Letecke Museum

Letecke Museum

There is a little-known gem of an aviation museum less than 40 minutes by public transport from Prague. The Letecke Museum was founded in 1968 on historic Kbely, Czechoslovakia’s first air base after the country’s formation in 1918.

To get to the museum from Prague, buy a 100-krona (about $5 Aus) excursion ticket that provides same day open travel on all the city-area train, tram and bus lines. The metro is clean, fast and frequent. Catch a Red Line metro train to its northern terminus, Letnany, then find, say, a Number 375 bus for a 10-minute ride to the museum.


MiG Alley: There are rows upon rows of battle weary-looking Russian-origin fighters.

Other options

There are other travel options, including leaving the Red Line train earlier, or even catching a Yellow Line train. The museum comes up on the right hand side of the bus and it is easily distinguished by the MiG-21 sitting on a pole by the gate. The bus stop is maybe five metres past the MiG-21.

The museum is housed in large hangars and open air displays in a corner of the old airfield.  There is no entry charge and it is open from May to October, every day except Mondays, from 0900 to 1800. Cameras are permitted and there seems to be no staff to discourage really close-up aircraft inspections.


Ah! If only we had hangar control officers  who could stack aircraft like this, we would have trebled our carrier aircraft potential.

Jammed hangars

Nearly all the precious museum-quality pre-WW II aircraft, including all the gliders and sectioned engines, are housed in protective hangars. However, more than half the 270-odd aircraft, including all the Russian-source helicopters, seem to be simply dumped in the open, exposed to sun, rain and snow. It is also clear that even though the hangars seem to be packed with everything that could be possibly squeezed in, there is a very large and valuable outdoors collection and perhaps an even larger “spare aircraft” jumble not on direct display but evidently awaiting attention.


The musuem also displays a number of pilot-unfriendly guns and missiles, including this SAM-2 S-75 Guideline.

Unlike Russian museums, nearly all the exhibits, indoors and outdoors, have descriptive plaques written in both Czech and English.

The museum’s emphasis, naturally, is on Czech-built and Czech-flown aircraft. With a population of  only 13 to 15 million, this small land-locked country has a remarkable aviation history, including the design, manufacture and development of  many revolutionary aircraft. In its latter years, its Air Force and national airline, CSA, flew mainly Russian types and this is reflected in the large number of post-WW II Russian-origin fighters, bombers, transports and helicopters at the museum.


A pleasant surprise was this immaculate ex-RAAF 3 Squadron Australian-built Rolls Royce Avon-engined Sabre Mk32, A94-923. Its increased thrust, from 6,100 pounds to 7,500 pounds, plus re-arming from six 0.5 inch to two 30 mm guns and AIM-9 Sidewinders, together with other improvements, made this version the “best Sabre of all,” according to its unbiased pilots.


The cleanest of all the outdoors aircraft is a spotless ex-RAAF Avon-Sabre. In contrast, many of the Russian types, including those flown by the Czech Air Force, look as though they just returned from a busy grinding war deployment.


One of the original Tupolev 104A airliners that helped to make the national airline the first all-jet passenger service in the world.

Not forgotten, in both inside and outside displays, are commercial aircraft flown by CSA and its predecessors. These include an 81-passenger Tupolev TU 104A, an aircraft that contributed to CSA becoming the first airline in the world flying regularly scheduled all-jet passenger transports.

Broome Pearl Luggers

Pearling Luggers Museum, Broome

A visit to the Pearling Luggers Museum in Dampier Terrace, Broome is illuminating. Timing our visit to coincide with a guided tour, we learn that the West Australian pearling industry started in the 1850s in Shark Bay, then built up quickly, exploiting indigenous, Japanese, Chinese and other nationality divers. By 1910, a substantial fleet of some 400 vessels and 3500 people harvested the valuable lustrous giant pearl shell, making Broome the biggest site in the industry. However,  the work was as hard as it was hazardous.


An original typical hard-working gaff-rigged ketch Broome pearling lugger.

Pearl shell, main prize

Pearl shell was the main prize. Changing fashions dictated fluctuating demand but generally there was world-wide interest in the shell as a raw material for buttons, combs and other articles. Pearls were a valuable by-product, but they were never a primary target. Between 1860 and 1880, slave-master-employers conscripted indigenous divers, including indigenous women, and forced them to work down to 12 metres as skindivers. Exposed to life-threatening risks that included sharks, bad weather and even their own bosses, they had a high death rate. By 1880, most of the shallow-water shell had been harvested. Hard-hat divers followed, with the obvious additional risk of the bends.

Pearl Masters-1870s

The Pearl Masters arrived in the 1870s and organised the work force. They began diving in Roebuck Bay and quickly established Broome as the pearl shell capital of the world.They sought the biggest pearl shell of them all, the prized Pinctada maxima, or oyster of the South Seas pearl. This huge bivalve, known to the aborigines for centuries, was discovered by Europeans in 1861 and found in abundance in shallow water in the Kimberley area. The industry advanced by fits and starts but gradually expanded until about 1914. After three devastating cyclones, in 1908, 1910 and especially 1912, the industry later collapsed as fit men went off to fight in the war. There was a slow and erratic post-WW I recovery, then the Pacific War brought the industry to a complete stop.


The traditional wooden-hulled pearl shell lugger (above, in the WA Maritime Museum) might have one hard-hat diver each side, with air supplied by hand-operated air pumps.

Fibreglass-hulled trawlers (below) have replaced the traditional lugger and engine-driven air pumps supply maybe four wet-suit divers each side.


Luggers commandeered

The Australian Government noticed that during their conquest of Malaya in December 1941 and January 1942, the Japanese appropriated local craft to transport their troops in a series of generally unopposed amphibious landings. The RAN therefore commandeered all the better Broome luggers in January 1942, sailed them to Fremantle and burned the rest. Nearly all of the better divers were lost about the same time when the government interned everyone suspected of Japanese ethnicity.

The Pacific War had a profound effect on Broome. Less than three months after Pearl Harbor, on 3 March 1942, nine Japanese A6M2 Zero aircraft from Timor (a 964 nm round trip), led by LEUT Zenjiro Miyano, swept in low,  strafing the harbour and airfield. This remarkably successful raid by a handful of naval fighters killed between 70 and 100 people and destroyed 24 aircraft for the loss of two Zeroes. One Zero was claimed shot down, but the wreckage was never located. The other ditched due to lack of fuel, but the pilot was recovered.

