Memories of the early days of WW2 By John Philip Stevenson

When the War broke out I was on exchange with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean as a very lowly Midshipman.

We immediately sailed for our war station in Simonstown in South Africa. Our main task was to keep lookout for two German Battlecruisers, namely the Graf Sree and the Scheer which had sailed from Germany well before war broke out. It turned out to be mostly a long and boring search in the South Atlantic until Holland was overrun at which time we were ordered to take as prizes any Dutch ships encountered.

Some days later we sighted a large ship which turned out to be Dutch and we ordered it to heave to and await inspection. A prize crew of twenty sailors was formed and to my surprise, and some horror I was ordered to take charge. We were armed to the teeth and we went over the side to one of our large whalers and fortunately in fair weather climbed up the side of the Dutchman. As I clambered over the ships side I was greeted by a large Dutch captain who scowled and demanded what I was there for. I confirmed the fact that Holland was now overrun and that they were to be taken as a prize and taken into Dakar, and await further instructions. He was not happy but invited me to go below and have some breakfast. We sat down at a large table and were served greasy fried eggs and two glasses were placed in front of me, one filled with Dutch Gin and the other with red wine. He raised his glass and the toast and I replied:” Thank you but I do not drink” . He scowled and said:” You do now!”  I managed to get some of the red wine down but could not handle the Gin.

Four days later I turned him over to the harbour master in Dakar and went ashore to await the news of what was to become of me. Word came that in the next few days I would be picked up by HMS Shropshire’s seaplane and taken to Freetown. Finally, I rejoined Shropshire a few weeks later.


The search for the German cruisers intensified and we had word that it was likely that the Graf Spee was in the vicinity of the sea lanes off South America. We set off in that direction and shortly got word that she had been sighted and was being engaged by three British cruisers. We opened up to full speed and headed for them, fortunately, only about one hundred miles away. Two hours later we caught sight of the smoke and noise of battle but by the time we arrived the Graf Spee had withdrawn and had entered Montevideo harbour. Like any foreign warship they were only allowed 24 hours sanctuary and after that time, we saw her steaming out. We all went to action stations ready for the final battle, but she hove to and blew herself up, having taken all of the sailors off.


 We steamed in and went past the burning wreck and witnessed the final sinking, A few days later we were given permission for a 24 hour break into Montevideo. We had some leave and met some of the German sailors on shore. They were unhappy but pleasant enough, though sad that their Captain (Langsdorff) had committed suicide.

After the mandatory twenty four hours we sailed for the Falkland Islands where the largest of the three British ships (HMS Exeter) was being repaired as much as possible. We were ordered to escort her to England. Many days later, we left her at Plymouth and proceeded to Scapa Flow.

News had just come in that the Germans were about to invade Norway. We set out to sweep down the coast of Norway. Fortunately, we sighted no one and we returned to Scapa and thence to Liverpool. Here we were discharged (ashore) to attend our Sub Lieutenant courses in Portsmouth.

These lasted for three months – mostly under heavy bombing, and I was given the task of

manning a twelve pounder anti-aircraft gun with a very limited supply of ammunition. Fortunately, very few aircraft came low enough to take aim at and so I had ammunition enough to be useful and was sent off to the South coast, to prepare to repel the German invaders who were about to come ashore. If they had succeeded, we would not have lasted long. Fortunately Hitler changed his mind and went to Russia instead.

With courses completed, I joined the destroyer HMAS Nestor and that is another story.



HMAS Canberra and HMAS Shropshire  “ Never Say Die “ Address at Canberra Memorial – Lake Burley Griffin 7 August 2016 


By LCDR Desmond Woods, RANR

Karl von Clausewitz famously wrote that war is the realm of uncertainly. The lived experience of war at sea bears this out. Ships like people can be the Victims of Circumstances, not of their making.  So it is with the story of the RAN’s Heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra.

It can take many decades for the fog of war to be dispersed and the truth to become visible. When the survivors of Canberra arrived back in Sydney the ill informed told them that they should be ashamed because their ship had been shelled and lost without them having fired back. It was claimed that they were not were not battle ready. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

canberra at tulagi

CANBERRA at Tulagi

Listen to the eye witness account of Midshipman, later Commodore Bruce Loxton, RAN who was seriously wounded on the bridge of Canberra.  He robustly rebutted all claims that Canberra was not ready for action on the night she was lost.  He was an eye witness on the bridge and he wrote:

Ammunition and medical parties were standing by. In the boiler rooms all sprayers had been connected and were responding as the senior engineer opened the throttles. The engines had achieved the revolutions for 26 knots when all steam pressure disappeared.  All four 8- inch turrets were fully manned the guns loaded and all control personnel were at their stations.  The turrets were moving in unison as they sought their target.  Torpedo tube crews and searchlight control parties were standing by. In short before power was lost, Canberra was ready in all respects to go about the business of engaging the enemy. The ship was working up to full speed. All that was lacking was an aiming point before opening fire and a little more time, because, just as power was lost the gunnery director saw the first Japanese cruiser on the port beam.

canberra 8 in guns

CANBERRA’s 8 inch guns

As we know at that moment a torpedo slammed into Canberra’s starboard side. Where that torpedo originated from has been extensively written about over many decades and this is not the time or place for such a discussion.  What we do know is that three minutes after Captain Frank Getting took command of his bridge his ship was no longer answering her rudder and was unable to train or fire her main armament. She took on a 7 degree list to starboard as her boiler rooms flooded and she lost way.

