The Bathurst class corvettes were a class of general purpose vessels produced in Australia during World War II. Originally classified as minesweepers, but widely referred to as corvettes, the Bathurst class vessels fulfilled a broad anti-submarine, anti-mine, and convoy escort role.
Sixty Bathurst class corvettes were built in eight Australian shipyards to an Australian design. 36 were constructed for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), while 20 were built on British Admiralty orders but manned and commissioned by the RAN, and 4 served in the Royal Indian Navy. Three more were ordered for construction in India, but were cancelled. Although designed for the anti- submarine and anti-mine role, the Bathursts operated as "maids-of-all-work" during the war; serving as troop and supply transports, supporting amphibious landings, providing air defence for convoys and disabled ships, participating in shore bombardments, and undertaking hydrographic surveys.
Three ships were lost during the war—one to Japanese air attack and two to collisions with friendly merchant ships—while a fourth struck a friendly mine while sweeping the Great Barrier Reef in 1947 and sank.
HMAS Whyalla (I) was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers (commonly known as corvettes) built during World War II in Australian shipyards as part of the Commonwealth Government's wartime shipbuilding programme. Twenty (including Whyalla (I)) were built on Admiralty order but manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty-six were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.
Whyalla (I) commissioned at Whyalla on 8 January 1942 under the command of LEUT Leslie N. Morison RANR(S).
Following commissioning and a work up period, Whyalla (I) went into service on escort and patrol duty on the Australian east coast. She was in Sydney Harbour on the night of 31 May / 1 June 1942 when the Japanese midget submarine attack took place and was one of a number of ships allocated as escorts when Australian coastal convoys were instituted on 8 June 1942. On 12 June 1942, with the United States destroyer USS Perkins, she was escorting a convoy of eight ships bound from Newcastle to Melbourne when the straggling Panamanian ship Guatemala was torpedoed and sunk. Whyalla (I) continued east coast coastal convoy escort duty until December 1942. No further losses were suffered by any of the convoys of which she was one of the escorting units. In December 1942 Whyalla (I) proceeded to New Guinea where she took part in the operations leading to the capture of Buna at the end of the year. In 1943 she continued operations in the New Guinea theatre, operating as a survey ship. On 2 January 1943, in McLaren Harbour, Cape Nelson, New Guinea, Whyalla (I) and the small survey vessels HMA Ships Wareen (I) (Stella) and Polaris (I) were attacked by six dive bombers escorted by twelve fighters. All bombs missed their targets and except for minor damage from near misses and two sailors wounded by splinters, Whyalla (I) escaped unscathed.
Whyalla (I) continued the hazardous work of surveying the inadequately charted New Guinea waters until the end of April 1943, when she was relieved by HMAS Shepparton (I). She was at anchor in Milne Bay on 14 April when assembled shipping was attacked by forty to fifty bombers and about sixty fighters. Again the ship escaped serious damage but other vessels were not so fortunate. The Dutch merchant ship Van Heemskerk was a total loss. Whyalla (I) and her sister ships HMA Ships Kapunda (I) and Wagga (I) drew praise from the Naval Officer-in-Command ashore for their rescue and salvage work, remarking that 'we were indeed fortunate to have the assistance of the three corvettes.' In June 1943 Whyalla (I) returned to Australia for a major refit and was then reallocated for east coast convoy escort duty. She was engaged constantly on this service until February 1944, followed by a period on Sandy Cape anti-submarine patrol interspersed with escort duty, before further service in New Guinea waters from June 1944. In December 1944 she was attached to the British Pacific Fleet as a unit of the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla, consisting of nine Australian minesweepers.
In 1945 until the end of hostilities Whyalla (I) served on escort and anti-submarine patrol duty. During the period of March to May 1945 she escorted shipping between Manus and the Philippines
before returning to Australia for refit in June. This period included participation in the operations for the capture of Okinawa (March to May). The ship proceeded to Manus on 2 July 1945 for further escort service to the forward areas. In the immediate post war period the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla proceeded to Hong Kong. Whyalla (I), however, served only briefly in Chinese waters. In October she returned to Australia having steamed some 111,000 miles on war service. Whyalla (I) paid off at Brisbane on 16 May 1946. On 10 February 1947 Whyalla (I) was sold to the Victorian Public Works Department. On 8 November 1947 the tug HMAS Reserve departed Brisbane for Melbourne with Whyalla (I) in tow. The vessels arrived at Melbourne on 14 November. Whyalla (I) was handed over to her new owner and renamed RIP, being employed as a lights maintenance vessel.
She ceased service as RIP in 1984. When the Whyalla City Council became aware that the ship was to sold as scrap, successful negotiations resulted in the Council purchasing her for $5,000. She returned to Whyalla under her own power later in 1984. Between February and April 1987, Whyalla (I) was slowly moved up the slipway from which she was launched in 1941, and then relocated two kilometres inland and placed on permanent foundations, becoming the centrepiece for the Whyalla Maritime Museum which was officially opened on 29 October 1988. em>Whyalla (I) is one of only two Bathurst Class preserved as museum ships, the other being HMAS Castlemaine in Williamstown, Victoria.
SHEEAN, Edward 'Teddy' (1923-1942), sailor, was born on 28 December 1923 at Lower Barrington, Tasmania, fourteenth child of James Sheean, labourer, and his wife Mary Jane, née Broomhall, both Tasmanian born. Soon afterwards the family moved to Latrobe. Teddy was educated at the local Catholic school. Five ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall and well built, he took casual work on farms between Latrobe and Merseylea. In Hobart on 21 April 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve as an ordinary seaman, following in the steps of five of his brothers who had joined the armed forces (four of them were in the army and one in the navy). On completing his initial training, he was sent to Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria, in February 1942 for further instruction.
