Commander William Thomas Alldis Moran

CMDR WTA Moran, RAN

William Thomas Alldis Moran was born in Fremantle, WA on 11 December 1903 to William Thomas Moran and Rose May Moran (nee Alldis).  He grew up in Kalgoorlie, WA and entered the RAN College, at Jervis Bay, as a 13 year old cadet midshipman in January 1917.  Moran completed his training in December 1920 including three months service in the light cruiser HMAS Encounter during 17 May – 21 August 1920.

Moran was promoted midshipman in January 1921 and joined the battle-cruiser HMAS Australia in which he served until May that year.  During his brief time onboard, Australia operated in south eastern Australian waters.  Midshipman Moran then transferred to the light cruiser HMAS Brisbane which again operated in Australian waters until the end of the year.  He then proceeded to the United Kingdom for exchange service and training courses with the Royal Navy.

He served for a few months in the battleship HMS Conqueror, before she was placed in reserve, and he transferred to the battleship HMS Valiant; then part of the Atlantic Fleet.  William Moran was promoted acting sub-lieutenant in May 1923 and commenced professional naval training courses at the Royal Naval College – Greenwich in September 1923.   He was an excellent student achieving a first class pass in the College courses before going on to other training establishments where he also achieved first class passes in torpedoes, surface gunnery and navigation.  He also qualified in signals and was confirmed in the rank of sub-lieutenant in December 1923.

Sub-Lieutenant Moran returned to Australia in early 1925 and joined the light cruiser HMAS Adelaide for watch-keeping training.  He was promoted lieutenant in March 1925, appointed to the destroyer HMAS Anzac in May and gained his watch-keeping certificate in July; he then became the destroyer’s navigating officer.  Anzac operated in eastern Australian and New Guinea waters during his time onboard.  After the destroyer was decommissioned in early August 1926 he was appointed to the light cruiser HMAS Sydney

The cruiser had won undying fame in 1914 for sinking the German raider Emden but was then in her final period of service.  She sailed from Sydney, soon after Moran had joined, and conducted three months of exercises in southern Australian waters with port visits to Adelaide, Melbourne and Geelong.  Early 1927 saw the cruiser steam to Hobart for the annual regatta before undertaking a circumnavigation of Australia, during April – July,  visiting Melbourne, Adelaide, Albany, Fremantle, Geraldton, Broome, Wyndham,  Darwin, Thursday Island, Cairns and Newcastle.   Sydney also visited Koepang in Dutch Timor and Dili in Portuguese Timor.

Sydney conducted another showing-the-flag cruise to New Caledonia and the British Solomon Islands Protectorate in September 1927.   On 10 October 1927 Moran joined Adelaide and soon found himself back in the Solomon Islands.  On 3 October a skirmish had occurred on the island of Malaita where a group of natives attacked the district officer, his assistant and their native police escort while they were collecting taxes. The district officer and his assistant were killed, as were several native police and also some of the attackers.  Although this was an isolated incident the British Foreign Office requested Australia dispatch a warship to the area.   Adelaide sailed on the evening of 10 October 1927 and arrived at Tulagi on the 14th.


The light cruiser HMAS Adelaide at the Solomon Islands during  October 1927.

A large number of Adelaide’s ships company were landed to set up camps and  provide logistics and wireless communications support to the local officials and the native police during their search for the attackers.  Adelaide also provided a significant show of force as she steamed close inshore on a daily basis.  By late October the bulk of the attackers had been rounded up and Adelaide sailed from Malaita on 16 November and returned to Sydney.  Moran had been one of the officers sent ashore during this punitive expedition and was later  commended for showing exceptional qualities during operations in the Solomon’s during October - November 1927.

In June 1928 Lieutenant Moran joined the recently re-commissioned HMAS Brisbane sailing in her to Hawaii to take part in the Captain Cook Sesquicentenary Commemoration at Honolulu (during 15-21 August) to recognise the 150th anniversary of Cook’s visit to Hawaii in January 1778.  Brisbane visited Suva, Fiji on the return voyage to Australia.

