HMAS
Tarakan
(II)

HMAS Tarakan (II)
Class
Balikpapan Class
Type
Landing Class Heavy (LCH)
Pennant
L 129
Motto
Nothing Daunts
Builder
Walker Ltd, Maryborough, Queensland
Laid Down
1 December 1971
Launched
16 March 1972
Commissioned
15 June 1973
Decommissioned
20 November 2014
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 323 tonnes (loaded, 511 tonnes)
Length 44.75 metres
Beam 10 metres
Performance
Speed In excess of 9 knots
Range 3000 nautical miles
Complement
Crew Two officers, 11 sailors
Propulsion
Machinery 2 x GM diesel engines driving two shafts
Armament
Guns 2 x .50calibre (12.7mm) Bowning machine guns
Awards
Battle Honours EAST TIMOR 1999–2000
HMAS Tarakan (II) Badge

HMAS Tarakan commissioned at HMAS Moreton in Brisbane on 15 June 1973 under the command of a future Chief of Navy, Lieutenant Chris Ritchie, RAN. After a period spent working up in Queensland waters, Tarakan quickly settled into a routine of training, exercising, undergoing maintenance and support tasks in support of the RAN fleet and Australian Army, as well as providing training to RAN clearance divers, reservists, cadets and other trainees.

On 8 October she embarked a load of heavy vehicles for the first time, taking aboard three land rovers and personnel from the Department of Primary Industries at Bulimba before transporting them to Tangalooma Island where they set up camp to study wildlife on the island. She retrieved the vehicles and personnel four days later.

HMAS Tarakan, 1977
HMAS Tarakan, 1977

Tarakan visited Sydney for the first time later that month arriving on the 19th and was present for the opening of the Sydney Opera House and Open Day at Garden Island. She departed Sydney on 26 October and proceeded to Townsville to support a survey of the destructive Crown of Thorns starfish in the Great Barrier Reef, being conducted by James Cook University. The surveys began on 5 November and continued until 11 December, punctuated by two logistic visits to Bowen.

She paid her first visit to southern Australian waters in May 1974 when she visited Victoria to support adventure training for Army apprentices and to conduct exercises with the Army Corps of Transport. She then made her first overseas voyage just two months later in July and August visiting Jakarta, Singapore, Belawan where she backloaded equipment and vehicles for transport to Australia, and Benoa where she assisted MV Energy Trader when her engine failed to start causing her to drift from her berth. She arrived back in Darwin on 27 August.

A voyage to Papua New Guinea (PNG) followed in September where she undertook a passage up the Fly River on the 4th to Kiunga, more than 400 miles up stream, to back-load vehicles and equipment belonging to the PNG Defence Force Engineer Company for transport to Port Moresby. En-route she was forced to detour to Thursday Island to effect repairs to the bolt hinge pins on her bow door before arriving in Port Moresby on 21 September. She departed PNG the following day.

On Christmas Day 1974, Tarakan’s ship’s company was recalled from leave in preparation to provide humanitarian relief to Darwin in the wake of Cyclone Tracy. The ship was fully stored with a full complement on Boxing Day and set course for Darwin on the 27th. She stopped briefly at Townsville along the way to embark bridging equipment bound for Darwin arriving there on 12 January 1975.  After disembarking her cargo she remained in Darwin transporting stores and personnel as required, as well as conducting the unpleasant task of refuse removal. She departed Darwin on 17 January returning in early February to backload equipment to Brisbane.

Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy
Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy

Tarakan resumed a routine of training, exercises, maintenance and support tasks after her return from Darwin. She participated in Exercise BOUNTY RIDER in June and participated in many more army exercises throughout the remainder of the decade including; EMBARKEX in 1975; APPLE PIONEER in 1976; and MUDLARK in 1978.

Birds-eye view of Tarakan's tank deck
Birds-eye view of Tarakan's tank deck

She was one of several LCHs to  embark crated Sea King helicopters at Darling Harbour in June 1975 for transport to the RAN Naval Air Station at Nowra and later underwent a refit from May to the end of July 1976. She participated in the major multi-national, cross-service amphibious exercise KANGAROO II that October.

Tarakan sailed for Indonesia in May 1977 with equipment embarked to participate in Operation CENDIRAWASIH, a series of mapping and charting operations conducted in the Province of Irian Jaya. She arrived in Biak on 10 May and remained in Indonesian waters for almost the entire month, arriving back in Cairns on 31 May.