Simultaneously Japanese float planes dropped brilliant flares which perfectly illuminated all the allied cruisers in what came to be known as Iron Bottom Sound.  In just two minutes twenty eight heavy calibre shells rained down on Canberra like a drumbeat and destroyed her as a fighting ship. Two salvos hit the bridge and killed or wounded the command team. The Executive Officer, Commander Walsh, was summoned to the bridge from his action station in the aft conning position. It was a scene of carnage. Captain Getting was clearly mortally wounded.  Before becoming unconscious he acknowledged his XO’s  presence and told him to “Carry On” and through the night Commander Walsh led the fight to save the ship.

A tremendous battle to control flooding and to put out fires with buckets and blankets ensued. There was no water main pressure because there was no power.

Fires on the upper deck were controlled but those between decks raged on unchecked.

Sailors threw ammunition over the side to ensure that it could not explode.  They flooded magazines before fire could reach them. The dead were brought onto the upper deck. The wounded were found and taken to the wardroom which was converted into an operating theatre, lit by paraffin lanterns, where the medical team treated shattered limbs and terrible burns.

Captain Frank Getting, was taken below to be attended to by the medical team. Eye witnesses said that he knew he could not survive his wounds and insisted, when conscious, that Surgeon Captain Downward  and his sick bay attendants leave him and work on his injured sailors who could be saved.  By dawn it became clear Getting’s life could not be saved and neither could that of his ship. They were both stricken and barely alive.  Canberra was beyond repair by the ship’s company and far from dockyard support.

She could not take her place in what remained of the fleet defending the Guadalcanal beachhead and the Marines transports.

 Canberra’s dead were committed to the deep from the quarterdeck and her wounded and exhausted survivors prepared to be taken off by the destroyer USS Patterson which came alongside and, at the insistence of Canberra’s men, started embarking the stretcher cases first, including the unconscious Frank Getting.

Writing later to Rear Admiral Crutchley, RN, the Commander of the Task Force, Patterson’s Captain, Commander Frank R Walker, USN, chose to pay this tribute to the steadiness of Canberra’s exhausted men:

 The Commanding Officer and entire ship’s company of the USS Patterson noted with admiration the calm, cheerful and courageous spirit displayed by officers and men of Canberra.  When Patterson left from alongside because of what was then believed to be an enemy ship close by there were no outcries or entreaties — rather a cheery ‘Carry on Patterson, good luck!’ — and prompt and efficient casting off of lines, brows etc. Not a man stepped out of line. The Patterson feels privileged to have served so gallant a crew.

This remarkable letter was a most gracious gesture from a Commanding Officer who had just lost 10 of his own men killed when his ship was raked by Japanese shells.

The destroyer USS Blue then came alongside and took off 343 survivors including 18 seriously wounded. Patterson returned to Canberra, as her CO Frank Walker promised she would, and took another 398 men to USS Barnett.

Captain Getting was operated on by American surgeons but died of his wounds on board USS Barnett on passage to Noumea.  He was buried at sea on 9 August.  Of the 819 serving in Canberra, 193 were casualties of whom, 84 were dead.

It took 263 rounds of 5 inch shell and two more torpedoes from US destroyers to sink the still burning, abandoned hulk that was Canberra.

This was a traumatic moment in the history of the RAN. This was the third Australian cruiser to be lost in war since December 1941; the light cruisers Sydney and Perth had been destroyed in battle and now the heavy cruiser Canberra was also gone.

In London PM Winston Churchill, on hearing the news of Canberra’s destruction, decided that Australia should be given a Royal Navy cruiser to replace Canberra.    He wrote privately to the First Sea Lord:   ‘the Australians have lost their 8 inch cruiser Canberra. It might have a lasting effect on Australian sentiment if we gave freely and outright to the Royal Australian Navy one of our similar ships. Please give your most sympathetic consideration to this project.’

HMS Shropshire, a County class heavy cruiser, a sister ship to Canberra, was chosen as the ship to be transferred. It was intended to change her name to Canberra. But before that announcement was made the USN announced that President Roosevelt had chosen to name the next Baltimore Class heavy cruiser to be launched USS Canberra.   This was the first and only time that an American warship has been named for a foreign warship. It was tribute and compliment to the courage shown by Canberra’s crew at Savo Island.

Canberra‘s battle scarred survivors came home to Australia to be treated and sent back to war. They were supplemented with new recruits and sent to Chatham dockyard in UK to pick up Shropshire and steam her back to the Pacific.   Captain John Collins and the ship’s company were pleased to get to sea as the Chatham dockyard was a target for regular Luftwaffe air raids and Shropshire’s anti-aircraft guns crews engaged the bombers night after night joining the Ack Ack defence of the naval town.   Her Gunnery Officer, CMDR Bracegirdle, wrote of Shropshire’s ship’s company:  The welding together of Canberra’s veterans and young sailors with keenness and the possibility of retaliation against the King’s enemies in the Pacific, was quite astounding. The ship was happy and efficient from the very first. A fine ship sailed into Sydney Harbour ready for battle and action.

shropshire crew


All on board were burning for a chance to hit back and avenge their lost comrades and to show what they could do in battle when they were able to train their turrets and fight.