Flying boats destroyed

A plaque in Broome’s main street commemorates this action. Five Dornier Do-24, eight PBY Catalinas and two Short Empire flying boats were sunk in the harbour. Other aircraft, including two B-17 Flying Fortresses, one B-24 Liberator, two Lockheed Hudsons, one Lockheed Lodestar and one KLM DC-3 were left burning on the airfield. As a bonus, a B-24 and another DC-3 were shot down during the same raid.

Most of the civilian casualties were Dutch refugees from the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) still in their flying boats after landing there earlier that morning. Many sat in the harbour, awaiting painfully slow refuelling operations. Others died awaiting delayed departure clearances.


A Japanese air raid plaque in Broome’s main street.

“No warning” attacks

Some Australian reports, even in recent years, echo the mantra that the Broome and Darwin raids were conducted against chiefly “civilian targets without warning”. This propaganda deflects criticism from those who should have defended, dispersed or camouflaged valuable and highly vulnerable targets. In Broome, on 3 March 1942, everything the Japanese attacked was a legitimate target of war and diligent research will prove that short of an impractical leaflet drop, considerable warning had been given.

Pearl Harbor

The 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor might well have been  a “no notice” act of undeclared war, but that act itself should have served sufficient warning that Broome’s turn might not be long coming. The Darwin raid, just a fortnight before the Broome attack, should also have been another warning sign. The evacuation of hospital patients and some civilians from Broome a week before the raid was accelerated, but little else seems to have been planned to resist an air threat.

Finally, a Japanese Kawanishi H6K4 (Mavis) flying boat had been sighted the day before overflying Broome. It is difficult to understand how much more warning could have been given.

Industry revival

The pearl shell industry resumed slowly once more after WWII, but Broome found it hard to compete with the new-found plastics industry, even after introducing wet suits and hookah breathing apparatus. In recent years, the one or two surviving sailing luggers harvest tourists or a very few oysters for the cultured pearl farms.

These sturdy gaff-rigged ketch luggers were first introduced in 1879. A Broome boat building industry flourished for a while, using local jarrah and paperbark timber, but nowadays the working luggers are fibreglass, motorised and built elsewhere.


Lustrous pearls were once just a by-product of the pearlshell industry.

Cultured pearls

Cultured pearls are another story. Those interested in the cultured pearl industry might choose to visit a pearl farm at nearby Willie Creek, about 32 km by road north of Broome. Despite early contrary misinformation, cultured pearls are almost invariably superior to those found in their natural state, say the traders.

Iraq War

Running the war in Iraq

book review by Kevin Rickard



Molan, J. Running the war in Iraq.Harper Collins Publishers: Pymble. 2008. pp.358, $32.99. (Seen at $3.99 on some remainder tables.)


Australian Major General Jim Molan’s service in Iraq, outwitting a dangerous enemy and reporting exactly what it takes to fight and defeat violent extremism, are precisely portrayed in his book Running the War in Iraq.

Be flexible

Following a request to Australia from US General John Abizaid, Commanding General of US Central Command, for a Chief of Operations of Coalition Forces in Iraq, General Molan, AO was sent there to fulfil this role. General Peter Cosgrove, AC, CDF at the time, warned General Molan to be flexible and prepare to be “Assistant to the Deputy or Deputy to the Assistant”.

Despite publicised statements and attendant guidance from the Prime Minister and Defence Minister at the time, General Molan arrived in the Green Zone in Baghdad, to be met with the question from US Lt. Gen. Ric Sanchez “What do you think you can contribute?” Sanchez was polite and correct, but finding General Molan an interesting job was not a Sanchez priority right then.

Complex war environment

Molan soon realised he was not about to be given the job he was sent to do in Iraq by General Peter Cosgrove. In a very complex war environment Molan decided to adopt responsibility for the protection of Iraq infrastructure. This huge task involved the maintenance of flow of oil, electricity and the railway system.

He needed to prevent the insurgents’ extensive use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that damaged the electricity grid, destroyed oil pipelines and compromised the flow of benzene by road throughout the country. Twenty bombs per day exploded against Coalition Forces and a soldier was killed by these bombs every second day. If Molan were to be successful, Iraqi morale would be improved and the Coalition would be able “to keep some of the lights on for some of the time”.

Insurgent enemy

The insurgent enemy was a complex group comprising Sunni Arabs, Islamic extremists, hardened criminals, militias, including Shiite factions, and terrorists linked to al Qaeda. It was suggested that insurgent infrastructure sabotage activity in Iraq grew at ten times the speed of that of the IRA in Northern Ireland. Molan fought the battle rather successfully for his full year in Iraq and ensured some power supply.

Further challenges in the military career of Molan occurred with the arrival in Iraq of the new military Chief, four star General George Casey, Jr, and the new US Ambassador, John Negroponte. Molan was to find Casey inspirational. Casey asked Molan whether he would be his Chief of Staff for Strategic Operations of the recently formed Multi-National Force Iraq (MNFI). This meant, in effect, “running the war in Iraq”.

Paper force of 300,000

Molan had a headquarters staff of 315 and an MNF of 175,000 troops, supplemented with 125,000 Iraqi Security Forces. Casey’s suggestion to Molan was to “fight your way to the election”.  The first ever democratic election was to be held in Iraq in January 2005. At first, the Chief of Staff task appeared to be an overwhelming responsibility for Molan, who admits he did not understand the language of US Intelligence and was fast learning the concept of “targeting”. He did carry a rifle everywhere and had a bodyguard of 12 tough SAS soldiers. Molan’s convoy was ambushed twice, once on “Route Irish”, but after a gun fight was rescued each time. The bodyguard later advised him, “Boss, when we get you away from the bad guys we might let you fire a shot or two”

Second battle for Fallujah

General Molan was now occupied with two major strategic missions. The first was to plan and coordinate the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004. The second was to plan and coordinate the election planned for January 2005. These two interlocking missions were in addition to the onerous tasks of the coordination and planning of the day-to-day military conflicts and tactics of MNFI in an intense and unforgiving war environment.

