HMAS
Barbette

HMAS Barbette
Class
Attack Class
Type
Patrol Boat
Pennant
P97
Motto
Taut and Trim
Builder
Walkers Ltd, Maryborough Queensland
Launched
10 April 1968
Launched by
Mrs T.K. Morrison, wife of the Flag Officer in Charge East Australia Area
Commissioned
16 August 1968
Decommissioned
15 June 1984
Fate
Transferred to the Indonesian Navy on 22 February 1985 and renamed KRI Siada
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 146 tonnes
Length 32.76 metres
Beam 6.2 metres
Draught 1.9 metres
Performance
Speed 24 knots
Range 2,200 kms at 13 knots
Complement
Crew 19
Propulsion
Machinery Twin Paxman diesels
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x Bofors 40mm gun
  • 2 x .50 calibre M2 Browning machine guns
HMAS Barbette Badge

HMAS Barbette commissioned in Hervey Bay on 16 August 1968. She was one of twenty Attack class patrol boats ordered for the RAN in November 1965. The Attack class was equipped with high-definition navigation radar, magnetic compasses, an echo sounder and air conditioning for service in northern Australian waters. The Attack class’s primary role was to conduct patrol work in Australian territorial waters.

Barbette sailed the day after commissioning and set course for Brisbane. Unfortunately her operational career got off to an inauspicious start when, within three days of commissioning, both the port and starboard fuel injector pumps failed necessitating their replacement. Having overcome this set-back Barbette continued on to her new homeport at HMAS Waterhen in Sydney where she arrived on 25 August. She conducted her first exercises off Lion Island at the end of the month supporting the 1st Royal New South Wales Commando Regiment.

HMAS Barbette was one of twenty Attack class patrol boats commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy.
HMAS Barbette was one of twenty Attack class patrol boats commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy.

Her next tasking was of a completely different nature. On 2 September she berthed at the Taronga Park Ferry Wharf to embark a large Petrel bird, its handler and members of the media, all of whom joined Barbette to release the bird into its natural ocean habitat. The bird had been cared for at Taronga Park Zoo over the previous four weeks and its repatriation to the sea had garnered considerable media interest. The bird was safely released that morning three miles east of Macquarie Light.

Barbette then began a regular program of exercises off the Australian east coast, often in company with other RAN ships and supporting clearance diving teams. She participated in Exercise CHE SERA 3 off Jervis Bay in September before heading north in October to participate in Exercise SHADOW, involving Royal Marines and special forces, in the Shoalwater Bay exercise area.

Exercises continued off the NSW coast before she made her first visit to the southern states early in 1969 when she arrived at HMAS Cerberus on 23 January before sailing for Tasmania. There she joined HMAS Ardent visiting Burnie before inclement weather and a defect in the starboard generator forced Barbette to return to Melbourne. With repairs complete she sailed for Sydney on 14 February where she resumed her exercise and maintenance program including participation in Exercise CHE SERA 4.

Much to the crew’s frustration, a further series of defects prevented Barbette from conducting her first operational patrol of the outer Great Barrier Reef in March. Instead, she did put to sea bound for Jervis Bay on 31 March for more routine exercises. A subsequent patrol of the outer Barrier Reef forecast to take place in May was also cancelled when inclement weather prevented Barbette and her sister boats Barricade and Bombard from leaving Townsville. Instead, the ships’ companies participated in the Coral Sea Memorial Rock Pool dedication ceremony at Kissing Point on 14 May. They then departed for Sydney the next day.

Barbette conducted her first fishery surveillance patrol in Tasmanian waters in June but once again inclement weather on Tasmania’s east coast forced her to seek shelter in Hobart at the end of the month. The weather in Bass Strait and around Tasmania frequently saw the small Attack class patrol boats battling large swells, rough weather and gales.  Sea sickness and fatigue often took their toll on the patrol boat crews operating in those challenging conditions.

