- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- RAN operations, Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Waterhen, HMAS Voyager I, HMAS Stuart I
- September 1987 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
THE LATTER STAGES of the Great War saw the introduction into the Royal Navy of a number of capable and high performance destroyers.
To operate with these destroyers the Admiralty ordered the design of a new class of destroyer leaders, known as V Class Destroyer Leaders. Following the placing of the order for the V Class Leaders work commenced on a new class of destroyer. These destroyers ordered in 1916 were designed in the light of experience gained at Jutland. The design finally chosen was almost identical to the V Class Leaders. The initial batch of destroyers was ordered in June 1916 and became known as V Class Destroyers. These destroyers were followed in December 1916 by a repeat order of 19 ships, included in this order was the destroyer Waterhen.
Waterhen was laid down in July 1917 at the Hebburn-on-Tyne shipyards of the Palmer’s Shipbuilding and Iron Company. She was launched on 26 March 1918, and completed just prior to the end of the Great War.
In 1933, Waterhen, as well as the destroyers Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager and the destroyer leader Stuart, was transferred on loan to the RAN. Waterhen and her accompanying destroyers were commissioned into the RAN on 11 October 1933. The newly formed Australian Destroyer Flotilla departed England for Australia on 17 October. Sailing via Suez the Flotilla reached Darwin on 7 December and arrived in Sydney on 21 December. After her arrival in Australia Waterhen was engaged in routine duties with the Australian Squadron until 9 October 1934, when she was placed in reserve. She remained in reserve until April 1936, when she was recommissioned for a short period, after which she was once again placed into reserve.
On 1 September 1939, Waterhen was recommissioned and made ready for war service. Her initial war duties were carrying out anti-submarine patrols based out of Sydney. On 14 October 1939, in company with Stuart and Vendetta, Waterhen sailed for Singapore. On the same day as Waterhen sailed for Singapore her sister-ships Vampire and Voyager departed Fremantle, also bound for Singapore. The entire Flotilla was under the command of Commander H.M.L. Waller RAN. On 13 November, after all the destroyers had arrived at Singapore, the Flotilla sailed for the Mediterranean. Whilst en route the destroyers were despatched to help search for the German pocket- battleship Graf Spee. Waterhen arrived in Malta on 14 December and along with the other Australian destroyers formed the 19th Destroyer Division of the Mediterranean Fleet.
At this stage of the war Italy was still neutral and as the Royal Navy had undisputed mastery of the Mediterranean, Waterhen and the other destroyers were engaged in routine patrols and Fleet exercise. Following Italy’s entry into the war and the fall of France, the strategic situation in the Mediterranean was completely changed. The British Mediterranean Fleet now found itself virtually surrounded by hostile shores.
On 17 August 1940, Waterhen was part of the force screening British warships which were bombarding Italian positions in Libya. A week later Waterhen was again off the Libyan coast, this time providing covering fire for the gunboat HMS Ladybird as she attacked shipping and harbour facilities at Bardia. Following the Italian invasion of Greece on 28 October 1940, Waterhen helped escort a convoy from Alexandria to Crete. After establishing a fuelling base the warships returned to Alexandria.
In December 1940, Waterhen, as part of the Inshore Squadron, provided support for the British Army fighting in the Western Desert. On Christmas night 1940, Waterhen intercepted the Italian supply ship Tereremo Diritto. After taking off her crew Waterhen sank the vessel by gunfire. Five days later the Australian destroyer collided with and sank the British anti-submarine trawler HMS Bandolero.
After completion of repairs Waterhen was despatched to the Aegean, where she was to remain until April. On her return to the Inshore Squadron Waterhen took part in operations in support of the Army at Tobruk. On 14 April, whilst at anchor in Tobruk Harbour, Waterhen was attacked by dive-bombers. Fortunately, she was not damaged by this attack. Five days later, accompanied by the destroyers Stuart and Voyager, Waterhen acted as escort for the landing ship HMS Glengyle as she carried commandos for a raid on the facilities at Bardia. For the remainder of April she was engaged in operations designed to support the Army during the campaigns in Greece and Crete.