although the design was not perfectly suited for any specific role, the all-round general capability for minesweeping, patrol, and escort duties was seen as a good short-term solution until better vessels could be requesitioned or constructed.[7][9]

Minutes after the launch of HMAS Deloraine by Mort's Dock, dock workers begin preparations to lay down the next vessel.

Construction of the ships required a significant expansion of the Australian shipbuilding industry. This was achieved by bringing disused dockyards back into production and establishing new facilities.[10] The lead shipyard was Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney, which laid down the first ship in February 1940, and produced a further seven vessels.[6][11][12] The other seven shipyards involved were Walkers Limited in Maryborough, Queensland (7 ships), Evans Deakin & Co in Brisbane (11 ships), Morts Dock & Engineering Co in Sydney (14 ships), Poole & Steele Limited in Sydney (7 ships), NSW State Dockyard at Newcastle, New South Wales (1 ship), HMA Naval Dockyard at Williamstown, Victoria (8 ships), and Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd at Whyalla, South Australia (4 ships).[12][13] Each ship cost approximately 250,000 to construct.[14] The initial rate of construction was slow, due to a variety of factors: industrial problems, restrictive work practices, and a lack of qualified labour primary among them.[11] Despite initial predictions that two vessels per month would enter service through 1941, the RAN was advised at the end of 1940 that only seven would be completed by the end of the next year.[11] Rate of construction increased by late 1941, although the increasing need of shipbuilding resources for repairs as the war progressed slowed the rate of construction back down.[15] The time to construct a Bathurst class corvette was comparable to the construction time of an Essex class aircraft carrier: the fourteen-month construction time for USS Franklin was equal to or faster than the individual construction time of half the corvettes.[16]

Six large escort vessels based on a scaled-up version of the Bathurst design were considered for construction in mid-1941, but the design was determined to be inferior to the River class frigate.[17]

Armament and equipment

HMAS Cowra's 4-inch QF gun during a training exercise in 1945

The most common armament for Bathurst class corvettes was a 12-pounder gun or a 4-inch Mk XIX HA gun, three Oerlikon 20 mm cannons, two Lewis .303 machine guns, and two .303 Vickers machine guns.[18][19][20] The corvettes carried up to 40 depth charges, which were deployed by 4 throwers and 2 chutes.[18][19] Many of the 12-pounder carrying corvettes were refitted with the 4-inch during their service life, while one of the Oerlikons was often replaced with a Bofors 40 mm gun.[21] Bathursts equipped with the 4-inch main gun were primarily allocated to northern waters, because of the increased air threat and the greater anti-aircraft capabilities of the 4-inch compared to the 12-pounder gun mounted on other corvettes.[22]

Due to the variety of shipyards constructing the corvettes, as well as the varying roles Bathurst class ships were pressed into, there was no true standardisation of armament. Some ships varied significantly from the common armament profile, while an individual ship's weapons outfit could vary significantly for different periods of her career.[20] At one stage, HMAS Geraldton carried six Oerlikon cannons, a number later reduced to four.[23] HMAS Junee only carried a single 4-inch (100 mm) gun and a single 40 mm gun, possibly the lightest armament on a Bathurst class corvette.[24]

The Bathursts were equipped with modified Type 128 asdic equipment, redesigned to be used without a gyroscopic stabiliser.[25]

Minesweeping equipment also varied across the class: ships equipped with the newer 'LL' minesweeping gear were distributed as evenly as possible throughout major Australian ports.[22]

Role

The two main purposes the ships were intended for were minesweeping and anti-submarine escort. However, the corvettes found themselves performing a wide range of duties, including troop and supply transport, bombardment, assault landings support, survey and hydrography mapping, and providing aid to disabled ships.[7][26] The Bathursts were seen as 'maids of all work' by the RAN, even though the design was inappropriate for some roles; being too small, too slow, or inadequately armed or equipped.[6] As the number of ships in service increased, they could be assigned to roles more appropriate for their individual design variations; by March 1943, the RAN reached the point where they could assign ships of the class based on their individual equipment and capabilities, instead of selecting the first (and often only) available vessel.[27]

