- Gillett, Ross
- History - general, Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
From a busy beginning during the Great War, RAN destroyers endured a low period of activity from the early 1920s to the late 1930s, affected mostly by the Great Depression and at times by a much reduced level of available manpower. Overall destroyer numbers subsequently increased during the Second World War, but reduced again during 1945/46, when the five “N” class were returned to the Royal Navy. Also gone were the elderly Stuart and Vendetta, with Quickmatch and Quiberon in use to 1948 and 1949. Only the three large “Tribal” class remained active up to the outbreak of the Korean War.
The Fleet’s first destroyer group, known correctly as Torpedo Boat Destroyers (TBDs) were the true linear development of the original torpedo boat, with the addition of more powerful gun and torpedo armaments and much improved sea keeping qualities. These still small “River” class TBDs provided long and varied service careers, from German New Guinea, Malaya and the Philippines, to the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Black Seas. After the armistice and following the arrival in Australia of the replacement ‘Gift Fleet’ destroyers, the six TBDs continued to provide an all important platform for the training of reserves in the various Australian ports until 1928. The replacement ‘Gift Fleet’ arrived in Australia during 1919-20 in the form of the destroyer leader Anzac, five “S” class destroyers, three “Flower” class sloops and six “J” class submarines, all transferred from the Royal Navy. Anzac and the five destroyers arrived in Australia during April 1920 to replace the war weary “River’ class.
The careers of the six ships varied greatly, with Anzac active until 1933, Stalwart only to December 1925 and Tattoo, as a training ship until July 1936. Anzac was sold in 1935, then the five destroyers in June 1937. The disposal of the six ships came only nine years after the “River” class they had replaced had been laid up. The destroyer leader Stuart with the “V” and “W” class destroyers Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager and Waterhen were transferred to the RAN in October 1933 to replace Anzac and the “S” class. The replacement ships which had been built at the end of WW1 were in fact a few years older than the warships they supplanted. But Stuart’s five 4.7 inch and one 3 inch guns and two triple 21 inch torpedo tubes were a vast improvement above Anzac’s four 4 inch guns and two twin 21 inch torpedo tubes. Endurance was another performance indicator, with Anzac and the “S” class able to steam 2,500 and 2,000 nautical miles at 15 knots, compared to Stuart and her consorts with 5,000 and 3,500 nautical miles respectively.
Unfortunately for the RAN, just two years before the outbreak of another major world war, Anzac and the five destroyers had been sunk or scuttled off Sydney. Had they been maintained in reserve all would have offered much valuable service as coastal escorts for convoys, providing valuable anti-submarine and anti-aircraft protection. Built from the keel up as warships they would have proven more effective than the converted merchant ships quickly modified to such roles. During the Second World War the ‘1933’ ships served the RAN well, highly regarded as destroyers despite their many years afloat. Waterhen, Vampire and Voyager were lost, due to aircraft attacks (first two) and grounding. Unable to be refloated Voyager was blown up by her own crew. As the older Stuart and Vendetta continued in service, new destroyer tonnage was transferred from the Royal Navy in the form of five “N” class destroyers between November 1940 and May 1942, and later, two “Q” class destroyers in July and September 1942 . The “N” and “Q” classes were armed with the 4.7 inch gun, the five “Ns” in three twin turrets and the “Qs” in four single mounts. Although Australian manned, the five “N” class destroyers formed the 7th Flotilla Royal Navy and were maintained by the British Admiralty. The four surviving “N” class were returned to the RN in October 1945 and replaced by another three of the later “Q” class, most of which experienced long careers with the Australian Fleet.
In Australia, three “Tribal” class ‘super’ destroyers were launched at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney. Originally intended for convoy escort duties, with a smaller torpedo outfit for a heavier gun armament, each “Tribal” was armed with three twin 4.7 inch and one twin 4 inch guns. Each ship could achieve 36 knots and armed with their balanced outfit of anti-surface, anti-aircraft and anti-submarine weapons were the most powerful RAN destroyers yet commissioned. To combat the post-war submarine menace Arunta and Warramunga were subsequently converted to anti-submarine destroyers.