There were daily Battle Update Assessments (BUA) and Centron Component Commanders Brief (CCCB) by state-of-the-art communication systems. Molan was very much to the forefront of all of this activity.

Bleak city of 300,000

Fallujah, adjacent to Baghdad, on the banks of the Euphrates, is a bleak city, five kilometres square with a population of 300,000. It was also a hotbed of insurgency networks and headquarters of Zarqawi. Accordingly, a process of “shaping targets” began. “Time sensitive targets” were “taken out” and it was decided Fallujah would not be a “three block war” but a conventional urban operation.  The US “Force Flow” system was utilised by Casey for this battle. Apart from ground force control, Molan was able to utilise considerable strike air power and surveillance with “drones”, simultaneously delineating targets to ground commanders and airborne pilots. Accordingly, there was no misunderstanding about target selection. Molan’s priority weapon was the 500-pound bomb dropped with deadly accuracy. By November 2004, the second battle for Fallujah was heading for success.

The election

Molan could now turn his attention to the election. For this there was a UN timetable and a very human justification. There was a counter-philosophy prevalent among the Iraqis of “you vote, you die”. It was thought the oppressed Shiites would vote, but the Sunni were an unknown quantity.

Eventually Molan took control of the Interim Election Committee Iraq (IECI) to support election logistics. He also assumed responsibility for the security of 5,200 polling stations on Election Day, 30 January, 2005. The ultimate success of the election changed the strategic calculations and the landscape of Iraq for the better.

Soldier diplomat

As Molan left Iraq, Ambassador Negroponte said Molan excelled as a soldier diplomat. General Casey awarded Molan the US Legion of Merit for “exceptionally meritorious services as Chief of Staff”. In Australia, Molan received the Distinguished Service Cross in the 2006 New Years Honours List. One of Molan’s most prized possessions is Ballot Paper No. 00000009 for the Iraqi election given to him  by the Iraqi people.

Jim Molan makes two crucial points: 1. “Do not get involved in a counter insurgency unless you intend to win,” (p. 331) and 2. “There is a need for both consistent and agreed counter insurgency policy and strategy, and infinite flexibility in tactics” (p.334). These Iraq lessons would seem to apply equally to current operations in Aghanistan.

Challenging comments

There are some challenging comments in the book’s epilogue. One is that Molan should have been replaced by another Australian General. The second is that our professional military system is not preparing senior officers to be competent joint operational “field” commanders. Finally, Molan mentions that, at the time of writing, the US had lost 4000 soldiers killed in Iraq and 28,000 wounded and that the Iraq war would cost the US $2 trillion if it runs for 10 years. But the campaign plan in Iraq is part of the long term battle against terrorism.

This is a cleverly constructed and well-written book with clear explanations of a raft of military scenarios taking place in a current 21st century war. If you have an opinion about the war in Iraq, then you will obtain valuable insight into that war and profit from reading this book. You will also be able to appreciate the contribution of one distinguished Australian to the eventual independence of a very troubled Iraq.

Tiru and Vendetta

USS Tiru and HMAS Vendetta

by Pat Burnett and Sam Sakker. Footnote by Tom De Voil

On the night of  Thursday 3 November, 1966 the US Submarine Tiru, on passage north off the east coast of Australia, ran aground at a speed of about 12 knots on the southern edge of Frederick Reef, in the Outer Barrier Reef, about 300 nautical miles east of Mackay.

At the time I had recently assumed command of the Daring class destroyer HMAS Vendetta, which was then carrying out a maintenance period at Garden Island Dockyard in Sydney. On Friday 4 November we were ordered to prepare for sea and to embark several high-ranking USN officers, a clearance diving team and a Caribbean type motor cutter. Then we were to proceed at 24 knots early on the Saturday morning to stand by the scene of the grounding. This prompted the ship’s company wag to comment that we were now the USS Vendetta (usually sails Saturday).


USS Tiru, hard aground on Frederick Reef in a calm sea but appreciable swell.

Clearance diving team

We had an uneventful passage to Frederick Reef in good weather conditions and arrived there the next day to find Tiru firmly aground in a calm sea, but with an appreciable southerly swell breaking over the reef, which is barely covered at low water. We hove-to off the reef and lost no time in sending the clearance diving team over by boat to carry out an underwater survey of the submarine. The swell and the coral rendered boatwork and diving operations rather tricky, but the team did a fine job. They were able to report that, although Tiru had struck the reef at about 12 knots, she had ridden up over the edge of it and had suffered surprisingly little damage, her pressure hull still being intact.

We held a conference on board Vendetta with the diving officer, submarine officers and the specialist salvage experts we had embarked. After much discussion it was decided to attempt to pass a tow and try to refloat the submarine at the approaching high water. This was accordingly done. I found manoeuvring stern-to close to the edge of the reef quite difficult in the swell conditions, but eventually the ship was in the desired position and we succeeded in passing the towing hawser to Tiru by boat.

Once the tow was secured and all was ready, we gradually took up the strain at dead slow speed ahead and then increased the pressure on the tow by slow degrees as far as we considered it safe to do so. However, the submarine remained firmly aground and we were unable to budge her. After a prolonged effort we were obliged to abandon the attempt.

USS Taussig

Frederick Reef was steep-to and the adjacent area too deep for anchoring, so after the tow was recovered we steamed at economical speed in the vicinity overnight. We hove-to off the reef again on the Monday morning to check the situation with Tiru and render what services we could to her ship’s company. Later in the forenoon we were relieved on station by the destroyer escort USS Taussig, which was ordered to stand by until another rescue attempt could be made. After further discussion it was decided to send for a salvage tug from Brisbane to attempt to refloat the submarine at a higher high tide, which was shortly due. We transferred our USN personnel to Taussig and were then released to return to Sydney to resume our maintenance period after an unusual experience.

The operation attracted some publicity at the time and I had several radio telephone conversations with an American NBC correspondent who was covering it. We had also embarked an RAN public relations photographer who took some graphic pictures of Tiru aground on the reef. We subsequently learnt that after docking and minor repairs Tiru had been able to continue her passage. I understand that the USN later conducted an enquiry into the grounding and held a court martial, but we did not hear any details of their proceedings.


