- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia II
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By 2100 it was getting dark. A huge pile of wood in the Hoe was set alight. Bonfires blazed all round the Sound. HM Ships Renown and Jamaica were in the Sound sending up fireworks. RAF planes dropped flares and the Army made Vs in the sky with their searchlights.
After the war ended, a list arrived of the 218 men from Perth who had survived the war and included Canteen Assistant Hawkins who was taken POW at 15 years of age. His father, Canteen Manager Happy Hawkins, BEM, lost his life in Perth in the Battle of Sunda Strait. Happy Hawkins was awarded the BEM for his part in putting out a fire on the loaded ammunition ship MV Essex, which was hit and set on fire while lying 40 yards astern of Perth during the Malta blitz in January 1941.
The refit continued on Australia after the war ended, a set of our barrelled Bofors were placed on either side of ‘B’ deck, and a twin Bofors replaced ‘X’ turret. The 20mm Oerlikons were removed from ‘B’ turret’s roof. The type 273 radar was removed from its position aft of the forward 8 inch director, changing the appearance of the bridge. A team of experts from Vickers checked over all the 8 inch guns and turrets, the foreman from Vickers telling the writer that Australia’s 8 inch guns had been used far more than the RN cruisers, but even so Australia’s guns were in good order.
At Devonport Dockyard there were women as well as men working on the ship during the whole of our refit. We had two women welders who were expert rabbit merchants. They would come aboard in boiler suits a couple of sizes too large for them, and go ashore with the boiler suits bursting at the seams. When we asked them how they got past the Dockyard Police one said ‘There are ways and means’.
Between July and December 1945, many ships came and went. The fast minelayer Ariadne left for the Pacific in July, and the cruiser Norfolk sailed to Malta Dockyard to have ventilation improvements before joining the East Indies Fleet. Norfolk’s ‘X’ turret had been replaced by pom-poms. In August 1945 the old French battleship Paris sailed for France after being away since March 1940. HMS Newcastle sailed to join the South Atlantic Squadron.
After VJ Day the battle-cruiser Renown moved up to Devonport Dockyard. Renown was the cleanest and smartest RN ship I have seen, I will always remember her white scrubbed decks, shining brass work and huge mess decks.
The monitor HMS Roberts arrived at the dockyard, a ship of 8,000 tons armed with a pair of 15 inch guns. The 15 inch turret looked huge compared to the size of the ship.
In September 1945, I had a couple of days in London, during which time the RAF celebrated the Battle For Britain Day, and over 500 RAF aircraft flew over London. An RAF Vampire jet also flew over London at 500 mph another day, this being the first jet I had seen.
Victor Zammit had not taken any leave in the UK and when the cruiser Devonshire arrived in Devonport in September, Commander Wright arranged for him to take passage to Port Said.
When Devonshire was sailing through the Mediterranean, the ship was ordered to search and pick up survivors from an incredibly crowded and unauthorised ship which had sunk while carrying emigrants from the new state of Israel. Devonshire arrived in time to rescue some of the survivors, but many had died of exposure or drowned before the ship arrived. The corpses of men, women and children were placed on the upper deck of the cruiser for identification.
After a couple of weeks leave in Malta, Victor returned to England overland across Europe, and crossed the Channel in an LST. After war-torn Europe, Victor decided Devonport wasn’t too bad.
On 4th October 1945, I heard an explosion, and then saw huge columns of black smoke coming from the escort carrier HMS Atheling. The escort carrier was very close to Australia so I went over. AVGAS had caused the explosion. I noted that there was a fire near the gangway and a charred corpse on a pontoon below. In 1943 another escort carrier, HMS Dasher blew up in Scotland through an AVGAS explosion. Atheling was an American built escort carrier, and had been in the Royal Navy for some time, but even so everything onboard was USN, even to the plates and bed covers. Every sailor slept in a bunk, whereas in RN and RAN ships the sailors and even the midshipmen slept in hammocks.