HMAS
Tobruk
(II) - Part 1

HMAS Tobruk (II)
Class
Modified Sir Bedivere Class
Type
Pennant
L50
Motto
Faithful and Strong
Home Port
Builder
Carrington Slipways Pty. Ltd.
Laid Down
7 February 1979
Launched
1 March 1980
Launched by
Lady Anna Cowan
Commissioned
23 April 1981
Decommissioned
31 July 2015
Online Resources
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Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 5800 ton
Length 127 metres
Beam 18 metres
Performance
Speed 17 knots
Complement
Crew 150
Embarked Forces 520
Propulsion
Machinery 2 x 54 ton, 4,800bhp Mirrlees-Blackstone KDMR8 diesel engines
Armament
Guns
  • 6 x 12.7mm Machine Guns
  • 2 x Mini Typhoon Guns
Helicopters In support of Amphibious Operations (ranging from the Squirrel AS350-B to Chinook CH47)
Awards
Inherited Battle Honours KOREA 1951–53
Battle Honours EAST TIMOR 1999
HMAS Tobruk (II) ship badge

The amphibious heavy lift ship, HMAS Tobruk (II) was laid down at Carrington Slipways Pty Ltd at Tomago on the Hunter River, NSW, on 7 February 1979. She was launched on Saturday 1 March 1980 by Lady Anna Cowen, the wife of the then Governor-General of Australia Sir Zelman Cowen AK, GCMG, GCVO.She departed Tomago under her own power on 16 December 1980 and proceeded down the Hunter River for Newcastle. She was fitted-out and underwent harbour trials early in 1981.

 

Tobruk under construction at Carrington Slipway, Tomago, near Newcastle, NSW.
Tobruk under construction at Carrington Slipway, Tomago, near Newcastle, NSW.
Tobruk under construction and being launched from the Carrington Slipway at Tomago, NSW.
Tobruk under construction and being launched from the Carrington Slipway at Tomago, NSW.
Left: Tobruk passing beneath the Stockton Bridge on the Hunter River, on her maiden voyage from Tomago to Newcastle. Right: Tobruk conducting her initial sea trial.
Left: Tobruk passing beneath the Stockton Bridge on the Hunter River, on her maiden voyage from Tomago to Newcastle. Right: Tobruk conducting her initial sea trial.

The first aircraft landed on Tobruk on 15 January 1981 when a Wessex helicopter touched down on the ship’s flight deck as part of the trials. She commissioned on 23 April 1981 under the command of Commander Ken Doolan, RAN, who was promoted to captain that June. Lady Cowen also presented the Tobruk Cup during the day, awarded for inter-mess competition. 


Right: Captain Kenneth A. Doolan. Tobruk's first Commanding Officer. Left: HMAS Tobruk's Ships Bell.

Tobruk was designed for combined Navy and Army amphibious operations; essentially a multi-purpose troop and roll-on/roll-off, heavy vehicle carrier with facilities for bow and stern loading, beaching, a drive-through capacity and inter-deck transfers via ramps.

Tobruk taking on supplies through her bow door in Sydney. Her roll on/roll off capability was an invaulable asset to amphibious operations.
Tobruk embarking cargo through her bow door in Sydney. Her roll on/roll off capability was an invaulable asset when conducting amphibious operations.

Upon commissioning, she could transport up to 18 tanks in the tank deck, and more than 40 Armoured Personnel Carriers or Light Armoured Vehicles on the vehicle deck, which had been reinforced to enable the transportation of two Landing Craft Mechanical-8’s (LCM-8) on specially designed cradles. In addition, two Landing Craft Vehicular Personnel units (LCVP) could be secured by davits on either side of the superstructure. The ship's roll-on/roll-off function was supplemented by two 8.5 ton cranes and a 70 ton derrick. She had forward and aft helicopter decks, which could be operated simultaneously, and could provide accommodation for up to 520 troops.

