HMAS
Oxley
(II)

HMAS Oxley (II)
Class
Oberon Class
Type
Diesel-Electric Patrol Submarine
Pennant
S57
Builder
Scott's Shipbuilding and Engineering, Greenock, Scotland
Laid Down
2 July 1964
Launched
24 September 1965
Commissioned
21 March 1967
Decommissioned
13 February 1992
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement
  • 2,410 tons (submerged)
  • 2,030 tons (surfaced)
Length 89.9 meters
Beam 8.1 meters
Draught 5.48 meters
Performance
Speed
  • 17 knots maximum (submerged)
  • 12 knots (surfaced)
Range 9,000 nautical miles at 12 knots (surfaced)
Complement
Crew 7 officers, 56 sailors
Propulsion
Machinery
  • 2 x 16 cylinder mechanically supercharged Admiralty Standard Range (ASRI) diesel generators, each 1840 bhp
  • 2 x English Electric main motors, each 3000 bhp, one on each of the 2 shafts
Armament
Torpedoes
  • 6 x Mk8 & Mk23 torpedo tubes (forward)
  • 2 x Mk20 torpedo tubes (aft)
  • 6 x MK48 torpedo tubes and encapsulated Harpoon anti-ship missiles (later)
HMAS Oxley (II) Badge

On 22 January 1963, with the Royal Navy (RN) intending to withdraw the Fourth Submarine Squadron from its base in Sydney, the Minister for the Navy, Senator John Gorton, announced Cabinet approval for the purchase of eight Oberon, or ‘O’, Class submarines for the RAN, though the order was later reduced to six. The Oberons were designed for both anti-surface and anti-submarine roles and had great offensive capability with eight torpedo tubes, six in the bow and two in the stern. They were equipped with a modern communications suite, were well designed for very quiet submerged running, and employed the ‘flying concept’ control system, which utilised a steering wheel, similar to an aeroplane’s ‘joystick’, and enabled one person (instead of five) to handle the submarine.

HMA Submarine Oxley (II), the first Oberon class submarine built for the RAN, was laid down at Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland on 2 July 1964 and launched on 24 September 1965 by Lady Mary Downer, the wife of the then Australian High Commissioner to Britain, Sir Alexander Downer. In 1966, a standby party of 25 officers and sailors, trained in RN submarines, were posted to stand by their boat and assist in trials until her commissioning the following year.

Oxley under construction, 23 August 1965.
Oxley under construction, 23 August 1965.

Following the completion of trials Oxley was commissioned into the RAN on 21 March 1967 under the command of Lieutenant Commander David Lorrimer, RAN. The crew completed work-up before departing Portsmouth for Australia on 12 June, via Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama and Pearl Harbor. She arrived in Sydney on 18 August, coinciding with the commissioning of the RAN’s new submarine base, HMAS Platypus, and the transfer of the Fourth Submarine Squadron from the RN to the RAN. The Squadron was temporarily completed by HM Submarines Tabard and Trump, while HMA Submarines Otway, Ovens and Onslow were under construction.

Oxley arrives in Sydney after her delivery voyage from the UK, 18 August 1967.
Oxley arrives in Sydney after her delivery voyage from the UK, 18 August 1967.

Oxley visited Hobart for Australia Day in 1968 and, on 22 March, escorted Tabard through Sydney Heads as the RN submarine returned to the United Kingdom after a 7 ½ year attachment with the RAN. Oxley participated in her first anti-submarine exercises that June in East Australian waters, which also involved Trump and ships and aircraft from the RAN, Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). Oxley’s first overseas deployment followed in July with anti-submarine exercises in New Zealand waters involving units from the RAN, RN and RNZN.

The submarine made a brief visit to Noumea at the end of September before returning to Australia to participate in Exercise CORAL SANDS involving more than 50 warships and 18,000 personnel from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. The exercise ended on 14 October with a Fleet Entry into Sydney Harbour led by the RN aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes, and witnessed by thousands of people on harbourside vantage points.

Oxley at sea with a Destroyer Escort in the background.
Oxley at sea with a Destroyer Escort in the background.

