- Duchesne, Tim
- Naval technology, Ship histories and stories, History - WW2, Book reviews, Naval Technology
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Rushcutter (Shores establishment)
- March 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Title: “CONTACT! HMAS RUSHCUTTER and Australia’s Submarine Hunters 1939 -1946.”
The disproportionate contribution of Australia to Allied victory in World War II, bearing in mind her limited resources, is common knowledge. The extent of this disproportion in the context of the Battle of the Atlantic and the campaigns against U-Boats in the Mediterranean and Japanese submarines in the Pacific, is altogether less well known. This reviewer was as ignorant as anyone, and this book was a salutary eye-opener.
A/Commander H. M. Newcomb RN, the father of Australian Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), arrived in Sydney in November 1938 and the Anti-Submarine (A/S) School at HMAS RUSHCUTTER was commissioned on 13 February 1939. Newcomb lost no time in setting up an intensive training programme, and he also set in train arrangements for the local production of A/S equipment, including complete Asdic sets. Thanks to his drive and organisational skills, the Naval Board was able to offer the Admiralty twelve A/S officers and twelve Submarine Detector (SD) ratings every two months shortly after the declaration of war. The Admiralty’s response was to request as many A/S officers as possible and twenty SDs per month. Captain Newcomb states in his “Personal Reminiscences” that “This request was fulfilled”. The problems to have been overcome must have been immense, and severely compounded by the RAN’s own requirement for an initial supply of 55 A/S officers and 162 SD ratings. By the outbreak of war, 62 officers had qualified in A/S and 32 ratings had qualified as SDs.
From the mass of detail in Part 1 of the book, it is sometimes difficult to extract “blocks” of information, but the following summary might be of interest:
- 1939 – 66 officers, 32 ratings.
- 1940 – not stated, but clearly well in excess of 1939.
- 1941 – 118 officers, 380 ratings.
- 1942 – 109 officers. The number of ratings is not given, but it stated to be greater than for 1941. Additionally, courses were instituted for officers and men of the USN, RNLN. RIN and FF Navy.
- 1943, ’44, ’45 – numbers not stated, although the training load constantly expanded. By the beginning of 1945, a steadily increasing proportion of the load derived from the need for refresher courses.
It is sad that, although promoted Captain RN in 1944, Newcomb received no postwar honour or award for his unique contribution to the RAN’s part in the Allied victory at sea.
Interesting and instructive though Part 1 of the book is, it becomes genuinely enthralling in Part 2 which consists of fifty three personal “Recollections”. Each contributor has an inspiring tale to tell. They are all well written with a simple directness, and humour is seldom far below the surface even when circumstances of appalling danger and adversity are being described.
Overwhelmingly our freshly qualified A/S officers and ratings were despatched to billets in RN ships in the Atlantic (where many fought in Russian convoys) and the Mediterranean. In his foreword, Admiral Gladstone states, “RUSHCUTTER’s contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic can be partly measured by the fact that 20% of the A.S.W. personnel in RN and RCN ships involved in the Battle were trained at RUSHCUTTER”. What a telling example of the disproportionate nature of Australia’s contribution. In the whole war there was no more critical or decisive battle.
Between them, the RUSHCUTTER A/S qualifiers won 4 DSOs, 39 DSCs, 8 DSMs, 2 GMs, 1 MBE, 2 US Bronze Stars and 39 MIDs. A proud and glorious record, too little known and appreciated. This book should go some way towards readdressing this injustice.
A primary role of Australia’s submarine force is ASW, and it is therefore particularly gratifying that the air, surface and submarine components of today’s RAN are all inheritors and custodians of the tradition of courage and excellence so convincingly established by our World War II A/S Branch.
No serious collection of historical works on the RAN can be complete without a copy of this book.