Three RAN Daring class destroyers were the first prefabricated all-welded ships built in Australia. One of the three, HMAS Vendetta (above), was constructed in Williamstown Naval Dockyard. Commissioned in 1958 and displacing 3600 tons, the destroyer carried a crew of 320 and measured 118.4 x 113.1 x 3.73 metres (388.5 x 43 x 12.25 feet). Her main armament included six 4.5 inch (114 mm) guns, 6 x 40mm Bofors and one 3-barrelled ASW Limbo mortar. Two boilers and two English Electric steam turbines developed 54,000 hp that could drive the ship at 33 knots.

Sam Sakker’s tale:

HMAS Sydney, under the command of CAPT Anthony Synnot RAN, was on a training cruise around the Barrier Reef near the Fitzroy River, and received a signal that the submarine USS Tiru had run aground on Frederick Reef at (contrary to some reports) 2037, Thursday 3 November 1966. Sydney arrived the following day and stood by to render assistance.

The submarine was hard and fast on the reef with huge waves breaking over her. Her watertight integrity had not been breached, but one of her sailors had been tossed by a wave while rigging safety lines. He returned on board, where he developed increasing abdominal pain. He was the biggest man on board, well over 1.96 meters (6 feet 5 inches), so the captain gave up his cabin. Even this was so cramped that a square was cut out of the bulkhead at the foot of the bunk to accommodate the sailor’s feet.

HMAS Vendetta was dispatched from Sydney. She picked up a US salvage team flown out from Hawaii, but no doctor was on board. I transferred to Vendetta on 6 November and Sydney continued her cruise. The seas had only slightly abated.

Wetsuit and flippers

I donned a wetsuit and flippers and was taken by the ship’s cutter to just beyond the line of breakers. A gun line was fired to the Tiru, where a heavier line was fixed while the cutter took the strain at the other end. A sailor and I pulled ourselves hand over hand in an inflatable liferaft, thankfully without going in the drink.

The injured sailor was unwell with a silent abdomen. He had been well looked after by a USN sickbay man, Ralph Mummey, and we formed a great team. We “sucked and dripped” him, keeping careful fluid balance and records in alternating four-hour watches.

The seas remained high. It was not possible for a warship to tow us off the reef. The ocean-going tug Carlock departed Brisbane and arrived early on Monday 7 November. Tiru was towed off on a rising tide at 1240 and proceeded to Brisbane under her own power.

We arrived in Brisbane early on 8 November. The next hurdle was to move this huge man out of the tiny cabin through a maze of dogleg passages and watertight doors. I gave him a very large dose of morphine.

Five strong sailors

Five of the strongest sailors lifted him out of the bunk and out through the door into the passageway, where he was strapped into a flexible stretcher. He was then manhandled to the forward torpedo space, winched out through the torpedo hatch and transferred to an ambulance.


USS Tiru SS-416 was launched on 16 September 1947 as a Balao class submarine and was completed as a Guppy II. Upgraded to a Guppy III between May and December 1959, the post-1959 craft displaced 1975 tons/2450 tons surfaced/submerged and measured 97.4 metres (319.5 feet) long by 8.33 metres (27.33 feet) beam and 5.2 metres (17 feet) draft. The submarine’s three Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder opposed piston diesel engines and G. E. electric motors provided 6500/2750 hp, which translated into potential maximum speeds of 17/14 knots or 6 knots snorkelling. Armament included 10 x 533 mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes, six forward and four aft, and the submarine carried a crew of about 85. Tiru was decommissioned 1 July 1975 and was sunk as a target 19 July 1979.

At the Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital, he was assessed, resuscitated and had 22 cm of necrotic small bowel excised. His recovery was swift and he was on his way home within a week.

“Aloha Dr Sam”

Towards the end of 1967, I transferred to HMAS Melbourne, to cross the Pacific and collect Skyhawks, Grumman Trackers and matériel for Vietnam. Our first port of call was Pearl Harbor. To my amazement and the crew’s delight, we were greeted at the submarine wharf by a large banner proclaiming “Aloha Dr Sam” held up by some members of the crew of the USS Tiru. Her XO took me sightseeing in Oahu, and ensured my short stay was both memorable and enjoyable.

To my great surprise, I was awarded the MBE(Mil) in the New Year Honours list 1968: The citation read:


1 January 1968. Appointed a Member of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Surgeon Lieutenant Samuel Sakker RAN.

Citation: For exceptionally meritorious service in boarding the stranded United States Submarine in rough seas, and for outstanding devotion to duty in treating a seriously injured man in difficult conditions. On 3 November, 1966, USS Tiru grounded on Frederick Reef in the Coral Sea and HMAS Sydney was sent to assist on 4 November. It was learned that a USN Petty Officer had been flung against equipment in the submarine resulting in serious internal injuries. Rough seas prevented boarding the submarine that night and although there was only a slight moderation by the next morning SURG LEUT Sakker prepared to swim from the destroyer HMAS Vendetta to the submarine. In the event a hazardous boarding was achieved by liferaft.

On board the submarine SURG LEUT Sakker worked to keep the Petty Officer alive throughout the 6th and 7th November and until the early hours of 8th November when, after transferring the patient and a full case history to the General Repatriation Hospital, Greenslopes, Brisbane, he was finally able to rest. SURG LEUT Sakker’s conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the medical profession and the RAN.


Reference:Website http://www.defence.gov.au/health/infocentre/journals/ADFHJ_oct06/ADFHealth_7_2_bc.pdf.

Tom De Voil adds:

I was Senior Engineer of Vendetta at the time of this accident.  The XO was LCDR Eric Johnson (The Big E) and the MEO was CMDR George Laing-Schofield (who had been a mechanician in the previous Vendetta during WW II).

On Friday 4 November 1966, we were in a self maintenance period (SMP) alongside at Garden Island and doing boiler cleans.  One boiler had the external casings removed.  That forenoon, the MEO called on Fleet Staff in the old FHQ building “on the Hill” in Garden Island where he was asked why we were raising steam.  He replied that we were not and was promptly asked to look out the window from where he could see his ship making smoke from one funnel.

We sailed later that day on one boiler with the other being rapidly reassembled.  As I recall we went through Sydney Heads at about 18 knots having been ordered to make “moderate dispatch” to assist USS Tiru. When we were clear of the Heads we had revolutions for 27 knots rung on.  We achieved this as soon as the second boiler was connected later that afternoon.

