- Smith, Peter
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Oxley I, HMAS Otway I, HMAS Orion, HMAS K9, HMAS Collins, HMAS Watson (base), HMAS Penguin (Shore Base - Balmoral), HMAS Penguin I, HMAS Oxley II, HMAS Stirling (Shore establishment), HMAS Ovens, HMAS Otama, HMAS Onslow, HMAS AE1, HMAS AE2
- June 1993 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Third Time Lucky?
While the “J” class submarines were being sold off to a Melbourne salvage firm, the Australian Government was making a decision to strengthen the Navy by building new ships and submarines.
Laid down in 1925, HMAS OTWAY and HMAS OXLEY, modified versions of the British “O” class boats, were commissioned in 1927.
After a brief attachment to the 5th Submarine. Flotilla, and ordered to remain surfaced all the way, they began the long voyage to Australia on February 8, 1928. It was a journey that would take much longer than anyone had anticipated.
The boats ran into heavy weather crossing the Bay of Biscay, and by the time they arrived in Malta, large cracks had appeared in OTWAY’S engine columns. OXLEY was found to have the same problem. After nine months, laid up while Vickers Limited installed redesigned engine columns, the two boats finally sailed in November 1928, reaching Sydney in February 1929 – 12 months after they had left England. Even with the enforced delay, it was the longest unescorted submarine passage ever undertaken.
Once again, the Submarine Arm was out of luck. The Depression loomed and heavy cuts were being made in Defence expenditure. The submarines were paid off into reserve in 1930, and, in a gesture similar to that of England’s gift of the “J”s, they were offered to, and accepted by, the Royal Navy. It wasn’t to be a case of third time lucky’ for the RAN, and it would be 36 years before Australia was to get another submarine.
A Foreign Contribution
Stationed in the Dutch East Indies during the early years of World War II, the Dutch submarine N39 would have seemed an unlikely player in Australia’s submarine history. But when the Japanese took Java in February 1942, N39 made her way to Fremantle, Western Australia and began her brief association with the Royal Australian Navy.
It wasn’t to be a happy beginning. N39 was moored alongside HMAS KUTTABUL on the night of the Japanese midget submarine attack in Sydney Harbour. Although it didn’t receive a direct hit, the submarine was damaged when a torpedo passed underneath and hit the sea wall at Garden Island. The shock waves caused her to roll onto her beam ends and lifted the diesel engines off their beds.
Requisitioned by the Royal Navy in November of that year, N39 was then commissioned in the RAN in June 1943 and renamed HMAS K9.
Manned by a crew of RAN and RN sailors she was used as an anti-submarine “training aid” before being paid off around a year later. Because of her age (she was built in 1922) and a number of defects, K9 spent more time in refit than on operational service, but she did provide a valuable service at a time when anti-submarine training was vital.
It would seem K9 wasn’t meant for glory. After being converted to an oil lighter and handed back to the Royal Netherlands Navy, she began the journey north from Sydney under tow of the RNethN mine sweeper ABRAHAM CRIJSSEN. She broke her tow and was driven ashore and wrecked at Seal Rocks on the central NSW coast on 7th June, 1945.
The Royal Navy Lends a Hand (or three)
With no plans to purchase its own submarines after World War II, the Australian Government nonetheless recognised the need to train the RAN and RAAF in anti-submarine warfare. They accomplished this with the help of the Royal Navy.
The RN’s Fourth Submarine Flotilla was established at HMAS PENGUIN in November 1949. From then until 1969, ten British submarines were stationed there, providing the means for Australia to conduct anti-submarine training.
For much of that time there were usually three submarines forming the flotilla. TELEMACHUS and THOROUGH were the first of a succession of seven “T” and three “A” class boats to be based in Australia. It was from the “T”s, which served in the latter part of World War II, that the Oberon Class of submarines was developed.
Britain decided in the early 1960s that it would disband its Australian based submarine squadron and the last of the boats, HMS TRUMP, sailed home in January 1969. It was the end of an era, but by then Australia had already decided to buy its own submarines – the Oberons, and a new phase had begun.