Upon her return to Sydney in July, Barbette conducted exercises off the NSW coast and participated in the search for survivors from MV Noongah on 26 August, which had foundered off Smokey Cape on the NSW mid-north coast the previous day. Of the crew of 26, 21 were lost.

Barbette departed Sydney on 8 September to rendezvous with her sister ships Barricade, Bombard and Buccaneer, and the RAN’s hydrographic survey vessel, HMAS Moresby, for survey operations in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Twice Barbette was called away from those operations to search for a Chinese fishing trawler which had been observed fishing illegally in the declared fishing zone in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef. In spite of searching extensively for the vessel it was unable to be located. A defect in the port engine prevented Barbette from rejoining the final phase of the survey operations and on 27 November 1969 she set a course for Sydney spending the remainder of the year undergoing maintenance.

HMAS Barbette departing Sydney Harbour with her sister ship HMAS Barricade and hydrographic surveyor, HMAS Moresby
HMAS Barbette departing Sydney Harbour in company with her sister ship HMAS Barricade and the hydrographic survey ship HMAS Moresby.

Barbette was back at sea on 16 February 1970 conducting exercises off the New South Wales coast, and participating in Exercise BIG DEAL before entering refit at the end of April. Industrial unrest on Sydney’s docks saw the refit’s scheduled completion date blow out from 10 July to 12 August.

With her refit complete, Barbette departed Sydney on 3 September on a fishery surveillance patrol in north Queensland waters where she apprehended an illegal foreign fishing vessel in October. With Clearance Diving Team 1 embarked she also conducted a successful search for World War II era mines south of Archer Point and in the vicinity of Tongue Reef. A number were located and destroyed in situ.

On 25 January 1971 Barbette in company with HMAS Bayonet departed Sydney for their new home port at Cairns. They were later joined by HMAS Barricade. The three boats were greeted warmly on their arrival by both local dignitaries and members of the public, in spite of inclement weather.

The move to Cairns proved to be successful operationally, enabling the three boats of the 2nd Australian Patrol Boat Squadron to spend more time on patrol. These patrols covered almost the entirety of the Queensland coast from the southern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef to the western part of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The boats regularly undertook coast watching tasks, making contact with isolated communities to garner intelligence while maintaining good public relations. Representatives from the Department of Primary Industries and other Government agencies would often embark on these patrols.

Barbette continued a regular program of patrol work, exercises and maintenance coupled with public relations exercises such as representing the Navy at the North Queensland Easter Regatta at Bowen. The program was occasionally interrupted when the discovery of World War II era mines and other unexploded ordnance was reported. This activity was particularly prevalent in the Upolu Cay area, north-east of Cairns, which was used as a wartime bombing range. Shifting sands in the area would sometimes reveal unexploded ordnance and when this occurred Barbette would embark a clearance diving team to safely dispose of them.

In September 1971 Barbette made her first trip overseas when, while conducting patrols in the eastern part of the Gulf of Carpentaria, she was ordered to Port Moresby to escort her sister ship, HMAS Madang, to Australia for maintenance. She departed Thursday Island on 5 September and arrived in Port Moresby the next day following an uncomfortable voyage enduring force 5 to 6 winds. Madang was in a poor material state and after twice attempting to depart Port Moresby it was decided that she was in no fit state to travel to Australia. Consequently a decision was made for Madang to be slipped in Port Moresby. Barbette sailed for Cairns on 9 September arriving the next day.

The following month, a sharp increase in the number of Japanese long-line fishing vessels in Australian waters saw an increase in interceptions. Barbette investigated six such vessels on 28 October, finding only one licensed. The fishing line of one vessel, the Funakawa Maru, was followed by Barbette for 38 miles, never reaching its end.

Barbette represented the RAN at the Great Barrier Reef Festival in November 1971 before resuming patrol duties the following month. Whilst searching for a foreign fishing vessel in the Shelburne Bay area in Far North Queensland, she temporarily grounded on a reef near Mitirinchi (Quoin) Island due to poor navigational charts of the area. She was quickly re-floated and subsequently apprehended the unlicensed vessel. A later investigation revealed that the grounding caused only superficial damage to Barbette’s hull.

