- Fazio, Lieut. V. RANEM
- Ship design and development, Naval technology
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Curlew, HMAS Gull, HMAS Snipe, HMAS Ibis, HMAS Derwent, HMAS Tide Austral, HMAS Supply I, HMAS Perth II, HMAS Teal, HMAS Hawk, HMAS Melbourne II, HMAS Sydney III
- September 1985 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IN THE BEGINNING there was COAL!! Lots of it. Dirty, dusty, nostril filling and seemingly unlimited in supply.
Coaling Ship was an evolution in which everybody was engaged in the original ‘One in, All in’ effort to get the ship fuelled. It even led to competitions between ships to see who could ‘Coal Ship’ in the fastest time and like pouring concrete, was a task that went non stop from start to completion, before everybody had a chance to bathe and rid themselves of the filth that accumulated on sweat caked bodies.
To supply the Fleet’s needs in this regard, the RAN, soon after its formation, amassed special purpose ships to enable the Fleet to remain at sea for extended periods. Such vessels included:
Hankow (Collier). Purchased by the RAN in July 1913. Served in Sydney for ten years, then towed to Thursday Island by Biloela, where she served as a coal hulk until 1927. Brought back to Sydney for a year, then towed back to Thursday Island by Platypus and eventually to Darwin where she was sunk as a target by Albatross on 18-9-1929.
Koolonga (Collier). Requisitioned by the RAN in August 1914. Supported Fleet units in New Guinea waters until May 1915.
Mallina (Collier). Taken over in August, 1914 and operated as a Stores ship and Collier until February, 1915.
Mombah (Coal Lighter). Built by Cockatoo Dockyard in 1923. Served in Sydney until 1929 and sold to the Melbourne Harbour Trust in 1930. On 25-3-1944 she was requisitioned by the RAN and deployed at Darwin from 17-10-1944. On 23-12-1944 she left Darwin under tow for Meos Woendi (Morotai). After ten months service in that area, she was towed to Sydney where she paid off into reserve on 6-7-1946. Mombah was sold out of service on 24-2-1948.
Thus passed the age of coal and ushered in the age of oil, much to the relief, no doubt, of all concerned, although nostalgia would tinge some regrets no doubt (again!).
The introduction of Furnace Fuel Oil into RAN service paralleled the use of coal. The Fleet was quick off the mark when war broke out in 1914 and in a short space of time acquired the following ships:
Esturia (Oiler, 2143 tons). Hired by the RAN on 11-9-1914. Built in 1910, she served as an oiler and stores ship for Australian Destroyers in Australian and Malayan waters until transferred to the RN in 1917.
Murex (Oiler). Served in a similar capacity to Esturia until October 1914.
Kurumba (Fleet Oiler). Built by Swan Hunter for the RN and transferred to the RAN on 13-3-1919, arriving in Australia in July 1919. She paid off on 4-6-1928 and remained in reserve until 4-9-1939. During the Second War, she served in Australian, New Guinea and Philippine waters, paying off on 29-7-46. She was sold out of service in January, 1948, renamed Angeliki and later Evangelos in 1955. She was scrapped in 1966.
Kurumba displaced 7806 tons and carried 1 x 4”, 2×6 pdr armament. During the war she carried 1 x 4” and 4 MG’s. Capable of 10 knots, carried a crew of 65 and cost 141,000 Pounds to construct.
Biloela (Fleet Collier). Although primarily a Collier, I have included her as an Oiler as she did carry, apart from 4,000 tons of coal, 1,250 tons of FFO and 750 tons of fresh water. Built by Cockatoo Dockyard in 1918, Biloela was the first ship fully designed in Australia and constructed entirely from Australian materials. Commissioned on 5-7- 1920, she spent the majority of her service in Australian waters, apart from short visits to New Guinea and the New Hebrides. She paid off on 14-11-1927 and was sold to John Hven of Norway in 1931. In 1932, she was renamed Wollert, in 1937 renamed Ivanhoe, and the Yoh Hsing and finally Cree. She was sunk by enemy submarine action on 21-11- 1940. She displaced 9,390 tons and armament was not fitted. Top speed was 11 knots with a range of 5,000 nautical miles at 10 knots. She carried a crew of 70 and cost 450,000 Pounds to build. Her name is commemorated by the General Manager’s launch at Cockatoo Island.
