HMAS
Cootamundra

HMAS Cootamundra
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper
Pennant
J316
Builder
Poole & Steel Pty Ltd, Sydney
Laid Down
26 February 1942
Launched
3 December 1942
Launched by
Lady Davidson, wife of the General Manager, Bank of New South Wales
Commissioned
30 April 1943
Decommissioned
8 June 1959
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet 2 inches
Beam 31 feet
Draught 8 feet 3 inches
Performance
Speed 15 1/2 knots
Propulsion
Machinery Triple expansion, 2 shafts
Horsepower 2,000
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x 4-inch gun
  • 1 x 40mm anti-aircraft gun
Awards
Battle Honours
HMAS Cootamundra Badge

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

Cootamundra commissioned at Sydney on 30 April 1943 under the command of LEUT George A. Johns RANR(S).

Following a period of trails and working up in the Sydney area, Cootamundra began her wartime career at the close of May 1943, operating as an escort vessel to convoys on the Australian east coast. Japanese submarines were active in these waters, five merchant ships having been sunk in April, and two during May, including the hospital ship AHS Centaur.

Some of HMAS Cootamundra's crew members opening their mail from home
Some of HMAS Cootamundra's crew members opening their mail from home

On 15 June 1943 Cootamundra proceeded to sea in company with of her sister ships Warrnambool, Kalgoorlie, Bundaberg and Deloraine to escort a Brisbane bound convoy of thirteen ships. En route, off Smoky Cape, New South Wales, the convoy was attacked by Japanese submarines of the 3rd Squadron then operating in Australian waters. Two ships were torpedoed; the Portmar, an United States Army Transport (5,551 tons) and a United States Navy Landing Ship Tank, LST 469. The Portmar sank in ten minutes with the loss of two lives but LST 469, though suffering heavy casualties (twenty-six were killed and many wounded) remained afloat and was later towed to port.

On 6 July 1943 Cootamundra reached Thursday Island and from there proceeded to Darwin as escort to the merchant ship Aroor. Arriving on 17 July, she began a period protecting the shipping proceeding between that Darwin and Thursday Island. It proved in the main uneventful though arduous duty in the tropical conditions.

On 6 August 1943 Cootamundra was escorting SS Macumba to Darwin when two Japanese aircraft attacked at low level and in spite of anti-aircraft fire from both ships, scored a direct hit on Macumba's engine room. Attempts to tow the damaged vessel failed and when later the same day it became obvious that Macumba was about to founder, the survivors were taken aboard Cootamundra .

In April 1944 Cootamundra proceeded to Sydney for refit having steamed more than 20,000 miles on escort duty in northern Australian waters and some 28,000 miles since commissioning.

The refit was completed on 31 May. On 3 June Cootamundra proceeded to Darwin where for a brief period she resumed the role of escort vessel. On 28 June she sailed from Darwin escorting SS River Clarence, her last duty as a vessel attached to the Darwin Command. On 1 July, at Thursday Island, she transferred to the administrative and operational control of the Naval Officer-in-Charge, New Guinea. On 5 July she arrived at Milne Bay to begin duty in the forward areas which lasted until the end of hostilities. On 16 July 1944 she sailed from Langemak in company with HMA Ships Rockhampton and Bunbury, escorting her first New Guinea convoy of the war. It was bound for the newly won base at Hollandia.

Convoy escort duty continued through August, and at Aitape on 7 August, her crew witnessed their first bombing of Japanese positions ashore. During the month she visited Mios Woendi, Noemfoor and the recently captured islands of Biak and Wakde.

On 6 September Cootamundra and HMAS Gladstone relieved two American frigates as anti-submarine patrol vessels in the Sansapor area, a duty which kept both ships occupied until the close of the month.

In October 1944 Cootamundra spent a period boiler cleaning at Madang. Mid month she proceeded to Biak where she spent a few days patrolling the approaches. On 25 October she sailed from Biak escorting two ships to Morotai and on arrival assumed anti-submarine patrol. On 31 October, being relieved on patrol by HMAS Strahan, she was lying in the inner anchorage when five enemy aircraft attacked shipping and shore installations. Cootamundra added her quota to the anti-aircraft (500 rounds were expended) and one aircraft was shot down. She was hit once by machine gun fire from the enemy planes, but suffered only superficial damage and no casualties.

In November she returned briefly to Australia after escort duty during the first half of the month. Ten days were spent at Cairns and on 3 December she returned to New Guinea where she resumed escort and patrol duty. Christmas Day 1944 found Cootamundra at sea escorting a convoy en route for Morotai. On 30 December, in company of two American Torpedo Boats, she carried out her first bombardment of the war when she shelled Japanese positions on Galela Bay, Northern Halmahera.

In 1945, with the successful landings in the Philippines completed, the tempo of operations in the New Guinea area slowed down. Nevertheless the flow of shipping had to be protected against possible submarine or air attack. Thus Cootamundra was kept busy on escort duty. She steamed on average 2,800 miles per month in New Guinea waters from January 1945 to the close of hostilities in August. On VJ Day (15 August 1945) she had steamed 74,609 miles on operational war service.

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

On 8 September, 1945, in company with HMA Ships Glenelg, Junee and Latrobe, she proceeded to Ambon and embarked Australian, American and Dutch prisoners of war and one Japanese prisoner for passage to Morotai. Later the same month she transported occupation troops to Ambon and took part in the surrender ceremony. On 29 September 1945, with her paying off pennant flying, she sailed from Ambon towing HMAS Leilani en route for Melbourne where she paid off into Reserve on 26 November 1945, having steamed 81,181.2 miles.

Cootamundra recommissioned at Williamstown on 12 December 1951 under the command of LCDR Cecil J. Cochran RAN. In the post war period she operated chiefly as a training ship in Australian waters. She visited New Zealand in 1954, and in 1957 spent a period in northern waters operating as the supervising vessel to the Japanese Pearling Fleet. In her post war commission she steamed 105,805.6 miles.

Cootamundra finally paid off on 8 June 1959. Declared for disposal on 27 September 1961, she was sold to Banks Bros. & Street on 28 March 1962.

 

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.