- Sullivan, John
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Advance, HMAS Wyatt Earp, HMAS Labuan I, HMAS Yarra I, HMAS Vendetta II, HMAS Quickmatch, HMAS Parramatta I
- September 1986 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
No-one was prepared for World War 2 when it came, including the yard with its total workforce of 178 men. As in the previous war, however, the dockyard rose to the occasion, converting merchant vessels into transports and small craft into minesweepers. Construction of eight corvettes commenced in 1940, with the last launched in 1943. Two merchant ships were built on new berths adjacent to Gellibrand Pier. Once again, in 1942, the yard was resold to the Commonwealth and became HMA Naval Dockyard, Williamstown, with Commander (E.) Mackey, RAN, as General Manager. His task was to maintain current programmes and institute new work, and a frigate was commenced in 1943. Another momentous event occurred in November 1942, when I became part of the dockyard workforce as a Lad Labourer, firstly in the No. 2 Boiler Shop and then with the electricians. There is still grave doubt about whether this was beneficial to the dockyard or not! Two years later I entered the Navy, returning to the dockyard in April 1946. During my absence. Captain Mackey, as he had become, had set about replacing the antiquated buildings in the yard, and many of his structures still stand. Also whilst I was away, Captain (E.) Clark, RAN became General Manager. Further building replacements in the 1970s and continuing through the 1980s will see all yard edifices rationalised and modernised for the future.
Many foreign warships entered the yard and the dock during World War 2. Dutch cruisers, destroyers and sub-marines, US cruisers and destroyers, Free French destroyers and, of course, many Royal Navy ships, were all taken in, and when the dock was empty of naval craft, merchant ships, Harbour Trust craft and the Williamstown ferry, just as important in their own way, were accommodated.
Olympic Year, 1956, was marked by the entry into the dock of 11 racing yachts for class validation. On 18th July, 1958, the newly-built Vendetta, whilst about to proceed to sea on pre-commissioning trials, experienced an equipment malfunction and crashed into the caisson of the dry dock, where she remained firmly wedged. The order to abandon ship was given to the crew of HMAS Quickmatch which was in the pumped-out dock, as they were imperilled by the inrush of water through a large fracture in the caisson. When the immediate danger of the collapse of the caisson had passed, several very brave men entered the flooding dock and at great risk boarded Quickmatch to close her sea valves, and also to effect emergency repairs on the caisson. With her valves closed, Quickmatch could then rise up with the water as the dock filled. After being repaired, HMAS Vendetta, the first all-welded ship built in Australia, was commissioned later in the year and became the only ‘Daring’ class destroyer to fulfil its role as a gunship when she served in Vietnam.
The caisson in this story was the original one, emplaced in 1874. It had been manufactured in 1866 from soft iron, to seal the dock against the sea and to control the inflow of water when the dock was being filled. It consisted of three buoyancy tanks which were flooded in the required combination. Because of its advanced age and the damage sustained in the collision it was replaced by a steel caisson designed and built at Williamstown Naval Dockyard. The yard has continued with shipbuilding activities, the latest of which is the commencement of construction of the 5th and 6th guided missile frigates, or FFGs, for the RAN. To prepare for this work, new technology and equipment has been incorporated into the workshops, and key personnel have been trained in the new systems. Williamstown Naval Dockyard is a Royal Dockyard with a proven record of achievement and a proven capacity to cope with crises. Provided that a reasonable standard of industrial harmony can continue, the yard should have a long and eventful future ahead of it.