HMAS
Armidale
(I)

HMAS Armidale (I)
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper
Pennant
J240
Motto
Stand Firm
Builder
Mort’s Dock and Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney
Laid Down
1 September 1941
Launched
24 January 1942
Launched by
Built in dock and not launched therefore no ceremony was held
Commissioned
11 June 1942
Decommissioned
1 December 1942
Fate
Sunk by Japanese aircraft on 1 December 1942
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement
  • 599 tonnes (standard)
  • 944 tonnes (full war load)
Length 56.69 metres
Beam 9.45 metres
Draught 2.59 metres
Performance
Speed 15 knots
Complement
Crew 85
Propulsion
Machinery Triple expansion, 2 shafts, 2,000 hp
Horsepower 2,000
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x 4-inch gun
  • 3 x Oerlikons
  • Machine guns
Other Armament Depth charge chutes and throwers
Awards
Battle Honours

HMAS Armidale (I) was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers (commonly known as corvettes) built during World War II in Australian shipyards as part of the Commonwealth Government’s wartime shipbuilding programme. Twenty were built on Admiralty order but manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty six (including Armidale (I)) were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

These ships established an enviable reputation in the RAN as 'maids of all work' but were also renowned for 'rolling on wet grass' by those who served in them.

The general arrangement plan of a Bathurst class corvette
The general arrangement plan of a Bathurst-class corvette.

Armidale (I) commissioned at Sydney on 11 June 1942 under the command of Lieutenant Commander David H Richards RANR(S).

Lieutenant Commander David H. Richards, RANR(S). Commanding officer HMAS Armidale.
Lieutenant Commander David H Richards, RANR(S), Commanding Officer HMAS Armidale.
Commissioning of HMAS Armidale in Sydney 11 June 1942
Commissioning of HMAS Armidale in Sydney, 11 June 1942.

Following a workup period Armidale (I) was brought into operational service as an escort vessel protecting convoys operating between Australia and New Guinea. That service ended in October 1942 when she was ordered to join the 24th Minesweeping Flotilla at Darwin. Armidale arrived at Darwin on 7 November 1942.

HMAS Armidale at sea. Note the location of the aft Oerlikon gun situated behind the mainmast.
HMAS Armidale at sea. Note the location of the aft Oerlikon gun situated behind the mainmast.

On 24 November 1942 Allied Land Forces Headquarters approved the relief/reinforcement of the Australian 2/2nd Independent Company which at that time was holding out in Japanese occupied Timor.

The withdrawal of 150 Portuguese civilians was also approved and consequently plans were made in Darwin for HMA Ships Castlemaine (Lieutenant Commander Philip J Sullivan RANR(S)), Armidale and Kuru (Lieutenant JA Grant, RANR), a shallow draught, 76 foot wooden motor vessel, to effect the relief operation which was code-named Operation HAMBURGER.

Left: HMAS Armidale in Port Moresby.
HMAS Armidale in Port Moresby.

Action off Timor

The proposal was for the three ships to each make two separate runs into Betano on Timor's southern coastline. The first run was planned for the night of 30 November-1 December. HMAS Kuru sailed from Darwin at 22:30 on 28 November preceding the two corvettes. She was delayed enroute due to adverse weather conditions and consequently did not reach Betano until 23:45 on 30 November.

A group of unidentified crew members onboard Armidale (AWM P03773.004)
A group of unidentified crew members onboard Armidale. (AWM P03773.004)

Meanwhile Armidale, in company with Castlemaine, had left Darwin at 00:42 on 29 November. In Armidale were 61 Netherlands East Indies troops, two Dutch officers and three members of the 2nd AIF. At 09:15 on the morning of 30 November when, 120 miles from their destination, the two corvettes came under aerial attack from a single enemy aircraft. Although neither ship sustained any damage or casualties, concerns were raised that the mission may have been compromised. The attack was duly reported and orders were received to 'press on', with an assurance that RAAF Beaufighter aircraft had departed to provide cover. The ships were subjected to two more air attacks, each by formations of five bombers which dropped no less than 45 bombs and machine gunned the ships from a low level. According to Armidale, the promised Beaufighters arrived in time to drive off the bombers and both ships escaped serious damage or injury, reaching Betano at 03:30 on 1 December. Disappointingly there was no sign of Kuru and a decision was made to return to sea and make as much ground to the south as possible before daylight.

