- Swinden, Greg
- Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- 817 Squadron, HMAS Kanimbla II, HMAS Tobruk II, HMAS Manoora II
- March 2012 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Originally categorised as THSS (Training and Helicopter Support Ships) they both operated in US waters and then off the east coast of Australia. In 1996 both ships were docked at Forgacs Dockyard, in Newcastle, for extensive repairs and conversion into LPA’s. The ships underwent a major transformation with the most noticeable changes being the removal of the bow horns, welding up the bow door and the addition of an aviation hangar and the Primary Casualty Receiving Facility (PCRF) or hospital. Above 1 Deck the ships looked brand new but below decks and especially in the engineering spaces they were still 1960’s vintage ships and remained so for all their working lives.
The Landing Ship Heavy HMAS Tobruk was planned to be decommissioned in 1996 and at one point was to be sold to the Portuguese Navy but this was halted and she remained in service. The LPA’s finally emerged from Forgacs Dockyard in 2000 – 01 looking very different from when they went in. Manoora was the first to become operational and in May 2000 was dispatched to East Timor to backload a large quantity of surplus ammunition no longer required for Operation Warden. Thus began the LPA’s frequent operational deployments as the RAN’s platform of choice in uncertain times.
Between 2001 and 2003 the LPA’s were almost constantly as sea with Manoora involved in a peacekeeping deployment to the Solomon Islands (OP TREK) in 2001, OP RELEX including the TAMPA incident in August 2001, OP SLIPPER (Middle East Area of Operations) in 2002 and OP ANODE (Solomon Islands) in 2003. Kanimbla was equally hard worked with EX TANDEM THRUST in 2001, OP TREK 2001 (with a side trip to Bougainville to backload vehicles and Iroquois helicopters from OP BELISI), the inaugural OP SLIPPER deployment 2001-02, OP RELEX II 2002, EX SWIFT EAGLE 2002 and then off again to the Middle East again in early 2003 for OP BASTILLE/OP FALCONER. The ships and crews were worked hard and maintenance was often delayed or cancelled.
Frequently Sea King Helicopters (SK50) from 817 Squadron were embarked in the LPA’s and 2011 also marked the end of their service life as these work horses of the fleet were also retired.
The years 2004 – 2011 saw more of the same for both LPA’s. Manoora was deployed for EX CROIX DE SUD in 2006, OP ACOLYTE 2006 (as the Commonwealth Games Special Forces helicopter platform) OP RESOLUTE border protection patrols in 2007 and EX TALISMAN SABER 2007. She was the HMAS Sydney 11 Memorial Platform in 2008 and completed a South East Asia deployment in 2009. In 2010 her last overseas deployment was to EX CROIX DE SUD off New Caledonia.
Kanimbla took part in OP SUMATRA ASSIST in Banda Aceh 2005 following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in South East Asia. Tragically one of her embarked SK50’s (SHARK 05) crashed at Nias Island on 2 April 2005 with the loss of nine lives. Following this she was deployed to East Timor waters for OP ASTUTE in 2006 and then to OP QUICKSTEP off Fiji in December 2006/January 2007. During this later operation one of her embarked Blackhawk Helicopters crashed and was lost overboard with two Army personnel killed.
In 2007 Kanimbla provided support to OP DELUGE as the Special Forces Helicopter support platform for the APEC summit meeting held in Sydney. She was back in South East Asian waters for OP PADANG ASSIST 2009 following the earthquake on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Her last hurrah was to take part in EX RIMPAC 2010 with USMC, Canadian and Indonesian soldiers embarked. On her way to Hawaii she stopped briefly in Samoa and was able to deliver two fire engines, donated by the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade, to the Samoan Fire Brigade which replaced two vehicles lost in a Tsunami in 2008.
Kanimbla was proceeding to sea, in early September 2010, for yet another exercise in Queensland waters when a fire onboard and loss of propulsion saw her nearly ground on North Head. Propulsion was quickly restored and she returned safely alongside but the Chief of Navy rightly imposed an Operational Pause for both LPA’s. Manoora was at sea off Brisbane having conducted the HMAHS CENTAUR memorial service and was directed to return forthwith to Garden Island. Neither ship was to sail again.