On 7 October 1968, HMAS Otway joined the Submarine Squadron and on New Year’s Day 1969, the Squadron changed its title to the First Australian Submarine Squadron. On 10 January Trump departed for the UK marking the end of the British submarine presence in Australia.

Oxley spent 1969 operating in local waters undertaking exercises with the Army in March and supporting surface ship work-ups later in the year. She spent 17 April to 3 June undergoing a mid-cycle survey docking at Cockatoo Island and, as part of Navy Week activities, was open to the public on 27 September. HMAS Ovens joined the submarine squadron on 17 October.

On 23 February 1970 Oxley departed Platypus for her first deployment to South East Asia. She arrived in Singapore on 11 March before proceeding to Manila for the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) Exercise, SEA ROVER, which took place in the South China Sea and came to an end in the Thai port of Sattahip on 9 April. Following SEA ROVER was Exercise CRACKSHOT, which culminated with a ceremonial entry of more than 30 ships of the Australian, British, Malaysian and New Zealand Navies into Singapore Harbour. Exercise BERSATU PADU, a major Five-Power exercise involving naval, military and air force units from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom was the submarine’s final operational commitment for the deployment. She arrived back in Sydney on 14 July 1970 and commenced a routine exercise and maintenance program in East Australian waters before heading to Western Australia on 24 October to participate in Exercise SWAN LAKE in November.

Oxley conducted a routine training program in East Australian waters at the beginning of 1971 before commencing a refit at Cockatoo Island Dockyard on 18 March. It soon became evident that the work required to refit an Oberon had been underestimated and a refit that was initially planned to take 64 weeks took nearly 104 weeks. Consequently, the planned refit cycle for the Oberon class submarines was extended from an operational period of three years between refits to five, with three intermediate dockings and one mid-cycle survey docking.

Oxley in Fitzroy Dock at Cockatoo Island in February 1970.
Oxley in Fitzroy Dock at Cockatoo Island in February 1970.

Oxley finally emerged from Cockatoo Island on 23 March 1973 and commenced a busy period of trials, shakedown, work-up and exercises in East Australian waters. She departed Sydney on 23 August to participate in Exercise AUCKEX 73 in New Zealand. She arrived back in Sydney on 22 September and participated in Exercise TAME TIGER in October and RAN Research Laboratory Trials in November.

January and February 1974 involved a hectic period of exercises, which included exercises with naval units from Indonesia, before the submarine took passage southwards on 25 February to Adelaide and Fremantle, and then on to South East Asia. Whilst in Asian waters, she participated in Exercises BALI HAI and SPRINGBOARD, and made port visits to Singapore and Bangkok. She spent a month alongside at Singapore undergoing maintenance before heading back to Australia on 20 May.

Oxley arrived in Cairns on 31 May to participate in Exercise KANGAROO I, involving navy, army and air units from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States. KANGAROO I was quickly followed by Exercise BOOMERANG I before returning to Platypus on 20 June for a most welcome leave and maintenance period. A routine exercise and maintenance program was maintained from August to November, which included an open day on 12 October for Navy Week 1974. The submarine deployed for exercises in New Zealand waters on 1 November visiting Auckland, Akaroa and Dunedin, and arrived back in Sydney, via Hobart, on 1 December.

Oxley conducting submarine familiarisation training with commandos in November 1974.
Oxley conducting submarine familiarisation training with commandos in November 1974.

Oxley maintained a busy period of exercises and trials between January and August 1975 in East Australian waters. On 4 August, she departed Sydney for South East Asia via Southern Australian ports arriving at Singapore on 8 September. She visited the Indonesian ports of Surabaya and Jakarta before arriving back in Sydney on 13 November and commenced a leave and maintenance period.

The crew participated in Newcastle’s Australia Day celebrations in 1976 before continuing exercises and trials in Eastern Australian waters, including a period in Bass Strait. In late June the submarine deployed north to Queensland waters operating primarily in the Coral Sea, interspersed with visits to Bundaberg, Mackay and Fraser Island. She participated in Exercise KANGAROO II in October and continued exercises up until 16 December when she berthed alongside at Platypus for Christmas leave.