Southerly swell

We sailed north with an enormous southerly swell helping us along.  In the boiler and engine rooms this was very noticeable.  Without changing the firing rate of the boilers the speed of the ship would vary from about 24 knots, and appropriate revolutions, as we climbed the rear face of the swell.  It would increase to well over 30 knots as we raced down the front of the swell and propeller revolutions would increase accordingly.  The boiler pressure would change in harmony, providing it didn’t get too close to the red line.  It was a fascinating scenario, from a technical point of view, to see how closely linked were ship speed, propeller revolutions, turbine stage pressures and boiler pressures.

The following day I recall being on the bridge during the forenoon and watching the pitometer log indicator approach the stop at 40 knots.  We were very close to surfing on a couple of occasions.  This in a vessel 118.4 metres (388 feet) in length.

The swell abated as we progressed north but nevertheless was still significant when we approached Frederick Reef, as the photograph in the article by Pat Burnett shows.  From my perspective the rest of the time was interesting, but routine, in particular making sure that the evaporators produced enough potable water to keep the ship’s company happy in the tropical weather.

HMAS Fremantle


HMAS Fremantle: A young Lieutenant goes west

by John Jobson

It was late in 1952, as a fully qualified Lieutenant, that I received my appointment as third officer of HMAS Fremantle. She was one of 60 Bathurst class corvettes built in Australia during WW II. Constructed in Brisbane, she was to be recommissioned in Williamstown dockyard (WND) and then sail for Western Australia to show a naval presence in the west and, more particularly, to give sea training to national servicemen inducted into HMAS Leeuwin.


HMAS Fremantle.

Minesweeping and patrol

Fremantle was a ship of about 700 tons, powered by two triple expansion reciprocating engines that drove two shafts to give a maximum speed of about 12 knots. Designed for elementary minesweeping and patrol duties, she was far from a formidable fighting vehicle, armed only with one 40mm Bofors and small arms. When I joined the ship at WND most of the hull and mechanical refurbishment had been completed, but the ship was not ready to be occupied.The captain, LCDR George C. Rance RN, was married and living ashore, as was LEUT Fred M. Murray RAN, from my last ship HMAS Bataan. I lived with my parents at East Malvern, which was a considerable drive from Williamstown. The stand-by staff were allocated an office in the dockyard from which we worked, using plans to familiarise us with the layout, complemented with daily visits to the ship herself.

Varnished wood

The captain, first lieutenant and I had separate cabins that doubled as our offices. A fourth cabin had double bunks for officers under training. We watched as these cabins and wardroom were beautifully fitted out with varnished wood for which WND was justly proud.

It was not long before I discovered an attractive lass working in the drawing office. We went to the beach nearby, dined out and went to a couple of balls. I was in my home town and met up with some old school friends from Melbourne Grammar. One in particular was Keith Farfor. He was working for some secret service or other. He never told me and I did not press the subject. We regularly went out for lunch, from which I discovered many of Melbourne’s better-value establishments. It was a problem finding somewhere to reciprocate.

Multiple duties

Fremantle was a small ship and could sail with about 50 as crew. Even so there was a lot to be done by the third officer. I was a watchkeeping officer at sea and in harbour, the supply officer for such matters as pay, ship’s books, accounts and correspondence, gunnery officer and explosives accounting officer, education officer, medical officer and wardroom wine caterer. This latter duty was crucial since I had to have the duty free grog onboard in time for commissioning.


The captain, LCDR George C. Rance RN, and the coxswain on the bridge.

The captain was the navigator and the first lieutenant was man-manager and responsible for all stores including food. Most stores were supplied to a scale. Wires and anchors, mechanical and electrical spares, medical kit, educational books, ammunition and side arms and galley equipment had to be checked and stowed onboard.

Other stores had to be sought by individual application. There were ever-present forms, for stationery and of course drinks and grog. Personal signatures were required for stamps, travel warrants and cash, so I had quite a number of visits to Albert Park Barracks, which at that time was the central office for such matters. This was not a duty to be taken lightly. An officer in an adjacent ship was jailed while we were at WND for using ship’s funds for horses that had a habit of losing.

Portable fittings

Another group of stores, known as portable fittings (e.g. ship’s boats) and naval stores, were fortunately the responsibility of the first lieutenant, while the captain sought his sextant and pencils and charts and other impedimenta required for navigation. Storing complete, we, i.e. the crew, moved on board and set out to Port Phillip Bay for what were comparatively simple demonstration trials. The ship was sound and worked mechanically.

Smooth talking made sure that the grog was on board by 10 December, when the ship commissioned. I have no idea who was there except for my guests who were among the visitors on the forecastle.


HMAS Fremantle, in a WW II garb, with a “J” prefix in her pennant number and a four-inch gun on her foredeck. The Australian-built Bathurst class was very similar to the RN’s lighter and faster Bangor and Algerine classes. Fremantle commissioned 24 March 1943 and was employed initially on minesweeping and escort duties.  The 56.7 x 9.4 x 2.6 metres (186 x 31 x 8.5 feet) hull displaced 800 tons (war load) and two triple expansion engines might drive the ship at 12 knots. Armament varied. In WWII the class might carry one four-inch (101 mm) gun, one 40 mm Bofors, two 20mm Oerlikons and 40 to 70 depth charges. Post-WW II, a number of the corvettes had their four-inch gun replaced by a Bofors. Crew size varied, usually 62, but 70 might be accommodated for training cruises.

Christmas arrived for five crew and me. It was as hot as hell, but to his long lasting credit the cook produced a traditional Christmas fare for us all, including my mother and father. We three were trying to get cool on the quarterdeck after lunch when cookie appeared; all he wanted was a couple of beers, forget the food. Christmas 1952.

Regular exercises

Once commissioned, HMAS Fremantle regularly exercised in the Bay. As was standard practice, after work, the WND senior staff frequently visited our wardroom. This was a naval custom to thank the good offices of them and their workers for giving us a good ship. Now at work, January just seemed to flip past.

