- Book reviewer
- Submarines, Ship design and development, Book reviews, Naval Technology
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Collins, HMAS Farncomb, HMAS Waller
- December 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Collins Class Submarine Story.
By Peter Yule and Derek Woolner.
Cambridge University Press (2008). ISBN – 13 978-0-521-86894-5
Reviewed by Tim Duchesne
This enthralling and still controversial story is well told by two distinguished academics whose lack of military background probably assisted in producing an open-minded assessment in which technical and operational details and the byzantine web of national, departmental and service politics are addressed with clarity and fairness.
At the time, the decision to build submarines in Australia, let alone to a design from a country with no track record of building big, ocean-going boats, seemed extraordinarily foolhardy to many in Defence. We owe a huge debt to the brave band of senior officers, not all submariners, who with the vital initial backing of an enlightened Labor Minister of Defence, ‘kept the faith’ and saw the business through. The surprising scope of Australian industrial and commercial capability for involvement in equipping these boats to the most rigorous standards was particularly heartening. We are also equally indebted to the team, led by Rear Admiral Peter Briggs and backed by a Liberal Government, who successfully tackled a range of shortcomings in the finished product.
This reviewer was the Director of Submarine Policy from December 1978 until January 1982. Among my duties was the further development of the New Construction Submarine project, approval for which had been achieved by my predecessor Barry Nobes in 1976. This consisted largely of gathering data on all overseas submarine designs and new construction and, most importantly, achieving Defence Central support for a large, capable boat, as opposed to the smaller, cheaper vessel favoured by the Force Development and Analysis Division of Defence. My successor Ian McDougall handed this data package over to the Submarine Project Team on its formation in 1982. At that stage it was the received wisdom that the German IKL 2000 design was the front-runner for Australia’s selection and it came as a shock to those of us by then outside the project when the Swedish design was victorious. This book recounts in detail the exhaustive process which culminated in this decision, together with the build, the trials and the development to an operational state of this advanced non-nuclear submarine.
Some critical factors in persuading the Government to build in Australia included the backing of such Trade Union bêtes noirs as Laurie Carmichael, John Halfpenny and George Campbell. These powerful officials, widely regarded as industrial ‘wreckers’, were persuaded by the near collapse of our metal industries in the `80s and the consequent loss of Union membership to forswear archaic demarcations and restrictive practices and embrace Swedish-style industrial relations, rigorous quality control and modern modular construction techniques. Such a revolution was only possible at a ‘greenfields’ site such as was available at Osborne, S.A. This was on land adjacent to Eglo Engineering whose engineering manager Hans Ohfe concluded at an early stage, and after comprehensive visits to the British, German, French and Swedish contending shipyards, that all existing sites were hopelessly encumbered by outdated facilities and practices. A study by the ATO which weighed heavily in the scales demonstrated dramatically the beneficial multiplier effects, in terms of tax payments and money circulating in the economy, of an Australian build.
Kockums of Malmo was the only builder prepared to enter wholeheartedly into a building partnership in Australia. The remainder were reluctant at best, and most insisted that the first should be built in the home shipyard. There was an increasingly vocal pro-British (i.e. Vickers) lobby, but the British design was too small to meet our operational requirements and extremely expensive. Also Vickers showed little enthusiasm for involvement with Australian industry. An interesting fact which came to light was that the French, German and Swedish designs were significantly cheaper than the Dutch or British. The manhours required to build the British boat were six times those for the German submarine – ‘Even on an hourly rate of A$14.90, the British workers could not compete with their German counterparts on A$25 an hour’ (p71).
The design evaluation of the German IKL 2000 and the Kockums Type 471 is covered in detail, and the controversial adjustment of capabilities – down for the IKL and up for the Kockums – is adequately explained. This stage was critical to the final decision to select the Swedish contender.