HMAS
Vampire
(I)

HMAS Vampire (I)
Class
V & W Class
Type
Destroyer
Pennant
D68
Builder
J. Samual White & Co Ltd, Cowes, England
Laid Down
10 October 1916
Launched
21 May 1917
Commissioned
11 October 1933
Decommissioned
9 April 1942
Fate
Lost in action on 9 April 1942
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement
  • 1,090 tons (standard)
  • 1,470 tons (full load)
Length 312 feet 1 inch
Beam 29 feet 7 inches
Draught 9 feet 8 inches
Performance
Speed 34 knots
Complement
Crew 130
Propulsion
Machinery Brown-Curtis turbines, twin screws
Horsepower 27,000
Armament
Guns
  • 4 x 4-inch guns
  • 1 x 2-pounder gun
  • 1 x .303 Vickers gun
  • 4 x .303 Lewis guns
  • 1 x 12-pounder gun (embarked in Alexandria, April 1941)
  • 62 x 2-pounder guns (embarked in Singapore, 5 January 1942)
Torpedoes 6 x 21-inch torpedo tubes (triple mount)
Other Armament 50 depth charges
Awards
Battle Honours
HMAS Vampire (I) Badge

In 1933 the Admiralty agreed to loan the Flotilla Leader Stuart (I) and four V and W Class destroyers (Vampire, Vendetta (I), Voyager (I) and Waterhen (I)) to the Royal Australian Navy as replacements for the S Class destroyers (Stalwart, Success, Swordsman, Tasmania and Tattoo) and the Flotilla Leader Anzac, then due for scrapping. Vampire and the other four ships commissioned in the Royal Australian Navy at Portsmouth on 11 October 1933 to form the Australian Destroyer Flotilla, later to become famous as the 'Scrap Iron Flotilla'. Vampire was commissioned under the command of CMDR Harry L. Howden RAN.

The Flotilla departed Chatham, under the command of Captain A.C. Lilley RN (in Stuart (I)), on 17 October 1933 and, proceeding via Suez, reached Singapore on 28 November, Darwin on 7 December and Sydney on 21 December 1933. On 31 January 1934 Vampire paid off into Reserve.

Vampire recommissioned at Sydney on 14 July 1936 for the voyage to Westernport where she arrived on 17 July to replace Tattoo as Tender to HMAS Cerberus (Flinders Naval Depot). She paid off the following day into a C Class Reserve Commission. She remained based at Westernport until 11 May 1938 when she recommissioned under the command of LCDR Jack Donovan RAN. Thereafter, until the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Vampire operated as a unit of the Australian Squadron in home waters.

On 14 October 1939 Stuart (I), Vendetta (I) and Waterhen (I) departed Sydney for Singapore, proceeding via Darwin and Lombok Strait. The same day Vampire and Voyager (I) departed Fremantle to join company at Singapore. The Flotilla was under the command of CMDR H.M.L Waller RAN (Commander (D)), in Stuart (I).

It had been intended to base the destroyers at Singapore for a period of training but, whilst the Flotilla was still at sea, it was decided that after a brief stop at Singapore it should proceed to the Mediterranean. The two ships ex Fremantle arrived at Singapore on 21 October 1939 where they were joined on the 29th by Stuart (I), Waterhen (I) and Vendetta (I).

The Flotilla sailed from Singapore on 13 November 1939 but split up en route and consequently the ships did not all reach Malta at the same time. Vampire arrived on 24 December 1939. From 2 January 1940 the Flotilla formed the 19th Destroyer Division for service with the Mediterranean Fleet.

At this period of the war, British and French naval supremacy in the Mediterranean called for only routine escort and patrol duties, interspersed with fleet exercises. Nevertheless, the Australian destroyers were kept busy with their routine of escort and patrol work, singly and in pairs, which took them from end to end of the Mediterranean.

