HMAS
Bungaree

HMAS Bungaree
Type
Auxiliary Minelayer
Builder
Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Dundee, Scotland
Commissioned
9 June 1941
Decommissioned
7 August 1946
Fate
Returned to her owners 5 November 1947. Struck a mine and sank in the Saigon River 26 May 1966.
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 3043 tonnes
Length 357 feet 2 inches
Beam 48 feet 8 inches
Draught 20 feet 6 inches
Performance
Speed 10.5 knots
Complement
Crew 179
Propulsion
Machinery
  • Triple expansion and low-pressure geared turbine
  • Fuel: Coal
Horsepower 2500 hp
Armament
Guns
  • 2 x 4-inch guns aft
  • 1 x 12-pdr HA/LA gun forward
  • 8 Oerlikons
  • 2 Bofors
  • 6 Vickers machine guns
Mines 467 moored contact sea-mines
Awards
Battle Honours PACIFIC 1942–43

In September 1940, the War Cabinet approved a naval mining policy which would provide for defensive minefields to prepare for the possibility of Japan entering the war. An agreement had already been reached with the Ford Manufacturing Company of Australia in October 1939 for the production of complete mine units, shells and sinkers at the company’s annexe in Geelong. The policy included the acquisition of a 3,000 tonne merchant vessel as a minelayer. The coastal cargo ship Bungaree was requisitioned for this task on 10 October 1940 and immediately began conversion in Sydney. Bungaree was named for the indigenous guide, interpreter and Aboriginal community leader who is believed to be the first indigenous Australian to circumnavigate his homeland when he accompanied Commander Matthew Flinders, RN, in HMS Investigator during Flinders’ cartographic exploration of the Australian coastline in 1801-03.

Contact mines aboard HMAS Bungaree

Contact mines aboard HMAS Bungaree

Bungaree’s conversion involved turning her cargo holds into huge mine magazines. A mining control office was installed with a maze of communications lines to the bridge, the mining deck and all other parts of the ships involved in minelaying operations. Two sets of rails were installed on the mining deck to transport the mines, which were all moored contact mines, to the stern of the ship to be deployed into the water.

HMAS Bungaree commissioned at Garden Island, Sydney, under the command of Commander Norman Calder, RAN, on 9 June 1941 as she approached the end of her conversion. She departed Sydney on 19 June and arrived in Geelong four days later. With dummy mines embarked, she recommenced trials and exercises in Port Phillip Bay in company with the mine recovery vessel, HMAS Toorie. She embarked her first load of live mines, 254 in all, on 30 July and departed Geelong the next day in company with HMAS Sydney (II).

She arrived in Sydney on 3 August where she had a 12 pdr HA/LA gun mounted for’d and embarked a 28 foot survey motor boat before departing for Port Moresby that evening, escorted by HMAS Adelaide (I) and, later, HMAS Manoora (I). She laid her first defensive minefield near Port Moresby on 15 August before heading back to Australian waters. She went on to lay minefields in the Torres Strait north and west of Prince of Wales Island, and the Great Barrier Reef near Cook’s Passage and Trinity Opening before the end of the year.

She underwent further alterations and additions in Sydney in December 1941 and January 1942 before returning to Geelong on 27 January to embark more mines. She laid minefields in New Caledonian waters in February and in New Zealand waters off Auckland in March. Minelaying operations continued in Palm Passage, Queensland, in April, and back in New Caledonian waters in May. She returned to Sydney at the end of May and was present when three Japanese midget submarines launched an attack in Sydney Harbour which resulted in the loss of HMAS Kuttabul in the early hours of 1 June. Bungaree’s crew went to action stations at the first alarm at 2230 on 31 May but saw no sign of the enemy and the ship survived the night unscathed.

She departed Sydney on 9 June and rendezvoused with Convoy CO1 from Newcastle to act as an additional anti-submarine escort for the voyage to Port Phillip. She launched an attack on a possible submarine contact on 11 June and dropped four depth charges without a result. The convoy arrived in Port Phillip the next day. Bungaree departed Geelong on 16 June to return to New Caledonia and once again acted as an additional anti-submarine escort for part of the voyage for Convoy OC3. Convoy escort duties became a regular additional duty for Bungaree, often acting as an additional escort for convoys between Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Noumea and Port Moresby.

HMAS Bungaree was the RAN’s only minelayer
HMAS Bungaree was the RAN’s only minelayer

She was back in New Guinea in July and, upon completion of minelaying operations there, returned to Australian waters and launched another attack on a suspected submarine contact off the Queensland coast north of Brisbane which was later classified as a non-submarine.

She continued with minelaying operations in September laying mines in Magnetic Passage north-east of Townsville before returning to Sydney on 19 September for a short refit. She was back at sea on 5 October and, after embarking mines at Geelong, sailed for New Zealand on 10 October for minelaying operations around the Bay of Islands, and again in Queensland waters near Cairns in November, Mackay in December and Townsville in January 1943.

She arrived back in Sydney on 5 February and commenced a refit. She was back at sea on 4 March and recommenced mining operations off the Queensland coast at the end of the month, and again in April and June. She visited New Caledonia twice in July and August to conduct mining operations and on both occasions she embarked mines at Auckland rather than Geelong. She returned to mining the waters of far north Queensland in October and November. She damaged her hull-mounted Anti-submarine dome when she touched the bottom north of Cockburn Reef on 23 November but continued mining operations. The dome was repaired in Melbourne in December and finished the year conducting mining operations in New Guinea waters.

HMAS Bungaree in February 1944 following her conversion to a survey vessel
HMAS Bungaree in February 1944 following her conversion to a survey vessel

She arrived back in Sydney on 6 January 1944 and commenced a self-refit on 10 January. With the tide of the Pacific War turning in the Allies favour, the need for defensive minefields diminished and, on 18 February, Bungaree was officially re-tasked to surveying operations having laid a total of 9289 defensive mines. She was back at sea on 21 February and proceeded to Brisbane to embark surveying equipment. She continued northward and commenced hydrographic surveys in the Torres Strait from March through to July 1944. Later in the year she began transporting personnel and cargo to and from New Guinea, a task with which she was occupied until the end of the war on 15 August 1945. At the conclusion of hostilities, Bungaree continued to transport stores and equipment and was involved in the repatriation of Allied servicemen and the dumping of ammunition. Bungaree decommissioned on 7 August 1946 and returned to her owners on 5 November 1947.

The conclusion of the war also meant that the mines laid by Bungaree now had to be cleared. That task fell to the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla, a collection of corvettes, general purpose vessels and motor launches led by the sloop, HMAS Swan (II). Tragically, on 13 September 1947, the corvette HMAS Warrnambool (I) p struck a mine whilst conducting sweeping operations near Cockburn Reef off the north Queensland coast. Four sailors lost their lives.

Bungaree was subsequently on-sold twice and in 1960 was re-named Eastern Mariner. Whilst operating in South Vietnamese waters, she ironically struck a mine in the Saigon River and was wrecked on 26 May 1966.

Eastern Mariner, ex-HMAS Bungaree, in the Saigon River after she struck a mine in 1966
Eastern Mariner, ex-HMAS Bungaree, in the Saigon River after she struck a mine in 1966