- Thomson, Max
- Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1990 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
When the name frigate was introduced into the RAN on November 18, 1943 with the commissioning of HMAS GASCOYNE, its ship’s company could not in its wildest dreams have envisaged the electronic wizardry that will be built into the German Meka 200 frigates chosen now to take our Navy into the next century.
Early frigate men had a problem, for people simply opened and closed their mouths at mention of the word frigate. All they could think of were some of the frigates of the swashbuckling Nelson era that won fame as the wooden walls of England.
Yet our eight WW2 River-class frigates, the immediate post-war Bay class frigates, the converted-destroyer frigates; and the current guided missile frigates serving with the Navy today all have come to enjoy something of that swashbuckling Nelson touch in the exciting and multifarious assignments that have come their way in war and peace.
Frigates have provided one of the most colourful chapters in our naval history.
While the larger units of our wartime fleet did their part in pummelling enemy forces, our wartime frigates had involvement with a variety, scope and spectrum of assignments the like of which few if any other class of our warships has ever experienced.
They steamed deep into the central Pacific to help escort jeep carriers such as USS CHEPOHEE, USS MACASSAR STRAIT and many others ferrying war planes from mainland USA and Hawaii to advanced war bases.
HMAS GASCOYNE, working with a US Hydrographic Task Force, saw its share of high drama while surveying San Pedro Bay for the Leyte Gulf landing in the Philippines.
Our frigate took big US tenders like USS POKOMOKE to strange and far-off places, such as Puerto Princessa in the western Philippines on the edge of the China Sea.
With pinpoint navigation to carefully specified latitudes and longitudes frigates made many a rendezvous with US submarines that had been operating off Japan itself, giving them safe escort back to base through what were known as the submarine safety lanes.
RAN frigates convoyed General Douglas MacArthur’s sophisticated radio communications ship USS INGHAM from Hollandia to his new advance base at Leyte Gulf; rescued hundreds of American servicemen when the tanker MISSION RIDGE collided with the transport DON MAQUIS outside Manus Island fleet base. They were in the escort screens of some enormously big Pacific convoys and they were on the flanks of the armadas that constituted the Borneo invasion forces.
THE ODD: THE UNUSUAL
Yet it was the odd and the unusual that provided so much colour for our frigates. Like a convoy they escorted to the Philippines which included big pontoons onto which bulk tanks had been erected; floating docks and a vast accumulation of the paraphernalia of war.
But oddest unit in the convoy was Melbourne’s venerable paddle-steamer WEEROONA, veteran of many a Port Phillip Bay excursion. With her sides boarded up, old WEERONA was destined to become a convalescence and accommodation ship for American servicemen in the Philippines.
Frigates coaxed along captured Japanese freighters pressed back into service for the Allies and amid all the patrols and convoys did a share of bombardment work at special locations.
At war’s end our frigates had a hand in the surrender ceremonies – HMAS DIAMANTINA at Bougainville and Nauru. HMAS HAWKESBURY steamed to Singapore with the relief liner DUNTROON and represented the RAN there the day Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten accepted the formal Japanese surrender. HAWKESBURY made two trips escorting transports bringing home the 8th Division AIF prisoners of war from Changi and survivors of HMAS PERTH who had been imprisoned after the cruiser was sunk in Sunda Straits.
HAWKESBURY then raced to Koepang for a surrender ceremony, followed by a long surveillance trip through the Dutch East Indies involving many local Japanese surrender ceremonies and the re-introduction of civil administration.
Frigates showed the flag in places never before visited by Australian warships – at Menado, Gorontalo, Parigi, Poso, Bangali, Sanana, Pare Pare – and the Sultan of Ternate travelled in a frigate back to his island Sultancy at Ternate after the Japanese had been driven back.
These trips took our frigates into historic waters for it was around Ternate and the Spice Islands that Sir Francis Drake in the GOLDEN HIND in 1578 did much trading. It was there that he made a treaty and took home six tons of cloves. From there, too, sailed the SAN FELIPE laden with spices, Chinas and bullion, jewels and rich fabrics valued at 114,000 pounds – Drake’s richest prize.
Frigates played a key role at Britain’s atomic tests at Monte Bello off Australia’s north-west coast. HMAS HAWKESBURY was official guard ship in a fleet that included the frigates HMA Ships CULGOA, SHOALHAVEN, MURCHISON and MACQUARIE (which commissioned Dec. 7, 1945 under the command of Lt. L.M. Hinchliffe, who now as Captain Hinchliffe, DSC RAN (ret.) is President of our Naval Historical Society of Australia).