First beaching test of the ship since it was commissioned. Tobruk, beached in Jervis Bay, the bow doors are opened and the ramp lowered  to allow the ship's vehicle to make its first "wet run" ashore. Captain Doolan was joined in the vehicle by the Officer-in-Charge of the ship's Army detachment, Major Charles Gillman-Wells.
 Tobruk conducting her first beaching in Jervis Bay. The bow doors are opened and the ramp lowered to allow the ship's vehicle to make its first "wet run" ashore. Captain Doolan was joined in the vehicle by the Officer-in-Charge of the ship's Army detachment, Major Charles Gillman-Wells.

Tobruk put to sea on 27 April for shakedown exercises and to commence passage to her home port of Brisbane. She anchored in Moreton Bay on 30 April and made a ceremonial entry into Brisbane the following day. The next few weeks were occupied with shakedown exercises and trials in eastern Australian waters. The ship visited Sydney for the first time on 14 May before commencing first-of-class flying trials in Jervis Bay on 20 May with the arrival of a Wessex 31B helicopter on board. By the end of the month, 404 landings and take-offs had been conducted on Tobruk’s two flight decks by Wessex, Iroquois UH-1H and Iroquois UH-1B aircraft. She returned to Brisbane in early June and trials continued off the Australian east coast, including further flying trials with Chinook CH-47C and Bell 206B-1 helicopters, as well as training of RAN Reserves and Reserve Cadets.

Cunducting flight deck trials in Jervis Bay in June 1981.
Cunducting flight deck trials and certification in Jervis Bay in June 1981.

She participated in Exercise BRIDGING TRAIN in August during which she conducted beaching trials and loading and off-loading of Army heavy vehicles. The following month, trial evolutions began to decrease and Tobruk started to settle into a routine program of exercises, training and maintenance. She visited Adelaide for the first time in October and, en route, participated in the search and rescue for personnel from the yacht Escapade, which had been reported sinking off Port Stephens. Tobruk spotted two survivors in a life raft shortly before 4.00am on 9 October and directed a police launch to their position to be rescued. She participated in the major multi-national, amphibious exercise KANGAROO 81 later in the month.

The year ended in tragedy aboard Tobruk when Naval Reserve Cadet Kenneth Dax, on board with 29 other cadets for sea training, collapsed in one of the ship’s bathrooms on 11 December. In spite of first aid being swiftly applied and his medical evacuation to Royal Brisbane Hospital, Dax never resumed consciousness and passed away on 16 December 1981. Subsequent investigations found that Dax had been asphyxiated by a hydrogen-sulphide gas leak in the ship’s sewage system.

On 16 February 1982, Tobruk embarked eight Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Iroquois helicopters as well as other RAAF stores and equipment for passage to Ashdod in Israel. The Iroquois flight was to serve as part of the ten-nation Multi-national Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai Peninsula, which also included RAN personnel, as part of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.


Tobruk's ship's company assembled for an official photograph in Ashdod, Israel.

 

An RAAF Iroquois in its United Nations livery being unloaded at Ashdod.
An RAAF Iroquois in its United Nations livery being unloaded at Ashdod.

Tobruk departed Sydney on 18 February and arrived in Ashdod, via Fremantle, on 19 March having passed through the Suez Canal the previous day. She departed on 23 March and arrived back in Brisbane, via Singapore and Penang where she embarked two RAAF Iroquois and other vehicles for transport back to Australia, on 30 April. While en route from Penang, Tobruk embarked 13 New Zealand Army soldiers for sea experience and training, as well as an old pearling lugger which had been acquired by the Queensland Maritime Museum Association for restoration and display.

On 26 and 27 May, over the course of 22 hours, more than 800 tonnes of cargo, including food and building equipment, was loaded for transport to cyclone affected Tonga and Vanuatu. Tropical Cyclone Isaac struck Tonga in early March and was the worst storm in Tonga’s history, claimed six lives and leaving some 45,000 homeless. Tobruk departed Sydney for Nuku’alofa on 27 May and arrived on 2 June. She departed the next day for Vila, Vanuatu, where, on 6 June, she unloaded Defence Co-operation Program cargo for the Vanuatu police. She departed the following day and arrived back in Brisbane on 10 June.