She conducted survey operations in the Port Clinton area during January 1978 and participated in Operation CAPRICORN AFFAIR at Townshend Island in March 1979 before commencing a refit in June. She returned to sea at the end of September and recommenced a program of training, exercises, maintenance and support tasks the following month.

In February 1980, Tarakan acted as the flagship for the annual Port Lincoln Regatta in South Australia and provided assistance for the army exercise TERMITE MINOR TWO in May. In September and October she participated in Operation BEACHCOMBER, a series of major cross-service surveying operations the aim of which was to gather information on the beaches and hinterland of Australia’s northern coastline, and participated in squadron exercises in December.

On 10 February 1981, Tarakan embarked two marine biologists from the Marine Research Laboratory, Melbourne, and six members of Clearance Diving Team 1 to conduct four days of beach surveys at Triangular Island in order to establish whether naval activity at the site had affected marine life. That May she visited Indonesia to participate in Operation PATTIMURA, the surveying and mapping of the Maluka Province by Australian Army surveyors. She later participated in the major multi-national exercise KANGAROO in October, and again participated in KANGAROO two years later, in September and October 1983, during which she carried out fisheries patrols and surveillance in the Monte Bellos Islands area.

Tarakan conducts a stern door marriage with HMAS Jervis Bay during Exercise KANGAROO 81
Tarakan conducts a stern door marriage with HMAS Jervis Bay during Exercise KANGAROO 81

A minor refit saw her confined to Brisbane from June to August 1982. She returned to sea at the end of August participating in Exercises: SPARTAN WARRIOR and MARLIN MOVE. On 29 September she joined other RAN and RNZN vessels for Exercise GRAND ROYALE, culminating with a fleet entry into Brisbane as part of the programme for the 1982 Commonwealth Games. She later participated in Exercises SAND CRAB in October and DYED GOAT in November before finishing the year with squadron exercises in December.

Tarakan was involved in Exercises TERMITE SPRAY in May and June 1983, LIVELY LANCER in March 1984, LIVELY LANCER and BREAKAWAY in March 1985, and TERMITE SPRAY in April and May 1985. This proved to be her final involvement in a major exercise during her first commission as, on 6 September 1985, she was placed into Operational Reserve in Cairns having steamed some 182,531 nautical miles and conducted 525 beachings.

Tarakan recommissioned into RAN service on 2 July 1988 at Cairns, which was also to serve as her new home port. Along with the familiar roles of army and Fleet support, her new responsibilities included surveillance of islands off the Queensland coast and support for the newly established Cairns Port Division of the RANR.

The first few months of Tarakan’s second commission were spent undergoing trials and generally preparing the ship to return to sea. Work-up exercises began in September and for two days Tarakan was used as a set for the television mini-series Heroes which related the true story of Operation JAYWICK in World War II. She then resumed a routine programme of training, exercises, maintenance and support tasks in October. She participated in Exercise SWIFT EAGLE later that month, Exercise INITIAL LANDING in April 1989 and Exercise KANGAROO in August 1989.

In September and October she renewed her participation in Operation BEACHCOMBER. BEACHCOMBER operations became a regular part of Tarakan’s programme as she participated in them again in August 1990, June and July 1991, July and August 1992 and July 1993.

The Operation Beachcomber team aboard Tarakan at Cooktown in 1992
The Operation Beachcomber team aboard Tarakan at Cooktown in 1992

A deployment to the South Pacific followed in November 1989 and again in April/May 1990. In the first instance to deliver stores to Port Moresby for the PNG Defence Force, and in the second to conduct channel clearance operations in the Solomon Islands with a detachment from CDT1 embarked. The LCH also supported trials for Project NULKA, an Australian designed missile decoy system, on Herald Island in November 1990 returning to Port Moresby in January, March and July/August 1991 to once again deliver stores for the PNG Defence Force.

Tarakan participated in squadron exercises in February 1991, her first involvement in such exercises for six years, followed by a tasking to Willis Island in support of the Bureau of Meteorology’s erection of an automatic weather tracking radar. Ironically that mission was postponed due to poor weather when Tropical Cyclone Kelvin confined Tarakan to port in Cairns. The tasking was again postponed in April, due to inclement weather.