Because of the dual, conflicting roles of local defense vessel and ocean-going escort, Bathursts based in Australia were under two different controllers for the first part of the Pacific War; operationally under the US Navy's Naval Commander South West Pacific Area Forces (COMSOUWESTPAC), and administratively under the Naval Officer In Charge (NOIC) of the ship's homeport.[28] Following multiple incidents where a ship would be assigned to two different tasks simultaneously; conflicts between local needs, escort schedules, and maintenance requirements; and protests from the NOIC in Fremantle and Darwin, the Australian-based corvettes were placed completely under NOIC control in May 1942.[29] COMSOUWESTPAC would indicate that ships would be needed from a particular port for escort duties, leaving the NOIC of that port free to allocate available ships.[29]

During the early part of the war, crew complements for these ships were primarily made up of reservists.[7] The majority of the personnel recruited by the RAN served on the Bathursts.[30]

Bathurst class ships were assigned up to three different pennant numbers during the course of their career. With the exception of K34, all of the Bathurst class corvettes were given numbers with the 'J' flag superior, designating them as minesweepers.[31] Ships of the class that served with the British Pacific Fleet, like many other ships serving with the fleet, had their pennant numbers changed to ones with a 'B' flag superior.[31] At the end of World War II, a reorganisation of the pennant system saw the Bathursts given new numbers with 'M' as the flag superior, which was the new designator for minesweepers.[31]

Operational history

World War II

In the early part of their war service, Bathursts were involved in the evacuation of several locations which fell to the initial Japanese advance, and in the transportation of supplies and reinforcements to Australian and Dutch guerrilla operations in Timor.[32]

On 20 January 1942, Japanese submarine I-124 was sunk outside Darwin.[33] This, the first RAN kill of a full-size submarine, was credited to HMAS Deloraine, with sister ships Katoomba and Lithgow assisting.[33]

Eight corvettes were deployed to the Mediterranean in May 1943.[34] Their anti-aircraft armament made them appropriate for escort duties in this theatre, and they remained until shortly after the Allied occupation of Sicily.[34]

On 11 September 1943, HMAS Wollongong assisted in the destruction of U-617.[26]

On 11 February 1944, the corvettes Ipswich and Launceston, along with Indian sloop HMIS Jumna, were responsible for the sinking of Japanese submarine RO-110 in the Bay of Bengal.[35]

In early 1945, eighteen Bathurst class corvettes were assigned to the British Pacific Fleet.[36]

Only three Bathurst class corvettes were lost during World War II.[14] HMAS Armidale was the only ship of the class destroyed by enemy action;[14] she was sunk by torpedoes from Japanese aircraft on the afternoon of 1 December 1942 while transporting personnel of the Netherlands East Indies Army to Betano, Timor.[37] The other two ships were lost following collisions with merchant vessels of the United States: HMAS Wallaroo in June 1943, and HMAS Geelong in October 1944.[14]

Post-WWII

After the war, the 20 Admiralty-owned vessels were disposed of; five to the Turkish Navy, eight to the Royal Netherlands Navy, and one to China, with the rest conveted and sold for civilian use or broken up for scrap.[7] Four of the Netherlands Bathursts were later sold on to the Indonesian Navy.[7] One of these, HMAS Ipswich, operating as KRI Hang Tuah, was destroyed on 28 April 1958 by American mercenaries hired by rebels opposing the 'Guided Democracy' political system established in the previous year.[38]

Of the 33 surviving RAN vessels, twelve were formed into the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla and tasked with clearing minefields deployed during the war in the waters of Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomons.[7] The remainder were placed into reserve.[7] HMAS Warrnambool was sunk by a mine in the Great Barrier Reef in September 1947.[7] The remaining thirty-one ships were placed in operational reserve, with the intention that they be reactivated for escort work in the event of another war or international crisis.[39] Most of these were sold off during the 1950s to help offset the cost of acquiring and operating two aircraft carriers.[40]

