HMAS
Cessnock
(I)

HMAS Cessnock (I)
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper
Pennant
J175
Builder
Cockatoo Docks & Engineering Co Pty Ltd, Sydney
Laid Down
16 April 1941
Launched
17 October 1941
Launched by
Lady Gordon, wife of Sir Thomas Gordon, a director of the construction firm
Commissioned
26 January 1942
Decommissioned
12 July 1946
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet
Beam 31 feet
Draught 8 feet 6 inches
Performance
Speed 15 knots
Complement
Crew 85
Propulsion
Machinery Triple expansion, 2 shafts
Horsepower 2000
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x 12-pounder gun (later 1 x 4-inch HA gun)
  • 1 x Bofors (later)
  • Machine guns
Other Armament
  • 3 x Oerlikons (later 6, then 4)
  • Depth charge chutes and throwers
Awards
Battle Honours

HMAS Cessnock 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 (including Cessnock) were built on Admiralty order but commissioned and manned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty six were built for the RAN and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

HMAS Cessnock was laid down at Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney, NSW on 16 April 1941. She was launched on 17 October 1941 by Lady Gordon, wife of Sir Thomas Gordon, a director of the construction firm  and was the first RAN warship to carry the name of the city in the Hunter Region of NSW and about 52km by road west of Newcastle.

The official launching party for HMAS Cessnock, Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney.
HMAS Cessnock being launched on 17 October 1941.
HMAS Cessnock immediately prior to her launching on 17 October 1941.

Cessnock commissioned at Sydney on 26 January 1942 under the command of Acting Lieutenant Commander Thomas S Marchington RNR (Rtd).


Left: Acting Lieutenant Commander Thomas S Marchington, RNR (Rtd), Commanding Officer HMAS Cessnock.  Right: The Commanding Officer with his fellow officers aboard Cessnock.

Following her period of working up in the Sydney area, Cessnock commenced duty as an escort vessel assigned to the forces engaged in protecting the flow of shipping between Townsville and New Guinea.

In September 1942, having steamed some 26,000 miles on escort duty, Cessnock returned to Sydney and thence on 17 September 1942 proceeded for Albany, where, until the end of October she operated as an anti-submarine patrol vessel in King George Sound followed by similar duty in the Fremantle approaches until 23 November when she sailed in company with her sister ship HMAS Toowoomba for Kilindini, in Kenya, to join the British Eastern Fleet.


Left: Cessnock alongside.  Right: HMAS Cessnock's Christmas dinner menu, circa 1942.

Cessnock reached Kilindini via Diego Garcia and the Seychelles on 16 December. There for a period she operated on local escort and anti-submarine patrol duties. On 25 January 1943 she proceeded on escort duty to Aden. In February-March 1943 she was engaged escorting convoys between Aden and the Persian Gulf and on patrol in the Straits of Hormuz. On 4 April she sailed from Bandar Abbas as part of the escort of a nineteen ship convoy to Bombay where she underwent a short refit (10-29 April). On 6 May 1943 Cessnock reached Aden from Bombay and two days later sailed for the Mediterranean in company with HMAS Ipswich.

Cessnock after a collision with a dhow in the Red Sea between Aden and Suez on 8 May 1943. It was in 1943 that Cessnock became an active participant escorting convoys between the Persian Gulf and Alexandria. The corvette's searchlights are shining on the two-masted dhow. (John McBryde - AWM ART92898)

Cessnock reached Alexandria on 1 June after being delayed by collision with a dhow. For the next four months she was constantly in service as an escort vessel over the entire length of the Mediterranean including participation in the Allied invasion of Sicily.

On two occasions (one in August and one in September) she entered the Atlantic to rendezvous with Mediterranean bound convoys for which she acted as part escort. Each comprised 75 ships.

HMAS Cessnock was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers built for service during World War II.
HMAS Cessnock was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers built for service during World War II.
 

On 25 September 1943 Cessnock passed through the Suez Canal and proceeding to Aden resumed her former duty as an Indian Ocean escort vessel attached to the Eastern Fleet operating at first between Aden, the Persian Gulf and Bombay.

Escort and general fleet duty in the Indian Ocean kept Cessnock almost constantly at sea from the Persian Gulf, India and Ceylon in the north and as far south as East London in South Africa until January 1945. On 26 January she detached from the Eastern Fleet and departed Trincomalee for Fremantle where she arrived on 6 February 1945 forming at that time a unit of the 22nd Minesweeping Flotilla (HMA Ships Cairns, Cessnock, Gawler, Geraldton, Ipswich, Tamworth, Wollongong, Launceston and Pirie) for service with the British Pacific Fleet.


Sailors aboard HMAS Cessnock. (Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)

Left: Cessnock arriving at Walsh Bay, Sydney, NSW with 33 AIF long service personnel from Lae, New Guinea on board, circa January 1946. (AWM 124893)  Right: RAN seamen gather on the forecastle of Cessnock as she prepares to berth, circa January 1946. Note the long service personnel on the upper decks. (AWM 124894)

In March 1945 Cessnock proceeded to New Guinea and the Philippines on escort duty. Late in April 1945 she returned to Australia for refit which kept her in dockyard hands until the end of June. In July she returned to the forward areas and after hostilities had ended proceeded to Japan being present at Tokyo for the surrender ceremony. Afterwards she served in Chinese waters and in the Borneo-New Guinea area. Cessnock returned to Sydney in January 1946. She paid off at Sydney on 12 July 1946.

Cessnock was sold on 23 April 1947 to the Nan Chiao Shipping and Salvage Co Ltd, Shanghai, for breaking up.

Four battle honours were awarded to HMAS Cessnock for her wartime service; Pacific 1942, New Guinea 1942, Indian Ocean 1942-45, and Sicily 1943.
Four battle honours were awarded to HMAS Cessnock for her wartime service: Pacific 1942, New Guinea 1942, Indian Ocean 1942-45, and Sicily 1943.
HMAS Cessnock I's bell is now displayed in the Cessnock City Council Chambers, NSW (Image courtesy of Cessnock City Council).
HMAS Cessnock (I')s ship's bell is now displayed in the Cessnock City Council Chambers, NSW. (Image courtesy of Cessnock City Council)
 

Further reading

  • 'Notable Service to the Empire: Australian Corvettes and the British Pacific Fleet, 1944-45' by Hugh Campbell - published by Naval Historical Society of Australia Inc, Garden Island, 1995.
  • '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.