In February Fremantle plied between Sydney, Cerberus on Westernport Bay and Melbourne, taking a mélange of persons for a day at sea or a group for sea experience. The crew and wardroom developed into a very happy team. Our Fred, as we called him, was seen bare-chested with brush in hand helping with the painting. Big George was always smiling. The coxswain was in total charge and the little bucket, despite a number of mechanical problems, was ready to go west.


HMAS Fremantle departing.  Some 38 of the 60-strong Bathurst class were tricky to manoeuvre at such slow speed. Instead of conventional “outwards turning” twin propellors, theirs were “inwards turning”.  With a rudder practically useless at slow speed, their screw’s “paddlewheel” effect might well oppose and not add to the offset thrust turning effort.

Adelaide rarely has visits from the RAN. Fremantle made its way up the Torrens to a berth at Port Adelaide, a fascinating run up the river and an even better reception. The hospitality at Adelaide was great.

We picked up a contingent of sailors and officers for sea training and, as I recall, had a couple of days at sea with them. Sadly, I have forgotten the name of one man with whom I corresponded for many years. Such is naval life that one makes many acquaintances who could have developed into long lasting friends but, by place and time, have to fade.

New First Lieutenant

At this time our Fred developed a problem, so severe that he had to be relieved. LEUT Ian Nicholson RAN was the replacement. He was a lovely man, two years ahead of me at Naval College, who always called me Jobworthy, for why I do not know, but more of Ian later. Fred retired from the Navy and was last known as a newsagent in the Blue Mountains.

Into the heavy westerly swell, Fremantle was lucky to make eight to ten knots. It was a long westerly voyage and smoking became a no no. We ran out of cigarettes. The boat sent ashore at Albany had only one message: “Get a lot of cigs.”

The ship had been painted to perfection. Here was HMAS Fremantle coming to Fremantle at a time when naval presence at WA was rare and the crew were excited. But in truth we were a tiny, tiny vessel. It was Sunday 8 March 1953 as we came alongside the outer breakwater of Fremantle Harbour. No bands, no crowds; only the harbour master to greet us, CAPT Bolton from the Port Authority. I have the feeling that the crew had a beer and we in the wardroom had many. It was becoming clear that we were here for work.

Fremantle, stored with fresh provisions, soon commenced a routine of a two-week run out of Fremantle going north with a complement of trainees. Arriving back on the Friday, we collected pay and stores and sailed away on the Monday with a fresh group of trainees. I felt like a wild west cowboy as I nestled a .38 fully loaded in the old ute as the ERA drove me to Leeuwin to get the pay. I was itching to get a chance to use it; but all was peaceful. After all, my SBLT group won the pistol shooting contest.

Submarine surrender

The journeys north were generally to the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. It became routine until a submarine appeared: HMS Thorough. As an exercise it was decided by someone that Thorough had decided to surrender and Fremantle was charged with taking her into custody. Guess who had the job? I knew nothing about submarines except that their mob was a devious collection of persons. I did get advice that a sub would have demolition charges in the periscope base should they wish to do that thing. I also had the love of explosive devices. My team dressed in the standard and stupid rig of heavy boots for the boarding of the submarine. How stupid, trying to board a smooth-sided vessel in boots that would only assure you a quick sink if you slipped. We really were still in the years of tradition rather than war sense. Myself, a petty officer and three were the party. Each had their instructions. I make no apology for giving this account some time later, since many lessons can be learnt.

Flawed plot

As our boat approached the submarine the captain was smiling like a Cheshire cat. Four persons were with him on the conning tower and only about ten on the casing. My lads had submachine guns trained on them. But the plot was flawed for many reasons.

I approached the captain and asked him if he intended to surrender. The reply was a toothy grin and a no speaky the language. Game on. Like an impetuous young officer I was going to be the first down the hatchway. (What a fool I was. You always send the petty officer.) It was dark, therefore suspicious. Half-way down I knew it was a trap and yelled to my petty officer. He and I and my team donned gas masks as he threw several tear gas capsules down the conning tower. Game, set, match. The submarine captain suddenly spoke English as he ordered blow this and that.

The grinning crew members at the bottom of the hatch, waiting to encapsulate me in a sack and shoot me out of the conning tower, were not up to the job. My team took over.

Unfortunately one of my boys sat under a mechanism that hit him on the head. Oh well, you cannot win them all.


HMS Thorough was a British T class submarine displacing 1,290 tons surfaced and 1,560 tons submerged .
Dimensions: Length: 84.28 x 7.77 x 4.44 metres ( 276.5 x 25.5 x 14.6 feet), twin diesel engines 2,500 hp (1.86 MW) each and twin electric motors 1,450 hp (1.08 MW) each. Speed: 15.5 knots surfaced, 9 knots submerged. Complement: 61. Armament: Eight torpedo tubes forward and three aft. One 100 mm (4 inch)  deck gun

Arming grenades

At least the captain of the submarine sent a “well done” to Fremantle. As I have said before, I play to win. After that episode it was anti-submarine training. The trouble was that to communicate with the submarine one threw grenades over the side. As gunnery officer I had to break out the manual. Arming grenades is something that I hated, but the job had to be done. Following the book I roped off an area on the forecastle and placed a red flag on the rope and sat down with my box of lovelies. I was very relieved when that job was done.

Happy ship

Yes, Fremantle was a happy ship. We spent Easter at Bunbury. Nothing going really. I was at an age that sex was quite a dominant factor, but no pills and so a problem. Have sex at your risk. Don’t take the risk. But in truth there was no opportunity. We just drank.

The ship was proceeding to Cape Naturaliste when a stoker was burnt with wild steam. Doctor Jobson consulted the book and found that one should do nothing. The stoker was placed in the spare wardroom bunk, covered with a clean sheet, fed and watered until we reached Bunbury, where he was discharged to hospital.


On one trip north as far as Carnarvon, our captain arranged that Ian and I should go to sea for the day with a whale catcher, called in fact Carnarvon. Whale hunting was still in progress at this time, with a flensing station ashore. The captain was the gunner who fired the harpoon from a mounting in the bows. One crewman was aloft and one steered the boat, while the important cook did what he did best.

Nothing sighted by lunch so we all tucked into an excellent roast meal. Soon after lunch the lookout reported a herd a mile or so off. We closed the herd and with final directions from the gunner got to a firing range of about 100 yards. A tremendous bang and out went harpoon and line. There were some misses but soon two whales were shot and strapped alongside. The light was fading so the boat headed for shore, but not before a couple of sharks appeared. Driving directly at the whales with mouths agape they savagely bit great hunks off the sides of the whales.