Vampire had begun her Mediterranean war service on 21 December 1939 when in company with Voyager (I) she departed Port Said escorting a convoy for Malta. Thereafter until 6 March 1940 she was engaged escorting convoys between Marseilles and Malta. Conditions during the early part of this period proved very trying for her crew newly arrived from Australia and the heat of Malaya. On 23 January at Marseilles, the temperature fell to 11 degrees Fahrenheit and the ship's sides became coated with two or three inches of ice.

On 14 February at Marseilles the ship was inspected by His Royal Highness Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester. On 4 March 1940 Vampire began a 30 day refit at Malta. At this stage she had steamed 42,000 miles since her last refit and 26,000 miles since the commencement of hostilities. The refit was completed on 5 April 1940..

World War 11 destroyers carried a wide range of weaponry and equipment
World War 11 destroyers carried a wide range of weaponry and equipment

Vampire resumed Malta to Marseilles escort duty until 22 April when she returned to Malta in company with Voyager (I). On 27 April she sailed in company with Stuart (I) for Gibraltar but both ships were recalled at 'best possible speed', for Vampire then 28 knots. On 29 April she sailed escorting the Mediterranean Battle Fleet for Alexandria.

Throughout most of May 1940 Vampire was based at Alexandria exercising with fleet units and on anti-submarine patrol duties. On 20 May she sailed as part of the escort for units of the French fleet en route to Bizerta. She returned to Alexandria, from Malta, on 26 May 1940. The following day, 27 May, the 19th Destroyer Division ( Stuart (I), Vampire, Voyager (I), Vendetta (I) and Waterhen (I)) and the 20th Destroyer Division (HM Ships Dainty, Diamond, Decoy and Defender) combined to form the 10th Destroyer Flotilla under the command of CMDR Waller.

Vampire spent June 1940 based at Alexandria for Mediterranean anti-submarine patrols and fleet exercises. Twice she attacked contacts without results, firstly on 13 June in company with Waterhen (I) and again on 17 June. On 26 June convoy escort duty was resumed. On 29 June Vampire experienced her first bombing attack when Italian aircraft dropped ineffective patterns from high levels, Italy having entered the war on 10 June 1940.

The entry of Italy into the war and the collapse of French resistance on the 22 June completely changed the naval situation in the Mediterranean. Formerly, all coastlines were either Allied or neutral, and the Anglo-French fleets were in undisputed command of the seas. Now all coasts except those of Egypt, Palestine and Cyprus in the east, Malta in the centre, and Gibraltar in the west were closed to the Royal Navy. Moreover, the Allies had lost the support of the French fleet, which had provided seven capital ships and nineteen cruisers, and had acquired a new enemy in Italy with her menacing naval potential. Her fleet boasted five battleships, twenty-five cruisers, ninety destroyers and nearly one hundred submarines. It spelt the beginning of a long and bitter struggle for control of the Mediterranean, first against the Italian fleet and Air Force (neither of which proved the menace expected) and later against the much more formidable German Luftwaffe whose dive bombers took grievous toll of British warships before they were finally driven from the skies.

For more than a year the 'Scrap Iron Flotilla' took part in the struggle for possession of the ancient sea route linking east and west.

July 1940 opened with Vampire escorting a convoy for Port Said and then the French transport Providence to Alexandria. At Alexandria Vampire joined the Mediterranean Fleet for operations covering the passage of convoys between Malta and Alexandria and attacks against the coast of Sicily (Operation MA5). These operations, which led to the Battle of Calabria on 9 July, began on 7 July when the fleet sailed from Alexandria, Vampire and Voyager (I) forming part of the screen for the battleships and the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, while the Flotilla Leader Stuart operated with screening units for the 7th Cruiser Squadron. The following day, 8 July, the fleet was heavily attacked from the air and Vampire began to learn the value of violent evasive tactics. In spite of the Italian effort - some fifty bombs fell near the battleship HMS Warspite, only the cruiser HMS Gloucester was hit.

