HMAS
Stawell

HMAS Stawell (I)
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper
Role Minesweeping & Convoy Escort
Pennant
J348
Builder
Melbourne Harbour Trust, Williamstown
Laid Down
18 June 1942
Launched
3 April 1943
Launched by
Mrs Dedman, wife of the Minister for War Organisation of Industry
Commissioned
7 August 1943
Decommissioned
26 March 1946
Fate
Transferred to the Royal New Zealand Navy in May 1952. In July 1968 she was sold to Pacific Scrap Ltd of Auckland and broken up.
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet
Beam 31 feet
Draught 8 feet 6 inches
Performance
Speed 15 knots
Complement
Crew 85
Propulsion
Machinery Triple expansion, 2 shafts
Horsepower 2000
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x 4-inch gun
  • Machine guns
Other Armament
  • 3 x Oerlikons
  • Depth charge chutes and throwers
Radars Type 271 radar
Awards
Battle Honours

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

Stawell was laid down on 18 June 1942 at Williamstown, Victoria and launched on 3 April 1943 by Mrs Dedman, wife of the Minister for War Organisation of Industry. The corvette commissioned at Melbourne on 7 August 1943 under the command of Lieutenant Sidney J Griffith RANR(S).

Mrs Dedman, wife of the Minister for War Organisation of Industry officially names Stawell on 3 April 1943.
Stawell slides down the ways and into the water at Williamstown, Victoria on 3 April 1943. (AWM 138493)

Following trials in the Melbourne area, the ship was engaged in escorting convoys on the Australian east coast and to and from New Guinea ports.

From commissioning until the end of hostilities on 15 August 1945, a considerable proportion of Stawell's service was in the New Guinea area, her varied duties including, in addition to escort work, patrolling and assistance to land forces by bombardment.

Left: Directional flashing light was routinely used during World War II to pass signals between ships. Right: One of Stawell's officers takes a routine navigational fix while on watch on the bridge.

On 18 December 1943, Stawell, in company with HMA Ships Gympie (I) and Gladstone (I), were escorting a convoy of eight merchant vessels with troops embarked bound for Milne Bay when seven of the eight ships, along with Gladstone, ran aground on Bougainville Reef in the Great Barrier Reef just after 9.30 that evening. Gladstone refloated herself within the hour and the three escorts took up station just off the reef until daybreak. The vessels Colorado, Ambrose Bierce and City of Fortworth had all managed to free themselves by dawn and, with HMAS Ships Lithgow and Castlemaine arriving to assist, and her own starboard propeller damaged, Gladstone detached at just after 7:00am to escort the trio back to Cairns.


Left: Sub Lieutenant A Keogh, Humbolt Bay, New Guinea, circa November 1944. Centre: Chief Engine Room Artificer RF Shaw at work in Stawell's machinery space. Right: Able Seaman McGuiness at the helm while on passage in the Pacific.

Stawell, along with Lithgow, Gympie and Castlemaine, began disembarking troops from the stricken vessels at just after 9:00am. All the troops were transferred by 11.30 that morning and the remaining ships were quickly refloated suffering varying degrees of damage.

In April 1944 she rendered assistance, with other ships, to the United States vessel Frederick Billings (operated by the US War Shipping Administration), which had gone aground in Milne Bay.

The following month saw Stawell in action against Japanese forces on Kar Kar Island, north east of Madang, and later escorting convoys between Madang, Manus Island, Humboldt Bay and Langemak. In August 1944 she ended patrol duty to return to Melbourne for a refit.

Stawell was back in the New Guinea area in October 1944 on convoy and minesweeping duties. During July and August 1945 she was at Morotai and Balikpapan. On 3 August 1945, in the Moluccas area, she attacked and sank a Japanese armed barge.

Left: Stawell's ship's company, circa 1944. (AWM P00636.002)  Right: Stawell in Langamak Bay, New Guinea in 1944. (AWM P00636.002)
Left: Stawell's ship's company, circa 1944. (AWM P00636.002) Right: Stawell in Langamak Bay, New Guinea in 1944. (AWM P00636.002)
 
Left: Stawell's 4-inch gun showing breech block and gun shield. Right: To expedite bringing the gun into action, ammunition was kept close by in ready-use lockers fixed on the upper deck. Here Able Seaman J Rapkins can be seen replenising the locker.
Left: Stawell's 4-inch gun showing breech block and gun shield. Right: To expedite bringing the gun into action, ammunition was kept close by in ready-use lockers fixed on the upper deck. Here Able Seaman J Rapkins can be seen replenising the locker.

Stawell departed Morotai on 19 August for Subic Bay in the Philippines, arriving on 22 August. On 26 September she sailed for Hong Kong, arriving on 29 September. The ship remained in the Hong Kong area conducting anti-piracy patrols until leaving with other ships of the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla for Morotai on 17 October.

Early in November 1945 Stawell arrived at Brisbane, where she paid off on 26 March 1946, having steamed 75,723 miles.

Stawell was transferred to the Royal New Zealand Navy in May 1952 and commissioned as HMNZS Stawell. In the late 1950s she paid off into Reserve. In July 1968 she was sold to Pacific Scrap Ltd of Auckland and broken up.

 

Further reading

  • 'We Lived With Danger: A history of the Australian Corvette HMAS Stawell (J348), 1943-1945' by Geoff Brooks © 1994.
  • '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.