29 January 1972 marked the first anniversary of the establishment of the patrol boat base in Cairns. It had been a successful and busy year for the Patrol Boat Squadron based there with the three boats covering nearly 68,000 miles between them.

In March, Barbette joined nine other Attack class patrol boats and the destroyer HMAS Anzac for Exercise PLANTI MANUA (Many Warships) in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Seven Australian based patrol boats and three from the PNG squadron participated in the exercises, which ran from 6 to 12 March and finished with a ceremonial sail-past of Alotau led by Anzac. Barbette and Buccaneer also visited Rabaul and Madang but an engine defect in Barbette curtailed a scheduled visit to Port Moresby. They arrived back in Cairns on 23 March. Electrical problems plagued Barbette during April and she was not able to put to sea again until the end of the month. She underwent a refit from 20 June to 7 September, and the remainder of the year was spent on patrol and participating in public relations events.

A portent of what was in store for Barbette in 1973 occurred in January when a major defect in the starboard main engine required the engine to be replaced. Engine problems, particularly in the port engine, were commonplace throughout the year but, in spite of this, the ship maintained an impressive tempo of operations and exercises.

In February Barbette embarked two members of the Cairns Criminal Investigation Branch and a representative of the Customs and Excise Department for a narcotics investigation of coastal areas on the Cape York Peninsula. Four civilians were arrested and approximately two kilograms of marijuana confiscated in the Portland Roads area.

From March to July Barbette supported survey operations in the Capricorn Channel, around Heron Island and in the approaches to Burnett Heads before recurrent problems with the port main engine forced the patrol boat into dry-dock at the end of July to rectify the problem. Consequently her scheduled intermediate docking was brought forward from October to August to take advantage of her unexpected time in dry-dock. She was back at sea on 8 August and participated in the final day of the patrol boat squadron’s exercise period before she and Bombard provided support for the RAN Research Laboratory trials of the ‘Fanwise’ sonar.

Barbette conducted reef delineation surveys off the Queensland coast near Cairns in early September and, on 6 September, was ordered to rendezvous with the Japanese merchant ship, Ellice Maru. A Japanese sailor had fallen down a cargo hatch and was in urgent need of medical attention. Regrettably, the sailor died before Barbette’s arrival.

In November she participated in the patrol boat exercise SNOW DANCE in company with HMA Ships Barricade, Bayonet, Attack and Buccaneer, Clearance Diving Team 1, and US Navy (USN) patrol gunboats Gallup, Cannon and Asheville, based in Guam. She finished 1973 conducting a patrol in the Gulf of Carpentaria in December.

Barbette resumed he normal patrol and maintenance program until June 1974, although an accumulation of minor defects forced her to postpone a patrol in the Gulf of Carpentaria in February. She participated in Exercise MARLIN 1/74 in March and supported explosive ordnance disposal tasks in Shoalwater Bay and at Arlington Reef in March and April respectively.

Barbette in the 'Blue Infested" Dampier Harbour in September 1974
Barbette in Dampier Harbour, September 1974

She conducted a patrol in the Gulf of Carpentaria in May and, upon her return to Cairns on 24 May, began preparing for her biennial refit. She was back at sea on 16 August and, following work-up, departed for Western Australian waters on 4 September to conduct a fishery surveillance patrol off the Dampier Peninsula near Broome. The area was popular with unlicensed Indonesian fishing vessels and three were investigated and ordered out of the area. Two others were sighted but the prevailing seas prevented them from being boarded.

Barbette, in company with Attack and Bombard, rendezvoused with Moresby on 10 October to conduct survey operations off the Western Australian coast between Exmouth and Dampier. A major defect in Bombard’s main starboard engine forced her to abandon the survey operations and Barbette escorted her to Geraldton. HMAS Acute took over the escort to Fremantle where Bombard underwent repairs. Barbette then returned to the survey grounds until operations completed on 8 November. Barbette and Attack then sailed to Cairns on 19 November conducting patrols and exercises en route. Barbette resumed a regular program of patrols and maintenance, and was placed at two hours notice for sea to provide assistance in response to Cyclone Tracy. It transpired that she was not required.