At 6:00 am on 9 July the British fleet was concentrated 50 miles due west of the south west extremity of Greece. The 7th Cruiser Squadron with Stuart in the van led the fleet eight miles ahead of Admiral Cunningham's flagship, Warspite, and her screen. The 1st Battle Squadron (HM Ships Royal Sovereign and Malaya) and Eagle and their screening destroyers, including Vampire brought up the rear. From this time onwards throughout the morning reconnaissance aircraft reported strong Italian forces including two battleships at sea. Cunningham disposed the fleet accordingly in an attempt to force the enemy into action.

HMAS Vampire's 6 x 21-inch triple mount torpedo tubes
HMAS Vampire's 6 x 21-inch triple mount torpedo tubes

At 2:45 pm HMAS Sydney (II), operating as a unit of the 7th Cruiser Squadron, sighted smoke on the port bow. Sixteen minutes later she sighted five enemy ships and seven minutes after that at 3:08 pm, for the first time since the Napoleonic Wars, the sighting of an enemy battle fleet in the Mediterranean was signalled when the cruiser HMS Neptune reported two Italian battleships west south west, 15 miles distant. At this stage Vampire was engaged in screening the carrier Eagle acting independently and accompanied by the cruiser Gloucester withdrawn as unfit for action due to her bomb damage suffered the previous day.

The engagement began at 3:20 pm and went through several phases, beginning with a brief surface duel between the heavy surface units which ended at 4:00 pm when the Italian fleet retired under cover of smoke and ending at 6:30 pm when Admiral Cunningham finally broke off the chase of the fleeing Italian ships when some 25 miles off the Calabrian coast. No British ship suffered any damage or casualties but the Italian battleship Giulio Cesare was hit by Warspite's 15-inch fire and limped into port with six of her boilers out of action and 29 of her crew killed. After sunset Vampire detached from her task of screening Eagle and rejoined the battle fleet. From 3:00 pm onwards for five hours the carrier and her two escorting destroyers had been under air attack.

Vampire spent in all six days at sea during the progress of Operation MA5, screening the fleet and covering passage of the convoys. Her War Diary recorded that she was under repeated air attack during daylight hours and estimated that 1,350 bombs were dropped on ships of the fleet being screened by Vampire and on Vampire herself. Violent avoiding action prevented any direct hits but the ship suffered considerable damage from splinters and near misses. Mr J.H. Endicott, Gunner (T), died on 11 July as a result of bomb splinter wounds. He was the first casualty in a Royal Australian Navy ship in World War II.

Following bomb damage repairs at Alexandria, Vampire sailed on 23 July in company with Vendetta (I), screening the cruiser HMS Orion for a diversionary demonstration off Castelorizo Island. The ships were not sighted from the air and no response came from the defence ashore. The two destroyers reached Port Said on 25 July and sailed the following day escorting the armed boarding vessels HM Ships Chakla and Fiona for a second demonstration. They met Orion on 27 July and that evening proceeded as if to effect a landing on Castelorizo. Again the Italians refused to be provoked.

Lowering Mr J. H. Endicott, Gunner (T) over the side after being wounded.
Lowering Mr J. H. Endicott, Gunner (T) over the side after being wounded.

At sea, meanwhile, the fleet covered convoys moving across the Aegean Sea, trailing its coat at the enemy's front door without response. On 29 July Vampire was back in Alexandria where refit was begun which kept her in dock until 18 August, when she resumed convoy escort duties between Alexandria, Port Said and Haifa, returning to Alexandria on 24 August.

On 29 August reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet arrived at Gibraltar. They comprised the battleship HMS Valiant, the new aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and the cruisers HMS Calcutta and HMS Coventry, named as Force F. To pass these additions to the fleet from west to east, a large scale operation, HATS, was prepared which planned cover as far as Sardinia by forces based at Gibraltar followed by junction with the Mediterranean Fleet south of Sicily.

On 30 August the fleet, including Vampire, sailed from Alexandria to join Force F and to cover the passage of Alexandria to Malta and Malta to Alexandria convoys. The operation, which ended on 4 September with the return of the fleet to Alexandria, suffered no surface interference though the Italian battle fleet was sighted by aircraft from Eagle. In the air the enemy reaction was mainly confined to attacks on one of the convoys but only one ship was hit.Vampire recorded that for the first time, on 2 September, she experienced dive bomber attacks while screening Eagle.