Oxley before her SWUP refit in 1977.
Oxley before her SWUP refit in 1977.

The early months of 1977 were marked by a series of southern deployments to Hobart, Geelong and Portland between February and April before heading in the opposite direction, visiting Brisbane in late June. Oxley’s long refit commenced on 25 July at Cockatoo Island Dockyard and she decommissioned temporarily on 5 September. This particular refit was the first in the RAN’s Submarine Weapons Update Program (SWUP). This involved the fitting of new sonars, an advanced digital fire control system, and the capability to fire the United States built Mark 48 wire-guided long range homing torpedo, and the Harpoon submarine launched guided missile. The SWUP was the first such modernization of Oberon class submarines undertaken in the world.

Oxley recommissioned on 20 November 1978 without formal ceremony. She finally emerged from her refit on 22 January 1980 when a Rededication Ceremony was conducted and the submarine was opened during the afternoon for the ship’s company and their families.

Oxley in Sydney Harbour. Note the rounded Sonar dome forward, which was distinctive to post SWUP Oberons.
Oxley in Sydney Harbour. Note the rounded Sonar dome forward, which was distinctive to post SWUP Oberons.

Post-refit trials and exercises continued for the next few months before Oxley departed Sydney for a short deployment across the Tasman Sea to Auckland. A contingent from the submarine represented the RAN at the Anzac Day Service at Auckland’s Cenotaph. Numerous trials were conducted off the Great Barrier Islands, before visiting the New Zealand port of Whangarei.

Oxley arrived back in Sydney on 11 May 1980 and began a busy period of trials and exercises in East Australian waters as far north as the Capricorn Channel. She visited Noumea on 14 October and returned to Brisbane on 20 October for Navy Week before arriving back in Sydney on 27 October for an Intermediate Docking at Cockatoo Island. She returned to Platypus on 13 December where she remained for the rest of the year.

The submarine put to sea on 6 January 1981 with a busy program of safety and operational evolutions before spending her second consecutive Australia Day in Newcastle. Trials continued throughout February as well as a visit to Burnie in Tasmania and participation in Exercise SEA EAGLE.

She departed Sydney on 13 May for a four-month deployment to Hawaii for Mark 48 torpedo weapons trials and exercised with RAAF P3B Orion maritime patrol aircraft for the first few days of the passage. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 1 June 1981 and, following an extremely busy, and at times frustrating, period exercising in Hawaiian waters, Oxley was certified as proficient in the employment of the Mark 48 torpedo in mid-July, the first submarine to achieve this outside of the United States Navy (USN). She departed Pearl Harbor on 5 August and arrived home at Platypus on 24 August.

Oxley in company with HMAS Sydney.
Oxley in company with HMAS Sydney.

Oxley commenced an exercise program in East Australian waters which included participation in Exercise SEA EAGLE 81-2 in September. Later that month, she took part in the 1981 Fincastle Trophy International Airborne Anti-submarine Warfare Competition with maritime patrol aircraft from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The final exercise for the year was Exercise KANGAROO 81 off the Far North Queensland coast in October before undergoing an Intermediate Docking at Cockatoo Island from 24 November to 14 December. The boat returned to Platypus for the Christmas and New Year period.

A routine exercise and maintenance program commenced on 9 January 1982 which included a shakedown, participation in Exercise SEA EAGLE 82-1 and a dived transit to Eden opposed by aircraft from HMAS Albatross and the RAAF’s 92 Wing. Whilst at Eden, the ship’s company took part in the town’s Anzac Day activities. In July Oxley exercised with members of Number One Commando Company and participated in Exercises BLACK ORCHID 82 and PITCH BLACK. She departed Sydney on 23 August for Adelaide, where she conducted Towed Array trials in the Great Australian Bight. She arrived back in Sydney on 13 September.

Oxley again departed Sydney on 10 October for New Zealand to participate in Exercise TASMANEX 82. Following visits to Auckland and Gisborne, she returned to Sydney early on 6 November where she had a slight collision with a motor cruiser, Chiquita. She docked at Cockatoo Island on 8 November for her mid-cycle survey docking and returned to Platypus on 30 December 1982.