June 1991 saw Tarakan participating in Exercise TASMAN LINK after which she  continued to contribute to major exercises throughout the ensuing decade. Included in those were: KANGAROO and SWIFT EAGLE in 1992; EAGLE FLIGHT II, TERMITE TRIUMPH and MOROTAI SERPENT in 1993; READY SHIELD, SCORPION STING, TASMAN LINK and SWIFT EAGLE in 1994; INITIAL LANDING, TASMAN LINK, PARADISE in Papua New Guinea waters, and KANGAROO in 1995; NIGHT CROCODILE, SWIFT EAGLE in 1996; TANDEM THRUST which was disrupted by the presence of Tropical Cyclone Justin, PARADISE in Papua New Guinea waters, TASMAN EAGLE and NIGHT CROCODILE in 1997; INITIAL LANDING in 1998; and INITIAL LANDING in 1999. She also remained a regular participant in annual squadron exercises.

Installing a new starboard main engine at HMAS Moreton in January 1992
Installing a new starboard main engine at HMAS Moreton in January 1992

On 14 January 1992 while conducting work-ups in company with HMAS Betano, Tarakan came to the assistance of a 12 metre cabin cruiser, Frantik, which had been beached at Comboyuro Point after Cyclone Betsy had rendered the boat free of her mooring. A salvage party inspected her seaworthiness before Frantik was re-floated that afternoon and turned over to her master.

Tarakan assisting the beached cabin cruiser, Frantik
Tarakan assisting the beached cabin cruiser, Frantik

In May 1992, and again in March and April 1993, Tarakan participated in Operation CLAMSAVER, which involved the transport of tens of thousands of endangered giant clams to the Great Barrier Reef in conjunction with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Tarakan's tank deck fully loaded with giant clams for operation CLAMSAVER
Tarakan's tank deck fully loaded with giant clams for operation CLAMSAVER

In August 1992, while participating in Operation BEACHCOMBER, Tarakan was involved in two rescue missions. On 9 August she began searching for a 17-foot fibreglass boat which had capsized the previous evening with two crew members aboard. The search proved unsuccessful but the two men were later found near Dunk Island, one of whom, sadly, was deceased. On 19 August she came to the assistance of the Naval Reserve Cadet training vessel, TV Tortoise, which had broken down while en route from Darwin to Cairns. Tarakan took Tortoise in tow and arrived in Cairns on 22 August.

Tarakan conducting Sea Qualification Trials with a Blackhawk helicopter off Mourilyan, June 1992
Tarakan conducting Sea Qualification Trials with a Blackhawk helicopter off Mourilyan, June 1992

On 22 March 1997, Tarakan was placed on standby for Operation BARITONE, the Australian Defence Force’s contingency plan to evacuate Australians from Papua New Guinea following political unrest there. It transpired that she was not required and she was released from BARITONE in early April. That October, Tarakan was used as a film-set for the movie The Thin Red Line, marking the second occasion that the ship had been employed in this manner. On 14 November, she sailed from Cairns in support of Operation SIERRA, the RAN’s drought relief operations in Papua New Guinea. Tarakan spent the next three weeks transporting food, water and other essential supplies to drought-stricken areas in the Papua Gulf, Milne Bay and surrounding islands. She arrived back in Cairns on 11 December.

On 9 April 1998, Tarakan sailed for Bougainville Island, via Alotau, Papua New Guinea, under the auspices of Operation BEL ISI II. For the next six weeks she provided logistic support for the Peace Monitoring Group ashore and conducted patrols in the waters around Bougainville. She was relieved by HMAS Brunei on 17 May and returned to Australia. She deployed to Bougainville six more times, for varying lengths of time, over the next eighteen months in July 1998, December 1998-January 1999, March 1999, June-July 1999, August 1999 and October 1999.

On 29 October 1999, Tarakan sailed for Dili, East Timor, under the auspices of Operation WARDEN-STABILISE. As well as providing a logistics over the shore capability, she also provided ‘hotel’ services for multi-national INTERFET forces ashore. She departed the Area of Operations on 8 December. She deployed to East Timor again in January-February and March-May 2000 (Operation TANAGER). The ship was presented with a Meritorious Unit Citation in January 2001 for her operations in East Timor.