On 10 September, following a period of exercises with Illustrious, Vampire resumed convoy escort duty to Port Said and Haifa. On 14 September she passed through the Suez Canal to Port Tewfik where she remained until 23 September before proceeding to Alexandria. On 26 September CAPT Waller joined the ship as Captain (D) 10th Flotilla.

October opened with Vampire at Alexandria preparing to join the battle fleet at sea on 3 October for Operation BMQ, a fleet sweep into the north west Mediterranean. The operation proved uneventful except for attacks by Vampire on a confirmed submarine contact on 4 October. The fleet returned to Alexandria on 6 October, sailing again two days later, with Vampire in company, to cover the passage of convoys to and from Malta. Vampire reached Malta on 11 October, fuelled and rejoined the fleet.

This period, which ended for Vampire on 15 October when she returned to Alexandria with the 2nd Division of the battle fleet, was marked by the usual air attacks and Vampire's new anti-aircraft gun was well tried. It was also the occasion of the first surface engagement since the Battle of Cape Spada in July 1940, when the cruiser HMS Ajax engaged and destroyed the Italian destroyers Airone, Ariel and Artigliere on 12 October. Following the action Vampire recovered one officer and twenty-one ratings from Artigliere. The destroyer, burning furiously, blew up as Vampire collected her prisoners from a Carley float. After fuelling at Alexandria on 15 October Vampire proceeded to sea to escort the crippled cruiser HMS Liverpool, torpedoed by aircraft south east of Crete the previous day.

Ten days in Alexandria ended on 25 October when Vampire proceeded to sea with the fleet for Operation MAQ2, the passage of a Port Said to Dardanelles convoy. Operations included a sweep towards Kaso Strait by the battle fleet and the bombing of Maltazana, Stampalia, by aircraft from Eagle.

On 28 October the Italian Army invaded Greece from Albania and it followed that reinforcement of Greece and Crete with British troops involved a further commitment for the Mediterranean Fleet, in bolstering Greek resistance on land and sea.

British reaction was immediate. On 29 October a convoy sailed from Alexandria to establish a fuelling base at Suda Bay in Crete. It comprised the net layer HMS Protector, a minesweeper, two armed boarding vessels and two fleet oilers, covered by the cruisers Coventry and Calcutta and four destroyers of the 10th Flotilla including Vampire On arrival the destroyers maintained an anti-submarine patrol pending the laying of nets. By the evening of 1 November this work was completed despite enemy air attacks and the following day Vampire and Waterhen (I) sailed escorting the net layer, the armed boarding ships Chakla and Fiona and one of the fleet oilers for Alexandria.

On 4 November convoys departed Port Said and Alexandria for Greece and Crete. On 5 November the cruisers Sydney (II) and Ajax left Port Said with artillery and administrative troops for Suda Bay while at the same time a convoy sailed from Malta. The fleet was at sea to cover these and other movements and to meet further Mediterranean reinforcements comprising the battleship HMS Barham, the cruisers HMS Berwick and HMS Glasgow and three destroyers. Vampire, assigned as an escort to the Malta bound convoy MW3, sailed from Alexandria on 5 November and returned on 13 November with the eastbound convoy after an uneventful voyage.

On 15 November the military reinforcement of Greece began with a fast convoy (Clan Macarthur, Imperial Start, Nieuw Zeeland and Johan De Witt) to Piraeus escorted by Coventry, Vampire and Waterhen (I). It arrived safely and the two Australian destroyers with Nubian in company proceeded for Alexandria the next evening carrying out an anti-submarine sweep in the Aegean and a search of Kaso Strait en route.

Meanwhile the battle fleet was preparing to cover the passage of further Malta convoys, Operation MB9, both east and west bound. It included the first through Mediterranean convoy of merchant ships. Italian attempts to prevent its passage failed as usual but the half hearted sortie against the east bound convoy south of Sardinia led to the brief engagement with the Italian fleet off Cape Spartivento on 27 November which like Calabria developed into a chase of the fleeing Italians making at best speed for the safety of their base.

