On this day . . .

28 Apr 1941 – RAN volunteer killed in de-mining

28 Apr 1941 – RAN volunteer killed in de-mining

28 April 1941. On this day in 1941 LEUT James Henry Kessack, RANVR lost his life trying to defuse a German land mine in London. He was awarded a posthumous George Medal for gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty. James Kessack was born in Glasgow in 1903 and volunteered for the RANVR Yachtsman’s Scheme in Sydney as a probationary sub Lieutenant in 1940 at an age, 37, when he could have easily have been excused active service. The so called yachtsmen, very few of whom had ever done any sailing, were a group of over 500 Australian and New Zealand new entry volunteer officers asked for by the Admiralty to provide the numbers needed for the wartime RN convoy escorts. Kessack trained with mine disposal officers at HMS Vernon before becoming operational. He succeeded in defusing 10 mines before the 11th one killed him. The Germans adapted their mines to…

Read More
22 April 1916 – HMAS Australia HMS New Zealand collision

22 April 1916 – HMAS Australia HMS New Zealand collision

ON THIS day in 1916 the battle cruisers HMAS Australia and HMS New Zealand collided in a fog off the Horns Reef in the North Sea. They were both following synchronised anti submarine zig zag courses. Responsibility can be equally apportioned but the damage was not. HMAS Australia had to be sent to Plymouth for repairs. She returned to the 5th Battle cruiser squadron the day after the Battle of Jutland, 31 May much to her chagrin. HMS New Zealand was in the Battle and was hit on a gun turret but without result. Three RN Battle Cruisers, Indefatigable, Invincible, and Queen Mary succumbed to the combination of lack of armour and accurate German gunnery and erupted in flame within two hours, taking the lives of over three thousand sailors. Had HMAS Australia been at Jutland in May that might have been her fate. Churchill post war admitted that the…

Read More
RAN helps in British raid to block Belgian canal

RAN helps in British raid to block Belgian canal

On the night of 22-23 April 1918 Artificer Engineer W. H. V Edgar, RAN, and 10 ratings from HMAS Australia, loaned to a variety of British ships participated in the raid to block the canal at Zeebrugge, Belgium. The object of the raid was to deny the use of the canal to German submarines and destroyers operating in the North Sea. Despite very heavy casualties suffered by RN and Royal Marines during the raid, none of the Australians were killed or wounded. Subsequent awards for gallantry were made to 7 of the RAN participants:

Read More
15 April 1944 – LEUT Max Shean – X Craft

15 April 1944 – LEUT Max Shean – X Craft

On this day in in 1944 Lieutenant Maxwell Henry Shean, RAN, commanded the midget submarine X-24 in a solo raid on an important floating dock in Bergen Harbour, Norway, codenamed Operation GUIDANCE. X-24 was towed to the drop-off point by HMS Sceptre, commanded by another Australian, Lieutenant (later Vice Admiral, Sir) Ian McIntosh RN. The final approach required X-24 to negotiate a passage of some 40 nautical miles through patrolled waterways protected by two minefields and torpedo nets. After successfully entering the busy basin, Shean and his crew set 24-hour time-delayed charges on their target and made their way back out to the rendezvous with Sceptre. Upon their return to Scotland they discovered that difficult photo intelligence and incorrect charts had led them so set their charges on an enemy ammunition ship instead of the floating dock. This did not, however, diminish X-24’s remarkable feat. The attack was deemed a…

Read More
10 April 1941, the Siege of Tobruk began.

10 April 1941, the Siege of Tobruk began.

Over the next 242 days, Australian, British, Indian and Polish troops, supported by RN and RAN and merchant ships defended the Fortress of Tobruk against German and Italian forces attempting to overrun the strategically important port. Access to it would provide a much more direct re supply of Axis forces aiming to take Egypt and seize the Suez Canal.

Read More
11 April 1943 HMAS Pirie –  six sailors killed

11 April 1943 HMAS Pirie – six sailors killed

On this Day 11 April 1943 HMAS Pirie – Six Sailors Killed in Action On this day during Operation Lilliput, to supply US and Australian Army operations near Buna in New Guinea, the Bathurst class corvette HMAS Pirie was subjected to a particularly determined air attack by a large force of Japanese fighters and dive bombers while escorting the British tanker Hanyang from Milne Bay to Oro Bay. Pirie experienced six near misses and one direct hit which struck the bullet canopy over the bridge, penetrating it and glancing off the helmsman’s protective apron killing the gunnery officer in its flight. It continued its trajectory striking the upper deck where it exploded killing six ratings and wounding four others. The enemy then broke off the attack having lost several aircraft hit by close range anti-aircraft fire.

Read More
27-28 Mar 1941.  RAN at the Battle of Cape Matapan

27-28 Mar 1941. RAN at the Battle of Cape Matapan

On this day Perth, Stuart and Vendetta were all engaged in the Royal Navy’s night battle when they engaged the Italian Battle fleet. In one action the RN and RAN exploded Mussolinni’s boast that the Mediterranean was the Italian Navy’s Mare Nostrum meaning “our sea”. Three Italian heavy cruisers and two destroyers were sunk and a battleship seriously damaged. We now know that Admiral Cunningham’s location of the Italian battlefleet south of Greece was an early product of ‘Ultra’ the breaking of the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park. Strategically RN and RAN victory at Matapan meant that the still powerful Italian fleet did not attempt to intervene in the evacuation of troops from Greece and later from Crete. Had the Italian destroyer flotillas engaged the RN cruisers and destroyers carrying troops south to Alexandria these costly evacuations might have been impossible. Captain Hec Waller’s handling of Stuart at Matapan…

Read More
23 March 1969 HMAS Hobart under fire off Vietnam

23 March 1969 HMAS Hobart under fire off Vietnam

On this day HMAS Hobart, CAPT K W Shands, on her second deployment to Vietnam, came under accurate enemy fire from shore batteries at Mui Ron. Hobart was in company with US ships Collett and St Paul providing naval gunfire support to US army operations. Fifty shells straddled Hobart, one landing within ten feet of her bow. Hobart replied with 66 rounds of counter battery fire and silenced three batteries. She continued to draw fire from batteries so that she could identify them and destroy them and their ammunition dumps. During this deployment Hobart continued to harass enemy positions with pinpoint accurate fire. On one occasion she silenced seven weapons positions. A US Army cavalry officer who asked for urgent naval gunfire support later wrote: “It was the best artillery support I ever received. Close enough to rattle my teeth and send shrapnel over our heads but extremely accurate. The…

Read More