Oxley put to sea at the end of January 1983 for self-training and trials prior to the multi-national exercise, SEA EAGLE and a four-day visit to Melbourne during which more than 3000 people visited the boat. She returned to Platypus on 18 March and in early April took part in Exercise GRIM JIM, the sea phase of the Submarine Executive Officers Designate Course. On completion, the submarine sailed south to Tasmanian waters for various exercises and ceremonial duties including participation in Exercise TAMEX 83-2. She arrived back in Sydney on 13 May and commenced a routine exercise and maintenance program.

Oxley departing Sydney Harbour in February 1983.
Oxley departing Sydney Harbour in February 1983.

Oxley departed Sydney on 30 August and arrived at Port Hedland on 13 September for Exercise KANGAROO 83, which continued through to 14 October and involved some 7000 personnel from Australia, New Zealand and the United States. With the exercise completed, she departed Fremantle on 24 October and arrived back in Sydney on 3 November, following a detour to Albany to rectify a battery defect, for an assisted maintenance period.

From 15 January 1984, Oxley maintained a routine exercise and maintenance program, including participation in the Fleet Concentration Period in February. On 30 April, the submarine departed Sydney for Hawaii, via Port Vila, and participated in Exercise TAMEX 84-3 en route. She entered Pearl Harbor on 25 May in company with HMA Submarine Ovens. RIMPAC 84 exercises commenced on 30 May and involved naval units from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States with Oxley primarily involved in amphibious and Anti-Submarine Warfare operations. RIMPAC concluded with a ceremonial entry into Pearl Harbor on 14 June.

Oxley and Ovens exercise with USS Pasadena and a P3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.
Oxley and Ovens exercise with USS Pasadena and a P3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

The two Australian submarines departed Pearl Harbor on 2 July before Ovens detached for Auckland and Oxley continued on to Apia before arriving in Sydney on 27 July for a leave and maintenance period. She put to sea again on 17 September for work-up and participation in Fleet Concentration Period 84-2, and departed East Australian waters at the end of September for Western Australia. On passage across the Great Australian Bight, she was slowed by a generator defect, which also restricted her participation in Exercise SANDGROPER 84. She returned to HMAS Stirling on completion of the exercise for generator repairs and arrived back at Platypus on 1 November 1984.

Oxley’s last operational commitment before her next major refit was participation in Exercise TASMANEX 84 in New Zealand. She departed Sydney on 21 November and visited Auckland and Nelson before arriving home on 16 December. Having spent the Christmas/New Year period alongside at Platypus, Oxley was cold-moved across the harbour to Cockatoo Island on 7 January 1985 to commence her third refit, which would include removal of her aft torpedo tubes, updated communications and fire control systems, the fitting of facilities for docking with the US Navy’s Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle, the fitting of a sonar analysis system, and finally a new outer coat of self-polishing paint.

Oxley in October 1987.
Oxley in October 1987.

The refit was finally completed on 12 February 1987 when Oxley moved from Cockatoo Island back to Platypus and began Harbour Acceptance Trials followed by Sea Acceptance Trials, post-refit safety work-up and, finally, her operational work-up. She was officially rededicated on 8 June 1987 attended by Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Michael Hudson, AO RAN, and Lady Downer, who had launched the boat in 1966. With her Operational Assessment Evaluation completed, Oxley made a brief visit to Devonport at the end of June.

On 2 September, Oxley departed Sydney for Western Australia and participation in Exercise VALIANT USHER and her formal reception at the new submarine base at Stirling on 20 September, though she wouldn’t make Western Australia her permanent home until the following year. This relocation was part of the RAN’s Two Ocean Navy policy announced in early 1987 by the Minister for Defence, Mr. Kim Beazley, which would eventually see half the RAN fleet based at Stirling.

Following a short Self Maintenance Period (SMP), Oxley took passage south to Albany and then on to Auckland, taking part in RAAF training exercises on the way. She arrived in Auckland on 26 October before exercising with RNZN frigates and RNZAF patrol aircraft. Following a visit to Gisborne, the submarine set a course for Sydney where she arrived on 13 November for removal and replacement of her main battery cells. She remained alongside for the remainder of the year and on 17 December, was presented with the Squadron Fighting Efficiency Shield for superior performance in all aspects of submarine operations.