As a unit of the large British forces at sea during these operations, Vampire departed Alexandria on 23 November as part of the escort of the west bound convoy MW4 to Malta. The following day Italian torpedo aircraft attacked but so intense was the anti-aircraft fire that only one succeeded in firing its torpedo which passed harmlessly 500 yards ahead of Vendetta (I). The convoy arrived at Malta unharmed on 26 November and the same day Vampire sailed escorting the east bound NE3, which reached Alexandria, less the Port Said section, on 30 November.

Vampire spent the first nine days of December boiler cleaning at Alexandria followed by three days at sea with the fleet sailing on 10 December. On the previous day the British Army under General Wavell began its offensive in the Western Desert. The immediate object of the operations ashore was the destruction of enemy forces in the Nibeiwa/Twamae area followed by a northward drive to Sidi Barrani on the coast, thus isolating Maktila Camp which was then the Italians most advanced camp in Egypt. The naval role during the initial stage was to provide harassing bombardment against Maktila and Sidi Barrani and this was begun on the night of 8/9 December using the monitor HMS Terror supported by two gunboats and three destroyers.

On 10 December the battle fleet sailed from Alexandria (Barham, Valiant, Yore and Illustrious) to bombard Bardia, but were prevented from shelling the Italian positions by bad weather which also stopped a projected attack on El Adem airfield by aircraft from Illustrious. On 14 December Vampire joined the Inshore Squadron screening Terror the two following days during the bombardment of Bardia. Shore batteries kept up a continuous fire, most of the shells falling short but both Vendetta (I) and Voyager (I) were straddled and one man was wounded in Voyager (I). At twilight on 16 December two torpedo aircraft attacked but were driven off after firing four torpedoes, one of which missed Vampire by 50 yards. On 17 December she returned to Alexandria to refuel.

Ashore the military operations proved a complete success. Sollum and Fort Capuzzo were captured on 16 December and when Vampire rejoined the Inshore Squadron off Sollum on 18 December the Italian forces appeared to be rapidly degenerating into a rabble. With the capture of Sollum the first phase ended and the role of the Navy turned temporarily from offensive action to one of supply to the British forces ashore. For the remainder of December 1940 the work of the Australian and British destroyers of the 10th Flotilla supporting the campaign in the Western Desert ( Vampire, Voyager (I), Vendetta (I), Waterhen (I), Diamond and Wryneck) was confined to patrol and escort duty. On 26 December Waterhen (I) captured a schooner and on 29 December Voyager (I) intercepted a vessel engaged in transporting British prisoners of war from Bardia to Tobruk. Dainty also captured two schooners. On 20 December Vampire withdrew to escort Protector to Alexandria. En route she stripped her starboard turbine necessitating repairs which kept her in Alexandria until 8 January 1941.

On 27 December at Alexandria, Captain (D) 10 transferred to Voyager (I) to take over duties of Senior Naval Officer (afloat) at Sollum and sailed to rejoin the Inshore Squadron supporting Terror in the bombardment of Bardia on 28 December. Vampire rejoined the Inshore Squadron on 9 January 1941 too late to witness the capture of Bardia by the Australian troops on 4 January. Off Sollum she embarked CAPT Waller for passage to Alexandria where on 10 January he rejoined Stuart (I).

Defeated in the desert, the Italians were faring no better on the other side of the Mediterranean in their attempts to subjugate the Greeks. Everywhere on sea and land Italian arms were at a discount. The Germans, alarmed, decided to intervene in an effort to bolster the Axis position. This they sought to accomplish by the only means available at short notice – the transfer of German squadrons to the Mediterranean. The arrival of the Luftwaffe, particularly its dive bombers, to reinforce the Italian squadrons operating from Sicilian airfields, was a serious matter for the Mediterranean Fleet, curtailing its freedom of movement and weakening its hitherto undisputed control of the central Mediterranean.