Inside Shropshire‘s 8 inch gun turrets the crews stencilled the name CANBERRA so that no one would doubt what the guns crews were fighting for. This was now a very personal war.  They got their chance. Shropshire was in the thick of the fight for 18 months in 15 battles starting in the South West Pacific.  She provided deadly accurate bombardments destroying Japanese shore batteries for the Australian and American armies.

In the mid Pacific she closed up to action stations to fight off waves of kamikaze suicide attacks and shot down at least eleven aircraft. Twice this lucky ship avoided torpedoes that passed within feet of her bow and stern.   Her greatest chance to hit back at the Japanese fleet was at the Battle of Surigao Straits in the Philippines in October 1944.  Her target, along with other allied ships, was the powerful Japanese battleship Yamashiro. Shropshire’s gunners fired thirty-two broadsides, closing in to 12,700 yards to do so.

They achieved nineteen straddles and sixteen broadside hits – superb shooting by the standards of that era.   Shropshire‘s gun crews achieved their thirty two broadsides in fourteen minutes forty seconds – an amazing feat of strength and determination – worthy of highly trained athletes.   Yamashiro fired back and straddled Shropshire with massive 14 inch shells any one of which might have destroyed her.   The weary but jubilant gunners stopped firing to witness the sinking of the huge Yamashiro by USN ships and aircraft ably assisted by the Australian destroyer HMAS Arunta.   The 84 dead from Canberra and Captain Frank Getting were well and truly avenged.

shropshire bombardment

SHROPHIRE carrying out bombardment

In August 1945 Shropshire steamed into Yokohama Bay and witnessed the surrender of Japan to the Allies on board the USS Missouri. Then she carried home from Japan, sick and emaciated Australian and British Prisoners of War. They were some of the last survivors from Japanese slave mines and included RAN who had survived the sinking of HMAS Perth in Sunda Strait in 1942.

 Shropshire‘s was chosen to represent Australia and the RAN at Spithead and in in the London Victory March in 1946.  Among the men marching were Canberra survivors. It was a long way from the Ironbottom Sound.   It was very fitting that they should be given this high honour. They were representatives of all those RAN officers and sailors, living and dead, including their 84 lost shipmates, who had made victory a reality.   There has not been another RAN seagoing ship named HMAS Shropshire but her name lives on as a Training Ship for Australian Navy Cadets.

It lived on in the memories of men who took her to war and lives still in the annals of the RAN. These young men brought great glory on their ship, on their Navy and on their homeland. Shropshire was manned by many men who had endured horror, fear and what we now call battle shock, yet they came back from death and defeat at Savo Island fighting hard and in doing so earned a very personal Victory in the Pacific.

At this memorial we remember Canberra’s 84 dead every year. We remember that members of the Royal Navy serving in Canberra were among her dead.  And we remember all those USN who died defending the Marine Beachhead. When they sank USS Quincy lost 370 men, Astoria lost 219, and Vincennes lost 332. In total the United States Navy lost 1024 killed at Savo Island in cruisers and destroyers.

It learned the hard lessons of this battle.  Sun Tzu, the Chinese Military strategist wrote 2000 years ago: Do not presume that the enemy will not come – prepare to meet him.

That age old lesson was re learned and the USN, RN and RAN went on the offensive and went on to win the Pacific War and destroy the Imperial Japanese Navy just three years after the Battle for Guadalcanal was won.

The USS Canberra went to war in 1944 and was hit by an air torpedo off Formosa. Ten of her sailors were killed. We remember them too.

Next year it will be 75 years since the Battle of Savo Island. The number of veterans of the RAN and USN who were there is now small indeed.  We remember them all today with pride, respect and affection. We remember those who were lost with Canberra, whom we never knew, and those who survived to fight another day in Shropshire returned to Australia to lead their civilian lives.  

 Many of us gathered here knew those brave men well. I am very aware that some of the veterans gave this memorial address in years gone by. They were our fathers, grandfathers and RAN colleagues and our friends.  They were also lifelong members of the naval family and the Canberra-Shropshire Association.

Here at their memorial today the Last Post will sound for them all.


byTom de Voil, Nicholson VICDuchess%20at%20sea%20with%20Sydney

I was MEO of HMAS Duchess in 1972 and we were secured alongside in the Stores Basin in Singapore when it was similarly busy.  We decided to hold an Engineering Departmental banyan on Seletar Island that Saturday afternoon.  Seletar Island was an uninhabited island in Johore Strait a few kilometres east of the Naval Base, near RAF Seletar Base – a strip of sand with a few palm trees and a couple of basic structures.

We successfully ferried all the troops, victuals and BBQ using the ship’s tinny to the island.  It was a pleasant afternoon and as evening approached we started ferrying people and goods back.  On the second last trip the Chief Tiff took charge saying he would return for us in a few minutes.  There were about four of us who could not fit into the previous trip.

We waited, and waited and waited!

