HMAS
Rockhampton

HMAS Rockhampton
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper
Pennant
J203
Builder
Walkers Ltd, Maryborough
Laid Down
6 November 1940
Launched
26 June 1940
Launched by
Mrs Walker, wife of the Chairman of Directors, Walkers Ltd
Commissioned
21 January 1942
Decommissioned
5 August 1946
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet
Beam 31 feet 1.5 inches
Draught 8 feet 6 inches
Performance
Speed 15 knots
Propulsion
Machinery Triple Expansion, 2 Shafts
Horsepower 1,750
Armament
Guns 1 x 4-inch gun
Other Armament
  • 3 x Oerlikons
  • Depth Charges
Awards
Battle Honours

 

HMAS Rockhampton 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 ship building programme. Twenty were built on Admiralty order but manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty-six ships (including Rockhampton) were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

 


Rockhampton on the builders slipway at the Walkers yard, Maryborough, Queensland, c.1941.

HMAS Rockhampton commissioned at Maryborough on 21 January 1942 under the command of Lieutenant Robert Thomas Salmon RANR(S).

Rockhampton began her operational service as a convoy escort on Australia's eastern sea board. In June 1942 convoys were routinely under escort following a series of successful attacks by Japanese submarines off the Australian coast. Rockhampton, in company with USS Selfridge, escorted the first 'GP' convoy between Sydney and Brisbane. She also escorted one convoy to Noumea in September 1942.

In November 1942, two ships in a convoy under the escort of Rockhampton, collided. One of the ships, the SS Zvir, sank and the survivors had to be rescued. On another occasion an abandoned Sikorsky plane was sighted and a search made for the crew - it was later learned that they were safe.

In October 1943 Lieutenant Commander Alan J Travis, RAN assumed command of Rockhampton.

HMAS Rockhampton was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy during World War II
HMAS Rockhampton was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy during World War II

Under Travis' command, Rockhampton continued east coast convoy escort duties until January 1944 at which time she proceeded to the New Guinea operational area, escorting convoys from north Queensland ports to Port Moresby, Milne Bay, Langemak, Hollandia and Morotai. Those duties ceased in March 1944 and Rockhampton returned to Sydney on 4 April before proceeding to Adelaide for a refit between 12 April - 20 May.

Rockhampton resumed service in New Guinea waters in June 1944, escorting convoys between the ports of Hollandia, Langemak, Madang and Morotai. In July 1944 she went to the assistance of USS Porcupine, an Armadillo class tanker, which had run aground near Tami Island south-east of Finschhafen. After a strenuous tussle the vessel was eventually freed.

USS Porcupine (Naval History and Heritage Command NH84198)
USS Porcupine (Naval History and Heritage Command NH84198).

In September 1944 Lieutenant G.J.A. Ashley-Brown, RAN was appointed in command before being relieved by Lieutenant Commander Herbert Kennedy Dwyer, RANR.


Lieutenant Commander H.K. Dwyer. RANR on the bridge wings of Rockhampton c.1944.

During the first half of 1945, Rockhampton was operating predominately between Morotai and Biak before briefly returning to Australian waters in June.

Left: Signalman Dunkerley and Leading Signalman Baillie signalling by Semaphore, and right: Signallers H E Edenborough and G Collier operating a large signal projector aboard Rockhampton while on convoy duty shortly before the ship's return to Australia..
Left: Signalman Dunkerley and Leading Signalman Baillie signalling by Semaphore (AWM 108629), and right: Signallers H E Edenborough and G Collier operating a large signal projector aboard Rockhampton while on convoy duty shortly before the ship's return to Australia (AWM 108633).

On 30-31 August 1945 she visited her namesake city, Rockhampton, Queensland, where she was met by His Worship the Mayor, Alderman H. Jeffries and Aldermen of the Rockhampton City Council.  Representatives of the Rockhampton Patriotic and Public Bodies were also in attendance.

