- Powell, Brian, RD
- Battles and operations, History - general, RAN operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In 1944, Australia, Shropshire, Arunta and Warramunga supported Kanimbla, Manoora and Westralia in the assaults on Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea. Arunta sank the Jap submarine RO-33. All these vessels, as part of a large US force were also involved, together with several others, in the Leyte Gulf invasion (The sloop Warrego and corvette Benalla as combatants, Gascoyne and HDML 1074 as survey ships, Reserve as a tug and the tanker Bishopsdale). MacArthur would have no Australian troops, but had a high respect for the RAN.
As part of this whole exercise, after the withdrawal of Australia as a result of kamikazi attacks, Shropshire and Arunta took part in the last battle fleet action in history. Bataan was delayed by three years as Government priorities were directed elsewhere (Blamey was no friend of the navy), recruiting was cut to meet industry needs and there was Anglo-Australian Government wrangling over force re-development.
1945 saw lots more action, including five further kamikazi hits on Australia. Other ships operated with distinction in the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and as escorts to US carriers off Sumatra and in attacking Okinawa and some of the main islands of Japan.
Post WWII, Korea is a war not spoken of to the same degree as the World conflicts. Australia was heavily involved. The first UN warship on the scene was HMAS Shoalhaven. Most Australian ships from frigate up were involved.
The Communist insurgency in Malaya and the lead up to Merdeka, the decolonisation of Singapore and Malaya, were turbulent times. I spent some time there in Queenborough and am proud of my Active Service Medal with Malaya Clasp. We ‘borrowed’ an extra doctor from a Kiwi frigate by jackstay transfer under way as our doctor had diagnosed an appendicitis client aboard, the second within a fortnight. From Singapore, we operated with a task group of 27 ships fulfilling a range of roles which extended from anti-piracy and anti-weapons-smuggling, some bombardments in support of troops and a fascinating game of cat and mouse with a very modern submarine with noticeable Russian features.
Queenborough and Quickmatch, being the best equipped anti-submarine vessels, were despatched to encourage the Ruskis to go away, but beforehand, behind a bentline screen of destroyers and frigates protecting two carriers, Albion and Centaur, the cruiser Newfoundland, two tankers and transports, we flew off aircraft to harass the submarine. Sounds simple, but it was an almost pitch black night and all ships were totally darkened except for fighting lights at the masthead, we were zigzagging at 24, and at times up to 30 knots, and aircraft were taking off and landing from both carriers. A much more complex situation than when Voyager and Melbourne collided.
I was safety officer on the bridge of Queenborough as we and Quickmatch were the rescue ‘doggies’ to the carriers. The doggies are there to assist in the event of an aircraft ditching. Quickmatch, under the command of then Lt Cdr Duncan Stevens RAN, performed faultlessly the exercise he was later to be involved in with Voyager. In Singapore the week before, I was invited across to my former ship Quickmatch for drinks. Duncan was drinking Coke. He was far from wholly to blame technically, legally and professionally for the loss of his ship (and I lost four former shipmates that night). It is now poignant for me, who had twice served under Duncan, to see how he was treated after the accident which saw him killed. I was actually aware of the accident before even the Chief of Navy and the Prime Minister, and have read widely on the incident.
Vietnam was the next experience for Australia in war. We had naval presence there the whole way through. The nearest I got was to visit Wewak, in New Guinea, in Sydney, as the 5/6 RAR had been conducting pre-Vietnam training there. We took them and their equipment from off the beach into the carrier. It was scary as all Hell and I’d have hated to have done it under fire! I was saddened, on my first post war visit to North and South Vietnam, to see the effects of war on people. It affected me more than the ruins I saw left in Berlin.