Lost: The stories of all ships lost by the
Royal Australian Navy
by Allen Lyne, Moana Heights SA, Self-published, 2013. ISBN: 9780646903750.
RRP $32 + $5 postage within Australia
Reviewed by Ian Pfennigwerth
WHO KNEW that the RAN had lost 45 ships in its hundred years of existence? Probably nobody, until Allen Lyne spent five years researching the issue. His book describes the background, circumstances and the events leading to these losses, some of them well known, others far from so. Those not overly familiar with the history and circumstances in which the RAN has operated and fought will be grateful for the author’s thorough explanations. Lyne has also used his researcher’s prerogative to pass judgment on who or what was to blame for the losses.
A summary of Lyne’s research reveals that ten of the vessels, mostly those of the Naval Auxiliary Patrol (NAP) in WWII, were lost to fire, six to groundings or strandings, five to collisions and four to unknown causes. Two were lost in storms, one hit an Australian-laid mine and sank, and one was sunk when the wharf it was secured to collapsed on it! The remaining 16 were lost though enemy action, a terrible toll but, possibly, a source of pride in Australia’s navy as a fighting service – and preferable to running ships aground or having them collide.
Lyne has clearly spent his
research time wisely and well. His analysis of the collision in Port Phillip
that sank the minesweeper Goorangai with all hands in 1940 demonstrates that
it was probably the liner Duntroon that caused the accident, but that
a smart lawyer can work wonders to obscure the facts. Of course, there are
no blameless parties in any collision, but this one seems to have been especially
hard on the victim. He covers the loss of Sydney to SMS Kormoran,
and introduces some interesting observations on a similar incident – fortunately
‘blue-on-blue’- involving the cruiser HMS Neptune. A lack of sensible
precautions while approaching a suspicious merchant ship is the common factor
in both incidents.
For reasons not entirely clear (petrol in the bilges?), the NAP vessels were particularly prone to fire. The Japanese aerial attacks on Darwin accounted for five of the small craft lost to enemy action, precious vessels at a time when anything that could float and move was a valuable item. The stores tender Matafele probably foundered because the alterations made to her structure had not been properly assessed for the effects they might have on her stability: her wreck remains unlocated.
Lyne is understanding of the perils which faced Lieutenant Commander Robison at Betano in September 1942 and which led to the stranding of Voyager and her complete loss – there were certainly extenuating circumstances. He is less kind to Commodore Pope who launched Operation HAMBURGER, exposing two corvettes and the patrol vessel Kuru on a similar mission to Timor in December the same year to serious Japanese reprisals, and ordering it to continue when it was clearly fatally compromised. Perhaps it was the “fog of war” which clouded his judgement, but it cost the lives of 100 men and the RAN the corvette Armidale.
A board of inquiry into the loss of HMAS Canberra at Savo Island in August 1942 was unable to determine the reason she was lost so easily and the attempt by Bruce Loxton to sheet the blame home to a US destroyer’s torpedo was not totally satisfactory. Lyne comes up with no new evidence. There are no such mysteries about the loss of Vampire in April 1942, overwhelmed by Japanese bombs. ML-430 was the victim of an attack by fellow ML, very obviously a’ fog of war ’incident, which fortunately cost no lives.
Of the peacetime losses, Lyne correctly observes that Voyager should have kept out of the path of Melbourne on 10 February 1964 and that why she did not will forever remain a mystery, whatever Royal Commissions might say. In the sinking of the stores ship Woomera in 1960 with the loss of four lives, human cupidity seems to be involved although if there was a board of inquiry – as there should have been – Lyne does not cite from it. Were the ship and these men lost because of the desire to salvage parachute silk from flares?
There are points in the book over which one might quibble. It is not appropriate to criticise the RAN for having no aircraft carriers in 1939: only three navies did, and the RAN had staged a remarkable comeback from almost disappearing during the Great Depression. Similarly, I’ve yet to see any evidence that a shortage of experienced senior NCOs affected the performance of the RAN in World War II. On the contrary, there is much to show that the RAN, while expanding from a force of 7,500 to close to 40,000, performed pretty well, especially as most of the new recruits were “hostilities only” personnel.
But these are quibbles only. Lyne’s book is an interesting and thought-provoking addition to our naval history, one which throws light on the debit side of the ledger. I thoroughly recommend it to a general audience and to experts alike.
Review : Lost by AIlen
Reviewed by Dr Robert Kimber
Allen Lyne sailed with the RAN for 12 years, before studying politics and English at the University of Adelaide and then for many years being involved in professional theatre as an actor, playwright and director. ln that time he also published a number of stories, often with many a wry twist and touch of humour. This background overall comes to the fore in Lost, a carefully crafted collection of accounts examining the loss at sea of all RAN ships and many crew members. The stories are written with vigour, precision and a critical mind. The result is a gripping read.
The loss of sailors is a terrible thing. Lyne goes to great pains. He is full of compassion for the men who have not returned when their ambition and camaraderie have been instrumental in taking ships - with names like Perth and Sydney, Vampire and Canberra - into the far ocean and in many cases, into battle with an enemy. Not that all ships have been lost in battle. Peacetime losses are also considered in Lost, the loss of Voyager 2 for instance, in trials off Jervis Bay, and Arrow, lost in Cyclone Tracey.
There is a huge waste of enterprise when a ship sinks ranging from the planning and building of a fine vessel to its launching with flags flying from a shipyard, with optimistic feelings, blessings, and consideration even then for all those who might sail in her--all-gone.