Finally, we hailed a passing canoe – one of those with a powerful engine on one end of a long boom balanced by the propeller on the other.  We sped off towards the Naval Base and soon, silhouetted by the setting sun we spied our tinny.  Ahead of it was a small blob in the water.  As we drew closer we were able to discern the head of our Chief Tiff, swimming towards shore with the boat’s painter in his mouth.  We pulled alongside, all piled in and found out that the outboard had jumped off the transom.  It was too heavy for him to recover.  We pulled up the floor boards and started paddling for home.

As we entered the Stores Basin “Sunset” was piped!  It seemed as if the eyes of every ship’s OOD and Bosun’s Mate were fixed on us (they probably were) and we had nowhere to hide.  So ended the Banyan.


The 1965 HMAS Yarra Mysterious Diver Incident

By Hector Donohue

The following description of a little known incident onboard Yarra during Confrontation is taken from the recently published book ‘United and Undaunted – the First 100 Years’, a history of Diving in the RAN 1911 – 2011, by EW Linton and HJ Donohue.

The Indonesia – Malaysia Confrontation (Konfrontasi) was fought from 1962 to 1966 between the British Commonwealth and Indonesia. Under President Sukarno, Indonesia sought to prevent the creation of the new Federation of Malaysia that emerged in 1963, whilst the British Commonwealth sought to safeguard the security of the new state. The conflict raged for more than two years along the borders between the two countries from Sebatik Island off the east coast of Sabah to Penang in the Malacca Strait. From Tanjong Datu at the western extremity of Sarawak to the Indian Ocean, this border was delineated on the sea.

Although Malaysia was a sovereign state, it was only months old at the time the Indonesians launched their attacks by land sea and air.  Since Britain, Australia and New Zealand had defence agreements with the new federation, and had established bases in both Malaya and Singapore, it was the British who provided the leadership and a significant proportion of the forces engaged in repelling the Indonesians. Australia also played its part, with the air base at RAAF Butterworth near Penang providing air defence and maritime surveillance and the Australian infantry battalion and SAS troop at Camp Terendak near Malacca eventually committed to the land fighting in Borneo. But from Day One it was the ships and men of the RAN who were in the front line. Naval commitments included the destroyers and frigates assigned to the Far East Strategic Reserve, visits by the carrier HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney on trooping voyages, but the major patrol and surveillance load fell on the small ships of the 16th Minesweeping Squadron.


The combined headquarters for Confrontation were established in Singapore, and command was delegated for all forces to the British Commander-in-Chief Far East.  All RN, RAN and RNZN ships and personnel were under the operational command of the Commander Far East Fleet (COMFEF), with his headquarters in the extensive naval base on the northern coast of Singapore Island, reached via the Johore Strait. At one point, COMFEF had more than 80 ships under his command, ranging from aircraft carriers to patrol boats and submarines.

The comparative ease with which Indonesian infiltrators could, potentially, enter Singapore across the narrow Singapore Strait from the Indonesian Riau Archipelago, together with the existence of active anti-British and anti-Malaysian elements in the city, meant that the threat of attack on ships in the Naval Base and those moored in Johore Strait was commensurately high. While the landward approaches were secured and the water boundaries patrolled, assault by underwater swimmer was always possible. Under these circumstances, Commonwealth ships took precautionary measures – Operation Awkward, and the RAN deployed for the first time its Mobile Clearance Diving Team (MCDT) to Singapore.

Generally there was at least one clearance diver onboard each of the major fleet units deployed to Southeast Asia during the period. While the ships divers could undertake ships bottom searches, the CD was there to deal with anything found and provide experienced diving support. The RAN MCDT embarked in HMAS Melbourne in February 1965 to join with the RN’s Far East Diving Team, to assist in providing a ready reaction diving capability which might be required from RN or RAN units operating in the region.

On arrival, the integration of the RAN team with the British was accomplished quickly and with little difficulty, as both used similar methods and techniques. Located in the Naval Base, the combined group formed two teams to operate as directed by COMFEF. Principally, they maintained the capability of responding to underwater incidents in the vicinity of the base which were beyond the capabilities and experience of ships’ divers, such as the discovery of ordnance attached to hulls.

There was, however, a more serious incident in the frigate HMAS Yarra on the night of 4 June 1965 whilst berthed in the Stores Basin at the Naval Base. It was described as ‘the extraordinary affair of the missing diver’ in the frigate’s Report of Proceedings for that month. At the time Captain B H Loxton was in command with Lieutenant Commander J H Snow, the Executive Officer.

Yarra 3B

HMAS Yarra

Yarra had closed up in modified Awkward State 3 at 1800 in accordance with the current practice and around 2100 the after sentry sighted bubbles aft. He reported to the Officer of the Day and a check was made of all underwater discharges which found that the bubbles did not emanate from the ship, and it was concluded the bubbles were from a diver using compressed air breathing apparatus. (Later that night a trial was carried out with a ships diver producing exactly the same effect.) At 2115, the forward sentry saw bubbles abreast the bridge. Grenades and scare charges were dropped at each of the forward and after areas and the bubbles ceased. The ship went to the highest state of watertight integrity and ships divers conducted a bottom search, but nothing was found.