Soon after his return to Sydney he proceeded to the United Kingdom for training at the Royal Naval College – Greenwich. He then completed the Long Torpedo Course at HMS Vernon, in Portsmouth, during 1929-30.  Lieutenant Moran served in the battle-cruiser HMS Repulse during January - July 1931, to gain practical experience as a torpedo officer, before returning to Australia.    He also found time during 1930 to gain his private pilot’s license and this was endorsed for flying in Australia upon his return.  

Moran joined the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, in September 1931, and served in her briefly before being appointed to Flinders Naval Depot (HMAS Cerberus) as an instructor at the Torpedo School in late November 1931.   He was promoted lieutenant commander in March 1933 and remained serving at Cerberus.  Torpedo training was one of the more complex warfare disciplines of the time and officers and sailors selected for this training required a high level of intelligence and mathematical skills.

In December 1933 Lieutenant Commander Moran re-joined Australia. He served in her for the next two years which included the cruiser’s Royal Cruise with HRH The Duke of Gloucester embarked.  After returning him to the United Kingdom via the Panama Canal in March 1935,  Australia then served on exchange with the Royal Navy taking part in the King George V Silver Jubilee celebrations, in July, before serving as part of the Mediterranean Fleet from September 1935.  Tensions in the region were heightened in early October when Italy invaded Abyssinia and Australia, as part of the Mediterranean Fleet, was on standby in case war broke out with Italy. The Australian cruiser remained in the Mediterranean until July 1936.

In early 1936 Moran was loaned to the Royal Navy for service on board the cruiser HMS Despatch and in the battleship HMS Ramillies that also operated in the Mediterranean.  During his service he took part in British patrols off the coast of Palestine to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Palestine to support the Arab Revolt against British control.  He was subsequently awarded the Naval General Service Medal with clasp ‘Palestine 1936-1939’. 

William Moran finally returned to Australia in early 1938 and joined the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra in April of that year as the Australian Squadron torpedo officer responsible for torpedo training and efficiency in all RAN warships.   Moran was promoted commander on 30 June 1939 and in early August joined the RAN College (then located at Flinders Naval Depot) as the second-in-command.   He was only there for a short time as, following the outbreak of war, he was recalled to Canberra on 4 October 1939 and appointed as the executive officer (second in command).   By then Moran was almost 36 years old, unmarried and totally devoted to the naval service.

Canberra was the flagship of the RAN with Rear Admiral Crace, RN and his staff embarked and thus operated on the Australia Station for most of 1940-41.  She conducted extensive convoy escort work around the Australian coast and into the Indian Ocean.  Under the command of Captain Farncomb, RAN Canberra intercepted the German raider supply ships Coburg and Ketty Brovig in the Indian Ocean during 1941.  Coburg was sunk while trying to escape and Ketty Brovig scuttled by her crew.   Moran was nominated for a Mention in Dispatches for his service in Canberra noting his ‘outstanding zeal, patience and cheerfulness and for setting a wholehearted example of devotion to duty.’   This award was not gazetted until 11 June 1942 by which time he had been killed in action.  


HMAS Canberra. Commander William Moran served in the cruiser as Executive Officer (Second in Command) during the period October 1939 to September 1941.

Moran took command of the elderly destroyer HMAS Vampire on 13 October 1941.  The ship was then alongside in Singapore; having just completed a refit after many months of hard service in the Mediterranean as part of the ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla’.   Unbeknown to her ships company the reasonably quiet Southeast Asian area was about to become a new theatre of war. 

On 8 December 1941 (7 December in Pearl Harbor) Japanese forces unleashed a widespread and coordinated attack against Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, The Philippines, Malaya and Singapore. On the evening of the 8th Force Z, comprising the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and four destroyers, including Vampire, sailed from Singapore in search of Japanese naval forces supporting the landing of troops off the east coast of peninsula Malaya.  Shortly after 1100 on the 10th Force Z was attacked by three waves of Japanese aircraft including high - level bombers and torpedo bombers.

