HMAS Air Foam
Air/Sea Search and Rescue Vessel
Air-Sea Rescue Launch
South Coast Co, USA
20 September 1944
|Dimensions & Displacement|
|Beam||15 ft (4.57m)|
|Draught||3 ft 4 in (1.01m)|
|Crew||7-8 including 2 RAAF telegraphists|
|Machinery||Twin Hall-Scott petrol engines|
|Guns||2 x twin Lewis guns|
HMAS Air Foam was one of 21 air/ sea rescue (ASR) vessels originally built in the USA and Canada between 1943 and 1945, and transferred to the RAN under the Lend-Lease Agreement. These vessels were originally designed as anti-submarine craft but their high speed and manoeuvrability made them ideal as search and rescue vessels. In this role, their hulls were painted black and their upper decks and superstructure painted bright yellow. One vessel, HMAS Air Sprite, was built locally in 1960 to an almost identical design.
Air Foam was commissioned as HMAS Air Wave on 20 September 1944 in Sydney under the command of Skipper (later Sub-Lieutenant, RANVR) Ivor Meddleton and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMA Ships Melville and Madang. Her name was changed from Air Wave to Air Foam sometime between January and April 1945. She remained alongside in Rushcutter’s Bay immediately after commissioning awaiting the installation of additional radio equipment and preparing for sea. Following trials and inspection of underwater fittings, she finally put to sea on 19 February 1945 and proceeded to Jervis Bay for exercises and to conduct ASR duties with Royal Navy aircraft carriers of the British Pacific Fleet.
She departed Sydney on 8 March and proceeded northwards bound for Madang, New Guinea. At the end of April Air Foam ran aground on a reef off the south-east corner of Hick’s Island in Far North Queensland. The commissioned trawler, HMAS Lucy Star, came to her assistance but, after an unsuccessful attempt to tow Air Foam off the reef on 8 May, Lucy Star was forced to return to Portland Roads on 10 May as a member of her crew had suffered a fractured arm. The salvage tug, Cambrian Salvor, arrived the following day to render further assistance. Another attempt to re-float Air Foam was made that evening but was once again unsuccessful. She was finally re-floated on the evening of 12 May and an immediate inspection showed only slight leaking. Cambrian Salvor took Air Foam in tow on 13 May and arrived at Thursday Island the following morning where preparations were made to slip the boat and conduct repairs. Several members of Air Foam’s crew required medical attention at Thursday Island’s naval base, HMAS Carpentaria, for coral cuts suffered during the salvage operation.
She remained at Thursday Island for four months during which time her engines were also replaced. She underwent trials between 23 and 28 August, and during the night of 27/28 August conducted an unsuccessful search for a missing transport plane in the vicinity of Prince of Wales Island.
After nearly two weeks at Horne Island conducting ASR duties, Air Foam departed for Madang on 22 September. She suffered another engine defect at Langemak on 27 September, which forced another extended period alongside, and she finally reached Madang on 8 November. She conducted ASR duties and provided emergency medical transportation over the next few months in New Guinea and Solomon Islands waters.
On 30 May she was taken in tow by HMAS Diamantina at Dreger Harbour for return to Australia having recently run aground on a reef near New Britain and suffered damage to her hull. They returned to Dreger briefly as Air Foam had slipped the tow but recommenced their passage the following day. A difficult passage ensued in inclement weather and three independent drogues, made up of buckets, chains, mats and timber, were required to keep Air Foam steady. They arrived in Sydney on 14 June and Air Foam was subsequently decommissioned.