The next morning the ship’s divers conducted a follow-up bottom search and on completion, two of the ships divers, EM C S Harkennes and ORD QMG D M Bowman, were instructed to carry out a sweep of the sea bed under the ship. At 0720 they surfaced and reported sighting the body of a diver dressed conventionally in a diving suit, face mask and underwater breathing apparatus. The body was resting on the bottom in a crouched-over position. No sign of life was evident. Bowman later said he thought there might have been a large explosive charge in the vicinity of the body. The ship then prepared to move with the aid of a tug.  Some 20 minutes later divers re-entered the water in an effort to re-locate the body, but the tug closed the ship stirring up the water, and nothing was found.

The Royal Navy’s Far East Fleet Clearance Diving Team then took over the task. Despite three hours of searching they encountered nothing unusual. In the absence of anything being found, it was decided not to move the ship. One explanation for the absence of the body was the possibility that it had been propelled from under the ship into the Johor Strait after a tug sent to assist the relocation of Yarra used a ‘large amount of engine power’ in the adjacent water.

Meanwhile, both of the divers who had seen the body were closely questioned by the Diving Officer (Sub Lieutenant Don Chalmers) to confirm their initial report. Harkennes’s observations of the body over 90 seconds from about a metre away included a full description of the foreign diver’s dress and equipment. When asked was he certain he saw a dead human with diving gear he responded:

I am sure I saw a person with diving gear on; whether he was lying ‘doggo’ or dead I’m not certain, but it was definitely a human being. I came to the conclusion that he was dead because there was absolutely no movement and no bubbles.

Yarra in its signalled report immediately after the incident concluded that ‘After intensive investigation of my divers I consider they sighted a diver beneath Yarra and that diver was not of friendly origin’. Following a review of Yarra’s report on the incident in Navy Office, Commander MS Batterham (the RAN’s then diving expert) concluded that there was little doubt that the body of a diver was indeed sighted and in addition to the description of the equipment, the body in a sitting position fits with a still unexplained phenomena that in most underwater deaths the corpse assumes this rather lifelike attitude.

Intelligence advice issued in October 1964 included the warning: ‘It is known that an underwater sabotage frogman threat exists and that the Indonesians may demonstrate their capability shortly’. Thereafter the threat of underwater attack was considered to be real and preventative measures were taken seriously. From all the evidence available and particularly the statements from the divers, it would appear that there had been a diver under Yarra that evening, but in the absence of a body the identity could not be established. Needless to say, the two divers were unsettled by their experience.


By Richard Francis

 Today I managed to score an unexpected conducted tour of one of the RAN’s latest Collins Class submarines, HMAS Sheean, alongside the dedicated submarine berth at West Wall in Fleet Base East.

On first appearance the black, sleek submarine hull seems small but sinister. On boarding and being greeted by a smart and attentive quartermaster guarding the ship-to-shore brow access, the casing appears bereft of any fittings other than the canvas-shrouded sonar transducer right forward. A screen door provides access to the conning tower, which provides (actually) a streamlined housing for the suite of periscopes, snort and assorted masts, and atop the fin is a minscule bridge or conning platform with barely room for 4 men. Access to the interior is via either the forward or after hatch, although there is provision for other accesses such as the weapons loading hatch forward.

Descending carefully down the hatch though the upper casing, which floods on diving, one reaches the first of three decks, comprising the pressure hull, which is circular in cross-section and much wider than the upper casing would suggest. Space is at a premium and the passageways are very narrow, crammed with technical equipment at every bend and corner. The top deck comprises the senior sailors’ and officers’ cabin space and recreation messes. Further aft is the control room, the nerve centre of the vessel, much the same as in earlier submarines. Apart from the periscopes, the control room resembles similar operations rooms in surface ships, except that the banks of screens and arrays seem more densely packed around the bulkheads and deckhead. Everything is clean and efficient presentation. One apparent anomaly was the standard 35mm camera attached to the periscope for recording purposes. This will be replaced by a digital camera in due course. Surpringly, our guide was also the able seaman cook, a definite character with unbelievable knowledge of the submarine’s multifarious systems and equipment.

The (middle) deck below houses the crew’s bunk spaces, recreation messes, weapons space forward, galley and cafeteria, with machinery spaces right aft. The electric galley is compact with full range, but no deep fryer (as fitted in USN boats) for sensible safety reasons. Cold rooms, cool rooms and fridges are all adjacent. One setback encountered has been the risk of contamination of the fresh drinking water system which has imposed the alternative provision of spring water casks everywhere (embarked by hand daily in port), although the existing reverse osmosis FW system can still be used for washing and showering. The cook says he showers every day for hygiene needs but the remainder of the crew tend to routinely wash every third or fourth day from personal choice. This boat has an all-male crew – there are not enough trained female submariners to extend to all six boats. We are told that all men together provides happy, high morale, harmony and professional dedicated enthusiasm. (..and it shows..) There are bunks available for all normal 45 complement crew, and spare bunks for supernumeries and trainees, for a maximum of 55 souls onboard.