An informal group portrait of members from HMAS Armidale. (AWM P03773.003)

Meanwhile, Kuru, with no knowledge of the attacks affecting the arrival of the corvettes, embarked 77 Portuguese before sailing without delay. At dawn, Kuru was sighted by Castlemaine 70 miles south of Betano and she subsequently closed to conduct the transfer of her passengers to the corvette. Following the rendezvous, Kuru received orders from Darwin to return to Betano and complete the mission that night. No sooner was the personnel transfer complete when enemy bombers again appeared necessitating Kuru to run for cover in a nearby rain squall.

As the senior officer, Castlemaine’s captain quickly appraised the situation. Kuru had orders to return to Betano, Armidale had troops on board to be landed there, and, to further complicate matters, a signal had been received to search for two downed airmen from a Beaufighter some 150 miles to the south east. Sullivan’s preference was to exchange passengers with Armidale so Castlemaine might escort Kuru back to Timor, however, the presence of enemy aircraft ruled that out. Consequently Armidale and Kuru were ordered to return to Betano to complete the troop reinforcement operation while Castlemaine went in search of the downed airmen enroute back to Darwin.

Left: HMAS Kuru. Right: HMAS Castlemaine.
Left: HMAS Kuru. Right: HMAS Castlemaine.

As Kuru and Armidale steamed northwards they both came under fierce aerial attack becoming separated in the process. For almost seven hours Kuru dodged bombs suffering minor damage to her engine and losing her assault boat that was under tow. Grant reported the damage to Darwin but was told that the operation was to be carried through. This instruction was later rescinded when the presence of Japanese cruisers approaching the area was reported. Kuru then shaped a course for Darwin.

At approximately 13:00 on 1 December five Japanese bombers were spotted by Armidale's lookouts. Without adequate air cover there was little hope of surviving the attack and a signal was sent to Darwin requesting urgent fighter cover. For the next half an hour Armidale's gunners beat of successive Japanese attacks and the ship escaped serious damage. In the mean time a signal was received from Darwin advising that the much needed fighters would arrive at 13:45.

Shortly before 15:00 Armidale was attacked by nine bombers, three fighters and a float plane. The fighters split up and came in at low level straffing Armidale's decks with machine-gun fire. With her gunners thus distracted, the torpedo bombers mounted their attacks from different directions as Richards manoeuvred desperately to avoid their torpedoes. In spite of the brave resistance, the ship was hit twice by torpedoes, immediately heeling over to port. At that point Richards gave the order to abandon ship. Rafts were cut loose and a motor boat  freed from its falls before men took to the water. Their ordeal, however, was far from over. The Japanese airmen then pressed home further attacks machine gunning the survivors. Leading Seaman Leigh Bool who survived the ordeal later recalled:

 

Two or three [aircraft] went right across the ship and they apparently were using their torpedoes as bombs. These did no damage although several of the torpedoes hurtled low right across the ship. However, the others hit us within two or three minutes of the commencement of the attack. We were hit on the port side forward, causing the ship to heel over at an angle of 45 degrees.

The Armidale was going fast and the captain ordered us to abandon ship. Ratings were trying to get out lifesaving appliances as Jap planes roared just above us, blazing away with cannon and machine guns. Seven or eight of us were on the quarterdeck when we saw another bomber coming from the starboard quarter. It hit us with another torpedo an we were thrown in a heap among the depth charges and racks.

We could feel the Armidale going beneath us, so we dived over the side and swam about 50 yards astern as fast as we could. Then we stopped swimming and looked back at our old  ship. She was sliding under, the stern high in the air, the propellers still turning.