HMAS Tarakan at dusk off the East Timorese coast
HMAS Tarakan at dusk off the East Timorese coast

In August 2000, Tarakan began preparations for a Life of Type Extension which officially commenced on 6 September 2000. The extensive work package kept the ship alongside at the Tropical Reef Shipyard in Cairns until 9 March 2001 and she put to sea again on the 26th. She participated in Exercise TANDEM THRUST in May before returning to Bougainville under the auspices of Operation BEL ISI II in June. She arrived back in Cairns on 18 July. She made three more trips to Bougainville over the next ten months in August-October 2001, November 2001 to January 2002, and February-March 2002.

Tarakan disembarking Army vehicles. Beaching exercises such as this were typical for LCH's in their Army support role.
Tarakan disembarking Army vehicles. Beaching exercises such as this were typical for LCH's in their Army support role.

Tarakan departed Mackay on 20 April 2002 in company with HMAS Balikpapan for Noumea, New Caledonia, and arrived back in Cairns on 7 May. Mechanical defects, frustratingly, precluded Tarakan’s involvement in Exercises SWIFT EAGLE and TASMAN LINK in September but she successfully completed trials on a new propeller design in Darwin in November and finished the year by supporting Australian Quarantine and Inspection Services (AQIS) operations in Far North Queensland in December.

The venerable LCH returned to Bougainville in February-April 2003 in support of Operation BEL ISI II and in July once again supported AQIS operations in Far North Queensland. On 30 August she departed Cairns for the Solomon Islands under the auspices of Operation ANODE, the RAN’s contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

As well as providing logistic support to RAMSI forces ashore, she also supported the construction of roads and buildings on the Weathercoast in the south of Guadalcanal Island. She departed the Area of Operations on 4 October. She returned to the Solomon Islands in December 2003-January 2004 and May-June 2004. During this last deployment, the ship’s Executive Officer, Warrant Officer Ian Chill, suffered serious spinal injuries when he fell into a crevasse. He was evacuated by helicopter in difficult conditions firstly to Honiara and then back to Australia. Ten members of Tarakan’s crew were recommended for commendations for their respective parts in WO Chill’s evacuation. Since his accident, Ian Chill has worked to raise awareness for issues facing people with disabilities in the Cairns community.

Tarakan participated in the LCH concentration period in Cairns and Townsville in February 2004 during which time she was presented with the Proficiency Shield in recognition of displaying the highest level of overall proficiency in 2003. She was again awarded the shield in 2004, 2007 and 2008. She participated in Exercise SEA LION in March 2004 and in May provided support for the Army Aboriginal Civil Aid Program in Far North Queensland. She made a final trip to Honiara in August to backload cargo for return to Australia before participating in squadron exercises and Exercises SEA LION and SWIFT EAGLE later in the year.

March 2005 saw Tarakan participate in the Minor War Vessel Concentration Period before beginning a refit on 9 May. She returned to sea on 18 October and took part in Exercise SEA EAGLE as well as supporting AQIS operations the following month. She was again involved in squadron exercises in February and March 2006, and AQIS operations in April and May.

In June 2006 Tarakan deployed to Timor Leste in support of Operation ASTUTE, arriving in the Area of Operations on the first of the month. She made one return trip to Darwin during that deployment before her involvement ended on 23 June.

She once again took part in Exercise SEA LION in March 2007 and conducted Operation RESOLUTE patrols in October and November, which included an operation to recover some ten tonnes of abandoned fishing net found in the vicinity of Maningrida, Northern Territory, which posed a danger to marine life. She was again signed to RESOLUTE duties in August and September 2008.

Tarakan conducts a stern door marriage with HMAS Success
Tarakan conducts a stern door marriage with HMAS Jervis Bay

A new bow door and fittings was installed early in 2008 before supporting 51 FNQR (Far North Queensland Regiment) Operation RESOLUTE patrols in June, a task she repeated in August. She also participated in the Minor War Vessel Concentration Period in June before providing support for the Army Aboriginal Civil Aid Program in July, transporting three loads of construction equipment from Darwin to Kalumburu, Western Australia. She participated in Exercises SEA LION and LONG GUNS in October, and squadron exercises and Exercise SEA LION in February and March 2009.

Tarakan departed Cairns, in company with HMAS Labuan, on 24 April for a South West Pacific deployment visiting Vanuatu, Tonga and Western Samoa. The two ships arrived back in Brisbane on 4 June, however, a defect in Tarakan’s new first-of-class diesel alternators saw a second Pacific deployment later in the year cancelled.

