HMAS Cowra
Bathurst Class
Australian Minesweeper
J351, M351
Poole & Steel, Sydney
Laid Down
12 August 1942
27 May 1943
Launched by
Mrs Spender, wife of a member of the Australian Advisory War Council
8 October 1943
26 June 1953
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet
Beam 31 feet
Speed 15.5 knots
Crew 85
Horsepower 2000
Guns 1 x 12-pounder gun
Other Armament 3 x 20mm Oerlikons
Battle Honours

HMAS Cowra was one of sixty minesweepers similar to the Bangor-class of the Royal Navy built in Australian shipyards under the wartime Commonwealth Government Shipbuilding Programme. Twenty were constructed on behalf of the Admiralty, but commissioned and manned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty six (including Cowra) were built for the RAN and the remaining four for the Indian Navy.

HMAS Cowra was laid down at Poole and Steel Ltd, Sydney, NSW on 12 August 1942. She was launched on 27 May 1943 by Mrs Spender, wife of a member of the Australian Advisory War Council and was the first RAN warship to carry the name of the town in the Central West region of New South Wales.

The Minister for the Navy, the Hon. NJO Makin MP with the launching lady, Mrs Spender, wife of a member of the Australian Advisory War Council, at the launching of Cowra at Poole and Steel's Dockyard, Balmain, NSW on 27 May 1943. (AWM 305506)

Cowra was commissioned on 8 October 1943 under the command of Acting Lieutenant Commander WJ Gillies RANRCowra began her operational career in November 1943, escorting convoys on the east coast of Australia.

Officers from Cowra relaxing on the forecastle. L-R: Sub Lieutenant TG Quinn, RANVR, Lieutenant A Farquhar-Smith, RANR (S) Lieutenant WR Boyd, RANVR and Sub Lieutenant GH Taylor, RANVR. (AWM 109989)

HMAS Cowra. (Allan C Green, State Library of Victoria)

In March 1944 she transferred to the New Guinea theatre and took up escort and anti-submarine patrol duties until June 1944, when she proceeded to Melbourne for refit.

Left: Cowra's gun crew manning the aft 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun during a practice drill. (AWM 109987)  Right: Gunnery ratings and seamen load Cowra's 12-pounder gun during a gun drill. (AWM 109986)

Left: Able Seaman Magnuson and Able Seaman F Beencke, painting the side of Cowra, circa June 1945. (AWM 110061)  Right: Ratings painting the side of Cowra. (AWM 110062)

On 19 August 1944 Cowra departed Melbourne to return to New Guinea waters reaching Milne Bay at the close of the month. The following eleven months (excepting a brief visit to Brisbane in February 1945) were spent on patrol and escort, mainly in the Morotai area. The early months of 1945 were spent operating, between Sorido and Mios-Woendi. Some relief from the monotony of routine patrolling was gained in January 1945 when she bombarded Japanese held positions at Yalela Bay in the Northern Halmaheras. On 17 July 1945 Cowra's wartime service in the forward areas came to an end when she departed Langemak for Melbourne.

Informal portrait of ship's company of Cowra, circa June 1945. (AWM 109984)

HMAS Cowra wearing the 'number 20' on her funnel signifying that she was a part of the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla. (Allan C Green, State Library of Victoria)

In the post-war period Cowra joined the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla and took part in mine clearance operations on the east coast of Australia and off Hobart, New Britain and the Solomon Islands. This phase of her career ended on 2 December 1946 when she reached Sydney to pay off, after steaming some 90,000 miles. She paid off on 4 December 1946.

HMAS Cowra in company with ML325 during a lighter moment in waters off Madang when permission was given for 'hands to bathe'.
HMAS Cowra in company with ML325 during a lighter moment in waters off Madang when permission was given for 'hands to bathe'.
Mrs A Hewett of Hartwell, Victoria, says goodbye to her son John as he is about to leave on National Service duty on Cowra for three weeks of training. (Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)

On 20 February 1951 Cowra recommissioned as a Training Ship for National Service Ratings. She remained in active seagoing commission until 15 May 1953 when she commenced paying off into dockyard control after steaming a further 50,000 miles, bringing her seagoing career to a close. Cowra finally paid off on 26 June 1953. She was sold out of service in January 1961 to Kino Shito (Aust) Pty Ltd. 

Ships company of HMAS Cowra, c. 1951.
Ships company of HMAS Cowra, c. 1951.

HMAS Cowra. (Allan C Green, State Library of Victoria)

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.