Oxley and the tug, Quokka, at HMAS Stirling in 1987.
Oxley and the tug, Quokka, at HMAS Stirling in 1987.

Oxley moved to her new home at Stirling permanently on 20 February 1988, and conducted trials and exercises until 22 April when she docked at Stirling for an Assisted Maintenance Period. With the submarine undergoing maintenance, members of the crew participated in Anzac Day commemorations in Perth as well as a Joint Services Freedom of Entry to the City of Perth march on 28 May. Oxley proceeded to sea on 15 June for exercises and preparations for a deployment to South East Asia.

She departed Stirling on 4 July for Singapore and participated in Exercise TAMEX 88-3 with RAAF and RNZAF Orion maritime patrol aircraft en route. Oxley arrived at Singapore on 15 July and departed just two days later for Exercise STARFISH 88, a multi-national exercise under the Five Power Defence Arrangements involving Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore. STARFISH took place in the South China Sea from 18 to 28 July. Oxley returned to Singapore upon completion of the exercise and also visited Bangkok before heading back to Australia. She arrived in Sydney on 16 September to take part in the Submarine Squadron’s Annual Divisions parade, at which Oxley was awarded the annual Weapons Handling Efficiency Shield.

On 26 September, Oxley, Orion and Onslow trialled a new submarine v submarine exercise and the following day they were joined by Otway for a line abreast Bicentennial Celebration Submarine Entry into Sydney Harbour. Crew members from Oxley participated in the Sydney Bicentennial Naval March through Sydney which was followed by the boat’s participation in the Bicentennial Naval Salute on Sydney Harbour on 1 October. The submarine spent the remainder of the month exercising in East Australian waters and briefly visited Geelong before heading back to Stirling, where she arrived on 29 October.

Following a brief period of maintenance and exercises Oxley participated in Exercise EXTENDEX 88-1, with RAAF and USN P3C Orion Maritime Patrol aircraft in waters south of Esperance. With the exercise completed, she visited Esperance from 2 to 6 November before recommencing routine exercises. She returned to Stirling on 14 December, and spent the next two days practicing canoe drills with Special Air Service personnel before entering Christmas leave.

Oxley in the ASI ship-lift in 1989.
Oxley in the ASI ship-lift in 1989.

A brief period of exercises commenced on 9 January 1989 before Oxley began an Intermediate Docking at the new Australian Ship-building Industry (ASI) ship-lift facility in Cockburn Sound. The docking started on 8 February and finished on 20 March when she was cold-moved back to Stirling for further maintenance. The submarine was back at sea in early April conducting work-up in waters south of Albany. Oxley returned to East Australian waters on 20 April for a brief period of exercises before returning to Stirling on 12 May for a three-week maintenance period.

She arrived in Darwin on 9 August for Exercise KANGAROO 89 with the maritime operating area concentrated in the sea and air gap to the north and northwest of the continent. With the exercise completed, the submarine departed Darwin on 20 August for Singapore where she arrived seven days later. She departed Singapore on 12 September for Exercise LONGCLOTH in the Bay of Bengal where she spent the next 31 of 38 days at sea submerged. Oxley visited Lumut and Penang before heading back to Australia on 30 October. After arriving back in Australian waters, Deep Dive trials commenced on 9 November and the following day a fire was reported in the submarine’s port main motor, forcing the boat to surface. The damage was not repairable at sea and Oxley returned Stirling on 11 November, a day earlier than programmed.

On 7 December, the submarine was moved to the ASI ship-lift facility where she remained dry-docked until early February, 1990 for her Mid-cycle Survey Docking. She moved back to Stirling on 10 February 1990, and began a busy period of trials and work-up.

Oxley approaching the end of her Mid-cycle Survey Docking in the ASI ship-lift in February 1990.
Oxley approaching the end of her Mid-cycle Survey Docking in the ASI ship-lift in February 1990.