Before we lost her, we had brought down two enemy bombers for certain, and probably a third. The hero of the battle was a young ordinary seaman, Edward Sheean, not long at sea, who refused to leave the ship.

Sheean had no chance of escape. Strapped to his anti-aircraft gun, he blazed away till the last. One of the Jap bombers, hit by his gun, staggered away trailing smoke, just skimming the surface until it crashed with a mighty splash about a quarter mile away.

Wireman William Lamshed was another who survived the sinking recalling Armidale's last moments both from his action station in a small workshop on the corvette's port side and from in the water:

"The workshop was about 1 metre in width and 2 metres in length with a phone to the bridge. My duties were to receive instructions for setting of the depth charge detonators, when hunting down subs. This was my station regardless of what action was in progress.

When we first saw these different looking planes coming, we just knew we were in big trouble, and that our end might be near, so I quickly went to my hideyhole, as I called it, and cringed in a corner, waiting to be blown to pieces. I was wearing shorts beneath my boiler suit, had only slippers on my feet, a tin hat on my head and my deflated Mae West [life preserver]. My only other possession was a Joseph Rodgers 'Bunny' pocket knife, which I acquired when rabbit trapping and hunting as a young lad in my Victorian rural home town. A torpedo hit us on the port side amidships and this caused my steel workshop door to burst open. I knew then the ship was doomed and so I attempted to leave through the doorway, only to be met with a huge wall of water from the explosion. This somehow sent me over the stern of the ship and into the swirling wash from the propellers. I had no control over my movements at that time, for everything happened so swiftly, but I was aware that I had lost my tin hat and my slippers. Later when I had time to think, I realised how lucky I had been, for I could have been killed then by being bashed into the davits that criss-crossed the stern of the ship.

As the ship sped away from me the port propeller was still under water and the starboard propeller was lifting out but still turning. The water around me then became calm, but the same couldn't be said for me. I suddenly realised I was being left behind and nobody knew I was overboard. The Zeroes were raking the ship with cannon and machine gun fire from their noses and wings, then another torpedo struck on the starboard side and the ship split in two. Then another torpedo was dropped like a bomb, but it overshot the ship, hit the water and disappeared.

I was now in complete panic as my ship was sinking in front of my eyes, with all still on board trying to escape. Now the front of the ship was turning on its side and going down. The rear section was leaning on an angle, when the after Oerlikon gun started firing and I saw tracers actually hitting a dive bombing Zero which flew over my head and disappeared into the sea about a quarter of a mile away. A brilliant bit of shooting, I thought, considering the deck was at such a steep angle and that the gun was still firing as the ship sank under the water."

An extract from 'The History of the Royal Australian Navy' DVD, Volume Two: 1919-1945, Episode 3: 'Banzai', which explains the fate of HMAS Armidale during World War II. Narration by John Waters. Note: This video is hosted on YouTube. Department of Defence users will not be able to view this video on the Defence Protected Network.

Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean

Ordinary Seaman  Edward 'Teddy' Sheean, an 18 year old rating from Latrobe, Tasmania, was one of those injured during the attacks. In spite of injuries to his chest and back he helped to free one of the ship's life-rafts, before scrambling back to his post on an Oerlikon gun, mounted behind the bridge. Strapping himself to his weapon he opened fire shooting down one bomber and keeping other aircraft away from his comrades in the water. He was seen still firing his gun as Armidale slipped below the waves just after 15:10 in position 10°S, 126°30´E. Sheean was posthumously awarded a mention in dispatches for his bravery and one of the Australian-built Collins class submarines, HMAS Sheean is named in his honour.

