Tobruk: The lifting of the siege, 75 years ago

HMAS Waterhen in Sydney Harbour, c1925–33. ANMM Collection 00021576.

HMAS Waterhen in Sydney Harbour, c1925–33. ANMM Collection 00021576.

The 9th of December 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Tobruk, the port on the north coast of Libya that proved such a thorn in the side of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel during the eight months that the siege lasted. The Australian War Memorial describes it as one of the longest sieges in British military history.

Whenever the siege of Tobruk is remembered, the Australian soldiers, who formed the greater part of the garrison for most of the time, are quite rightly afforded pride of place.

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Finding Tingira: The search for the Royal Australian Navy’s first training ship

Oil painting of Sobraon (later Tingira), by William Barnett Spencer, c 1866. ANMM Collection 00009342

Oil painting of Sobraon (later Tingira), by William Barnett Spencer, c 1866. Image: ANMM Collection 00009342.

On a cold sunny morning in June 2016, Silentworld Foundation Director and maritime archaeologist Paul Hundley steered the survey vessel Maggie III into shallow water at the head of Berrys Bay on Sydney’s North Shore. Accompanying him were the museum’s maritime archaeologists Kieran Hosty and myself, staring intently at a laptop computer as it displayed readings from a marine magnetometer towed a short distance behind the boat. As Maggie III’s hull glided through water less than a metre deep, we watched for any indication that remnants of a unique sailing ship might lie buried in the silt below. Continue reading

Man in the machine: submarines, ships, sailors and National memory

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

This is not a blog about the current Federal election … this is about something much more enduring and exciting – a bold new art installation that plays with the idea of animus, memory, the machinery of war, and to a degree geopolitics. It will be launched in the coming months on the forecourt at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and today, International Museums Day with its focus on cultural landscapes, seems an appropriate time to reveal something of the art work.

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After Emden: HMAS Sydney’s War 1915-18

HMAS Sydney in the Firth of Forth when she was operating in the North Sea as part of the part of the British Grand Fleet. Image: author’s collection.

HMAS Sydney in the Firth of Forth when she was operating in the North Sea as part of the part of the British Grand Fleet. Image: author’s collection.

Australian Naval Historian and author Dr David Stevens will present the annual Phil Renouf Memorial Lecture on Thursday 31 March 2016. Phil Renouf was the much-loved and highly respected leader of Sydney Heritage Fleet and this annual lecture series honours his significant contribution to Australian maritime heritage.

HMAS Sydney’s victory over SMS Emden in November 1914 marked an important milestone in the war at sea. But in no way was this the end of Australia’s naval war, and it certainly did not herald Sydney’s departure from our naval history. Indeed, the cruiser remained extremely busy throughout the Great War, roaming all over the world and achieving a number of naval firsts.

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How to make…a buttercream battleship or delicious destroyer cake

There are many things that come to mind when you think of a warship. Big guns, secret missions, white uniforms, badges, officers, ranks, commands and coded ciphers. Buttercream frosting? Not so much.

This month’s craft spot is inspired by none other than our new Action Stations experience, just launched. In much the same way (and not the same way at all) as how Action Stations is all about making the experience of our navy vessels more surprising, immersive and delicious, making an edible delectable destroyer or battleship cake embraces a little something of the surprising (a sweet and squishy rendition of a mean machine), the immersive (you enjoy its appearance, eat it up and experience all the goodness it has to offer) and the delicious — of course. And perhaps it’s also a good way to celebrate and salute to all things navy and nautical, just as we are doing every Family Fun Sunday this month.

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Year 9 students remember submarine AE1

Student speech competition winners Emelia Rose Haskey and Catherine McClymont with ANMM Director Kevin Sumption (centre back) and judges Jeff Fletcher and Daina Fletcher.

Student speech competition winners Emelia Rose Haskey and Catherine McClymont with ANMM Director Kevin Sumption (centre back) and judges Jeff Fletcher and Daina Fletcher. Photo: Andrew Frolows

‘Remembering AE1’ … a deceptively simple title that invites a sense of reflection and commemoration. This was the topic set before Year 9 history students in a national speech competition to help mark 101 years since AE1, Australia’s first submarine, disappeared with all hands at the start of World War I, never to be found. The occasion to deliver that speech would be the unveiling ceremony of Warren Langley’s wonderful artwork ‘…The Ocean Bed their Tomb’, a stainless steel wreath sculpture that now hovers over the water outside the museum.