During the early twenties, plans were formulated to convert Biloela to a seaplane carrier, embarking 12 seaplanes. A similar venture was planned for Kurumba, but was dropped, as both ships would be diverted from their principal task.
During the Second War, the following Oilers were acquired by the RAN:
Aase Maersk (Fleet Attendant Tanker). Built at Odense (Denmark) in 1930. Served until 1945 when she was returned to her owners. She displaced 6,184 tons, with a speed of 11 knots and carried 1 x 4”, 1 x 12 pdr and 4 M.G.’s.
Falkefjell (Fleet Oiler). Built in 1931 in Norway and taken over by the R.N. and loaned to the RAN from December, 1941 until April, 1942 when she was replaced by Bishopdale. Displaced 7,900 tons and had a speed of 11.5 knots.
Bishopdale (Fleet Oiler). Built in 1937 for the RN. On 6 April 1942 she was loaned to the RAN as a Fleet Auxiliary, serving in the South Pacific area. She was hit by a Kamikaze in December 1944, but not seriously damaged. She was returned to the RN in August 1945 when she was atached to the British Pacific Fleet. She displaced 17,350 tons, had a speed of 11.5 knots and carried 11,650 tons of Fuel Oil plus 850 tons of FFO for her own bunkers.
In addition, the following ships gave valuable service to the RAN during the Second World War, for varying periods: British Sailor, Capsa, Cedar Mills, Colina, Gadila, Madrono, Ostav, Peek, Vera and Yamhill.
During the RAN’s participation in the Korean War and during peacetime exercises, RFA ships were utilised as required, including a couple of the ‘War’ class, (War Afridi being based in Hong Kong), but mostly the ‘Wave’ class ships. I recall some in Korea, Wave King, Wave Knight, Wave Baron, Wave Chieftain, being some of them. The ‘Wave’ boats were fairly solid ships as I recall, as Condamine came off second best on one occasion when we went alongside one of them (we reduced our secondary armament by 20% in one go!).
There were also US Navy tankers that RAN ships became familiar with as well as the RFA ‘Gold’ class vessels from time to time.
It soon became apparent, however, that the RAN had to do something about its own capability and thus HMAS Supply comes into the picture. I do not propose to give details about Supply as the brochures you will have received will give you that information.
Broadly, however, Supply was built by Harland and Wolff of Belfast as RAFA Tide Austral, of the Tide class being built for the Admiralty.
The decision to purchase a Fleet Oiler was made on 19-1-1951. It was planned that the ship would cost 2,500,00 Pounds and join the Fleet in June 1953. After completion in March 1955, RAFA Tide Austral was loaned to the Admiralty, serving mostly in the Mediterranean and Atlantic areas. Rumour has it that she was loaned to the Greek Navy for a while to offset a deal done with one of the Greek shipping magnates. I’ll check that out next time I am in Marrickville!
After seven years service with the Admiralty, Tide Austral was handed back to the RAN It is interesting to note, that in the time she was on loan, the Australian Government collected a cool 13,000,000 Pounds in charter fees! Not bad, eh! She was commissioned into RAN service as HMAS Tide Austral under the command of Capt. G.V. Gladstone RAN on the 15-8-62. She served as HMAS Supply, at Portsmouth, United Kingdom.
During the work up period in U.K. waters and prior to departing for Australia on the 1-10-1962, Supply worked up with RN ships under the control of the Flag Officer, Sea Training in the Portland area, giving the Ship’s Company an opportunity to get used to their ship, work on RAS procedures, battle training and evaluations, etc., and generally be on the ‘sending’ end instead of the ‘receiving’ end and bringing the ship up to required RAN standards.