Tobruk participated in Exercise GRAND ROYALE at the end of September joining HMA Ships Hobart and Torrens, HMA Submarine Otama and HMNZS Otago to escort HMY Britannia, with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh embarked, along the Queensland coast towards Brisbane. Britannia led the formation into Brisbane on 29 September as part of the Twelfth Commonwealth Games festivities.

Tobruk escorting HMY Brittannia up the Brisbane River to participate in Commonwealth Games Festivities, Brisbane, QLD.
Tobruk escorting HMY Brittannia up the Brisbane River on the occasion of the 1982 Commonwealth Games Festivities, Brisbane, QLD.

Tobruk’s Army support role came to the fore in 1982 as she participated in the Army exercises SEA STRIKE, DIAMOND DOLLAR, GLENCOE, MARLIN MOVE, SAND CRAB and PREMIUM BOND during the course of the year. She also participated in squadron exercises in December. She was a regular participant in both Army and Navy exercises throughout the course of the decade, as well as providing support to the RAAF, and participated in Exercises; NORTHERN SEARCH, DIAMOND DOLLAR and KANGAROO in 1983; SEA STRIKE, TRIDENT LOVE and DIAMOND DOLLAR in 1984; FLYING FISH, INITIAL LANDING, ARNHEM PHOENIX, TORRES TREK, DIAMOND DOLLAR, CORAL SEA and TASMAN WARRIOR in 1985; INITIAL LANDING, DIAMOND DOLLAR and FULL PACK in 1986; INITIAL LANDING, DUSTY TROOPER, VALIANT USHER, DIAMOND DOLLAR and PREDATORS RETREAT in 1987; INITIAL LANDING in 1988; and KANGAROO in 1989. She was also a regular participant in Fleet Concentration Periods throughout the decade.

Examples of Tobruk's tri-service support role. Left: Army Leopard AS1 Main Battle Tanks on Tobruk's tank deck. Right: A RAAF Chinook C-47A preparing to lift an Army Land Rover from Tobruk's forward flight deck.
Examples of Tobruk's tri-service support role. Left: Army Leopard AS1 Main Battle Tanks crowd Tobruk's tank deck. Right: A RAAF Chinook C-47A preparing to lift an Army Land Rover from Tobruk's forward flight deck.

She participated in the Fleet Concentration Period in February 1983 before setting course for Penang and Singapore to back-load cargo in support of the RAAF’s withdrawal from RAAF Butterworth ahead of the handover of the base to the Royal Malaysian Air Force in 1988. She arrived back in Darwin on 20 March.

She visited New Zealand in February and March 1984 to participate in Exercises NORTHERN SAFARI and AUCKEX conducting exercises with armed forces from New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States. She arrived back in Sydney on 2 April.

Tobruk alongside at Funafuti, Tuvalu, for the South Pacific Forum, 1984.
Tobruk alongside at Funafuti, Tuvalu, for the South Pacific Forum, 1984.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Tobruk's commanding officer, Commander Geoffrey Morton, RAN, admire the handiwork of PO Cook Merideth during a reception held on board for the South Pacific Forum.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Tobruk's commanding officer, Commander Geoffrey Morton, RAN, admire the handiwork of PO Cook Merideth during a reception held on board for the South Pacific Forum.

Tobruk visited Sydney early in August to embark stores in preparation for her deployment to the South Pacific nation of Tuvalu in support of the fifteenth South Pacific Forum. She departed Sydney on 10 August and arrived in Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, via Vila, on the 18th. The ship provided accommodation for 35 officials from 12 of the 14 national delegations, and for a week from 21 August, acted as a training vessel for cadets from the Tuvalu Maritime School. On 26 August Tobruk embarked the 14 chief delegates including 12 heads-of-state, the Prime Ministers or Presidents of; Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Nieu, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Western Samoa, as well as the Solomon Islands’ Minister for Natural Development and the Tongan Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence. The Forum concluded on 28 August and Tobruk departed Funafuti two days later. The ship and her crew had made a particularly positive impression during the Forum with Prime Minister Bob Hawke noting that Tobruk had contributed significantly and positively to Australia’s standing in the region while the Attorney-General of Funafuti stated that the ship’s crew showed unstinting helpfulness and friendliness.

