HMAS
Lithgow

HMAS Lithgow
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper
Pennant
J206
Builder
Mort's Dock & Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney
Laid Down
19 August 1940
Launched
21 December 1940
Launched by
Mrs Bennett, wife of a Director of Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd
Commissioned
14 June 1941
Decommissioned
8 June 1948
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet
Beam 31 feet
Draught 10 feet
Performance
Speed 15 knots
Complement
Crew 85
Propulsion
Machinery Triple expansion, 2 shafts
Horsepower 1750
Armament
Guns 1 x 4-inch gun
Other Armament 3 x Oerlikons
Awards
Battle Honours

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

HMAS Lithgow was laid down at Morts Dock Engineering Company, Balmain, Sydney, NSW on 18 August 1940. She was launched on 21 December 1940 by Mrs Bennett, wife of a Director of Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd and was the first RAN warship to carry the name of the city in the central tablelands of NSW. By the war's end Mort's Dock had constructed fourteen of the sixty Bathurst class corvettes.

Mrs Bennett, wife of a Director of Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd names and launches HMAS Gympie. (AWM 004395)

Lithgow commissioned at Sydney on 14 June 1941 under the command of Commander Alfred V Knight DSC, RANR(S).

Lithgow began her active career in July 1941 as a unit of the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla sweeping in Bass Strait and Tasmanian waters. Twenty German mines were swept by the Flotilla in 1941, Lithgow accounting for one of these off Tasman Island on 14 October.

The outbreak of the Pacific War ended sweeping operations for Lithgow and she temporarily assumed anti-submarine patrols off Sydney, before proceeding in January 1942, escorting the first US convoy to Darwin where she passed to the control of the Darwin command.


Lithgow takes to the water for the first time (L: AWM 004396, R: AWM 004397).

On 20 January 1942 Lithgow took part in the destruction of the Japanese minelaying submarine I-124 officially credited to HMA Ships Deloraine (I), Lithgow and Katoomba (I) and USS Edsall.

Escorting of Darwin-Thursday Island convoys occupied Lithgow until September 1942 when on the 18th she departed Townsville escorting a troop convoy of three ships for Port Moresby. The remainder of the year was taken up protecting New Guinea convoys. In December she took part in the landing of troops and equipment at Oro Bay for the Buna campaign. On 30 December 1942, on completion of more than 18 months service, Lithgow put into Brisbane for refitting.

HMAS Lithgow wearing her wartime disruptive pattern camouflage paint
HMAS Lithgow wearing her wartime disruptive pattern camouflage paint scheme. Corvettes often performed troop transport roles ferrying troops to and from New Guinea and the surrounding areas. Many can be seen in this image crowded on the upper decks.

The refit was completed on 5 March 1943 and the following day Lithgow began nine months of escort and anti-submarine duty on the Queensland coast. At around 12:30 on the morning of 19 December 1943, Lithgow was diverted from her own convoy escort duties to render assistance to convoy TN 192. Seven of the eight merchant vessels in the convoy, along with one of the escorts, HMAS Gladstone (I), had run aground on Bougainville Reef on the Great Barrier Reef. By the time Lithgow arrived just before 6:00 that morning, Gladstone had managed to refloat herself and was waiting for daybreak in company with the other convoy escorts, HMA Ships Gympie (I) and Stawell (I), just clear of the reef. The vessels Colorado, Ambrose Bierce and City of Fortworth had also all managed to free themselves and, with Lithgow and HMAS Castlemaine arriving to assist, and her own starboard propeller damaged, Gladstone detached at just after 7:00am to escort the trio back to Cairns.

Lithgow, along with Gympie, Stawell and Castlemaine, began disembarking troops from the stricken vessels at just after 9:00am. With all the troops transferred by 11:30 that morning, Lithgow began escorting those ships that were able to proceed back to Cairns early in the afternoon, arriving at around 7:00 that evening and subsequently returned to her own escort duties. All of the remaining ships were quickly refloated suffering varying degrees of damage.