Prior to joining Supply, Capt. Gladstone, Cdr. Goble, Cdr(E) Lade and CPO Bob Brett were seconded to RFA Olna to learn the ropes for approximately 3 to 4 months. The remainder of the officers and sailors were selected from volunteers, with 2 exceptions that I know of, (S/Lt John Donnelley and myself, we were there you know!) and I recall at Penguin, Capt. J. Mesley expected so many volunteers, that he declared a Tide Austral day so that Divisional Officers and clerical staff could cope with the onslaught! I presume other ships and depots had similar experiences, and it was very interesting to see how many of the volunteers from Penguin gained a billet in the commissioning crew.
Supply departed Portsmouth in company with the 16th MSS comprising HMA Ships Hawk, Gull, Teal, Ibis, Snipe and Curlew; on 1-10-1962, proceeding to Gibraltar. Curlew had problems with her port propeller shaft, which necessitated a longer stay in Gibraltar than planned. Similar problems on passage to Malta caused further delays. After departing Malta and transiting the Suez Canal, Supply called at Aden and took a full load of FFO which sat us down nicely in the water, increasing our draught to 30 ft. Departing Aden, we commented on the smooth ride, compared to the Bay of Biscay.
Passage to Colombo, Singapore and Darwin thence Sydney was uneventful and most of the time was occupied with ship’s husbandry. The amount of rust removed from all parts of the ship was unbelievable and I’m sure we rose noticeably out of the water after having rid ourselves of it. I won’t say all of it, as we could only do so much in the time available. Apart from the rust, there was a lot of accumulated rubbish and offal that was given the deep six.
I recall Capt. Gladstone doing rounds and when we arrived at the Shipwright’s Shop, he pointed to a large lump of metal, asked what it was and if I could not find out, ditch it. Eventually, I could not stall him off any longer and when the CB Officer asked if I had a weight he could use to ditch some Confidential Books, I gladly offered this piece of junk. We tied the weight to the bag and ceremoniously gave the lot the heave ho. Feeling satisfied, I strolled up to the forecastle and immediately spotted where the so called lump of metal belonged. It was the pawl on the anchor windlass ratchet, for hand weighing of the anchor. To this day, I’ve never let on to Rear Admiral Gladstone, even though he asked me later if I had found what it was. I even kept quiet about it onboard Melbourne when we both were serving on that ship.
Supply arrived in Sydney on 6-12-62 and disembarked cargo and fuel. Like all ‘new toys’ in the RAN she was not long in being subjected to an extremely busy programme.
In 1963 she accompanied the 16th MSS to the Solomon Islands for a live sweep in Tonolai harbour to get rid of wartime mines.
In 1965 she was on station to refuel Sydney on the first of her runs to Vietnam. Supply was busy in carrying FFO to RAN Oil Fuel Installations around Australia and New Guinea.
In 1970-71, Supply underwent a major refit, when the enclosed bridge was fitted. Incidentally, when she commissioned, we were the only ship in the RAN that could hold Divisions on the Flag Deck! Subsequently, she lost the centre sampson posts and derricks, and although the general profile has remained unaltered, lots of As and As, modifications, etc. have made noticeable changes to her general appearance. In February 1973 Supply accompanied Perth and Derwent on an Indian Ocean cruise. She later accompanied RNZN ships to Muraroa Atoll to observe French nuclear testing.
With all the problems and diplomatic toing and froing over those tests, it is somewhat amusing to see the Supply being replaced by a French designed vessel.
In the 23 years since coming into RAN service, Supply served the RAN and Australia well indeed. Her contribution to Fleet efficiency has been immeasurable and without her to service ships and Oil Fuel Installations, the difference would have been glaringly obvious.
Many well known names have been connected with Supply as the list of her 26 Commanding Officers would show.
She has some features which are unique in RAN ships. For instance, did you notice the wooden stairway outside the Wardroom? All accommodation is in cabins and quite comfortable at that. I believe my old cabin up on 01 deck eventually harboured several midshipmen. Still, I’d finished with it.
A few last statistics to wind up this talk, which I hope has been to your enjoyment.
- Underway Replenishments to date: 3,355.
- Distance steamed to date: 658,389 nautical miles (approximately 28 times around the world).
- Time underway to date: 51,234 hours (almost 6 years non-stop steaming).
- Supply has had 26 Commanding Officers to date.
Supply has been a fine unit of the RAN and has a proud record. Her successor has a lot to look up to.