Aviation Technician Bob Ferry inspects aircraft on Tobruk's flight deck, 1984.
Lieutenant R J Ferry carries out a pre-flight inspection of the embarked Sea King helicopter on Tobruk's flight deck, during exercises, 1984.

At the end of September and beginning of October, Tobruk visited Melbourne and Sydney where she embarked Army equipment to participate in Exercise DIAMOND DOLLAR in Queensland. On 1 October she departed Sydney with cargo which included 18 main battle tanks and 36 armoured personnel carriers, as well as other stores, equipment and personnel amounting to some 1,230 tonnes; the heaviest load yet carried by the ship.

Tobruk departed Brisbane on 11 January 1986 for her new home port of Sydney, her departure coinciding with the opening of the Gateway Bridge with an estimated 200,000 people turning out. Tobruk arrived in Sydney on 13 January and immediately began pre-refit preparations. While the ship was high-and-dry at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, members of the ship’s company conducted a charity ‘cyclathon’ from Canberra to Sydney in April to raise money for the Prince of Wales Children’s Hospital and the Royal NSW Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. Having stopped overnight at Mittagong, the team arrived at the Channel 10 studios in Sydney at 3.45pm on 5 April having raised $5,535.62 for two worthy charities.

Tobruk was back at sea on 2 July and began a series of post-refit trials and work-up exercises. On 15 July while conducting work-up exercises in Jervis Bay, Tobruk was signalled to go to the assistance of a Sea King helicopter which had ditched in the sea some 40nm east of Kiama. The five-man crew of the helicopter were all rescued by a second Sea King launched from HMAS Albatross, however, in spite of the best efforts of Tobruk, HMAS Adelaide and a detachment from Clearance Diving Team 1, the aircraft was lost in more than 350 metres of water.

That October, Tobruk participated in the Royal Fleet Review commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the granting of the Royal Assent to the Royal Australian Navy.

The fireworks finale dwarfs the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the 75th Anniversary Fleet Review in 1986.
The firework finale dwarfs the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the 75th Anniversary Fleet Review in 1986.

 A detachment from the ship’s company participated in the Combined Navies March on 2 October, and on the 4th, the ship took up her assigned position near Fort Denison as His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh conducted his review from aboard HMAS Cook. Tobruk recommenced her routine program of exercises, training and maintenance on 7 October.

The ship deployed to the South Pacific in February 1987 with a detachment from Clearance Diving Team 1 embarked to conduct channel clearance operations in the Solomon Islands. Also embarked were 51 midshipmen undertaking second year studies at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) as well as nine officers from foreign navies. She arrived in Honiara on 2 February where she delivered an operating table and 14 cartons of books donated to the Honiara Hospital and the King George VI School respectively. While channel clearance operations were underway, the ship’s company organised working parties ashore to conduct community aid tasks.

The ship set a course for Papua New Guinea on 12 February where the remains of 4 World War II era Boston Bomber aircraft, as well as other wartime relics, were embarked for restoration and display at various museums in Australia and Papua New Guinea. She arrived back at Townsville on 24 February where the ADFA midshipmen and foreign officers were disembarked. She returned to the Solomon Islands the following month with supplies for Australian aid workers who had been rebuilding facilities in the Solomons post-Cyclone Namu, as well as to back-load equipment used by Clearance Diving Team 1 during channel clearance operations. She returned to Sydney on 9 March.

Tobruk returned to the South Pacific in May, firstly to Fiji under the auspices of Operation MORRIS DANCE, the Australian Defence Force’s contingency plan to evacuate Australian nationals in the wake of a military coup. She embarked two landing craft, two amphibious craft and five helicopters for operations in Fiji, as well as cars and motorcycles to provide transport support for members of the Australian delegation to the South Pacific Forum at Apia, Western Samoa. She departed Sydney on 21 May, embarked a detachment from the Operational Deployment Force at Norfolk Island on 24 May and she rendezvoused with other units assigned to MORRIS DANCE on 26 May. Troops and other units were transferred to other ships on that day and Tobruk continued on to Apia for the South Pacific Forum.

