- Nesdale, Iris
- RAN operations, Ship histories and stories, Post WWII
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney III, HMAS Murchison, HMAS Condamine, HMAS Anzac II, HMAS Culgoa, HMAS Shoalhaven, HMAS Bataan, HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Tobruk I
- June 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
‘It’s fairly tricky,’ the Captain had warned.
‘Fairly tricky? That’s an understatement if ever I heard one,’ wrote Dacre Smythe some years later. ‘A winding channel a bare cable’s width through minefields, rocks and reefs, with the land far beyond accurate radar range, no lights, a fifty-year old chart, and it is only ‘fairly tricky’. Well, well!’
The ships moved on in black silence, reckoning by feel and instinct more than anything. There was always trouble due to ill-charting of the areas – coastal, and the narrow winding rivers, and Commander Becher decided to take the ‘Short Cut’. According to charts available there should have been sufficient depth of water, but the charts were to prove incorrect. Becher’s signal came: ‘Am aground. I say again, am aground. Over.’
‘Rejoin us if you can. Good Luck!’ came the answer.
‘Running onto a sandbank was the last thing Becher needed just then,’ wrote Mrs. Val Becher. ‘He was hoping to be promoted in the New Year, and was understandably mortified. He said that he even began thinking of some career he could pursue. Time passed.’
Fortunately the tide was rising, and Warramunga floated off easily on the high and without doing any damage to her bottom. On her way once more the Tribal came up with HMCS Sioux. The Canadian destroyer was in serious trouble that had begun with simply running aground. In this instance, however, instead of waiting for tidal assistance, the Captain had tried to have the ship ‘backoff’, only to find himself in further, more serious, difficulty, and Commander Becher had heartfelt sympathy to spare for a fellow Commanding Officer.
He returned on leave after the somewhat nerve-wracking sandbank experience, ‘…but the next few weeks waiting for the powers-to-be to decide his fate were not really amusing,’ said Val Becher. ‘Came January, however, and all was well. Becher has his fourth stripe.’
During her first tour of duty in Korea, Warramunga took part in an unusual operation involving North Koreans. An Intelligence group had been landed by USS Lind north of the 38th Parallel, and had been captured by North Koreans, who made use of the team’s equipment to arrange a meeting with the ship. Using a pre-arranged signal for identification, the North Koreans evidently expected Lind to sail in and meet a battering from shore gunfire that would sink her. That plan was learned, and was actually put to good use.
Return to duty
Warramunga returned to operations duty on 3 February 1951, and with Lind was detached to head north. The pre-arranged signal was used, but in darkness, and USS Lind asked that light be increased. The enemy obliged, and the two destroyers promptly hammered them with rounds from 4.7 inch guns.
The light went out altogether, but it was learned later that the welcoming party had included North Korean Police and a North Korean Company, and of those, most were killed by the concentrated firing.
On 11 April, the Tribal replaced Black Swan as CTE 95.12 – three ships Warramunga, Amethyst and Nootka, SO West Coast Blockade. A week later command of the Task Group passed to HMS Belfast, and Warramunga proceeded to Kaeju to control Korean Minesweepers. There were exercises off Yokosuka in May with US Submarine Redford, before the destroyer became part of the screen for USS Bataan. There was further screening in June, and in July Warramunga joined the screen of USS Sicily.
Exercises were essential for the warships that must move carefully, often swiftly, often in a restricted coastal bay or narrow channel, where manoeuvring was difficult, but in recording Korean movements, it becomes necessary to look back again.
When Warramunga left Singapore on 26 January 1951 the ship was dressed with all her flags to celebrate Australia Day, but on completion of exercises with HMA Ships Sydney and Tobruk during the next three days, she tied up in Hong Kong Harbour. Hong Kong meant shore leave during a two-day stay, then Warramunga sailed on 2 February, heading for Sasebo.
Commander Ramsay had evidently been noting signs of wear and tear about the ship – peeling paint about the hull, bent framework here and there, and dents. There were more serious faults or disadvantages also, areas of equipment that hadn’t kept pace with improved technology, and that had become evident during certain combined exercises. By 6 February, however, Warramunga was already on her way to the war zone on the west coast of Korea, in company with US Carrier Glory. In any case, those dents, bends, even the peeling paint, had all been earned whilst busy with necessary tasks.