The sailors talk about their ship as "she", it is a mother to them, their one support in the vast seas over which they sail. Their lives are reliant on its capacity to keep afloat, keep going, and accordingly they work as a tight team to keep it going. They show great pride in their work but it is also a matter of self-preservation. The job has to be well done. Consequently, "The Australian Navy is a highly disciplined force," the writer stresses. He admires that quality and raises a number of examples to emphasize it.
When a ship goes down in battle there's the chance of sailors being trapped in the sinking hull. There may be wounded among those in the hull. Other sailors are left clinging to rafts in the hope of rescue or in small boats. ln the case of the cruiser HMAS Sydney lost a day out of Fremantle in November 1941, the entire crew of 645 went down with the ship. Fate at its worst can be so destructive.
The vulnerability of leadership comes up a lot in Lyne's book. As a sailor below decks he has a shrewd weather eye for what his leaders might be doing and writes with confidence on many of the situations he has analysed. His thoughts on why each ship has been lost are a compelling read.
Forty five ships over sixty years are studied in Lyne's account and a fascinating and yet very distinctive collection of stories he has written. There are all kinds and sizes of ships from the submarine AE2, which plunged through the Dardanelles and created havoc in the sea of Marmara in April 1915, to Maroubra, a wooden ocean going vessel with sails and engine, 61 feet long, 52 tons, that worked as a patrol boat and stores carrier. lt was delivering materials to the air force base at Millingimbi in May 1943 when some marauding Japanese Zeros attacked the ship with bombs and destroyed it. Fortunately there were no casualties. The large and the small are treated with equal respect.
A photograph has not been found for each ship but there are nevertheless a useful selection provided from a range of sources. Such illustrations are invaluable as are the comprehensive backgrounds given for the origin, type and record of each ship prior to loss. Access to Naval Archives, old sailors and old commanders with their touches of humanity, has been vital in this process. Accordingly, each loss is carefully referenced.
The saga of each loss is written well with a strong sense of the drama, involved, and perhaps none more striking than in the loss of the minesweeper Warrnambool, which hit a mine off the coast of North Queensland in September 1947. lt was a British Mark 14 contact mine containing 500 pounds of explosive. As Lyne writes, quoting from the diary of Lieutenant-Commander Jarrett, who was First Lieutenant on the ship at the time:
‘When the mine struck the whole ship was lifted out of the water bows uppermost in a flurry of white foam.... The ship rattled like all the saucepans one can imagine falling from a great height - and then the great waterspout-thrown up-by the detonation descended. Solid water seemed to keep hammering down pouring off the decks shin deep. "Oh God, will this never cease?"’
Two men were killed by the blast, one died of wounds in the Cairns Hospital and a fourth was lost overboard. "Fifty two were injured and everyone suffered from shock," the lieutenant commander adds.
There are other fine examples of the writer’s skill that make these situations live. Such details provide a fitting conclusion to each account.
Lyne deplores any loss of life and so goes to great pains to ask "Why?" acknowledging always that there are clear dangers in the job. He asks questions intended to provoke a critical assessment of each situation and those questions work wonderfully well to keep the reader alert to what is being read. That there might be always some level of 'truth' to be determined is always present in the passages he writes.
This is an authentic work
and fascinating. lt is rich in the recent history of Australian sailors committed
as a naval force to protecting our shores. As such, it is excellent history
and an entertaining read.
Reviewed by Walter Burroughs
Lost: The stories of all ships lost by the Royal Australian Navy. Written and published by Allen Lyne in Adelaide, 2013. ISBN 980-0-646-90375-0 in soft cover, 305 pages with plentiful b & w photographs and some illustrations. Price $32 + $5 postage or in E-Book format at $12. Available from Kindle.
Allen Lyne had twelve years service as a sailor in the Royal Australian Navy where be developed a keen sense of naval history. He later attended the University of Adelaide and gained an arts degree. His first hand experience and compassion for his fellow man shows throughout his commentary.
In this book Allen has made a unique contribution to the historical record in placing much of the copious information available on the tragic losses of forty-five ships in one convenient volume. In chronological sequence and with a handy index of ships by name, this covers a period of sixty years, from the first recorded loss of the submarine AE1 off New Guinea on 14 September 1914 to the last, that of the patrol boat HMAS Arrow, which was wrecked during Cyclone Tracey on Christmas Day 1974. Many know something of the stories surrounding the sinking of the cruisers Canberra, Perth and Sydney but would have not heard of their smaller counterparts requisitioned for war-time service such as Patricia Cam and Matafele. Of course losses do not just refer to ships but invariably the loss of life of those who served in them.
The book lists forty-five losses which does not include HMAS Kuru although she is correctly mentioned in providing assistance during the losses of Armadale, Patricia Cam and Voyager. Kuru was herself damaged beyond repair following a severe storm in Darwin in October 1943; she may therefore be added to unenviable tally of losses.
All information is generally well researched drawing on numerous sources in discussing details of various ships and scenarios, leading to their demise. The author follows this commentary with his own interpretation of these events and draws conclusions. Some of these appear to follow a personal bias, and may not pass the rigour of critical analysis.
The book is well laid out and easy to use both as an enjoyable history and, for later use as reference material. The work involved in gathering this information into one comprehensive volume is commendable. The lively commentary engages the reader but the style is unusual and tends towards the vernacular. There may be a further intent to invite controversy. In this the author surely succeeds as some of his findings may be hotly debated.