She arrived in Apia on 28 May and, in addition to providing transport support, provided accommodation for 40 delegates, officials and journalists, and catering services both on board and ashore. She participated in celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the independence of Western Samoa on 1 June before departing two days later. She arrived back in Sydney, via Norfolk Island, on 12 June.

On August 6, Tobruk assisted in the search for two sailors lost from the submarine HMAS Otama, Able Seaman Hugh Markrow and Seaman Damian Humphreys. The two sailors had been lost three days earlier and numerous air and sea units were involved in search and rescue efforts. Tragically, neither Markrow nor Humphreys were ever found.

The year 1988 got off to a festive start as Tobruk participated in a ceremonial Fleet Entry into Sydney Harbour as part of Bicentennial Australia Day celebrations before hosting some 280 guests on board for Australia Day Festivities.

"Dump and Burn" and firework display over Sydney Harbour signalling the end of the Naval Salute.

A "Dump and Burn" by RAAF F-111 fighter-bombers and firework display over Sydney Harbour signalling the end of the Naval Salute.

She undertook an ADFA training cruise to New Zealand in February visiting Auckland and Lyttleton, and returned to Sydney on 19 February.

That April, the ship embarked Army equipment and personnel in Sydney for Operation IRON TRIANGLE. While alongside in Sydney, the crew presented a $1,100 wheelchair, purchased through the ship’s welfare fund, to seven-year-old spina bifida sufferer Emma Chapman. Tobruk provided logistic support for IRON TRIANGLE in South Australian waters in April and May, before embarking stores for Operation SAILCLOTH, the Australia Defence Force’s contingency plan to assist Australian nationals in Vanuatu where rioting had swept through the capital, Port Vila, the previous week. Thankfully local police restored order in Vila and SAILCLOTH was suspended on the morning of 26 May.

On 2 September Tobruk began embarking equipment in support of the Bicentennial Military Tattoo. Two days later she embarked 233 members of the Tattoo Regiment as well as the RAN Personnel Liaison team and cast off for the first leg of the deployment. She spent the next three months circumnavigating Australia transporting the regiment and providing alongside support on its national tour. Her commitment came to an end on 30 November in Melbourne.

Tobruk departed Sydney on 30 January 1989 bound for the west coast of the USA along with HMAS Canberra (II). She embarked Army vehicles and equipment in Brisbane before setting course for San Francisco via Honiara and Pearl Harbour. She arrived in San Francisco on 1 March and two days later, members of the crew embarked in the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, USS Wadsworth, for familiarisation training. Tobruk visited San Diego before participating in Exercise CALTROP FORCE with members of D Company 6 RAR embarked, and then proceeded north to Esquimalt, Canada, where she arrived on 29 March.

Army vehicles and equipment was re-embarked in San Francisco, along with an F-4 Phantom aircraft donated by the USAF to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook, and Tobruk departed the US west coast for home on 7 April. She arrived back in Sydney, via Pearl Harbour, the Solomon Islands and Brisbane, on 10 May having conducted training with USN ships en route.

Tobruk returning from San Francisco with Army vehicles and equipment embarked as well as a Phantom F-4 aircraft bound for the RAAF Museum at Point Cook, VIC.
Tobruk returning from San Francisco with Army vehicles and equipment embarked as well as a Phantom F-4 aircraft bound for the RAAF Museum at Point Cook, VIC.

HMAS Tobruk Part 2

Further Reading

  1. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-May-8-1981.pdf
  2. http://www.navy.gov.au/biography/rear-admiral-kenneth-allan-doolan
  3. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-November-6-1981.pdf.
  4. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-February-12-1982.pdf.
  5. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-April-23-1982.pdf.
  6. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-August-24-1984.pdf.
  7.  http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-September-7-1984.pdf.
  8. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-September-21-1984.pdf.
  9. http://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/how-old-australia%E2%80%99s-navy.
  10. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-October-17-1986.pdf.
  11. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-March-20-1987.pdf.
  12. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-May-29-1987.pdf.
  13. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-February-5-1988.pdf.
  14. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-April-28-1989.pdf.z
  15. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-November-6-1981.pdf.
  16. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-May-26-1989.pdf.