Barbette was back in PNG waters in January 1975 when she was tasked with escorting an SRN5 hovercraft from Port Moresby to Thursday Island. The hovercraft was on lease to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to be used as an emergency medical evacuation vessel between Thursday Island and the islands of the Torres Strait. She arrived in Port Moresby on 16 January but did not depart until 21 January due to a fault in the hovercraft’s radar. They arrived together at Thursday Island the next day before Barbette returned to Cairns. At the end of the month she escorted HMAS Tarakan to Darwin in support of Cyclone Tracy relief efforts.

The first half of 1975 saw Barbette conducting routine patrols, exercises and undergoing maintenance including an Intermediate Docking in May/June. In August she participated in Exercise SQUADEX 75 and she also conducted a hydrographic survey near Hyde Reef after which defects in both engines temporarily left her without propulsion. She resumed patrols the following month and during a port visit to Weipa on 26 September, the trawler Markwell Explorer collided with her while she was berthed alongside. Fortunately damage was slight.

Barbette was, however, in need of an intermediate docking and engineering defects were beginning to mount up. A split in her hull on the starboard side was discovered on 30 October which required temporary repairs, and further engine defects forced her withdrawal from Exercise TROPIC SPRINGS NORTH in November. These problems were symptomatic of the demands placed on the patrol boat force which operated continuously around Australia’s vast coastline often in heavy weather.

Barbette resumed operational service in December and on 14 December she made two contacts near the mouth of the Holroyd River in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Both were identified as Taiwanese fishing vessels fishing illegally in Australian waters and while the first complied with orders to allow an inspection party aboard, the second ignored all orders to ‘heave to’. Barbette was consequently compelled to cross the bows of the fishing vessel and force it to stop. Both vessels and their crews were later escorted to Weipa to face legal action. Barbette returned to Cairns on 19 December for an intermediate docking and well-earned rest for her crew following a busy year.

On 20 January 1976 Barbette sailed to conduct a patrol in the Gulf of Carpentaria during which around 20 different Taiwanese fishing vessels were observed just outside of the Declared Fishing Zone (DFZ). Barbette’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Russ Swinnerton, RAN observed that the patrol reminded the fishing boats of the extent of Australian waters; “reminded them forcibly, judging by the number of cut nets and hurried escapes, and by the amount of fish several boats were observed to throw over the side on Barbette’s approach.” One vessel was apprehended inside the DFZ and escorted to Thursday Island after the Taiwanese captain offered Barbette’s executive officer, who led the boarding party, a $1000 bribe. Needless to say, his offer was declined.

Barbette was back in the Gulf in February and, on the 22nd, two more Taiwanese vessels were apprehended just south of Wallaby Island. Lieutenant Swinnerton, in typically laconic Australian style, noted that the captain of one of the vessels was “somewhat opposed to being arrested” and a reinforced boarding party was required to escort the vessel to Thursday Island.

One of many Taiwanese fishing vessels which were arrested by HMAS Barbette in 1976.
One of many Taiwanese fishing vessels which were arrested by HMAS Barbette in 1976.

Both of Barbette’s main engines were replaced in March after which she resumed the regular pattern of patrols, exercises and maintenance. She conducted exercises with a detachment from the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), and with the submarine HMAS Oxley in October before participating in Exercise KANGAROO TWO alongside armed forces from Australia, the US and New Zealand. On 23 October she was withdrawn from the exercise to investigate a suspected Foreign Fishing Vessel spotted by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft in the vicinity of Swains Reef. She made contact with the vessel that afternoon and, in an excellent example of inter-service cooperation, the Orion dropped a line of smoke markers in front of the vessel causing it to heave-to. Barbette’s boarding party apprehended the vessel, the Taiwanese registered Chin Ch’ang, and escorted it to Mackay.

