- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories, RAN operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Arunta I, HMAS Manoora I, HMAS Westralia I
- March 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In gloomy darkness, with the weather worsening to a full gale and rough seas of over 30 feet in height, the cruiser headed south for its base at Greenock, Scotland.
As they recovered, the rescued crew from 204 Squadron’s Sunderland K/204 (P9620) gave a graphic account of how a severe magnetic storm had put their compass and wireless out of action. The aircraft became hopelessly lost, and after over twelve hours in the air ran out of fuel and came down in the very rough Atlantic Ocean. The wireless operator, after a great deal of trouble, was able to send out signals but was unable to receive them. During the ten hours in the sea, as the Sunderland tossed about at the mercy of the mountainous waves, the airmen suffered severely from sea sickness.
A second Sunderland, which had been searching for the downed flying boat, returned in darkness to the Scottish coast with only 20 minutes of fuel left. Uncertain of its position, it smashed a float landing in the rough seas. Fortunately a trawler rescued Squadron-Leader Cumming and his crew before the Sunderland (T9045) sank.
In September 1940 Jamie Armstrong’s first real baptism of fire came off Dakar when the Vichy French destroyer Audacieux fired torpedos at Australia and the cruiser’s 8 inch guns reduced the destroyer to a blazing wreck. Later Australia was hit twice by 6 inch shells causing minor damage and the ship’s Walrus aircraft was shot down and lost with its crew of four.
In 1941 ‘for outstanding zeal and devotion to duty’ Armstrong was Mentioned in Despatches, ‘while serving in HMAS Australia.’
‘Black Jack’ Armstrong remained as Executive Officer of Australia until March 1942 when he left to assume command of HMAS Manoora then operating as an armed merchant cruiser, and in October of the same year became Captain of HMAS Westralia, a Landing Ship Infantry. For a year he was the Naval Officer in Charge New Guinea.
In October 1944 he was appointed Captain of his old and favourite ship, Australia, after the former Commanding Officer, Captain E.F.V. Dechaineux, D.S.C., R.A.N. died of the wounds received when a Japanese aircraft crashed on to the ship’s bridge.
In January 1945 as Commanding Officer of Australia at the landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, in the Philippines, he gamed a reputation for coolness and bravery when his ship suffered five Kamikaze hits but finished her bombardment schedule.
‘As he stood on the for’d end of the exposed open bridge the Skipper didn’t turn a hair,’ recalled the then Navigator, Commander Jack Mesley.
On January 9, 1945, Admiral Oldendorf, United States Navy, sent this signal to HMAS Australia.
‘Your gallant conduct has been an inspiration to all of us.’
Captain Armstrong wrote a personal letter to each of the next-of-kin of the 45 men killed in action along these lines:
HMAS Australia, C/o G.P.O. January 28th, 1945 Dear Mrs Lade:
I wish to convey to you my sincerest sympathy on the loss of your son who is missing and must be presumed killed in action in Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines. Your son was at his action station (a four inch gun) about 6 p.m. on January 6th and we were under air attack at the time. The gun was in action and firing at the enemy when it received almost direct hit. He must have been killed instantly and can have known nothing about it.
A memorial service with full naval honours was held on our return to non operational waters on Sunday, January 14th.
I realise what a great loss it must be to you and how young he must seem to have taken on man’s responsibilities. He gave his life for his country and the freedom of the world and no man can do more.
Knowing how much the men miss their shipmates I do extend to you their deepest sympathy and mine.
J. Armstrong (Captain)
(A copy of Captain Armstrong’s letter to the mother of 20-year-old A.B. Alan Lade by courtesy of his cousin Jean and David Hopkins.)
Captain Armstrong was awarded the D.S.O. for ‘gallantry, skill and devotion to duty at Lingayen Gulf’. The United States of America awarded him the Navy Cross. This citation read ‘for distinguishing himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity in action during the capture of Lingayen Gulf in 1945. Although his ship was heavily hit suffering heavy casualties and the disablement of a large portion of her anti-aircraft guns and radar system. Captain Armstrong maintained his assigned station and the Australia carried out her bombardment missions.’