In May Sheean was posted to Sydney where he was billeted at Garden Island in the requisitioned ferry Kuttabul, prior to joining his first ship as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun-loader. Granted home leave, he was not on board Kuttabul when Japanese midget submarines raided the harbour and sank her on 31 May. Eleven days later he returned to Sydney to help commission the new corvette HMAS Armidale, which carried out escort duties along the eastern Australian coast and in New Guinea waters. Ordered to sail for Darwin in October, Armidale arrived there early next month.
On 29 November Armidale sailed for Japanese-occupied Timor—in company with the corvette HMAS Castlemaine—to withdraw the exhausted Australian 2nd/2nd Independent Company, evacuate about 150 Portuguese civilians and 190 Dutch troops, and land soldiers to reinforce Dutch guerrillas on the island. Arriving off Betano before dawn on 1 December, the ships rendezvoused with the naval tender HMAS Kuru, which had already taken the civilians on board. When these people were transferred to Castlemaine, she sailed for Darwin, leaving the other two vessels to carry out the rest of the operation. From 12.28 p.m. Armidale and Kuru came under repeated attack from Japanese aircraft. Despite requests, no air cover was received.
Shortly before 2 p.m. on 1 December 1942 Armidale, by then separated from Kuru, was attacked by no less than thirteen aircraft. The corvette manoeuvred frantically. At 3.15 a torpedo struck her port side and another hit the engineering spaces; finally a bomb struck aft. As the vessel listed heavily to port, the order was given to abandon ship. The survivors leapt into the sea and were machine- gunned by the Japanese. Once he had helped to free a life-raft, Sheean scrambled back to his gun on the sinking ship. Although wounded in the chest and back, the 18-year-old sailor shot down one bomber and kept other aircraft away from his comrades in the water. He was seen still firing his gun as Armidale slipped below the waves. Only forty-nine of the 149 souls who had been on board survived the sinking and the ensuing days in life-rafts.
Sheean was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery. A Collins-class submarine, launched in 1999, was named after him—the only ship in the RAN to bear the name of an ordinary seaman.
Wrench, Alfred James (1904-1987), seaman, was born on 4 May 1904 at Airly, in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales. He was the son of George Wrench, a miner, and his wife Anna Knight.
Wrench joined the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) as a Stoker 2nd Class in July 1926. He completed marine technical training at HMAS Cerberus and the fleet repair ship HMAS Platypus, before being deployed as a qualified Stoker on the cruiser, HMAS Melbourne. His early career was typical of many technical sailors during the Inter-War period: he gained his auxiliary watchkeeping certificate in 1929, stokehold watchkeeping certificate in 1936, and oil fuel and internal combustion engine certificates in 1938. With a very good character and superior technical ability, Wrench was promoted Leading Stoker in 1933 and then Stoker Petty Officer in 1936. He married Madge Marion Harris on 2 July 1932 at St Mary's Cathedral, Hobart.
At the outbreak of World War II, in September 1939, Wrench had the technical and leadership skills that the RAN required. He was posted to the old destroyer HMAS Waterhen and travelled with her to join the British Mediterranean Fleet. Wrench served in the Mediterranean for the first two years of the war. He was promoted to Chief Stoker in October 1940, the highest non-commissioned rank in his branch at that time, and transferred to HMAS Vampire. He participated in the Greece and Crete operations, the Malta convoys, and the 'Tobruk ferry' which supplied the Australian garrison at Tobruk. Wrench later received a mentioned-in-dispatches for 'outstanding zeal, patience, and cheerfulness and for setting an example of whole-hearted devotion to duty' during his Mediterranean service on Vampire.
The destroyer Vampire, with Wrench onboard, was sent to Singapore for refit in May 1941. When Japan entered the war Vampire was once again in the thick of the fighting. Throughout March 1942 Vampire operated with the small carrier HMS Hermes in the Indian Ocean. On 9 April 1942, however, both ships were sunk by a ferocious Japanese air attack while off the coast of Ceylon. Despite determined resistance, at least 13 bombs hit Vampire and she sank within minutes. During this action, Wrench had been the senior hand of the starboard pompom, which had a stoker's gun crew. Once again he was mentioned-in-dispatches, for 'he showed coolness and courage throughout the action and kept his gun firing until the crew was finally washed from the platform.'
After returning to Australia, Wrench joined the corvette HMAS Armidale operating out of Darwin. He was fortunate to have left the ship before Armidale was lost to Japanese aircraft off Timor on 1 December 1942. His next seagoing service was in the frigate HMAS Gascoyne, which operated as a survey vessel in support of the US Navy's Seventh Amphibious Force during its advance across New Guinea into the Philippines from 1943 to 1945. Once more in the heat of the action, Wrench took part in the battle off Guiuan during the Leyte Gulf operations on Christmas Eve 1944. The Dutch transport MV Sommelsdijk, lying nearby Gascoyne, was hit and set on fire by a Japanese aerial torpedo. Some 1300 US troops were rescued from the burning ship; subsequently volunteers from Gascoyne and the USS Buttonwood controlled the damage onboard the Sommelsdijk until the flames were successfully extinguished. Wrench spent the entire night of 25/26 December 1944 fighting these serious fires in the Number One and Two Holds of the Sommelsdijk. He 'supervised the work of all equipment and men and assisted in the inspection of the still smouldering holds when the fires were coming under control', receiving the British Empire Medal for his courage, leadership and devotion to duty.He was proud to be selected as one of the small number of men representing the RAN at the Victory Parade in London held on 8 June 1946.
After 22 years of distinguished service in the RAN, Alfred Wrench was demobilised on 1 July 1948, although he continued to employ his technical skills in the commercial environment. He died on 30 November 1987 at Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, Sydney. His wife and their son and daughter survived him.
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