HMAS
Tobruk
(II) - Part 2

HMAS Tobruk (II)
Class
Modified Sir Bedivere Class
Type
Pennant
L50
Motto
Faithful and Strong
Builder
Carrington Slipways Pty. Ltd.
Laid Down
7 February 1979
Launched
1 March 1980
Launched by
Lady Anna Cowen
Commissioned
23 April 1981
Decommissioned
31 July 2015
Resources
Facebook
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 Gun
  • 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 start of the new decade provided a pre-curser for what much of the 1990s would hold in store for Tobruk. On 25 January 1990 she was ordered to proceed from Sydney to Townsville and prepare to deploy to Bougainville Island under the auspices of Operation DEFERENCE, the Australian Defence Force’s contingency plan to evacuate Australian nationals from Bougainville as the result of civil unrest. She arrived in Townsville on 30 January, however, as tensions temporarily eased in Bougainville, all naval units assigned to DEFERENCE were released from the operation the following day.

Tobruk departed Sydney again on 5 March, in company with HMAS Sydney (IV), in support of Operation VISITATION, the historic pilgrimage to Gallipoli to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915.


Artwork commemorating the Gallipoli deployment by ABMUSN D. Newman

The two ships arrived in Alexandria, via Fremantle and Port Victoria in the Seychelles, on 12 April having passed through the Suez Canal the previous day. Tobruk entered the Dardanelles on 18 April and visited Canakkale and Istanbul, before proceeding to Anzac Cove early on 25 April for Anzac Day commemorations.

She departed Anzac Cove early the next morning and visited Canakkale, Istanbul and Athens before passing through the Suez Canal once again on 8 May. She was forced to make detour to Yanbu ‘Al Bahir, Saudi Arabia, on 10 May to land an ill sailor, and again to Djibouti when a second sailor fell ill, but on this occasion he was diagnosed with a viral infection and treatment ashore was not required. Tobruk recommenced passage back to Australia and arrived home in Sydney, via Karachi, Penang, Singapore and Darwin, on 4 July.

 

 

A number of surviving Gallipoli veterans returned to the Dardanelles for the 75th anniversary of the ill-fated landings.
A number of surviving Gallipoli veterans returned to the Dardanelles for the 75th anniversary of the ill-fated landings.

Tobruk leading HMAS Sydney through the Suez Canal.

Tobruk departed Sydney for her second overseas deployment of the year on 15 October, this time bound for South East Asia. She visited Ujung Pandang, Indonesia, before continuing on to Bangkok, Thailand, where a detachment of 30 volunteers from the ship’s company conducted maintenance work on the Hellfire Pass, one of the most notorious sections of the infamous World War II Burma-Thailand Railway. She went on to visit Singapore, Lumut, Phuket, Manila, Hong Kong where she spent Christmas and New Years, Jakarta, and returned to Sydney, via Albany, on 25 January 1991. Upon her return, she began a major refit at the Forgacs dockyard in Newcastle.

Commmander Garry Kennedy, RAN, was appointed in command of Tobruk during her 1991 refit.

As Tobruk neared the end of her refit, the ship’s company exercised their right the Freedom of Entry to the City of Lake Macquarie on 10 August and two days later departed Newcastle to commence sea trials before proceeding with shakedown and workup programmes. She recommenced a routine program of exercises, training and maintenance in September.

An S70-A-9 Blackhawk conducting first-of-class flight trials on Tobruk.
An S70-A-9 Blackhawk conducting first-of-class flight trials on Tobruk.

