- Mesley, Rear Admiral J.S., CBE, MVO, DSC
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Swan II
- September 1987 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I HAVE BEEN ASKED to prepare a short history of HMAS Swan during the period in which I served in her during her first commission from 21st January 1937, until 28th November 1938.
My memory being more than somewhat unreliable after nearly fifty years, I sought the assistance of the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, he being, in my recollection, the person who bought most of the ‘too hards’ at Navy Office. True to form he knew where to look and passed the buck to the Naval Historical Officer (non-existent in my day) who produced a great deal of information from the archives and I have been able to put together the following rather sketchy article.
HMAS Swan, described in successive Navy Lists as a Sloop (January 1937), Minesweeper (April ’37-April ’38 inclusive) and Escort Vessel (July ’38 to January ’39 inclusive), of 1,060 tons, 2,000 SHP, with 3 x 4″ guns and 4 x 3 pdr saluting guns, was built at Cockatoo Dockyard between late 1935 and 1937, and was commissioned at Sydney on 21st January 1937.
Three officers had been appointed before commissioning to oversee and stand-by the building and trials. These were Commissioned Engineer Alec Nairn on 16th January 1936 (and incidentally one of the best messmates with whom I was to serve in the whole of my 44 years in the RAN), Lieutenant-Commander Wilfred H. Harrington (later Sir Hastings Harrington, CNS) as First Lieutenant on 3rd August 1936 and Gunner Herbert L. Gunn on 10th August 1936.
The ship commissioned at Garden Island on Thursday, 21st January 1937 with Commander Roy R. Dowling (later Sir Roy Dowling, CNS) in command, myself as navigating officer and Sub-Lieutenant Robert H.E. Kerruish with, of course, the three officers who had been standing-by.
We had a bare five days including a weekend to ammunition, store, etc. before proceeding to Jervis Bay on 26th January 1937 independently to ‘shake down’.
The ‘shake-down’ included various drills and evolutions, such as Man Overboard, Fire and Collision Stations, Changing over Steering Positions, streaming minesweeping wires, and the ship’s company was kept fully occupied at sea and in harbour. The magnetic compass was adjusted (swung) on 29th January. No gyro was fitted on commissioning but this was subsequently done a couple of years later.
On 31st January Swan joined the Australian Squadron off Jervis Bay and took part in a small scale combined operation which involved a dawn landing of Army personnel from the cruisers Canberra, Australia and Sydney in Jervis Bay on 1st February. The Squadron remained in the Jervis Bay area until returning to Sydney on 17th February to complete with stores, fuel and ammunition. On 18th February Surgeon Lieutenant John R. Hasker joined to increase the officer complement to seven.
On 20th February His Excellency the Governor General Lord Gowrie, embarked and hoisted his flag in HMAS Canberra and the Squadron sailed for Hobart to meet heavy weather causing the cancellation of programmed exercises and Swan’s complement soon became aware that they were in a ‘lively’ ship. It was suggested by some that Swan would roll in a heavy dew but in any case the ship’s motion caused many casualties.
Hobart lived up to its reputation and provided unceasing hospitality at weekends and the Squadron carried out exercises and evolutions, etc. during the weeks in Wedge Bay, Norfolk Bay and North West Bay and some ships visited Port Arthur. The Royal Hobart Regatta was held on 23rd February and the Squadron Regatta on 23rd and 24th March in North West Bay.
The Squadron departed Hobart on 29th March for New Zealand and carried out a strategic exercise with the New Zealand division of the Royal Navy. On completion, Swan was detached to proceed to New Plymouth while the remainder of the Squadron proceeded to Wellington. Arriving alongside in New Plymouth on 3rd April typical New Zealand hospitality was enjoyed until departure on 5th April for Wellington. Foul weather was encountered in Cook Strait and confirmed Swan’s claim to being ‘lively’. During one five-hour period, only thirty miles were made good with revolutions for eleven knots and there were many sea casualties. After twenty-fours in Wellington during which fuel was obtained from HMAS Australia, Swan proceeded independently to Napier, 8th-12th April and Gisborne, 12th- 15th April and rejoined the Squadron at Auckland on 16th April.