HMAS
Colac

HMAS Colac
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper
Pennant
J242
Builder
Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney
Laid Down
18 April 1941
Launched
30 August 1941
Launched by
Miss M. Heady, senior lady on the staff of Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd
Commissioned
6 January 1942
Decommissioned
27 November 1945
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 2,000
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x 12-pounder gun
  • 1 x 4-inch gun (later)
  • 1 x Bofors (later)
  • Machine guns
Other Armament
  • 3 x Oerlikons
  • Depth charge chutes and throwers
Awards
Battle Honours

HMAS Colac 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 Colac) were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

Colac commissioned at Sydney on 6 January 1942 under the command of LCDR Dudley C. Northam RANR(S).

HMAS Colac was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers build for service during World War II
HMAS Colac was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers build for service during World War II

Following a working up period in January 1942, Colac was assigned to anti-submarine patrol and convoy escort duty, operating between Townsville and New Guinea.

In December 1942 Colac and her sister ships HMA Ships Ballarat and Broome were detailed to transport Australian troops and land them as far forward as possible in the Buna area. The three vessels reached the landing point at Cape Sudest near Oro Bay without incident, but a few minutes later unidentified aircraft began dropping flares. Because of the threat of attack from enemy aircraft and from enemy warships believed to be in the area it was decided to retire temporarily after only 46 men had disembarked of a total of 762. Later the same day (14 December) the operation was successfully completed using a new landing position and under cover of darkness all troops were put safely ashore. During the remainder of the month Colac was involved in troop carrying on three further occasions.

Colac took part in Operation 'Lilliput', the reinforcement, supply and development of the Buna / Gona area after its capture.

In March 1943 Colac detached from operations in the forward areas and was assigned to convoy escort duty on the Australian east coast. Enemy submarines were operating in the area at the time and on 26 April a convoy of five ships escorted by Colac and Ballarat was attacked about 20 miles south east of Cape Byron. The British ship MV Limerick was hit by a torpedo and sank. Efforts to locate and destroy the Japanese submarine failed but Colac rescued all but two of Limerick's crew.

In July 1943 Colac returned to the escort of convoys between Australia and New Guinea, which kept her almost constantly at sea for the remainder of the year. In January 1944 she resumed escort of east coast convoys for a brief period before a refit prior to further New Guinea service.

Colac at sea c.1944
Colac at sea c.1944

The ship returned to New Guinea waters in April 1944. Throughout the remainder of 1944 and the early months of 1945 she was operational on escort, patrol and transport duties as far forward as the Halmahera Group. In April and May 1945 Colac, in company with the sloop HMAS Swan and her sister ships HMA Ships Deloraine and Dubbo, gave bombardment support to operations in the Wewak area. Targets included Muschu Island, Kairisu Island, Cape Samier and Wewak.

During her service in Bougainville during World War II, HMAS Colac was hit by shells from the shore killing two ratings and wounding two others.
HMAS Colac during her service as a tank cleaning vessle after World War II

In May she proceeded to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands where she took part in operations to prevent Japanese troops on Choiseul Island from evacuating to Bougainville and to harass the enemy and destroy his installations on the coast. During these operations Colac sustained her first casualties on 26 May when she received two hits from enemy shore batteries. The first killed two ratings and wounded two others while the second shell struck the ship on the waterline. She began to settle by the stern, but after moveable stores, depth charges and fittings aft had been jettisoned, she was able to proceed for Treasury Island, but had to be taken under tow for the latter part of the voyage to Blanche Harbour.

After temporary repairs she was towed to Finschhafen in New Guinea. From there she was taken to Sydney where she arrived on 18 June 1945, to go into dockyard hands. The ship was still in dockyard hands when hostilities ended on 15 August. She paid off into Reserve at Sydney on 27 November 1945, without again becoming operational. She had steamed 119, 991 miles since commissioning.

On 20 February 1951 Colac recommissioned for service as a training ship for National Service Trainees and Naval Reserve personnel. In this role she served on the Australian Station for two years. She paid off into Reserve at Sydney on 30 January 1953, having steamed a further 33,317 miles.

After nine years in Reserve, Colac was taken in hand in 1962 for conversion to a tank cleaning vessel. Colac ceased service as a tank cleaning vessel on 30 September 1983. She was sunk by a Mk 48 warshot torpedo fired by HMAS Ovens off Jervis Bay on 4 March 1987, in position 34°49.2´ South, 151°32´ East.

HMAS Colac being sunk off Jervis Bay on 4 March 1987
HMAS Colac being sunk off Jervis Bay on 4 March 1987

Further Reading

  1. 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.
  2. The Corvettes: Forgotten Ships of the Royal Australian Navy by Iris Nesdale - published by the Author, October, 1982.
  3. Corvettes - Little Ships for Big Men by Frank B. Walker - published by Kingfisher Press, NSW, 1996.