The year of 1944 began with escort duties to New Guinea, followed by the ship's annual refit at Melbourne. In April Lithgow arrived at Milne Bay to begin a period of ten months escort and anti-submarine operations in New Guinea waters. She was in constant service to Langemak, Hollandia, Madang, Wakde, Biak, Morotai, Noemfoor and Mios Woendi.


A navy church service being conducted on board Kiama in Bougainville, circa July 1945. The service was conducted by Chaplain FO Hulme-Moir, Headquarters 2 Corps. Personnel from HMAS Lithgow and HMAS Dubbo also attended the service. The organist was Lieutenant-Colonel RR Winton, deputy assistant director of medical services, Headquarters 2 Corps. (AWM 093765)

Left: A signalman using semaphore from the bridge of Lithgow, as three RAN motor launches escorting Japanese barges approach carrying envoy for preliminary surrender discussions, Bougainville, circa August 1945. (AWM 095086)  Right: An oerlikon gun crew at action stations on the bridge of Lithgow, as Japanese barges approach. L-R: Signalman TF Barclay, Able Seaman RK Robinson and Able Seaman BD Beames (AWM 095088).

Left: The bridge of Lithgow showing Petty Officer LC Moore, coxswain and Lieutenant GSH Champion, Commanding Officer, on the occasion of the surrender negotiations with the Japanese envoy from Lieutenant-General M Kanda, Commander Imperial Japanese 17 Army Group. (AWM 095109)  Right: Members of the crew of Lithgow watching from the gun deck during the interrogation of a Japanese envoy, Bougainville, circa August 1945. (AWM 095097)

A seven week refit at Williamstown in April and May 1945 was followed by a return to New Guinea waters. In June and July the ship took part in Allied operations in the Solomons, supporting the land forces with a series of bombardments against enemy held territory. Lithgow remained based on the Solomons until the end of September 1945, operating as a minesweeper in the latter period. She was present at the Japanese surrender at Rabaul. October was spent in New Guinea waters, the ship ending her active war career when she entered Sydney Harbour on 1 November 1945.


Left: An Australian officer aboard Lithgow off Moila Point explains surrender plans to two Japanese service personnel. (AWM P00001.186)  Right: Japanese service personnel on board Lithgow off Moila Point listening to surrender instructions from an Australian officer. (AWM P00001.185)

Left: Lieutenant Commander E Howitt, RAN, handing a message to an officer on a Japanese barge for relay to Lieutenant-General M Kanda, Commander Imperial Japanese 17 Army Group. (AWM 095111)  Right: A member of the Japanese envoy holding a message for Lieutenant-General M Kanda, Commander Imperial Japanese 17 Army Group, and being advised that the two envoys on board Lithgow are to be taken to Torokina. (AWM 095112)
 
Left: Japanese envoy Captain Takenaka, accompanied by the Japanese interpreter Mr Takahaski, being conveyed on Lithgow, to Lieutenant General SG Savige's headquarters on Bougainville to receive surrender terms. The envoys were searched on board the warship and an armed guard was in attendance during the voyage to the headquarters. (AWM 019007)  Right: Japanese barge, flying the white flag, leaving HMAS Lithgow off Moila Point after delivering two Japanese Officers to be advised of surrender conditions and arrangements. (AWM P00001.194)

In 1946 and 1947 Lithgow operated as a unit of the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla. She was constantly employed on minesweeping duties, in 1946 in the New Britain/Solomons area and on the Queensland coast the following year. Her seagoing career ended in January 1948 when she arrived at Fremantle, finally paying off into the Reserve Fleet on 8 June 1948, having steamed 178,000 miles and being under way for almost 20,000 hours.


HMAS Lithgow (Allan C Green, State Library of Victoria).
 
HMAS Lithgow flying her decommissioing pennant as she sails into Melbourne for the last time, 8 June 1948
HMAS Lithgow flying her decommissioning pennant as she sails into Melbourne for the last time, 8 June 1948.

On 8 August 1956 Lithgow was sold as scrap to the Hong Kong Delta Shipping Company, Hong Kong.

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.