The German pilots, trained in a harder school, soon made their presence felt and in the first encounter during the passage of Greece and Malta bound convoys sank the cruiser Southampton and severely damaged the carrier Illustrious. This operation, EXCESS, had as its object the passage of a convoy from Gibraltar through the Mediterranean to Greece and Malta and the simultaneous movement of fast convoys from Alexandria to Malta and east bound to Alexandria with a fourth slow convoy from Malta to Port Said. The entire movement entailed the passage of fourteen ships, but its protection employed almost the entire British naval strength, namely Force H from Gibraltar under Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville and the bulk of the Mediterranean Fleet under Admiral Cunningham.

As part of these operations it was intended that Barham and Eagle (Admiral Rawlings) should join the fleet on 12 January for Operation MC6, an attack on the Italian shipping routes while the convoys were at sea. The disabling of Illustrious put an end to this plan and Admiral Rawlings' group was eventually frustrated by bad weather.

Vampire sailed on 11 January screening Barham and Eagle and detached to Piraeus after carrying out an anti-aircraft sweep of Kaso Strait and eventually returned to Alexandria on 18 January. On 21 January she rejoined the Inshore Squadron to assist in preventing the escape of the Italian cruiser San Giorgio from Tobruk. Off Tobruk on the following day she captured the Italian schooner Diego. She remained with the Inshore Squadron until the close of January and on 27 January anchored in Tobruk harbour, the town having been captured by the British forces on 22 January. A large bronze plaque was taken as a trophy from the burnt out wreck of the San Giorgio.

On 1 February Vampire rejoined the battle fleet for screening duties during further convoy movements. She spent three days with the fleet before proceeding to Suda Bay to act as escort for an Alexandria bound convoy. On 8 February she rejoined the Inshore Squadron at Tobruk for Western Desert patrol and screening Terror to Benghazi. Support of the campaign ashore continued until 21 February when Vampire departed to join the 1st Battle Squadron and Eagle en route for Alexandria before proceeding to Port Said to act as part of the escort for the Greece bound convoy ANF16.

Meanwhile, the German plans in the Balkans were beginning to take shape and on 1 March, Bulgaria joined the Axis powers. Britain decided to send strong military aid to Greece.

The movement of the troops and their equipment in the face of an ever increasing scale of air attack strained all the resources of the available naval strength to the utmost. It began on 5 March 1941 with the first flight of 'Lustre Force' as it was known and continued until 24 April when 58,000 troops, with all their stores and fighting equipment, had been transported from Egypt to Greece. The passage to the Piraeus, virtually the only port available for disembarkation, led past enemy bases in the Dodecanese, from which he was able to launch his attack against the British line of communication. In spite of his advantageous strategic position, however, he failed to halt the steady flow of men and material and excepting a few bomb splinter casualties in one ship all arrived safely. The losses sustained, six ships, were all vessels proceeding in the convoys but not part of the 'Lustre' movement or vessels returning empty to Egypt.

All the Australian destroyers and HMAS Perth (I) played a part in support of the movement. Vampire, in dock at Piraeus during the early stages, sailed escorting empty ships, convoy GA2, on 9 March for Alexandria. Before the close of the month she assisted in the safe passage of four Greece bound convoys broken by the task of embarking the ex Prime Minister of Yugoslavia from the yacht Calanthe in the Gulf of Athens for passage to Alexandria.

On 28 March, when her Flotilla Leader Stuart was distinguishing herself at the Battle of Matapan and Cunningham was teaching the Italians 'a lesson that kept them out of the ring for the rest of the year', Vampire was engaged in escorting Convoy AG9 to Greece.

In April Vampire continued her escort duties with the Greek convoys. On 17 April when escorting AN27, four German Junkers attacked; Vampire drove them off hitting one in the port engine and when only three returned twenty minutes later the missing plane was hailed as evidence of her gunner's success. On 24 April Vampire sailed from Alexandria to join AG14. On this, as on all the other runs, the usual air attacks developed forcing the abandonment of the damaged Scottish Prince by her crew, but urged on by the crew of Vampire and HMS Grimsby, they reboarded the listing vessel and brought her into Suda Bay.