Left: Ordinary Seaman Edward 'Teddy' Sheean. Right: Painting depicting Teddy Sheean strapped to Armidale's aft Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun firing at Japanese bombers. Sheean was observed by his shipmates to continue firing at the enemy as the ship sank. (AWM ART28160 by Dale Marsh)

The survivors

When the marauding Japanese departed, the survivors found themselves in the water with two boats (a motor boat and a whaler) a Carley float and a raft that had been successfully freed from the sinking corvette. The men remained together until the afternoon of 2 December when Lieutenant Commander Richards made the difficult decision to set out for help in the motor boat which at that time carried 16 of his ship's company and some Dutch service personnel. The motor boat had sufficient fuel for about 100 miles but from the outset the motor proved unreliable forcing those on board to row for the first 28 hours. The motor was eventually encouraged to start and the vessel was later sighted by a reconnaissance aircraft from Darwin on Saturday 5 December. By then the boat was approximately 150 miles WNW of Darwin and roughly 150 ESE of where Armidale had sunk. The sighting of the motor boat was the first confirmation to naval authorities in Darwin that Armidale had been lost.

By that time, having himself observed no sign of searching aircraft, Lieutenant LG Palmer, RANR, in command of Armidale's 27 foot whaler, was also underway in search of help. Embarked in that vessel were 25 of Armidale's crew and three soldiers of the 2nd AIF. Remaining drifting on the raft were 28 of the ship's company while on the Carley float were 21 Dutch troops. Their future was dependent on Richards or Palmer being spotted.

HMAS Kalgoorlie left Darwin at 11:40 on 5 December reaching the vicinity of the sighting of Armidale's motor boat at 02:30 the next morning. There she proceeded to search for the survivors coming under aerial attack herself from two Japanese bombers. The attack saw 16 bombs dropped by the aircraft but the corvette fought back receiving no damage. At 22:00 that evening a red flare was sighted and an hour later she rescued 20 men from the motor boat under the command of Richards. Two of its number had died during the voyage - Ordinary Seaman Frederick Smith and one of the Dutch soldiers. The others were in poor shape and in light of this Kalgoorlie's commanding officer made the painful decision to cease searching and repatriate them to Darwin which he reached at 13:30 on 7 December. Among the survivors was Able Seaman Eric Millhouse who had previously survived the loss of HMAS Canberra in August 1942.

L-R:
From left: Ordinary Seaman Frederick Francis Smith, Ordinary Seaman Colin Frederick Madigan and Lieutenant Lloyd Palmer, RANR.

On 7 December, the raft was sighted by searching aircraft and on the following day both the whaler and raft were again observed. HMAS Kalgoorlie subsequently located and rescued the occupants of the whaler, however, the rafts and their occupants were never seen again.

A Catalina flying boat was despatched from Cairns to pick up these survivors and reached the area on the afternoon of 8 December 1942. One of the Catalina aircrew took this picture, but the aircraft was unable to land because of the rough sea state. Despite exhaustive air and sea searches and the rescuing of other survivors, these pictured survivors were never seen again after the Catalina departed from the area.
A Catalina flying boat was despatched from Cairns to pick up these survivors. She reached the area on the afternoon of 8 December 1942. One of the Catalina aircrew took this picture however, the aircraft was unable to land because of the rough sea state. Despite exhaustive air and sea searches and the rescuing of other survivors, these pictured survivors were never seen again after the Catalina departed from the area. (AWM 300191).
 
Leading Seaman Leigh Bool, reunited with his wife, following his repatriation after Armidale's loss
Leading Seaman Leigh Bool, reunited with his wife, following his repatriation after Armidale's loss.

Out of a total of 83 naval personnel, comprising five officers and 78 ratings, 40 (two officers and 38 ratings) lost their lives. Losses of Netherlands East Indies personnel were two officers and 58 soldiers.

 Roll of Honour

RAN and RN Officers and Men Lost in HMAS Armidale

Anderson, William Robert
Telegraphist
22347
Axford, Stanley Don
Ordinary Seaman
PA2618
Baker, Bertram Henry
Assistant Steward
PM3727
Beard, Leslie Irwin
Able Seaman
F3203
Beech, William Ralph
Able Seaman
22470
Buckland, James Reginald
Sub-Lieutenant RANVR
 