1977 began with squadron exercises before Barbette embarked a detachment from CDT1 to destroy a mine reported at Thetford Reef. She then conducted patrols in the Gulf of Carpentaria during which both propellers became fouled by fishing nets, necessitating her to be towed by tug to Weipa where they were removed.

Barbette entered a refit on 21 February and was back at sea in May heading for Darwin to patrol the northern Australian coast at the end of the month. There she apprehended two Taiwanese fishing vessels near North Crocodile Island in June. She continued to patrol and exercise until October when she conducted survey operations in company with Moresby, Assail and Barricade in the Buccaneer Archipelago off the Western Australian coast. She then returned to the east coast on completion, and on 7 December apprehended another unlicensed Taiwanese vessel off the Queensland coast before escorting it to Gladstone.

1978 got off to a tragic start for the patrol boat squadron when, during squadron exercises on 11 January involving Barbette, Barricade and Bombard, an Aztec Piper aircraft on charter to the RAN and assisting with the exercise collided with Bombard’s mainmast and foremast, and crashed into the sea. Both of the aircraft’s civilian crew were killed. The remainder of the exercise was cancelled and Barbette resumed patrol operations on 28 January.

Barbette apprehended yet another unlicensed Taiwanese fishing vessel on 3 February in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and on 19 February, whilst on passage back to Cairns from the Gulf, she came to the assistance of the yacht Argo, which had run aground on Mid Reef. On reporting the incident it was revealed that Argo had been stolen in Cairns Harbour two days earlier. The thieves were apprehended and turned over to the authorities upon reaching harbour.

Patrol operations were curtailed by a series of mechanical defects in March and Barbette was again slipped for much-needed maintenance on 3 April.  She was operational again on 10 May and, responding to a request for assistance from the Queensland State Police, her boat and duty watch apprehended two stolen dinghies and their occupants in Cairns Harbour on 16 May. She spent the following month in PNG waters in company with Buccaneer participating in the PNGDF Exercise SQUADEX 10 in Milne Bay along with PNG Ships Buna, Lae, Ladava, Madang, Samarai, Aitape and Salamaua.

Resuming normal patrol and exercise commitments Barbette celebrated her tenth birthday on 16 August at Lindeman Island and finished the year by apprehending a Taiwanese clam-fishing vessel on 28 December.

Inclement weather caused by Cyclone Peter delayed sailing in the New Year by a week and on 8 January 1979 Barbette resumed her program of patrols, exercises and maintenance. A small fire on the port engine forced Barbette’s temporary withdrawal from the first squadron exercises of the year on 28 March but she re-joined the next day.

In April a northern fisheries patrol was punctuated with a docking in Darwin to repair a crack found in Barbette’s hull plating. She was back at sea the next day and a week later she apprehended yet another Taiwanese fishing vessel inside the DFZ escorting it to Darwin for prosecution. On 21 April Barbette departed Darwin for a rare overseas trip to Ambon, Indonesia, for Anzac Day. Two members of the Gull Force Association were embarked making their annual pilgrimage to the island where as members of the 2nd A.I.F they were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese during WWII. They departed for Darwin on 26 April.

A brief visit to Port Moresby was conducted between 12 - 15 October, and on 18 October the Spanish ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Mr Carlos Fernandez-Shaw, Mrs Fernandez-Shaw and Captain Brett Hilder MBE were embarked at Possession Island. Barbette then re-traced the route taken by Captain Luis Baez de Torres, as determined by Captain Hilder, through the Endeavour Channel in October 1606.

The remainder of the year was spent conducting patrols in northern Australian waters. Barbette temporarily grounded on 10 December while coming to anchor south-east of Cape Don but was immediately re-floated. With no damage sustained she continued her patrol until returning to Cairns on 21 December.

