- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia II
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
BY 1943 THE TIDE HAD TURNED against the Japanese and Australia was in action supporting landings at Arawe and Cape Gloucester in December of that year.
In February 1944 Australia had a four weeks refit in Sydney, during which time tripod masts were fitted to take the new radar and to minimise shrouding which had affected AA fire. It was found that as a result of all the additional top weight Australia was top heavy, so the aircraft catapult was removed. However, the Walrus was not disembarked until later in the year, Australia being one of the last British cruisers to carry an aircraft during World War II.
After her refit Australia sailed with Captain Dechaineux in command. During Captain’s Rounds Captain Dechaineux noticed all the wooden shelving and drawers in the canteen and said ‘Zam, all this woodwork in the canteen must be removed next time in Sydney. It’s a fire danger’. Captain Dechaineux lost his life by fire a few months later at Leyte.
The landings in the Hollandia area were covered by Australia in April 1944, followed by assault operations at Biak in May, and Noemfoor Island in July, after which Australia returned to Sydney for a refit. The ship sailed again in August. Victor Zammit, who had to go to hospital for an operation was not able to sail with the ship.
The events which took place during this phase of operations have been well covered in the official history, so therefore they will be omitted from this part of the story. Hit by Kamikazes, the ship lost many good men and took considerable damage as a result.
Australia returned to Sydney on January 28th 1945 and secured to No. 2 Buoy to de-ammunition before going alongside Garden Island on 2nd February. The ship was moved to Cockatoo Island on February 8th, where action damage from the Japanese suicide aircraft (called ‘Zombies’ by the sailors) was cut away and renewed. Two new funnels were installed, the third being repaired and shortened by five feet. The remains of the catapult structure and ‘X’ turret were removed to cut down top weight. Fully loaded in January 1945 Australia displaced 14,760 tons before the removal of ‘X’ turret. ‘X’ barbette was turned into a cabin and additional storage space.
The writer joined the ship after its arrival back in Sydney, starting the second generation of the Zammits to serve in Australia.
During this period in Sydney many VIPs came to visit the Aussie and to inspect the damage; a propeller and parts of a Kamikaze aircraft would be carried out from the quartermaster’s lobby and shown to the visitors. Visitors at this time included Lord Wakehurst, Governor of New South Wales, the Duke of Gloucester, the Minister for the Navy, Mr. Makin and many RAN and RN officers.
By early 1945 the British Pacific Fleet was using Sydney as a base in a big way. Ashore, Sydney was teeming with sailors, but during the summer days the RAN sailors could be easily distinguished by their khaki tropical rig, the RN men still using whites. When No. 2s was the dress of the day it was hard to pick out RAN men in square rig from their RN counterparts, except by the Australia on their buttons. As a result, the crew of Australia would be often stopped in the streets and asked what part of the UK they came from. Some took it as a joke, while others pretended that they were insulted.
In an address to the ship’s company before we left Cockatoo Dock, Captain Armstrong said that the British Pacific Fleet required all the dock and repair facilities they could get in Sydney, so Australia was to go to England to complete her refit and most of Australia’s crew were to commission a new ship in the UK.
On 16th May 1945, the part refit having been completed, the ship moved to No. 1 Buoy to take on ammunition, and two days later made a run on the degaussing range prior to going to sea for full power trials. After completing sea trials the ship returned to No. 1 Buoy to find a draft of 105 ODs from Flinders Naval Depot waiting at Man O’War Steps. OD was the abbreviation for Ordinary Seaman, the lowest rating in the RAN. Their nickname was ‘Mackers’, because they would buy macaroons or chocolate confectionery.