Burgess, Ernest
Stoker Petty Officer
11273
Coldwell, Donald
Signalman
D/JX207340 RN
Currie, Joseph
Engine Room Artificer 4th Class
PM2698
Evans, Alfred Grant
Stoker 2nd Class
S6075
Gay, Bernard Alford
Ordinary Seaman
F3947
Gould, Raymond Arthur
Steward
S4231
Harcourt, James Frank
Acting Leading Stoker (Temporary)
24597
Hippisley, David Eric
Ordinary Seaman
S6468
Holden, Denis
Acting Engine Room Artificer 4th Class
S6197
Hopkins, Norman Frank
Ordinary Seaman
F3843
Jenkyn, Harry Ferror Merrychurch
Probationary Temporary Engineering Lieutenant RANR(S)
 
Jensen, William
Telegraphist
PA/V 35
Kibble, Charles James
Leading Signals Yeoman Assistant (Temporary)
23325
Knight, Arthur Peter
Stoker
20888
Luckman, William
Stoker
11257
MacVicar, James
Stoker
S5031
Malone, Ernest Anthony
Stoker 2nd Class
25909
Meredith, Wilfred Bickford
Signals Yeoman Assistant
S4222
Mitchell, Keighley John
Ordinary Seaman
B3757
McGarrigle, Ronald John
Stoker 2nd Class
S6051
McMennemin, Raymond Edward
Cook (Ships)
24699
Paterson, Donald Howie
Ordinary Seaman
F4021
Piesse, Edward Standfield
Ordinary Seaman
H1824
Quayle, Robert Allanson
Acting Stoker Petty Officer (Temporary)
21177
Quigley, Maxwell Timothy
Acting Able Seaman
H1552
Reid, Harry Allan
Acting Leading Stoker (Temporary)
PM2670
Rudland, Harry Eric
Ordinary Seaman
PA2817
Sanson, William Edwin
Ordinary Seaman
F3671
Schrader, Harold Reginald
Able Seaman
PA1931
Sheean, Edward
Ordinary Seaman
H1617
Smith, Frederick Francis
Ordinary Seaman
S5399
Trenbath, Keith William
Stoker 2nd Class
25906
Turner, Albert Benjamin
Ordinary Seaman
H1833
Williams, William Brettingham
Acting Leading Cook (Ships) (Temporary)
22022
Ordinary Seaman Albert Benjamin Turner pictured with his brothers Les (left) and Arthur (right) (photo courtesy of Mick Turner).
Ordinary Seaman Albert Benjamin Turner pictured with his brothers Les (left) and Arthur (right). (photo courtesy of Mick Turner).
 Eight of the Survivors enjoying a drink at Menzies Hotel, Melbourne. The second, the ship's whaler with twenty nine survivors, commanded by Lieutenant (Lt) L. G. Palmer was also rescued by HMAS Kalgoorlie on 1942-12-09. During the epic voyage in the ship's whaler Signalman George Devlin celebrated his 21st birthday on Sunday 1942-12-06 and complained about the quality of the offering for Sunday dinner. Lt Palmer offered to "shout the Melbourne lads dinner at the Menzies" if they survived the voyage. Left t
Eight of the Survivors enjoying a drink at Menzies Hotel, Melbourne.The ship's whaler with twenty nine survivors, commanded by Lieutenant LG Palmer was also rescued by HMAS Kalgoorlie on 9 December 1942. During the epic voyage in the ship's whaler Signalman George Devlin celebrated his 21st birthday on Sunday 1942-12-06, and complained about the quality of the offering for Sunday dinner. Palmer offered to "shout the Melbourne lads dinner at the Menzies" if they survived the voyage. Left to right: Assistant Cook GC Sanderson; Ordinary Seaman JP Parker; the hotel manager; Ordinary Seaman RC Wilson; Ordinary Seaman VR Leonard; Wireman WN Lamshed; Signalman GR Devlin and Ordinary Seaman RM Caro. (Courtesy of Ray Raymond)