The visit proved popular with both the citizens of Rockhampton and the corvette's ship's company. In a letter home from Ordinary Seaman Gill Wahlquist to his father in September 1945 he recorded:

We were cheered and shown around the city as if we were heroes instead of just sailors off a corvette. As we stepped on to the wharf we were each given a souvenir booklet printed specially to commemorate our visit.

 

Left: Rockhampton sailors painting the ship's side as part of general maintainence (AWM 108666) Right: Sailors preparing potatoes for meal-time were known as "spud barber's". (AWM 119205)
Left: Rockhampton sailors painting the ship's side as part of general maintainence (AWM 108666) Right: Sailors preparing potatoes for meal-time were known as "spud barber's". (AWM 119205)

Rockhampton  returned to New Guinea in September 1945 for further service in the Morotai area.

In September 1945, following the cessation of hostilities, Rockhampton in company with her sister ships Bowen, Glenelg, Junee and Latrobe evacuated Dutch and Indonesian internees and prisoners of war from Menado, northern Celebes disembarking them at Morotai. The rescued party included 145 children, 111 women and 65 men.


Liberated Dutch and Indonesion internees wait patiently to board Rockhampton. Those rescued comprised mainly women and children many of whom were ambulance cases.

The effort of Rockhampton's crew during the evacuation was recognised  by Captain H Ross Macourt of the Australian Army Medical Corps who recorded the following in official correspondence to the commanding officer of the 2/9th Australian General Hospital:

Dear Sir,

I wish to express my appreciation and gratitude to the Captain, Officers and crew of H.M.A.S. Rockhampton for their magnificent effort in helping me bring out of the Celebes nearly ninety Dutch internees. As you know there were mainly women and children and 50% were hospital cases.

I expected co-operation from the ship but not the wonderful help that was given. A small ship was made as comfortable for my patients as humanly possible. Sailors, stoke, etc., came off duty only voluntarily and unselfishly give up all their sleeping hours to carry out the unaccustomed and not very pleasant chores necessary in nursing sick. Without being asked, they carried bed pans, washed patients and were at the beck and call of all. The cooks need special mention as they never went off duty - cooked the special diets I had asked from, and then acted as Mess Stewards until all were fed.

Movements Control congratulated me on our disembarkation at Morotai. Such congratulations, I would like to convey to Officers and crew, for it was they who carried out the smooth disembarkation of sick, well and their luggage.

As one of the sailors from the ship remarked to me "It is the best job the ship has ever done." I would like to put another meaning on this phrase and answer "No ship's crew could have done a better or more unselfish job."

I would be very pleased if you would convey my thanks to H.M.A.S "Rockhampton" for making a very difficult job possible.

 

 

(Signed) H. R. Macourte. Capt.

A.A.M.C

Engine Room Artificer B. Priestly and chief engineer Lieutenant AH McConkey, October 1945 (AWM 119202).
Engine Room Artificer B. Priestly and chief engineer Lieutenant AH McConkey, October 1945 (AWM 119202).

Rockhampton was also one of the Australian warships to support the occupation of Ambon following the surrender of Japanese forces on the island.

On 8 October 1945 Rockhampton arrived at Tenate in the Halmaheras with the Sultan of Ternate on board as a passenger. The proclamation of the surrender of the Japanese was read and all of the ship's officers were entertained by the Sultan at lunch and a dance.

Rockhampton departed Morotai on 23 October 1945 for the return passage to Australia, returning to Sydney, via Townsville and Brisbane, on 13 November.

HMAS Rockhampton was decommissioned on 5 August 1946 after steaming over 170,000 miles for the Royal Australian Navy
HMAS Rockhampton was decommissioned on 5 August 1946 after steaming over 170,000 miles for the Royal Australian Navy

On her return to Australia Rockhampton joined the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla and took part in post war minesweeping operations off the Australian east coast, Bass Strait and later at Hobart. This was followed by survey duties in South Australia before she departed Adelaide on 15 April 1946 for passage to Sydney, where she arrived on 29 April 1946.

Rockhampton paid off into Reserve at Sydney on 5 August 1946, having steamed some 176,077 miles. She was sold as scrap to Kino Shito (Australia) Pty Ltd in January 1961.

Further Reading

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