- A.N. Other
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Bombo
- September 2022 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Colin Randall
Less than two hours south from Sydney lies the picturesque coastal town of Kiama. On the outskirts sits Bombo Heads with a huge bite taken out of the landscape by the remaining evidence of a once massive quarry. Crushed blue metal (basalt aggregate) used in the building and road making industries was first shipped from here to Pyrmont in Sydney in 1871 and this continued until 1961. First horse and cart, then a tramway and finally a railway took the material to the port of Kiama, and there was also a jetty built off the Bombo headland, but owing to its exposed nature this only lasted a few years.
The small coastal steamers used in this trade were known as the ‘Stone Fleet’ and this usually comprised three vessels, one of which was SS Bombo. Averaging five voyages per week, this was routine work with the occasional excitement if a load of blue metal shifted in rough weather. The 540-ton Bombo was built in Leith, making a remarkable voyage from Scotland to Australia, arriving on 23 April 1933.
Requisitioned by the RAN, she was commissioned as HMAS Bombo under the command of LEUT Arthur Codling RANR(S) on 28 May 1941. Converted to an auxiliary minesweeper, she was relocated to Storm Bay, Hobart and spent much of her minesweeping duties in Tasmanian waters. One of her crew described these duties. ‘It was not boring – it was bloody boring’. Regardless, the auxiliary minesweepers helped keep the ports and sea lanes open in the face of enemy mining and submarine threats throughout the war. The letters BB were painted prominently on her bow to enable quicker recognition among the hundreds of civilian vessels taken up from trade during the duration of the war.
In mid-September 1943 Lieutenant Commander George Roulston, RANR (S) took command of Bombo and prepared the ship for decommissioning and conversion to a stores carrier. Bombo was decommissioned on 10 November 1943 and undertook a refit and removal of her minesweeping equipment. Her weapons outfit was also modified and twin derricks fitted to her main mast for stores loading/unloading tasks. She was recommissioned on 27 January 1944, under the command of Lieutenant Edward Taylor, RANR(S). In early 1944 Bombo was reassigned to stores carrying duties based at Darwin, conducting the essential but unsung task of resupplying Australian units located in northern Australia for the remainder of the war. Bombo’s more exciting voyage occurred at the end of the war, when under the command of LEUT Archibald Brown RANR(S), she was part of an Allied force that arrived at Koepang in Timor to take the surrender of the Japanese garrison on 11 September 1945.
Post-war after refit Bombo was transferred back to her owners and returned to the Stone Fleet. On 22 February 1949 she loaded as usual at Kiama and made for Sydney when she was struck by a ‘Southerly Buster’ with huge waves causing the ship to roll, and her cargo shifted. Listing badly she made for Port Kembla. By 9:30 pm Bombo was in sight of the entrance to Port Kembla and made contact, by Aldis lamp, with the harbour duty signalman stating the ship would enter harbour to shelter from the storm. All seemed well, but soon after the ship’s list to port worsened and at about 10:15 pm she rolled over and sank bow first. Of her crew of 14, there were only two survivors (Fireman Michael Fitzsimmons, who managed to swim ashore at Woonona Beach and raised the alarm that Bombo had sunk, and Able Seaman Thorvald Thomsen who was rescued near Bulli Beach). Miraculously the ship’s dog ‘Brownie’ also made it ashore and was found covered in oil at Bulli Beach.
The wreck of Bombo was found by scuba divers in 1978. Unfortunately, when the location became public knowledge in 1983 it was pillaged. What remains of it lies upside down in 32 metres of water, to the north east of the entrance to Port Kembla. A memorial to the crew was subsequently erected at Black Beach, Kiama, NSW.
Robert Edward Klippel
Robert Edward Klippel was born in Sydney on 19 June 1920. He was from a Jewish family, and educated at Sydney Grammar School. At the time of his enlistment as an Ordinary Seaman on 25 August 1939 his mother was living in Point Piper but his father Alec Klippel resided at Bowral.
He was first posted as an Ordinary Seaman to HMAS Penguin and later as an Able Seaman to the anti-submarine training school HMAS Rushcutter. At HMAS Cerberus he was selected for officer training, but together with many others was found unsuitable, and on 17 April 1941 Able Seaman Klippel ended up in the obscure auxiliary minesweeper Bombo. We might wonder what career path might have befallen this young man if he had succeeded on the officer training course.
He was to remain in Bombo for one year before his talents were recognised and he was employed at the Gunnery Instruction Centre (GIC) at Woolloomooloo making models for the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS) section. The GIC was commissioned on 1 January 1943 as HMAS Mindari with its principal activity being the training of Australian and Allied merchant seamen in the use of naval armament in defending their ships. It was not until 1 April 1945 that he was promoted to Acting Leading Seaman and on 22 February 1946 he was demobilised. It is perhaps appropriate that the GIC later became a community arts centre.
During his time with DEMS he was able to attend evening classes at East Sydney Technical College, undertaking a sculpture course modelling in clay and carving in stone and wood. As soon as his discharge from the RAN came through he became a full-time student.
In 1947 Klippel left for London and studied at the Slade School. Here he met the Australian surrealist James Gleeson and the two worked together on possibly the most successful collaboration of 20th-century Australian art. In November 1948 they exhibited with the brilliant young Lucian Freud.
Klippel also worked in Paris and New York but he still called Australia home. He was regarded as the nation’s leading sculptor and over his long career consistently developed a distinct personal language of sculptural forms. In 1968 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his services to art. Robert Edward Klippel died in Sydney on his 81st birthday, 19 June 2001.
We often pass down many a road without acknowledging what lies before us. When next visiting Kiama it is worthwhile to stop and take in the vista and majesty of the giant basalt deposit at Bombo. Remember a small gallant ship that plied these waters, served her country well, and tragically ended her career, fighting not the enemy, but the mighty elements. Also remember those who gave their lives and one humble Able Seaman from HMAS Bombo who became a famous artist.