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HMAS Vampire: ‘Some funny memories’

HMAS Vampire’s crew boarding at Williamstown after refit, 1971. Image Sea Power Centre – Australia

HMAS Vampire’s crew boarding at Williamstown after refit, 1971. Image Sea Power Centre – Australia

Terry Gaffney describes his experience serving on our ex-Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire. This blog post is part of a series written by sailors who served on the vessels inside our Action Stations Experience.

I have so many memories of my service aboard two daring class destroyers (HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta). As a leading cook, basically same stories apply to both. We did some good missions of help aboard them, notably in 1974 whilst on Vendetta going to Darwin on a relief mission, but on both warships we rescued stranded boats and did other rescue ops.

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HMAS Vampire: ‘A trip of a lifetime’

Vampire in service

Phil McKendrick describes his experience serving on our ex-Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire. This blog post is part of a series written by sailors who served on the vessels inside our Action Stations Experience.

Here are some of my experiences on board HMAS Vampire from 1972 to 1976.
I was actually first posted to HMAS Sydney directly after my engineering course in July 1972. When we were getting prepared to take Sydney out of refit I was asked if I wanted to go to destroyers. I certainly wanted to serve on board a gun ship and volunteered.

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HMAS Vampire: ‘A machine like no other’

HMAS Vampire in 1966

HMAS Vampire at sea, 1966. Image Sea Power Centre – Australia

David Simpson describes his experience serving on our ex-Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire. This blog post is part of a series written by sailors who served on the vessels inside our Action Stations Experience.

I was nervous. I was 21 and it was my first time at sea.

Typical of the Navy, I had been trained to maintain the gunnery system on board but had been allocated as the offsider to the petty officer in charge of navigational aids –gyro compasses, plotting tables, echo sounders, signalling lamps, masthead obstruction lights – none of which I had been trained to maintain.

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Lost at sea, my uncle John Messenger – ERA HMAS AE1

John Messenger - Photo Courtesy Vera Ryan

Photo – courtesy Vera Ryan

My uncle John Messenger, known as Jack, was born in Ballarat, Victoria. He became a fitter and turner and studied to be a draughtsman. He was the eldest son, with six siblings. My father Albert was the second youngest. Jack was 20 when he was born.

Jack moved to Melbourne and enlisted in the Royal Navy as a crew member on the Australian Station in 1909.

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New Action Stations experience coming to Darling Harbour

Artist's impression of the ANMM's new Warship's Pavilion

Have you noticed the construction work outside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour? Work is well underway on our new Action Stations experience – an amazing visitor facility on the museum’s wharf between our ex-Navy submarine and destroyer, opening in November 2015.

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Operation: Torpedo

The 1200 kg dummy torpedo class 21" MK9.

The 1200 kg dummy torpedo class 21″ MK9.

Working as a registrar at the museum often requires one to think outside the box, and today was no different. Today’s task was to organise the return of a 1200 kg dummy torpedo class 21″ MK9 to the Naval Heritage Collection – simple, right? The only problem was that the NHC storage facility is located on Spectacle Island…and it’s an island. Solution? Call in the Navy.

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Exploring a diorama: The RAN Bridging Train at Suvla Bay during the Gallipoli Campaign

“These men took pride in the fact they were the only Australian naval unit serving in the European theatre of war … They were therefore bent on proving to the Royal Navy and the Army that they could overcome any difficulties”.
CMDR L. S. Bracegirdle, RN, commanding the Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train at Gallipoli, 16 November 1915

One of the most popular parts of the War at Sea – The Navy in WWI exhibition at the museum is a wonderfully old-school diorama. It has no bells or whistles. You can’t swipe, touch or play with it — apart from a series of buttons that light up various sections. But everyone — even the ‘walk through’ visitor — stops and checks it out.

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Naval traditions continue as HMAS Canberra is commissioned

Last Friday saw the commissioning of the Royal Australian Navy’s newest and largest fleet member – the Landing Helicopter Dock (or LHD for short) HMAS Canberra (III).
In a short space of time and in century-old tradition, she went from being Nuship Canberra to raising the Australian white ensign for the first time as part of her formal commissioning into the Fleet.