Harpooning a whale. Whaling ceased in Babbage Island, Carnarvon, in 1963, due chiefly to over-harvesting the profitable humpback whales. The Nor-West Whaling Factory became Nor-West Seafoods, scaled down considerably to process prawns.

Shark attack

After that I have never subscribed to asave the sharks campaign. Once at the anchorage, air was pumped into the whales and they were towed ashore to a ramp where they were pulled into the flensing shed. The works give off a distinct and unpleasant odour, which no doubt was why the township was some miles distant. An experience that few would have had is now no longer possible.

While in Fremantle port, taking onboard a new load of recruits, we were surprised as HMAS Sydney and HMNZS Black Prince arrived on their way to the Coronation. Half their luck we thought. But for us it was north again to the Houtman Abrolhos Island area. Someone had heard a fisherman talk of old cannons on one of the reefs.

17th century cannon

Unfortunately the reports of proceedings from Fremantle for this period could not be found in the archives at the War Memorial and the actual reef that I describe is not identified. On board we thought that they may have belonged to the Batavia or the Zeewick.

A raft was made of 44-gallon drums and paint stages. Towed by the motorboat we made the reefs and slowly drifted across the inside. It was not at all rough, but still the breaking water made observation difficult. You could only see the reef between successive breakers. By good luck we came across some iron cannons.  Floating our raft over them (they were still submerged) we managed to grapple two underneath the raft and gingerly made our way back to the ship. Just at this time some fins appeared, coming directly at us. You can imagine for those of us on the raft we got our legs well and truly out of the water. Then the porpoises leapt out of the water.

Bowlines underwater

Even so the task of securing the lines around the cannons for their loading onboard was left to me. The only reason I volunteered was that I could tie bowlines in the dark, or in this case underwater while holding my breath. It was extremely disappointing that on arrival at Fremantle not one authority seemed to be interested in our haul. They were landed in Leeuwin and I understand finally deposited in some park or other in Perth. We never did establish the name of the ship that at one time was the proud owner of these two cannons.

Our next trip was to Shark Bay; where, incidentally, if one told the steward that you wanted fish for breakfast, he hung out a line and within five minutes he had a well-sized schnapper.

I decided to test our landing party with Turtle Island as our enemy shore. I mention this exercise because of my lifelong memory of the poor overweight electrical able seaman who had to carry the aldis lamp and a car-sized battery up the cliffs. He really was bushed.

Coronation time

It was Coronation time. There was to be a march through the streets of Perth, Navy of course leading. I happened to be chosen to train the lads and lead the march. Well, the Whale Island training had to be used to the limit on the combined ships’ companies of Fremantle and Mildura and probably some from Leeuwin, all of whom, shall I say, were very rusty on the parade ground. For a week we practised at, I think, Garden Island. I shouted and drilled as best I could without a band.

The day arrived

The day arrived and I nearly had a fit as the lads took up ranks. One of the sailors took out a cigarette and lit it.  I nearly blew a fuse. Off we stepped and it looked as if we would put on a good show, but I was wrong. The naval contingent was in three ranks. (As an after-thought it should have been in six or in two groups.)


The Perth Coronation march past.

As we entered the main drag a band near the saluting base struck up. The front part of my contingent took the step of that band; the rear being so far away, took the step of the band behind that had led us in. Result, I had a millipede. Have you ever seen one? Its legs move in a ripple. In an effort to get my troops in one step, I retreated from the head of column and took station on the side, calling the step.

Wrong move John. I passed the saluting base without giving the eyes right until too late. When I think of it, there is no way the rear of my contingent could have heard my order. That was the last time I would be on parade.

The reader will observe that with only two days in harbour, Ian Nicholson and I had one day each to go ashore. The Freshwater Bay Yacht Club became my oasis. I do not remember how, but John Green, a pharmacist and brother of an electrical officer in the RAN, became my host and good friend. Mostly we would take his motorboat and a box of beer and race a most stupid race with others who were equally bored and thought that it was a good excuse for a beer fiesta.

Coronation Ball

It was Coronation Ball time and John and I decided to attend the Club’s Ball. I forget who I took but I ran into a sister of an old friend of mine from Melbourne Grammar. She was a great lass whom I could have been interested in if it had not been her habit of liking garlic. Not my perfume. After the west I never saw her again. One day off per fortnight is hardly the situation for a social exchange.

It was in May that Defence or someone, decided that the old merchantman Commillies, which was to be sunk, would make a good target for Mildura and Fremantle and the local RAAF.  The RAAF had first go. I have not recorded if their bombs actually hit the ship or not. By lunchtime the old Commillies was still afloat and perhaps the RAAF had expended their high explosive bomb allowance.

Mildura with her four-inch mounting blasted away. Even at somewhat point blank range she either missed or her shells made no impression. Commillies still was not going to sink.  It was now Fremantle’s turn.

Well, my aimers blasted the hell out of the deck-mounted toilet. I implored them to try for the waterline and at last we had about 20 rounds hitting the hull at waterline. Still the old girl did not sink.

Demolition charges

Guess who got the short straw to take demolition charges on board to sink her as dusk was approaching? Just as well I paid attention in HMS Excellent, but in all truth I was only just competent in handling this sort of thing. I imagined myself three decks down in the dark setting the fuses as the ship settled. In truth it was a stupid decision. As I climbed into the motorboat to head for Commilles, she gave a heave and started to slide into the water. Fate, one might call it. I was not destined to die just yet. After all it was peacetime.

In July, the captain’s wife was expecting, so a team of us went ashore and painted their very ordinary rented accommodation. LCDRs were not very well paid in those days.  

An able seaman and I were very happy and confident that we would do well in the interservice tennis tournament. He was a nice lad and we combined well. What happened? A washout. What a shame. Exercise was not easy to come by.

HMAS Fremantle had been worked well. It was time for the dockyard to give her a face lift. She was placed in a dry, dry dock. By this I mean she was on a ramp and 20 feet from deck to land. An enormous ladder got us onboard. You might have known it. It was time for a cocktail party. We bribed the crane driver to lift our guests by a pallet. It worked well, but what about getting down? We thought that our luck might have changed, but somehow our “guests” all chanced their luck and descended by the ladder.