She completed S70-A-9 Blackhawk first-of-class flight trials and participated in her first major exercise of the 1990s, Exercise WET WALLABY, in October 1991. Exercises she participated in during the course of the decade included; CORAL DAWN in 1991; KANGAROO, TASMAN LINK and SWIFT EAGLE in 1992; RHINO CHARGE, TERMITE TRIUMPH and MOROTAI SERPENT in 1993; INITIAL LANDING, NIGHT CROCODILE, TASMAN LINK and SWIFT EAGLE in 1994; INITIAL LANDING, TASMAN LINK and KANGAROO in 1995; INITIAL LANDING, THUNDER BAY, BLACK CARRILLON and SWIFT EAGLE in 1996; TANDEM THRUST and RHINO CHARGE in 1997; INITIAL LANDING and NORTHERN ENCOUNTER in 1998; and INITIAL LANDING and PROUD ANCHOR in 1999. She was also a regular participant in Fleet Concentration Periods and squadron exercises throughout the 1990s.

Tobruk's crew c. 1992
Commander G.D. Kennedy, RAN with his ship's company 1992.

During K92 Tobruk performed an unusual feat of seamanship when she conducted the first stern-door marriage with Jervis Bay. (John Mortimer)

She commenced a three month deployment to northern Australian waters on 10 February 1992, her major task being support for Exercise KANGAROO 92. Tobruk was back in Sydney in May to participate in the 50th Anniversary commemorations for the Battle of Coral Sea. She took part in a Fleet Entry and review in Sydney Harbour on 1 May led by the 80,000 ton USN aircraft carrier, USS Independence, and participated in further commemorations in Townsville, including a parade through the city streets on 9 May. She put to sea the following day to rendezvous with other Australian and US ships to conduct a coordinated wreath-laying ceremony in Cleveland Bay.

Tobruk departed Australian waters again in July 1992, firstly visiting Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand, before continuing on to Honiara for the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Guadalcanal. She arrived in Honiara on 6 August with commemoration services commencing the following morning. She embarked a number of VIPs on the morning of 7 August and proceeded into Iron Bottom Sound to conduct a commemorative service at the position where HMAS Canberra (I) had been sunk during the Battle of Savo Island fifty years earlier. She departed Honiara on 11 August and arrived at Townsville, via Vila, Vanuatu, on 20 August. Unfortunately a major defect in the port main engine precluded Tobruk’s participation in Exercise VALIANT USHER in Western Australian waters later in the year.

On 9 December the ship was notified that she may be required to deploy to Somalia in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 794 providing for humanitarian relief to the people of Somalia. Australian involvement in Somalia was confirmed on 15 December under the name Operation SOLACE. Crew members were recalled from Christmas leave and Tobruk put to sea on 22 December for workup exercises, and embarked a Sea King helicopter that evening for the SOLACE deployment. She departed Sydney on Boxing Day and, en route, to Townsville was informed that the ship would be required to remain on station in Somalia for the duration of the operation.

"Bound for Somalia" Tobruk alongside Fleet Base East preparing to depart for Somalia.
Tobruk alongside Fleet Base East prior to departing for Somalia, December 1992 (D.J.Perryman)

 


Tobruk fully laden in Townsville after embarking elements of 3/4 Cav. The voyage to Somalia was the largest military sealift operation undertaken by the RAN since the Vietnam war. (D.J. Perryman)

Tobruk arrived in Townsville on 29 December and immediately began embarking personnel, vehicles and equipment from 1RAR. She departed for Somalia on New Years Eve and arrived off Mogadishu, via Darwin and Diego Garcia, on 19 January 1993. She entered the port the following day and immediately began unloading, returning to anchor at sunrise on the 21st. She provided training for US Marines and Navy Seals in merchant ship boarding techniques, and on 26 to 28 January visited Mombasa in Kenya to embark supplies and equipment including building materials for the US Embassy in Mogadishu.

Tobruk's Sea King helicopter flying over Mogadishu in 1993.
Tobruk's Sea King helicopter 'Shark 05' flying over Mogadishu in 1993. (D.J Perryman)

Once secured,the port of Mogadishu proved pivotal to coaliton operations and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia. (D.J Perryman)

Tobruk remained in African waters for the next four months providing logistic support and hotel services to ground forces in Mogadishu, and conducting exercises with other units of the Multi-National Force. She also made occasional port visits to Mombasa to embark equipment and other stores, and to undertake maintenance, and also visited Port Victoria in the Seychelles in late April. She began backloading of equipment for return to Australia in May, and on 20 May, with 844 tonnes of vehicles and stores, and 28 1RAR soldiers embarked, departed Mogadishu for home in company with Jervis Bay. She arrived in Sydney, via Diego Garcia, Singapore and Townsville, on 21 June.