HMAS canberra

The Royal Australian Navy’s latest helicopter, the MH60R ‘Romeo’ Seahawk, flies past the Navy’s latest ship, NUSHIP Canberra in Sydney, NSW. Courtesy Royal Australian Navy.

It was a significant moment for all those associated with the building and fitting out of the LHD, especially the tri-service ship’s company who have been training for months in preparation for the introduction of the LHD. Navy, Air Force and Army come together to operate this ship.

As well as raising the white ensign another tradition was also observed, that of the youngest member of Canberra’s ship’s company (Seaman Marine Technician Michael Lane) cutting the commissioning cake alongside Canberra’s Commanding Officer (Captain Jonathan Sadleir AM, RAN).

White ensign for HMAS Canberra

LS Stewart Thurlow raises the Australian white ensign for the first time on board the newly commissioned HMAS Canberra. Courtesy Royal Australian Navy.

In the life of a naval ship there are many ceremonial milestones including ship naming, keel laying, christening, commissioning and final decommissioning. The commissioning ceremony completes the cycle from christening and launching to bring the ship into full status as a warship of her nation.

Canberra carries a proud name indeed. The first Canberra was a heavy cruiser sunk in action at the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942. The second Canberra was a guided missile frigate and saw service during the Gulf War; she was sunk off Ocean Grove, Victoria as an artificial reef and dive wreck. In line with naval tradition, Canberra (III) inherits the battle honours from the previous two ships of the same name – East Indies 1940-41, Pacific 1941-42, Guadalcanal 1942, Savo Island 1942 and Persian Gulf 2002.

So what is Canberra going to be doing for the Royal Australian Navy? She is the lead ship of the two Canberra class amphibious assault ships designed by Spanish shipbuilders Navantia. Canberra and her sister-ship Adelaide are prefabricated in Spain and then fitted out in Melbourne. They are capable of conducting large-scale humanitarian missions and will focus on regional military support, including disasters (they can be deployed as floating hospitals and command and control centres); evacuation missions (such as a raid from the sea to recover hostages); and peacekeeping. They will also play a key role in extreme natural disasters at home.

The Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ship concept.

An internal cross-section of the Canberra class Amphibious Assault Ship puts in perspective her ability to carry an incredible amount of vehicles, vessels and aircraft.

There are many mindboggling and impressive statistics associated with the ship. Here are a few:

  • Construction cost was $A1.5 billion;
  • She’s 230 metres long, the flight deck is eight stories above the water and as big as 24 tennis courts;
  • Canberra could sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge – with 40 cm to spare!
  • She can embark 1,100 fully-equipped infantry troops and 110 trucks and armoured vehicles;
  • She can carry 18 helicopters (six can operate simultaneously from landing points on the flight deck);
  • Elevators and ramps are used to move vehicles, aircraft and personnel around the ship;
  • Cooks can prepare up to 6,000 meals daily;
  • There are two operating theatres and 56 hospital beds, an eight-bed critical care unit, pathology and radiology services, x-ray, pharmacy and dental facilities.
  • The ship can make 150 tonnes of fresh water per day and generate enough power to power a city the size of Darwin;
  • The heavy vehicle deck covers 1400 square metres;
  • The ship can carry 196 shipping containers;
  • The well dock holds water the equivalent of 1.2 Olympic swimming pools and has access to the open sea through the stern to allow the landing craft and other boats to sail straight in and out.

HMAS Canberra will proceed to sea in the coming weeks for a period of training and assessment for the crew. She will be home ported to Garden Island, Sydney, so take yourself down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and see for yourself just how impressive this new addition to the Royal Australian Navy really is.

– Lindsey Shaw (@NavyCurator), Australian National Maritime Museum Research Associate

The ‘triumphant procession’ of the ANMEF

troops of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, marching on Randwick Road

Contingent of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, marching on Randwick Road, 18 August 1914.
Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

On this day, 100 years ago, a contingent of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) marched through Sydney for final embarkation. Fourteen days after Britain declared war on Germany, the ANMEF contingent made their way through streets flooded with tens of thousands of well-wishers. It would be the start of many marches to come throughout the war, and one of the many photographer Samuel J Hood captured with his Folmer and Schwing Graflex camera. Yesterday, a service was held at Government House and re-enactment of the march took place. As Royal Australian Navy (RAN) cadets marched down a soggy Macquarie Street, they paid homage to the ‘khaki clad contingent’ who had taken the same steps a century before under a clear blue sky. Continue reading