On 16 March 1990, Oxley departed Stirling for a four and a half month deployment, initially bound for Port Victoria in the Republic of Seychelles. She cleared the Suez Canal on 19 April and took passage across the Mediterranean Sea; anchoring off Anzac Cove early on 24 April. That evening, in addition to Oxley, there were nine Turkish ships, two French ships, plus HMA Ships Tobruk and Sydney anchored at Anzac Cove. The following morning personnel from Oxley participated in the 75th Anniversary Anzac Day dawn service at Ari Burnu, Gallipoli. On completion of the Anzac Day dawn service, Oxley led the warships out of Anzac Cove, through the Dardanelles and into the Sea of Marmora where a remembrance service was held above the last known position of HMA Submarine AE2.

Oxley preparing to depart Stirling for her deployment to Gallipoli.
Oxley preparing to depart Stirling for her deployment to Gallipoli.

On 3 May, Oxley secured alongside the Italian Naval Base at Taranto for a self maintenance period. Following her arrival, an invitation was extended to the crew for a private audience with His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. Crew members, including the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Peter Earlam, met with the Pope on 5 May during which the Pontiff expressed his desire for Australians to remember the fallen at Gallipoli and for the crew of Oxley to strive for world peace. He then presented each of the visitors with a gift and was presented with a bronze figure of a platypus in return.

Oxley’s crew meeting the Pope in 1990.
Oxley’s crew meeting the Pope in 1990.

From Italy, Oxley visited Soudha Bay in Crete, where she took part in celebrations commemorating the 49th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, and then on to the Egyptian port of Alexandria. Having transited back through the Suez Canal, the submarine made an unscheduled visit to the Indian port of Cochin to rectify propulsion and communications defects, then took passage to Singapore where she arrived on 25 June 1990 for a much needed assisted maintenance period. This was followed by participation in the annual Five Power Defence Exercise, STARFISH, off the Malaysian island of Pulau Tioman.

Oxley returned to Stirling on 24 July and began a maintenance period. The remainder of the year was spent exercising in Australian waters on both the west and east coasts before entering Christmas leave at Stirling on 6 December.

Oxley transiting the Corinth Canal.
Oxley transiting the Corinth Canal.

The submarine put to sea early in January 1991 for Mark 48 torpedo certification firings before an Intermediate Docking at the ASI ship lift facility from 28 January to 20 February. Following work-up and exercises in West Australian waters, Oxley departed Stirling on 20 April for another deployment to South East Asia and participation in Exercise STARFISH 91 in the South China Sea. With STARFISH concluded, Oxley arrived in Singapore on 13 May for a two-week port visit and self maintenance period.

On 27 May, Oxley sailed for the South China Sea for trials, systems checks and participation in Exercise ESQUIRE. The exercise concluded on 2 July and the submarine berthed at Hong Kong on 5 July. She put to sea again on 11 July for the Gulf of Thailand and Exercise AUSTHAI 91. With Typhoon Zeke in the area, however, she suffered weather damage and was re-routed to Singapore for repairs. She remained alongside at Singapore from 18 to 30 July before setting a course for home. She arrived at Stirling on 4 August and commenced a maintenance period.

Oxley made her final visit to the East Coast when she arrived at Platypus on 8 November. Following exercises in the East Australia Exercise Areas, she took passage north for Exercise LUNGFISH off the south-east coast of Queensland. She made a port visit to Brisbane before arriving back at Stirling on 21 December 1991, where she remained alongside for leave and maintenance over the Christmas/New Year period.

Oxley being towed to ASI for scrapping after being decommissioned.
Oxley being towed to ASI for scrapping after being decommissioned.

Oxley conducted port visits to Albany and Geraldton, and exercised with Clearance Diving Team 4 and RAAF Orion P3C aircraft in January 1992 before returning to Stirling for the last time on 6 February. She was the first of the RAN’s Oberon-class submarines to decommission on 13 February 1992. During her twenty-five years of service she had steamed 403,056 nautical miles in 54,910 hours underway.

Following her decommissioning, Oxley’s 18-tonne steel and fibreglass fin was removed and relocated outside the RAN’s Submarine Training Systems Centre at Stirling. A few days later, she was towed across Cockburn Sound to the ASI facility for further stripping prior to being broken up.