Repulse was the first to be struck by torpedoes and she quickly rolled over and sank.  Vampire and HMS Electra were directed to rescue survivors and despite enemy air attack Moran succeeded in picking up 223 survivors from Repulse.  By that time Prince of Wales had also been sunk but the bulk of her survivors were rescued by HMS Express that went alongside the stricken vessel to take off personnelVampire also picked up two men from Prince of Wales from the waterThe four destroyers then returned to Singapore to offload the British survivors and also deliver the bad news of this significant Allied defeat.

Vampire continued to serve in the Malayan campaign escorting a minelayer to Kuantan where the entrance to the port was mined.  She then conducted convoy escort duties to Sumatra and Java.  On the morning 26 January 1942 the Australian destroyer was anchored in Johore Strait when Moran was ordered to sail with the British destroyer HMS Thanet and conduct a night attack against Japanese naval forces operating near Endau, some 80 miles north of Singapore.  The two destroyers sailed that afternoon passing Pulau Tioman at 0200 on the 27th.   Soon afterwards Japanese vessels were sighted and the attack commenced with both Allied ships firing torpedoes; but without success.

The following action can best be described as a ‘confused melee’ with both sides firing at each other in darkness.  Moran broke off the action around 0400 and as the two destroyers were retiring at speed Thanet was hit and soon afterwards sank.  Vampire reach Singapore safely later that morning.  Although hits by gunfire were claimed on at least two enemy destroyers the Japanese action reports stated they escaped the action unscathed. 

On 16 June 1942, some two months after his death, Moran was awarded a second mention in dispatches ‘for gallantry, steadfastness and devotion to duty when HMAS Vampire fought a night action with a superior Japanese force on 26/27 January 1942 at Endau, Malaya.  This officer handled his small force (HMAS Vampire and HMS Thanet) very well in the vicinity of greatly superior enemy forces.   The result, however, were not very good, as HMS Thanet was sunk and only one enemy ship hit by our gunfire.’

Vampire left Singapore on 28 January to escort a convoy to Java. On 5 February she escorted two ships through the Sunda Strait and then continued the escort to Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where she was then attached to the Royal Navy East Indies Station. For the next two months Vampire conducted anti-submarine patrols off Colombo and also became part of the escort screen for the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes; operating from the port of Trincomalee in north east Ceylon.

In late March 1942 Japanese naval forces approached Ceylon and carrier launched aircraft attacked Colombo on 5 April.  On 8 April Allied reconnaissance aircraft discovered a Japanese force heading towards Trincomalee and several ships, including Hermes and Vampire, sailed that evening to avoid the raid.   Shortly after 1030 on the 9th Japanese carrier borne aircraft located Hermes and Vampire and commenced their attack concentrating on the British carrier.  Hermes suffered at least 40 direct bomb hits and soon sank. The Japanese aircraft then turned their attack on Vampire.

Moran attempted to evade the oncoming aircraft but the elderly destroyer was soon hit by four bombs including one that struck the boiler room and soon after the ship lost all propulsion and began to sink.  Moran gave the order to abandon ship, but as her ships company were launching rafts and floats more bombs struck and Vampire broke in half with the forward section sinking immediately.   The stern stayed afloat for a few more minutes until a bomb struck the after magazine and the resultant explosion caused it to sink. 

Commander Moran was last seen on the bridge and was not amongst the survivors.  He and seven other members of Vampires ships company (six stokers and a Royal Navy signalman) were killed in action. The remainder of her ships company, including several wounded, were picked up later that day by the hospital ship Vita; however Petty Officer Ronald MacDonald, DSM died of his wounds on 13 April 1942 and was buried at sea. 

Commander William Moran was initially remembered with a recruit division at HMAS Cerberus named in his honour.  In 2014 the names of the recruit divisions were changed to recognise RAN Sailors who had distinguished themselves in both war and peace.  The name Moran was then transferred to HMAS Creswell for use as a divisional name for trainee officers. 


Commander William Moran was in command of HMAS Vampire from 13 October 1941 until her loss on 9 April 1942 off the coast of Ceylon.

Further Reading