She underwent a maintenance period upon her return and recommenced a routine program of exercises, training and maintenance in August. That December the crew were informed that Tobruk had been awarded the Duke of Gloucester’s Cup as the RAN unit displaying the highest level of overall proficiency in 1993.

Commander KB Taylor, CSC, RAN accepts the Duke of Gloucester Cup on behalf of his ship's company from the then Governor General Mr WG Hayden. Rear Admiral D Chalmers, AO, RAN looks on.
Commander KB Taylor, CSC, RAN accepts the Duke of Gloucester Cup on behalf of his ship's company from the then Governor General Mr WG Hayden. Rear Admiral D Chalmers, AO, RAN looks on.

1994 began with Tobruk providing 18 personnel to the naval contingent involved in fighting the NSW bushfires while at the same time, the ship was expected to decommission in the near future with the purchase of two amphibious ships from the US Navy. A number of options for the ship’s disposal were explored during the year including leasing to the RNZN and a sale to the RN, however, Tobruk’s versatility meant that she remained in service in the RAN for another two decades.

Tobruk’s training commitments gradually increased during the course of the year following the decommissioning of the RAN training vessel, Jervis Bay, on 18 April 1994. Training cruises, incorporated into her normal exercise schedule, became a regular part of Tobruk’s programme.

She departed Sydney for another overseas deployment on 24 September, on this occasion bound for Bougainville Island under the auspices of Operation LAGOON, the Australian commitment to the South Pacific Peacekeeping Force providing security and logistic support for the Bougainville peace negotiations. She arrived in Townsville on 28 September where she embarked equipment and troops, and chopped operational control from the Maritime Commander Australia to the Land Commander Australia, the first time that a major fleet unit had been placed under the operational control of an Army officer.

She departed Townsville on 4 October and arrived at Honiara three days later. Further South Pacific Peacekeeping Force troops were embarked bringing the total number of additional personnel on board up to 669 making conditions very cramped. She shaped course for Bougainville on 8 October and arrived the following day, and immediately began disembarking the peacekeeping force. She remained in the Area of Operations until 20 October and arrived back in Townsville on 25 October when she chopped back to the Maritime Commander Australia’s Operational Control.

She conducted training cruises to New Zealand in October 1995, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in May and June 1996, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu in July and August 1996, and Guam in September 1996.

Tobruk spent much of March 1997 avoiding the passage of Tropical Cyclone Justin off the Queensland coast, which also impacted the major multi-national amphibious exercise TANDEM THRUST. Upon the conclusion of the exercise, Tobruk was assigned to Operation BARITONE on 22 March, the contingency plan to evacuate Australians from Papua New Guinea in the wake of political and civil unrest in what later became known as the Sandline Affair. Tobruk was released from Operation BARITONE while at anchor off Townsville on 2 April.

Tobruk departed Sydney on 27 October to transfer Army equipment to Townsville, and to conduct a training cruise to Guam where she arrived on 10 November. While at Guam, she received notice that she was to participate in Operation TERRIER, later re-named Operation BELISI, to provide logistic support to the Truce Monitoring Group on Bougainville Island. She departed Guam as scheduled on 14 November but cancelled a planned visit to Vanuatu to return her trainees to Sydney.

She departed Sydney for Bougainville on 29 November with approximately 1,200 tonnes of cargo and 70 Army members, primarily medical and engineering personnel, embarked. She arrived at Loloho on 5 December and immediately began disembarking her cargo. She departed Bougainville the following morning, transferring her embarked Sea King helicopter to HMAS Success (II), and arrived back in Sydney on 11 December.


Left: Tobruk in Bougainville waters off Loloho. Right: Tobruk conducting a stern door marriage with an LCM-8 landing craft during unloading operations alongside Loloho wharf.