The weapons bay forward (fore ends) is surprisingly spacious, with the six torpedo tubes horizontal across the bow, with warshot reloads in racks and provision for alternative weapons such as Sub Harpoon and ground mines. Also in this space the crew stow their personal gear and sports equipment, even gym apparatus. Along all passageways are valises containing emergency escape breathing equipment for the entire crew. Two separate escape hatches are fitted, together with two small inflatable liferafts (left over from delivery days) and portable damage control and firefighting  gear in dedicated lockers. Comprehensive firefighting drench systems are also fitted throughout the boat.

NIUW8065726_050317_093_018.tifThe lower compartments comprise storerooms and stowage spaces, tanks, fuel , water and ballast. The machinery spaces are relatively spacious and very clean, with small compartments provided for tiny workshops and control positions. After an hour’s tour my mind was overflowing with facts, figures, demonstrations, explanations and solid good humour. These submariners are truly professional in training and outlook, and are all volunteers. They have to be – it is a very demanding life with few tangible rewards other than good food and generous submarine pay. Or do they? While in port, despite austerity accommodation and facilities provided in an adjacent building on the wharf, when not on duty the crew were being accommodated in the swank Boulevard Hotel ashore in downtown Sydney. (I wonder what the tourists made of these earnest young chaps clad in sinister black coveralls, with a submariner’s dolphin emblem on their baseball cap??!)

Well, well! What have we got here?

 (This piece of whimsy was first published in NOCN 85, 1 June 2011, in a shorter version. This presentation contains material omitted from the Newsletter one for reasons of space, and in fact includes all the material received without omission.)

Very occasionally, something drops into the Naval Officers Club Newsletter’s editorial inbox that has its owner scratching his head. The collection of five pictures with this article constitute one such item. They show five views of what is apparently the same vessel from different angles; accompanied by English-language text which essentially says “This is the next Chinese aircraft carrier, of which three are now building.” (The full text, as received, is reproduced below the pictures; and it should be mentioned that the Newsletter’s assessment of the vessel based on what the pictures show doesn’t always agree with the assessment contained in the incoming text.)  The text came with no details or dimensions of the vessel, no authentication, and the website was unidentified.

The sender, a Club member who prefers to remain nameless (but whose identity is known to the Newsletter), received it from a mate in UK who found it accidentally on the net and didn’t record the site. We prowled round the two websites identifiable on the image. Nothing nautical or military was found (though one site led us to several photographs of a young lady in a swimsuit doing things with a chair). A search through  various Google and Wiki options provided plenty information on the Chinese aircraft carrier – but not this one.

The carrier everyone knows about is the former Kiev-Class, Varyag, bought unfinished by China from the Ukraine for $20m in 1988. That vessel is allegedly now very close to completion, named, slightly ominously, Shi Lang after the Chinese admiral who subdued Taiwan in the 17th century.

The aircraft carrier in the images is definitely not Varyag: it is a catamaran, has ram bows, no angled deck or ski jump, and considerable superstructure on the centreline which includes two separate islands – but how functions are spread between them is anybody’s guess.

There are two full-length runways on the outboard sides of the hulls, with a deck-park outboard of either runway for about half the ship’s length. The two inboard runways appear not to be full length. There is an area without markings in the middle of each, which may be a lift or lifts. Each inboard runway has two catapults: one fires forward; the other fires aft; jet blast deflectors in place confirm this. A variety of aircraft types are shown, but none were recognisable to the Newsletter. They inlude apparent interceptors and strike aircraft, two types of helos, and a big  four-engined AWACS.

The two hulls extend further aft below flight deck level to provide helo landing spots with roll-in access to the hangars.

Our Aviation Correspondent has reviewed the images. He says the catamaran approach may be an option for future aircraft carriers, but it won’t be this one. He was scathing about the vast amount of superstructure for practically the full length of the ship, and adamant that the aft-firing catapults are a sure sign that the designer knows nothing about naval aviation.

Comments are invited from readers on what to make of this vessel. Let us know what you think by email to The Newsletter’s current assessment is that the images come from a very creative person – or possibly a very creative team – that makes computer games.


The above pictures were received accompanied by the following text, reproduced verbatim and laid out exactly as it was received.

 Pictures of the new Chinese aircraft carriers. The catamaran design is very advanced!

 “As of 2008, Russia was believed to have been providing assistance for several years in the construction of three Chinese-designed aircraft carriers. Some analysts have thus predicted that China could have an operational carrier by 2015, while others have considered 2020 to be a more realistic time frame. No confirmed work on any shipbuilding project of any size had been observed or reported as of the end of 2008.” – from a US source.

They are currently refurbishing the Varyag, sold by Ukraine to China and is under completion in Dalian, North East China. The Varyag is a brand new, uncompleted vessel of the Soviet Union era, built by a shipyard in the Black Sea, Ukraine. The Varyag was without an engine when sold. As you have pointed out, the Varyag may be a ruse or red herring to draw the attention away from the construction of the three carriers, until the day the Chinese is ready to launch the ships!!!

The catamaran design of the Chinese carrier looks formidable and ultra-modern, provides four runways for takeoffs, two each side plus two landing runways at the front of the carrier. This has done away with the angle-deck in the old design. The catamaran or double hull provides more stability than the conventional single hull, and increases the usable deck area very considerably. The Chinese design appears more advanced and increases it “fighting capabilities” than the Orthodox model used by Western navies. I read somewhere that the Chinese navy spent more than 10 years studying the design of aircraft carriers, and now they have finally embarked on actually building their carriers.

