- Cluley, R
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Melbourne II
- December 1985 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
BOARDING THE CARRIER MELBOURNE for the first time it was all so baffling. The ship is so huge and her geography so complex I was continually lost as I wandered through her maze of passageways, drifting in and out of mess-decks, galleys, cafeterias or just frustrating dead ends.
Then gradually, as I begin to find my way around the ship, a pattern emerges. I realise that the essentials of the ship, her brain and nerve centre are housed in the ‘Island’.
The Island is tucked away on the starboard side. It is short and narrow taking up as little of the flight deck as possible and threaded with narrow passages leading to small compartments. Its four main levels are connected by steep stairways and ladders.
It contains the compass platform from where the captain handles the ship, ‘Flyco’, Commander Air’s domain, with uninterrupted view of the flight deck, the Admiral’s bridge, the air direction and upper operations rooms, the bridge wireless office and compartments full of radio equipment. Just off the flight deck is the handlers ready room. A hot little box where the flight deck crew take refuge between operations.
The bridge also embraces the funnel, aft of which is the large dome of the carrier control approach radar, while forward is the ship’s mast, covered with a jungle of radio and radar aerials, flag halyards and navigation lights.
The flight deck is an armoured table top, bare apart from the catapult forward, the arrester wires aft and numerable ring bolts for lashing down aircraft and flight deck equipment.
Surrounding the flight deck for a greater part of its length are the safety nets and strategically placed walkways. These are located below the level of the deck coaming where the flight deck party can crouch out of the wind and where a variety of equipment from fire extinguishers to chocks is stowed.
On the port side the LSO has his perch and screen and the flight deck engineer has his controls for raising and lowering the arrester wires.
There are two lifts, one forward, large enough to take a Tracker, communicating with ‘A’ hangar and one aft serving ‘B’ and ‘C’ hangars. ‘A’ hangar serves 817 Sea King squadron and the Tracker squadron, ‘B’ and ‘C’ hangars the Skyhawks and Wessex squadrons.
The hangars combined run almost the entire length of the ship. They form a hollow, echoing steel box which is the headquarters of the squadron’s non flying activities. It is both garage and workshop, with service points for fuel, oil, compressed air and power.
Surrounding it, through innumerable watertight doors and lobbies are grouped the endless cubbyholes that ships and squadrons need for their well-being. These include squadron stores, battery charging room, bosun’s store and engineering, electrical and electronic workshops.
The hangar is a full two decks high and amongst the arrester gear machinery in the deckhead are sprays that can flood it from end to end in case of fire. Every spare section of the bulkhead has clamped to it spare fuel tanks, propellers and airframe parts, like trophies in a den.
In the hangars the aircraft are parked almost touching, Skyhawks in echelon up each side of ‘B’ hangar, Trackers and Sea Kings in ‘A’, while a long Wessex has ‘C’ hangar to itself. To prevent the aircraft from coming adrift at sea they are chocked fore and aft and lashed down with chains. These fastenings are so arranged that it is impossible to take more than a few steps through the hangar without tripping over one. The air has a dead, flat stench of aviation fuel and oil. It is here that the maintenance ratings, fitters, electricians, radio mechanics and ordinance rates spend most of their time when not on flight deck duty.
Amidships, one of the watertight doors from the hangar leads out through an airlock, then a second door to a lobby from where there are ladders leading up to the island, another ladder aft leads down to the cabin flats and the wardroom. Others give access to the weatherdecks and boat-spaces.
The hangar, flight deck and their appurtenances are the domain of the Air Department. They take their shape and situation from the ship, but their role from the aircraft. It does not take long to appreciate that she is a ship first, whose main role is a floating aerodrome and whose aircraft make her a valuable weapons carrier for Fleet operations.