She again took part in squadron exercises in February 2010 and Exercise SEA LION in March. In July and August 2010 she participated in PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 2010, an annual US-led humanitarian assistance mission providing medical, dental, veterinary, engineering and other community services to communities across South-East Asia. Tarakan provided logistics over the shore support in Indonesia and Timor Leste, and provided accommodation and acted as a forward operating platform for medical and dental personnel from Australia, the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Canada, Portugal, South Korea and Indonesia.

Fuelling alongside Westralia in Melville Bay, Gove, March 1992
Fuelling alongside Westralia in Melville Bay, Gove, March 1992

Ever the work-horse, she participated in Exercise PARADISE off Cairns in November and was placed on standby to provide humanitarian assistance to the Queensland flood crises in January 2011 but was stood down before the end of the month. However, Tropical Cyclone Yasi struck the north Queensland coast the following month with devastating results and, after putting to sea to avoid the cyclone herself, Tarakan participated in Operation YASI ASSIST. Tarakan, and her sister ship HMAS Brunei, were tasked to support the worst cyclone affected areas south of Cairns. As well as providing a sea-lift capability, personnel from both ships volunteered to form working parties to assist with the clean-up of debris ashore.

After completing squadron exercises in March, Tarakan again supported 51 FNQR Operation RESOLUTE patrols before participating in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE in July. She visited Port Moresby in October to embark vehicles and equipment used during Exercise OLGETTA WARRIOR for return to Australia.

March 2012 was again occupied by squadron exercises and Exercise SEA LION, and on 3 June, began tasking in support of Operation CATHEDRAL, Australian Defence Force’s support to the Papua New Guinea elections. Vehicles and equipment were embarked at Cairns and Tarakan arrived at Port Moresby on 8 June. She returned to Cairns on 18 July. That November she participated in Exercises PARADISE and TRITON THUNDER.

Commanding Officer HMAS Tarakan, Lieutenant James Carroll on the bridge wing of the Landing Craft Heavy off the Weather Coast, Solomon Islands, September 2014
Commanding Officer HMAS Tarakan, Lieutenant James Carroll on the bridge wing of the Landing Craft Heavy off the Weather Coast, Solomon Islands, September 2014
Tarakan preparing to conduct a stern door marriage with HMAS Tobruk in Shoalwater Bay
Tarakan preparing to conduct a stern door marriage with HMAS Tobruk in Shoalwater Bay

Commanding Officers

15/6/1973 LEUT C.A. Ritchie, RAN
7/5/1975 LEUT J.G. Gordon, RAN
14/4/1976 LEUT B.L. Adams, RAN
12/7/1977 LEUT J.W. Gauci, RAN
15/9/1978 LEUT A.J. Mapson, RAN
4/4/1980 LEUT R.L. Dudfield, RAN
5/1982 LEUT C.E. Constance, RAN
23/12/1983 LEUT P.A. Smith, RAN
12/7/1985 LEUT P.D. Arnold, RAN
26/8/1985 LEUT D.J. Trudgian, RAN
6/9/1985 Decommissioned
2/7/1988 LEUT R.E. van Kempen, RAN
24/11/1988 LCDR M.J. Sinclair, RAN
2/12/1988 LEUT R.E. van Kempen, RAN
12/5/1989 LEUT S.P. Woodall, RAN
15/6/1990 LEUT C.J. McMaster, RAN
25/10/1991 LEUT R.P Watson RAN
27/8/1992 LEUT R.G Bradshaw, RAN
23/9/1992 LEUT R.P Watson RAN
7/4/1993 LEUT M.B. Burling, RAN
5/10/1994 LEUT G.S. Davies, RAN
18/12/1995 LEUT R.J.H. Mathers, RAN
3/5/1996 LEUT M.D Edwards, RAN
16/10/1997 LEUT T.L. Nealer, RAN
25/5/1999 LEUT G.M. List, RAN
3/10/2000 LEUT S.R. Mason, RAN
3/7/2002 LCDR D.A. Hannah, RAN
9/1/2004 LEUT A. Willmore, RAN
11/1/2006 LEUT C.L. Doolin, RAN
14/12/2007 LEUT D. Munchenberg, RAN
1/1/2008 LCDR D. Munchenberg, RAN
11/12/2009 LEUT K.M. Whatling, RAN
5/12/2011 LEUT R.W. Lewis, RAN
9/12/2013 LEUT J.A. Carroll, RAN