Four corvettes, HMA Ships Colac, Cowra, Gladstone, and Latrobe were recommissioned in 1951 as training vessels for the National Service Program.[41] The RAN component of the program ended in 1957.[41]

The last ship to leave RAN service was HMAS Wagga on 28 October 1960.[42] The gradual loss of minesweeping-capable ships was not rectified until late 1962, when the RAN purchased six Ton class minesweepers from the Royal Navy.[43]

The 56 corvettes commissioned as Australian vessels travelled a combined total of 6,700,000 nautical miles (12,410,000 km; 7,710,000 mi) during their service with the RAN.[2] A total of 83 personnel were killed in service across the entire service life of the class.[2]

Operators

Royal Australian Navy

Admiralty (later RAN)

Indian Navy

Surviving examples and monuments

Of the 60 vessels, only two examples remain.[1] HMAS Castlemaine is a museum ship in Williamstown, Victoria.[1] HMAS Whyalla is a land-based tourist attraction in Whyalla, South Australia.[1]

Stained-glass window listing the names of the Bathurst class corvettes serviing in the RAN during World War II

A monument to the 56 Australian-operated corvettes is located at the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre, at Garden Island, Sydney. The monument, Corvettes, was unveiled by Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair on November 12, 1995.[2] Also at Garden Island, Sydney, a stained glass window listing the names of the corvettes frames the upper balcony doors of the Naval Chapel.

Citations

  1. ^ a b c d Information plaque, Corvettes memorial, Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre
  2. ^ a b c d e Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p 103
  3. ^ Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, pp 103-104
  4. ^ a b c d Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p 104
  5. ^ a b c d Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 108
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Donohue, From Empire Defence to the Long Haul, p. 29
  7. ^ Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p 105
  8. ^ Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 148
  9. ^ Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry, p. 455
  10. ^ a b c Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 152
  11. ^ a b Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry, p. 457
  12. ^ Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942-1945, p. 104
  13. ^ a b c d Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, opp. p. 112
  14. ^ Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, pgs. 121, 132
  15. ^ Colebatch, The enemy within that killed Curtin
  16. ^ Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, .p 166
  17. ^ a b HMAS Goulburn - HMA Ship Histories
  18. ^ a b HMAS Glenelg - HMA Ship Hisories
  19. ^ a b Lind, The Royal Australian Navy - Historical Naval Events Year by Year, p. 173
  20. ^ HMAS Gympie - HMA Ship Histories
  21. ^ a b Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 228
  22. ^ HMAS Geraldton (I) - HMA Ship Histories
  23. ^ HMAS Junee - HMA Ship Histories
  24. ^ Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, pp 154-155
  25. ^ a b Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian military history, p. 78
  26. ^ Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p 227
  27. ^ Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 188
  28. ^ a b Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 189
  29. ^ Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p 115
  30. ^ a b c Lind, The Royal Australian Navy - Historic Naval Events Year by Year, p 315
  31. ^ Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, pp. 129-30
  32. ^ a b Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p 183
  33. ^ a b Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 141
  34. ^ Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p 148
  35. ^ Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian military history, p. 113
  36. ^ HMAS Armidale (I) - HMA Ship Histories
  37. ^ Lind, The Royal Australian Navy - Historic Naval Events Year by Year, p 236
  38. ^ Stevens et al, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 162
  39. ^ Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, pp. 169-70
  40. ^ a b Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 172
  41. ^ HMAS Wagga - HMA Ship Histories
  42. ^ Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p 189

References

Books

Stevens, David; Sears, Jason; Goldrick, James; Cooper, Alastair; Jones, Peter; Spurling, Kathryn, (2001). Stevens, David. ed. The Royal Australian Navy. The Australian Centenary History of Defence (vol III). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195541162. OCLC 50418095. 

News and journal articles

  • Colebatch, Hal G.P. (25 April 2007). "The enemy within that killed Curtin". The Sydney Morning Herald. 

Websites and other media








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