Western intelligence thinks that China’s initial carriers are mediun size vessels, and smaller than the US nuclear powered carriers. The Chinese carrier’s deck appears much broader and may even be longer too. Let’s watch for the real vessel.

These aircraft carriers look formidable and of ultra modern design. There are reports the 1st Chinese aircraft carrier is under construction and could enter service around 2015 or earlier. It won’t be long we see the real thing. Defence analysts are waiting, watching anxiously.

I was told by a reliable source in Vancouver that at least three of the new carriers are being built. One for the Yellow Sea Command based in Quindao and one for the South China Sea Command based in Hainan, and one as a roving ambassador to show the flag around the world like what Admiral Cheng Ho did a few centuries ago. The Chinese are working 24/7/365 to get them ready. The old wreck they bought from Ukraine some years back are just for show and only serves as a ruse. As an old Chinese saying goes: ” They hang out a goat’s head but actually they are selling dog’s meat behind the counter! ” The catamaran hull design is certainly ultra modern and unconventional.


Submarine aircraft carriers

Submarine aircraft carriers

by Fred Lane

There has been a recent upsurge in interest, mainly on the internet and in journal articles, about submarine aircraft carriers. Most of these involve the giant Japanese I-400 class but they tend to neglect earlier attempts, going back to 1915, when a German submarine became the first to launch a seaplane on a bombing mission.


The Japanese Sen-Toku I 400 class submarines were the most capable submarine aircraft carriers ever built. They displaced 5223/6560 tons surfaced/submerged on a 122 x 12 x 7 metres (400 x 39 x 23 feet) hull. Propulsion was four 3000 hp diesels, giving 18.75 knots on the surface, while two 1200 hp electric motors could drive the boat at 6.5 knots submerged. They could carry three Aichi M6A1 Seiran seaplanes and were armed with eight 533 mm (for Type 95 modified Long Lance) torpedo tubes forward, one 140 mm (6.5 inch) gun aft and three triple-barrel 25 mm machine cannon plus one single .25 mm cannon. The aircraft loaded directly from the hangar onto a 37 metres (120 feet) long catapult. Complement varied between 144 and 220.


First wartime use: 1915

The German U-12 sailed from Zeebrugge, Belgium, on 15 January 1915 with a Friedrichshafen FF-29 seaplane armed with small bombs lashed down on its foredeck. They intended to close the English coast before launching the aircraft but the swell was too steep to ensure safe passage of the delicate aircraft. U-12 submerged shortly after leaving harbour, allowing the aircraft to float off and fly away. The FF-29 reached the English coast and returned safely to Zeebrugge without suffering or inflicting notable damage.

Other experiments were conducted by both sides. For example, on 24 April 1916, in an attempt to intercept raiding Zeppelins, the British submarine E-22 carried a couple of small Sopwith Schneider Scout seaplanes out to sea on the after-casing, then submerged to allow them to fly off. The seaplanes returned to Felixstowe after their launch but the E-22 was torpedoed the next day by a German submarine and the experiment was never replicated.


In 1916 the German U-12 carries a fragile Friedrichshafen FF-29 seaplane on its forward casing.

Limited all-weather application

This method of lashing an unprotected seaplane onto a submarine’s casing continued until at least the1930s, when the Dutch submarine K-15; performed the trick of flooding the forward ballast tanks until the deck was awash, then loading and getting under way with a Fokker C-VII-W seaplane tied down on her foredeck. Of course, dead calm seas are required for such an evolution.


The Dutch replicated the German 1916 experiment in the 1930s with this Fokker C-VII-W seaplane.

All these exercises aimed to help increase an aircraft’s range or extend the submarine’s scouting horizon, but they compromised one of the submarine’s greatest assets: the ability to submerge in an emergency. With an aircraft tied to its casing, this was grossly impaired. Logically, a number of attempts followed, chiefly by mounting a large submersible hangar on a submarine, while parallel development continued to construct a fold-up seaplane with good range, endurance and payload. Many navies experimented with different submarine and aircraft capabilities in the 1920s and 1930s. The USN, for instance, built a watertight aircraft hangar abaft the conning tower of their submarine S-1. This housed a tiny Martin MS-1, which was derived from a German WW I-era design.

British M-2

One (then) big British submarine, the M-2 (90.1 metres long, 1620 tons surfaced) was launched in 1917 with an enormous 12-inch (305 mm) gun but this submarine gun size was subsequently outlawed by the 1922 Washington Treaty. Around 1927, an aircraft hangar, a hydraulic catapult and a small Parnall Peto two-place reconnaissance seaplane re[laced the gun. The concept was proven, but it was a cumbersome arrangement. The delicate aircraft was easily damaged, and so was the hangar door seal. Additionally, the aircraft launch and recovery process was slow, requiring the submarine to remain on the surface for extended periods.

The big British M-2 submarine launches a Parnell Peto seaplane from its catapult.

M-2 foundered with all hands in 1932 and divers subsequently found its hangar door open with the aircraft inside. It was assumed that either the aft dive planes malfunctioned or the hangar was swamped, perhaps by a rogue wave, as an overeager crew opened the hangar door.

