HMAS
Benalla
(I)

HMAS Benalla (I)
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper
Role
  • Minesweeping
  • Convoy escort
  • Survey
Pennant
J323
Motto
We Lead Others Follow
Builder
Melbourne Harbour Trust, Williamstown
Laid Down
24 March 1942
Launched
19 December 1942
Launched by
Mrs Drakeford, wife of the Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation
Commissioned
27 April 1943
Decommissioned
28 January 1946
Fate
Sold for scrap on 20 February 1958
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement
  • 590 tonnes (standard)
  • 930 tonnes (full war load)
Length 56.69 metres
Beam 9.45 metres
Draught 2.59 metres
Performance
Speed 15 knots
Complement
Crew 107 (larger than standard war complement due to survey duties)
Propulsion
Machinery Triple expansion engine, 2 shafts, 2,000 hp
Horsepower 2000
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x 102mm gun
  • 1 x 76mm gun (temporary)
  • 3 x 20mm Oerlikons (later 5 then 4)
  • 1 x 40mm Bofors (later)
  • Machine guns
Other Armament Depth charge chutes and throwers
Radars Types 271 & 291 radar fitted in 1943
Awards
Battle Honours NEW GUINEA 1942-44

HMAS Benalla (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 Benalla (I)) were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

Although nominally a minesweeper, Benalla (I) was fitted during construction for survey duties and did not carry minesweeping gear. ‘X’ Deck was extended to accommodate a large chart room. Occasionally if her programme permitted Benalla (I) combined convoy escort duty with passage to another operating area.

Benalla (I) commissioned at Melbourne on 27 April 1943 under the command of Acting Lieutenant Commander Leslie N Morison RANR(S).

Commissioned on 27 April 1943, HMAS Benalla was one of sixty Australian minesweepers built during World War II.
Commissioned on 27 April 1943, HMAS Benalla was one of sixty Australian minesweepers built during World War II.

On 19 May 1943 the ship departed Melbourne for Sydney, where she arrived on 22 May. After completion of trials Benalla (I) was assigned to duty in northern waters. She sailed from Sydney for Brisbane, on 2 June 1943, with an ammunition lighter in tow and arrived at Brisbane on 6 June. On 15 June she sailed for Townsville, arriving on 18 June. Enroute to New Guinea waters to take up survey duties Benalla (I) was one of the escorts for a convoy of six ships (three for Milne Bay and three for Port Moresby), which departed Townsville on 20 June 1943. Benalla (I)'s sister ship HMAS Katoomba (I) was the second escort. When the convoy split Benalla (I) and Katoomba (I) escorted the Milne Bay and Port Moresby sections respectively. Another sister ship, HMAS Bunbury (I), joined the convoy from Cairns and accompanied Benalla (I) to Milne Bay.

On 30 June 1943 Benalla (I) and her sister ship HMAS Shepparton (I) were units of the naval force supporting the landing by United States troops on Kiriwina Island. Landings on that island and Woodlark Island, both in the Trobriand Group, were unopposed, there being no Japanese troops on the islands. Following this operation Benalla (I) was based at Milne Bay for survey duties.

 

During July-September 1943 a Survey Group comprising Benalla (I), Shepparton (I), HMA Ships Stella and Polaris and other small craft carried out preparatory work for Australian landings at Lae, Salamaua and Finschhafen. Benalla (I) continued her survey work based at Milne Bay until early December. On 9 December 1943 the ship arrived at Sydney to undergo a refit.

HMAS Benalla during her 1943 refit in Sydney.
HMAS Benalla during her 1943 refit in Sydney.

Benalla (I) sailed from Sydney on 29 January 1944 and returned to survey duties in New Guinea waters. During March and April 1944 the ship participated in surveys of Seeadler Harbour (in the Admiralty Island Group) following the capture of the islands by United States troops. In August she returned to Brisbane for a refit lasting two months.

On 11 October 1944 Benalla (I) sailed for Hollandia, from where she sailed for the Philippines on 29 October as part of the escort for 20 United States liberty ships.

Arriving at Leyte Gulf on 4 November 1944 Benalla joined the frigate HMAS Gascoyne (I) for survey duty in San Pedro Bay before returning to New Guinea waters in December where she continued survey work. Christmas Day 1944 was spent at Nuakata Island.

Christmas celebrations on board Benalla. On the right can be seen Telegraphist John Barry of Victoria dressed as Father Christmas.
 
Christmas lunch being prepared on board Benalla. Left: Known as 'spud barbers', Rex Calvert, Stoker Bob Jones, AB David Scholley, Leading Stoker George Hodge, Ordinary Seaman Jeff Davies and AB Max Hungerford peel potatoes on Benalla's upper deck. Right: Leading Cook Owen Keer preparing Christmas turkeys in Benalla's galley.
Left: Benalla's captain Lieutenant Commander T Gale exchanges duties with Able Seaman Anthony Copley as part of the Christmas Day merriment.

Benalla (I) arrived at Darwin on 6 January 1945 to take up duty with a Survey Group on the Australian north west coast. This work occupied her for four months and on 3 May she sailed from Darwin for Fremantle, where she remained until July. On 20 July Benalla (I) arrived at Darwin to resume survey duty.

Benalla (I) sailed from Darwin on 7 September 1945 as a unit of the Australian/Dutch force ordered to Koepang for the ceremony of surrender of all Japanese forces in Timor. The ships arrived at Koepang on 11 September and at noon that day the Japanese commander signed the instrument of surrender aboard the sloop HMAS Moresby (I).

Benalla differed from her sister corvettes with an additional 'monkey island' fitted above her bridge. In this photo, taken later during the war, types 271 and 291 radar can be seen mounted at the base of the foremast and at the masthead.

After returning from Timor, Benalla (I) resumed survey duty in the north western area. On 2 November 1945 she departed Darwin and proceeded to Fremantle. She paid off into reserve at Fremantle on 28 January 1946.

Benalla (I) remained at Fremantle until 25 March 1955, when the tug HMAS Sprightly sailed for Melbourne with Benalla (I) in tow. The ships arrived at Melbourne on 4 April and Benalla (I) remained in reserve but was later transferred to Geelong. While still remaining in reserve the ship was towed from Geelong to Sydney by Sprightly, departing Geelong on 21 January 1956 and arriving at Sydney on 25 January.

On 20 February 1958 Benalla (I) was sold for scrap to Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha Ltd of Tokyo. The Japanese salvage vessel Tukoshima Maru sailed from Sydney on 25 April 1958 with Benalla (I) in tow and in due course she was broken up for scrap in Japan.

 
 

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.