LEUT Jobson with the Buffer, LSEA Schubert

Eyesight complications

My eyesight was not good. I had to use binoculars for navigation. One night I was heading for an anchorage on a flashing red light when I used the binoculars. I found it to be Joe’s Fish and Chip shop on the end of a pier.

Mildura was alongside us entertaining the local medical officer, Ned-something-or-other, when I was summonsed onboard for my medical. Ned had had a few. “Can you see ?” said Ned. “Of course he can see,” said the captain of Mildura.“He can see you consuming my grog”. “OK, passed,” said Ned. But in my heart I knew this was only a temporary respite from a long term decision that I would have to make. That was not the end. After a long and rewarding nine months in the west, I was appointed to the Naval College as a term officer.

I arrived home in Melbourne to find my WND girl friend had been a charm to my mother, but somehow nine months away changes perceptions. There was nothing there. She knew it and had a quiet weep outside. It was not that I had met someone else, but the magic was not there. So we parted and I never again saw or heard of her, I hope she found a nice man.

Good record, but…

From a shaky start at RANC, I had gained confidence in my ability, in my profession, in exams and in practice. I had served in a war zone. My record was good but my time had come to an end. My eyes were going to stop my quest for command. “What next?” was the question that I, and I alone, had to answer.


A man of intelligence

A man of intelligence

book review by Kevin A. Rickard

Pfennigwerth, I. A man of intelligence: The life of Captain Eric Nave, Australian codebreaker extraordinary. Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd: Dural. 2006.  304pp., 18 pp. of plates, illustrations and maps. $29.95 paperback.

A man of intelligence is the biography of an enterprising and successful Australian Japanese code breaker, CAPT Theodore Eric Nave OBE RN ret. The book is written by CAPT Ian Pfennigwerth RAN ret, a communicator and a previous captain of HMAS Perth and Director of Naval Intelligence.

Lad from Adelaide

The story tells in some detail how a lad from Adelaide with intelligence, ambition, diligent application and considerable good fortune carved his own special niche in the arcane world of codebreaking. It portrays and explores Nave’s entire career, especially during the period between WW I and WW II, when Nave served at sea on the China Station as an RN officer. While posted to the RN cruisers HMS Kent or Hawkins and visits to Hong Kong or Shanghai, Nave was able to intercept signals from the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN).

Plain language

At first he decrypted those IJN signals emanating from Nanjing, Shanghai and Tianjing that were in plain language, but later because of his skill both at cryptanalysis and the Japanese language he was able to break the IJN codes. He was thus able to decipher numerous important signals from the Japanese fleet.

The above events coincided with the time when the Japanese were brutally invading parts of China. The Naval duplicity of the Japanese at this time in their dealings with the British and the United States was calculated and eventually lethal, especially to the Americans at Pearl Harbor. This was due to the secret build up of the IJN Far East Fleet in contravention of the Washington Naval Treaty.

Through Nave’s special cryptanalysis and language skills much vital information about the Japanese fleet was forwarded to the Admiralty in London from the China Station.

This is an intriguing part of the Nave story. While serving in the Far East Combined Bureau, Nave and British Intelligence had access to high level Japanese information via the powerful British intercept station on Stonecutters Island off Hong Kong. In this context there is reference to a book called Betrayal at Pearl Harbor: How Churchill lured Roosevelt into World War II, co-authored by James Rushbridger and Eric Nave. Pfennigwerth contends that certain statements by Nave have been mischievously transformed by Rushbridger. Further, the allegations that the British, and by inference Nave, were aware of plans to strike Pearl Harbor are conjecture by Rushbridger.

Japanese language skills

Nave developed an amazing ability to comprehend and speak Japanese. He had been sent by the RAN to Japan to study Japanese in 1921, in part due to his own suggestion. In the city of Hakone near Mt  Fuji he immersed himself in Japanese life for two years. He obtained a deep understanding of the Japanese language, Japanese customs and bushido. He occasionally reported to the British Embassy in Tokyo where he readily passed examinations in Japanese and liaised with British Naval officers and civil servants who were later to become valuable and influential friends when he was in Britain.

After several years on the China Station with the RN, he contracted tropical sprue, a debilitating malabsorption state that necessitated his return to Australia in the early ’40s. But he had much more to offer. Initially this was with Frumel, the Fleet radio unit in Melbourne. Here he clashed with a difficult USN officer. That officer’s and the American mindset at the time, was actually typified in a statement attributed to General MacArthur in a discussion with Prime Minister Curtin that “the US building up forces in the Commonwealth is not so much from an interest in Australia but rather from its utility as a base from which to hit Japan”.

Nave worked with the Australian Army in Central Bureau in Brisbane from 1942-45, essentially operating as a member of MacArthur’s staff. He was then involved with the first Signals Intelligence Bureau and the development of the Defence Signals Organisation in Melbourne.

After finally leaving the RN in which his commission had been gazetted in London in 1930, 13 years after joining the RAN, Nave was involved in the very beginnings of ASIO. Nave was Head of Section C, responsible for the policies and standards of ASIO’s personal vetting. Accordingly, he had much to do with the security of both the first Royal Tour of Australia in 1954 and the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. He also became peripherally involved in the infamous Petrov affair during the Menzies era.

42 years service

After 42 years of Government service, Nave retired in 1959. But he still had much to offer. He went on to become the National President of the Naval Association. Here he was influential in the concept of Navy Week and Navy Day on October 4, the anniversary of the entry of the First Australian Fleet into Sydney Harbour in 1913.

So the book follows the career of an intelligent young man who joined the RAN in 1917 as a Midshipman Paymaster. The RAN almost missed him. He was initially informed that he had failed the RAN entrance exam in history, his strongest subject. But, after the timely intervention of an Australian Senator, at the request of Nave’s father, Nave was told the following day, he had passed the examination for entry to the RAN with access to a permanent commission.

The manuscript is rather technical in parts, regarding cryptography and signals. However this is all swept up within the background of the fascinating historical events of the ’30s and ’40s in South-East Asia and Australia’s war with Japan. All these events had great relevance to the subsequent destiny of Australia.