Barbette began the 1980’s with routine patrols and maintenance. She visited Port Moresby from 29 February to 3 March before commencing a refit on 19 March. She was back at sea on 9 June and participated in Exercise SANDPIPER later in the month.

HMAS Barbette during her refit on 5th April 1980
HMAS Barbette during her refit on 5th April 1980

Participation in Exercise GULF STREAM followed in the southern part of the Gulf of Carpentaria during September and on 25 September Barbette embarked an official from the State Department of Health at Thursday Island for a Health Patrol in the Torres Strait. Sixteen islands in the Torres Strait were visited over the course of the following seven days. A further Health Patrol, from Weipa, was conducted in late October visiting missions at Aurukun, Edward River and Mornington Island. 

January and February 1981 were spent conducting routine patrols and exercises until 20 March when Barbette was handed over to a crew of the RAN Reserve for participation in Exercise ANCHORMAN 81. The exercise involved HMA Ships Barbette, Barricade, Bayonet and Aware, all of which were also manned by reservists. The second phase of the exercise pitted the four Attack Class Patrol Boats against the new Fremantle Class Patrol Boats, HMA Ships Fremantle and Warrnambool. The reservists ‘won’ the encounter and Barbette was returned to her regular crew on 4 April.

April saw a return to regular patrol duties, including a patrol in Papuan waters, before returning to Cairns on 1 May for an Intermediate Docking. On 3 June she escorted an Army LCM8 landing craft from Ballina to Sydney arriving the next day, her first visit to Sydney since being home-ported to Cairns ten years earlier. She then participated in Operation ESTES, Bass Strait Oil Rig Surveillance (BSORS) patrols, for the rest of the month and on 21 June joined the unsuccessful search for a sailor lost from the Greek ship MV Carina. She returned to Cairns on 5 July.

October saw Barbette participate in Exercise KANGAROO 81, the fourth KANGAROO exercise in the series, involving 20,000 troops, 100 aircraft and 25 ships from Australia, the US, New Zealand and the UK. She also apprehended a Taiwanese vessel fishing illegally in the Diamond Islands and escorted her back to Cairns, and later that month conducted a Health Patrol visiting islands off Cape York Peninsula.

The remainder of 1981 was spent conducting routine patrols and exercises coupled with periods of self maintenance. This pattern continued into the first half of 1982. On 6 June 1982 Barbette assisted in freeing the grounded trawler Miss Macleay at Dove Island in the Great North East Channel before participating in Cooktown’s Discovery Festival activities and the amphibious Exercise SEA STRIKE later in the month.

In August, Barbette temporarily changed her pennant number from 97 to 83 for her role as the fictional RAN patrol boat, HMAS Ambush, in the second series of the popular ABC television series, Patrol Boat. Barbette filmed her scenes on 14 August just four days before beginning a refit. She was back at sea on 8 November and deployed to Darwin in December to embark an Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service officer to investigate reports that traditional Indonesian fishermen were damaging islets at Ashmore Reef.

Returning to Cairns on 22 December Barbette was on standby over the Christmas and New Year period as Duty Patrol Boat.

Early 1983 saw Barbette back at sea conducting regular patrols and exercises during which she added two more Taiwanese fishing vessels caught fishing illegally in Australian waters to her tally. She also participated in occasional public relations exercises such as the Pacific Festival Parade in Townsville, held in May 1983, and she acted as the starting vessel for the Cairns to Port Moresby yacht race, held in June. During the second half of 1983 she participated in Exercises KANGAROO 83 and WESTWIND which was conducted in Western Australian waters in September.

January 1984 saw Barbette participate in Exercise VILLETTE as well as apprehending a Taiwanese clamming boat intercepted north of Raine Island.

During February and March her movements were hampered by inclement weather as she was forced to seek shelter from three separate cyclones; Ingrid, Jim and Kathy.

Following an active career in the RAN, Barbette decommissioned on 15 June 1984 streaming a 38.5 metre long decommissioning pennant. She was then transferred to the Indonesian Navy on 22 February 1985 and renamed KRI Siada.