She returned to Bougainville in the New Year and arrived in the Area of Operations, avoiding Tropical Cyclone Katrina en route, on 7 January 1998 to relieve Success. Tobruk spent the next 73 days at sea providing logistic support to the Truce Monitoring Group around Bougainville until she was relieved by HMAS Labuan on 10 March. She arrived back in Sydney five days later. She returned to Bougainville in April where she hosted a series of meetings to finalise the ceasefire agreement between the warring factions. The meetings concluded successfully in the early hours of 30 April and Tobruk departed for Sydney shortly afterwards. She visited Wellington, New Zealand, the following month to return NZ Defence Force equipment used at Bougainville. She made another brief visit to Bougainville in September, spending just two days in the Area of Operations, to back load equipment for return to Australia. She made further trips to Bougainville, under the auspices of Operation BELISI II, in June 1999, and February and June 2000.

Tobruk off the Loloho coast. The Anzac base at Loloho can be seen in the background.
Tobruk off the Loloho coast. The Anzac base at Loloho can be seen in the background.

Tobruk departed Sydney for a deployment to South East Asia on 6 April 1999 and, while passing Cairns on 10 April, received a distress call from the yacht Mayhem which had run aground on Pixie Reef. Tobruk’s Sea King helicopter rescued the seven crew members and flew them to Cairns where they made arrangements for the salvage of their yacht. She arrived in Davao, Philippines, on 18 April and conducted exercises and a personnel exchange with the Philippine Navy.

On 26 April, Tobruk was assigned the difficult task of supporting the investigation and recovery of a RAAF F-111G aircraft which had crashed on the Malaysian Island of Pulau Aur while participating in an International Air Defence Exercise. Tragically both the F-111’s aircrew, Flight Lieutenant Anthony Short and Squadron Leader Stephen Hobbs, were killed in the accident. Members of Tobruk’s crew, along with the RAAF Accident Investigation Team, erected a white cross at the crash site in memory of the aircrew.

She went on to Singapore at the end of the month where problems with her firemain precluded her participation in Exercise SINGAROO. A number of her crew were cross-decked to other RAN and RSN units to participate in the exercise. She went on to visit Jakarta before arriving back in Darwin on 28 May.

Tobruk's Sea King conducting unloading operations during Operation WARDEN/STABILISE
Tobruk's Sea King conducting VERTEP operations during Operation WARDEN/STABILISE.

On 18 September 1999, Tobruk sailed from Darwin as part of the multi-national INTERFET Task Group 627.1 for Dili, East Timor, under the auspices of Operation WARDEN-STABILISE. She made three return trips to Dili before the end of the month carrying 1,353 tonnes of cargo and 289 troops. As well as providing a logistics over the shore capability, she also provided ‘hotel’ services for INTERFET forces ashore. She continued Operation STABILISE throughout October and into November operating primarily between Darwin, Dili and Suai. Her commitment to STABILISE ended on 6 November in Darwin. She returned to Dili with humanitarian stores embarked in March 2000. Tobruk received a Ship’s Commendation and a number of crew members received individual commendations for efforts during STABILISE.

Tobruk alongside Dili wharf during Operation WARDEN/STABILISE.
Tobruk alongside Dili wharf during Operation WARDEN/STABILISE.

HMAS Tobruk Part 3

Further Reading

  1. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-March-16-1990.pdf.
  2. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-March-30-1990.pdf.
  3. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-May-11-1990.pdf.
  4. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-June-22-1990.pdf.
  5. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-July-6-1990.pdf.
  6. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-December-7-1990.pdf.
  7. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-February-1-1991.pdf.
  8. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-May-8-1992.pdf.
  9. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-May-22-1992.pdf.
  10. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-January-29-1993.pdf.
  11. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-July-2-1993.pdf.
  12. http://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/operation-solace-ran-relief-somalia-1993.
  13. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Navy_News-January_28_1994.pdf.