- A.N. Other
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- RAN Ships
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- June 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
(The Naval Historical Society provides annual prizes for the winner and runners up of a naval history essay on topics set by HMAS Creswell for New Entry Officer Courses. SBLT Paff was a runner up in 2010 with this essay which complements the theme of our Centenary edition.)
By Sub-Lieutenant RA Paff, RAN
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
HMAS Nirimba had a long and complex history which was marked with many modifications. The establishment frequently demonstrated the ability to adapt to and cope with both local and international demands, making the site truly remarkable. A number of lessons about embracing and adopting change can be learnt from the experiences of those managing Nirimba. The site began its life as a small air station (Schofields Airfield) and due to World War II, recruiting deficiencies and training needs, and political changes; the institution was forced to evolve into something completely different from what was originally planned. It became a highly regarded training establishment where men and women, both civilian and Defence, were trained in technical trades.
Throughout the course of its development Nirimba was well-known for producing graduates of an exceptional standard. This reputation was earned through the hard work of a visionary man, Captain Frank Leveson George, and his successors. Indeed the most notable aspect of Nirimba’s history was its ability to adapt to changes forced upon it by both internal and external forces. In order to fully understand just how much the site changed over time and what lessons can be learnt from this period in naval training history, Nirimba’s early existence must be examined.
Schofields Airfield changed dramatically during World War II, owing to Churchill and Roosevelt’s decision to form a new armada to support actions occurring in the Pacific Region. It was initially used as a dispersal site for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to supplement its airfield at Richmond. In 1944 the site was acquired for use by the British Pacific Fleet as a Mobile Operating Naval Airbase, which would be used as a support base for the Fleet’s carriers. The airfield was renamed RNAS, Schofields (MONAB III) and personnel started arriving at the site in February 1945. RNAS, Schofields was used to accommodate aircraft including a ‘Stinson Reliant’, the Indefatigable ‘Seafires’ and ‘Fireflies’. Additionally and most importantly, the airfields began to be used as a training institution where RAAF pilots were trained to fly naval aircraft. This role change was driven by a pilot shortage in the Royal Navy (RN). In order to help the RN meet their fighting capability, RAAF pilots were trained as Royal Australian Navy (RAN) pilots and then lent to the RN because protocols would not allow a direct exchange between the RAAF and RN. In this instance, both the establishment and personnel were required to adapt to international needs in order to achieve a shared vision. One key lesson learnt from this experience is that it is important to have a flexible approach to thinking and a willingness to accept that change is necessary in order to achieve success in an international environment. The importance of adapting to change was further reflected in HMAS Nirimba’s development as a technical training institution.
HMAS Nirimba—RAN Apprentice Training Establishment (RANATE)
The development and commissioning of HMAS Nirimba (RANATE) in 1956 was the direct result of a shortage of qualified tradesmen in the RAN ranks and the organisation’s desire to produce apprentices of the same calibre as its RN counterparts. During this period, RANATE embraced new technologies and implemented revolutionary recruiting procedures to produce graduates of a high standard. From 1956-1994, the establishment ‘enriched many lives and contributed an enormous quantity of quality to the Nation as a whole’ by teaching ‘RAN and RAAF personnel the fundamental skills of self-reliance, dependence on mates, commitment to a team and decency towards the nation’ in addition to providing category training. Much of the success of Nirimba’s training program can be attributed to Captain Frank Leveson George’s fearless approach to change.
One of Nirimba’s most impressive features was the incorporation of recent technological advances in its syllabus, which therefore produced graduates who were conversant and confident with new machinery; making them highly skilled, professional and sought after. Training standards were discussed early, ‘during the initial planning stages, meetings were held with the New South Wales Apprenticeship Board and the Employers’ Federation’ to aid the RAN in establishing appropriate syllabus details. The catalyst for this integration of new technologies in the course was Commanding Officer George’s awareness of the burgeoning industrial developments on the Eastern horizon. In order to gain a candidature of recruits who had the intellectual prowess to handle the requirements of the course, George designed and implemented a selection board process which essentially formed the basis of the boards that Navy conducts today. George’s foresight extended further than this. He ensured the training system was regularly monitored by civilian trade training and educational authorities and utilised the establishment’s unique and adaptable facilities to train recruits in highly specialised skills such as micro-soldering technology. Furthermore, Nirimba began to train civilians and female recruits in these highly specialised skills, thus bolstering its reputation for excellence. The resounding success of Captain George’s pre-emptive actions and flexible approach to course implementation is a tremendous example of why it is important to embrace and adapt to change as a method of facilitating growth and the improvement of current practices. Had George and his successors failed to anticipate Navy’s training needs, the RAN would have struggled to develop well-rounded ratings and meet its operational capacity.