- Germaine, Max, OAM, Lieutenant, RANVR
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On that fateful Sunday 3rd September 1939 when England declared war on Germany, an angry Hitler in messages to his army in the west and the German people, called the British “Warmongers”, and plans were requested from both the army and the navy to implement operation “Sealion” with a later request that the plans be completed by the end of August 1940. Operation `Sealion” was first mentioned in discussions by the German High Command for the invasion of England back in May 1939. (Churchill 1949 pp 261, 266)
The Germans did their research and found that England had been successfully invaded in 55 BC by Julius Caesar with about 150 ships and again in 1066 by William the Conqueror with 1,500 ships. They quickly drew up preliminary plans to land twenty four divisions along the south coast of England using 4,000 vessels, half of which would be barges from the canals of France, Belgium and Holland, and a new assault boat. These were to be propelled across the shallow water of the English Channel at 20 knots by a very large outboard motor which had already been invented. (Churchill 1949 p 364, Schenk 1990 pp 2-11).
It did not take long for these plans to be revealed to British spies and sympathisers in Berlin and thence to Churchill when it was decided that this invasion could best be repelled by a large number of fast, heavily armed motor gunboats and motor torpedo boats. Very fortunately, some years earlier, the Malayan Navy (sic, perhaps the Malayan Naval Volunteer Reserve) had commissioned Britain to design and build a number of these boats for their navy. So constructors like Thornycrafts and Vospers, and a number of other smaller yards had all the drawings and research and could go into production very quickly. So it could be said that the officer of the Admiralty in charge of new construction was smiling and the officer in charge of recruiting and manning had problems because only a trickle of men was coming into the Navy at that time.
At a vital meeting at the Admiralty, the question was posed as to where men already experienced in seamanship, navigation and boat handling could be found to man and command this new construction and remembering Dunkirk, the only answer was from the yachtsmen and boat owners in Australia and New Zealand, and thus the “RANVR Yachtsmen” Scheme emerged.
The Scheme was for yachtsmen to serve with the Royal Navy for a period of two years. Those under 30 were to join as ordinary seamen when a file, known as a white paper, was started on them and after some months of sea service they would be given the chance to get their commission. Men over 30 who could produce a Yachtmaster’s Certificate went straight in as acting temporary probationary sub-lieutenants. (Ramage 1940 Pers. Com.)
The first I heard about the Scheme was on a Friday night at the Royal Hobart Yacht Club when an elderly naval officer came into the bar. “Drink up chaps, and have another one with me, for I have something to show you,” and he proceeded to lay out a series of photographs on the counter, showing motor torpedo boats and motor gunboats charging about with guns blazing. ‘What do you think of that? I can get you into one of these quite easily, all you have to do is sign this form.” (Ramage 1940 Pers. Com.)
Now, at 10pm on a Friday night after a lot of beer, it seemed like a very exciting idea and it was surprising how many signed up.
As speed was the essence of the contract, the first to sign soon found themselves in casual attire on their way to board the P&O liner Strathnaver, which was about to leave Sydney for the UK, where they were inducted into the Royal Navy on arrival. It is interesting to recall that the nucleus of the crews to commission the new Australian destroyers Napier and Nizam, nearing completion in Scotland, also took passage in Strathnaver.
The Scheme quickly got under way in the state capital cities and after induction, new recruits were sent steadily to Melbourne to Flinders Naval Depot to start basic training and await transportation to the UK. The first large group left for the UK in the Themistocles, a chartered naval transport from the Shaw Savill and Albion Company which had been a troopship in World War I and the main holds were cleaned out to allow sailors to sling hammocks and sit at timber mess tables. After leaving Melbourne, Themistocles called at Fremantle to pick up the nucleus of the crew to commission the destroyer Nestor, nearing completion in Glasgow. They were mostly from the cruiser HMAS Adelaide.