Nominal Roll of RAN Survivors 

Arndell, Reginald Clarence
Stoker 2nd Class
S5841
Barnes, Ronald
Able Seaman
W1187
Bool, Leigh Henry
Leading Seaman
20551
Cairns, Robert
Stoker
S4856
Caro, Russel Martin
Ordinary Seaman
PM4100
Cleland, Roy David
Able Seaman
W1331
Davies, David Roger Roland
Stoker
11446
Davies, Raymond James
Acting Petty Officer (Temporary)
20386
Devlin, George Richardson
Signalmen
PM966
Duckworth, Jack
Able Seaman
B2234
Higgins, Leslie Ingram
Motor Mechanic
25947
Lamb, Douglas Hatton
Acting Engine Room Artificer 4th Class
S6273
Lamshed, William Noel
Wireman
25724
Lansbury, Arthur
Signalman
B2424
Lawson, Donald Raymond
Ordinary Seaman
S6306
Leonard, Victor Raymond
Ordinary Seaman
PM4055
Lyndon, Louis Roy
Ordinary Seaman
H1987
Maddox, Richard Donovan
Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class
S3628
Madigan, Colin Frederick
Ordinary Seaman
S5911
Millhouse, Eric Abbott
Able Seaman
23802
Moreley, Edward George
Ordinary Seaman
S6432
McKellar, William David
Able Seaman
20198
McKoy, Kenneth Leo
Leading Stoker (Temporary)
21068
Nicholas, William Thomas Trew
Leading Stoker
6337
Osborn, Phillip George
Stoker
23042
Palmer, Lloyd George
Lieutenant, RANR
 
Pankhurst, Charles Henry
Acting Leading Seaman
22327
Parker, John Percival
Ordinary Seaman
PM4052
Pellett, Edward Keith
Able Seaman
22004
Prett, James Thomas
Able Seaman
C/J 109528 (RN) 25818 (RAN)
Puckeridge, Charles Robert
Ordinary Seaman
S6241
Pullen, Donald Rex
Ordinary Seaman
PM 4102
Raymond, Ray Beresford
Stoker 2nd Class
S5501
Read, William James
Ordinary Seaman
S6578
Reedman, Denis Victor
Telegraphist
B2519
Richards, David Herbert
Lieutenant Commander, RANR (S)
 
Roberts, John Michael Dennis
Telegraphist
S/V 54
Sanderson, Geoffery Clive
Assistant Cook (Officers)
PM 4622
Sim, Leonard Keith
Ordinary Seaman
H6330
Webster, David Aburn
Ordinary Seaman
H1935
Williamson, Maxwell Joseph
Sick Berth Attendant
S3537
Wilson, Ronald Charles
Ordinary Seaman
PM4065

Nominal Roll (Surnames) of Dutch KNIL servicemen lost in HMAS Armidale

Amatkasmiri
Margés
Sengkeij
Amatparodji
Mariman
Soebardi
Amelaman
Marsidjan
Soekir
Anschütz
Marsoekoet
Soeratman
Atmowirono
Moeralin
Soeriaredja
Bartman
Ngadeni
Soeroso
Bodel Bienfait
Ngalimin
Soewondo
Dawoed
Ngatidjo
Soplanit
Dimjadi
Pardjan
Stoll
Diran
Peseserun
Tamijs
Djalil
Ranamedja
Teljeur
Emping
Roeslan
Toekiman
Frank
Rossum, van
Towikromo
Geurts
Sabar
Tulenam
Karmin
Sadoen
Verseput
Kasdi
Sajoeti
Vries, de
Katas
Salamin
Wagsakrama
Keijser
Saleh
Wantania
Kojongian
Samoedi
Wiriotijsso
Kroedoek
Sardi
Wongsodinomo
Lijtsman Piernbaum
Sarkoem

 

 

 

Further Reading

  • 'The Corvettes: Forgotten Ships of the Royal Australian Navy' by Iris Nesdale - published by the Author, October, 1982.
  • 'Corvettes - Little Ships for Big Men' by Frank B Walker - published by Kingfisher Press, NSW, 1996.
  • 'The Australian Centenary History of Defence Volume III, The Royal Australian Navy' edited by David Stevens, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2001.
  • 'Ships in Battledress' by JH Adams.