The Americans also experimented with the aircraft-carrying submarine concept.
S-1 carried a tiny Martin MS-1 in 1923.

French Surcouf

The French Surcouf commissioned in 1934 as the biggest submarine in the world. Measuring 110 metres (361 feet) long, Surcouf displaced 3304 tons (surfaced) and 4218 tons (submerged). The submarine combined both British M class initiatives by mounting two large eight-inch (203 mm) guns forward of the conning tower and incorporating a water-tight hangar aft that initially housed a two-seat Besson MB411 spotter/reconnaissance sea-plane. The spotter was desirable because the guns had a 24-mile range while the submarine’s rangefinder was only good for 6.8 miles. Surcouf sank with all hands in the Caribbean after a probable collision with a merchant ship in 1942.


The French Surcouf carrried twin eight-inch guns and a Besan411B spotter-reconnaissance seaplane.

The Italians also dabbled in the submarine aircraft carrier field in the 1920s, constructing a hangar in the submarine Ettore Fieramosca. A number of aircraft were constructed to fit this hangar, but they employed none operationally.

Japanese successes

The Japanese, meanwhile, persevered with productive research into the submarine aircraft carrier concept. Experiments began as early as 1923 with a small Heinkel seaplane. By 1935 the locally-built Watanabe E9W1 “Slim” aircraft had joined the submarine force. From 1941 onwards, a much improved Yokosuka E14Y1 “Glen” seaplane was frequently carried by the 44 submarines built for this purpose. It was a Glen from the Type B1 submarine I-25 that scouted Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart in February and March, 1942.

The aircraft type most carried by submarines in WW II was the Japanese Yokosuka E14Y1 “Glen” seaplane. These aircraft performed valuable reconnaissance duties.

Japanese wartime research culminated in the deployment of three big Sen-Toku I-400 class submarines, the type that arouses most interest in recent submarine aircraft carrier discussion. It was planned to build 18 of these monsters in 1942 but by 1943 this number was reduced to five and only three were completed. They were the largest of all submarines until nuclear-powered craft appeared in the 1960s. Importantly, two of the I-400s could carry three Aichi M6A1 Seiran seaplanes each, plus spares, aircraft ordnance and aircraft stores.

Advanced design

These Seirans were not the simple reconnaissance or spotter types carried in earlier submarines, but high performance aircraft designed to penetrate a defended war zone to deliver a useful load of torpedoes or bombs. Intending to attack the Panama Canal’s Gatun Locks from the east, the Seirans practised with targets constructed ashore in Toyama Bay. For the submarines, the Gatun Locks raid involved a non-stop transit from Japan, around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Atlantic. The I-400s had an amazing maximum range of 37,500 miles at 14 knots.


The Aichi M6A1 Seiran was unknown to Allied intelligence until after WW II. It had a crew of two and an empty weight of 3301 kg (7277 pounds). It could carry one torpedo or 1800 pounds of bombs over 642 miles. Its inverted V 12-cylinder engine developed 1400 hp. Seirans could fly at a handy 256 knots and they had a service ceiling of 32,000 feet. A total of 28 were constructed, but only one survives, housed in the Udvar-Hazy Centre, near Dulles airport, VA.

They also had a 98-foot (30 metres) catapult that could launch a heavily-laden Seiran. In the hangar, with the aircraft’s wings folded back, the floats detached and the elevators, fin and rudder folded down, the whole aircraft maintained a cross-section no greater than the aircraft propeller. The seaplane’s floats could carry extra fuel and be jettisoned, if necessary. It was claimed that a worked up crew of four could range, rig, fuel, arm and launch the first aircraft within seven minutes, and all three Seirans in about 45 minutes after surfacing. In a calm sea, the aircraft might be recovered and stowed from alongside using the ship’s folding hydraulic crane in about the same time, but not all Seirans were expected to return from high value sorties, such as the Gatun Locks raid. Instead, after using the fuel stowed in them, the floats could be jettisoned before the aircraft reached a highly defended zone.

Unique construction

These big submarines had a number of unusual construction features, apart from their huge size. The hull was essentially a pair of cylinders lain side by side. The pressure hull’s midships cross section was a figure eight but this tapered to a single cylinder aft and a vertical figure eight forward to accommodate the craft’s eight torpedo tubes in two compartments, one above the other. There was also a separate aircraft engine overhaul and test bed under the hangar.

One report said that underwater steering was difficult at slow speeds. This seems logical, given that the conning tower was offset two metres to port and the aircraft hangar, with its large frontal area, was offset to starboard. As may be expected from such a large submarine, it also tended to take more time than more nimble vessels to submerge.


The four diesel engines produced a total 7,700 hp but their arrangement was unique in the Japanese navy. Two diesels were coupled in pairs to each propeller shaft, which could also be powered by a 1200 hp electric motor when submerged. A rudimentary snorkel was added during construction, permitting limited underwater cruising on the diesel engines.

Starting with the Friedrichshafen FF-29 in 1915, the submarine aircraft carrier development concept executed a full cycle, from bombers through fighters and scouts and back to bombers. Nowadays, the I-400’s role has been usurped by missile-firing submarines.