At this stage the Greek campaign was a lost cause and in the face of a chaotic military situation the British Government ordered evacuation to begin. Operation DEMON began on the night of 24/25 April and it involved the use of all the light forces of the Mediterranean Fleet except the cruiser Gloucester and four destroyers of the Malta Force. Active in carrying out the rescue operations were six cruisers, nineteen destroyers and numerous small vessels. Three 'Glen' ships equipped with landing craft were also used.

In the entire operation, in which Perth (I) and all the Australian destroyers took part, 50,672 troops were evacuated, being about 80 per cent of the original forces landed. All but about 500 lost in the transport Slamat were safely landed in Suda Bay. But the operation was not accomplished without loss; Diamond and Wryneck of the 10th Flotilla were sunk as were the transports Ulster Prince and Pennland. Several ships were also damaged. Vampire's part was confined to escort duty at sea and she took no part in the evacuation.

Soldiers ready to board HMAS Vampire for Tobruk
Soldiers ready to board HMAS Vampire for Tobruk

In May Vampire continued escort duty between Egypt and Crete until 12 May when she returned to Alexandria from Suda Bay escorting convoy AS30.

At this stage British military fortunes in the Western Desert had sunk to a low ebb and almost all the gains of the January offensive had been lost. Weakened by the Greek campaign the Army of the Nile fell back when German armoured forces under General Rommel struck at the beginning of April. Benghazi fell on 3 April, Bardia on 9 April with Capuzzo and Sollum also falling into enemy hands. On 13 April the British forces were back on the frontier of Egypt. Only Tobruk, held by Australian troops, held out and continued to remain a thorn in the new German General's side in spite of all his efforts to dislodge the defenders. The task of supplying the beleaguered garrison fell to the Navy. It was dangerous work that was to cost the Royal Australian Navy two ships, Waterhen (I) and Parramatta (I), before it ended.

On 13 May Vampire was assigned to the 'Tobruk Ferry' as the shuttle service was soon named. Two days later she sailed from Alexandria carrying stores and 102 troops, returning two days later with 180 wounded. On 21 May she sailed again but returned to Alexandria a tired ship with defects mounting daily. Vibrations above 16 knots made it impossible to maintain the fast runs the work demanded. It was reluctantly decided to withdraw her from the Mediterranean and send her to Singapore for an extensive refit.

On 29 May she passed through the Suez Canal en route for Malaya. On 20 June she entered Singapore Dockyard, where she remained in dockyard hand throughout July, August and September. CMDR W.T.A Moran RAN assumed command of Vampire at Singapore on 16 October 1941. Many of her crew were newly drafted from Australia. The refit was completed on 15 November 1941 but a collision in Keppel Harbour with the steamer Perak delayed operational readiness until late November, final trials ending on 26 November. On this day Vampire sailed for Sarawak in Borneo, transporting the General Officer Commanding Malaya, General Percival, and some of his staff. On 1 December she was back in Singapore.

The battleships Prince Of Wales and Repulse arrived in Singapore on 2 December and when the latter sailed for Darwin, Vampire sailed as her escort but after twenty-four hours at sea the ships were recalled, and as stated in Vampire's diary 'in the middle watch on December 8th at Singapore Naval Base, many of us saw our first air attack when Japan commenced hostilities.'

In the afternoon of 8 December 1941 Vampire sailed from Singapore escorting Prince Of Wales and Repulse on their ill fated attempt to interrupt the Japanese invasion of Malaya. Following the sinking of both capital ships by Japanese torpedo aircraft, Vampire and HM Ships Express and Electra, the three escorting destroyers, rescued 132 officers and 1,949 ratings out of a total complement of 2,921 in both ships. Vampire landed nine officers, 215 ratings and one civilian at Singapore.

HMAS Vampire bring out the wounded from Tobruk
HMAS Vampire bring out the wounded from Tobruk

Throughout the remainder of December Vampire was kept busy escorting inward and outward convoys to Malaya and giving protection to HMS Teviot Bank during mine laying operations in the South China Sea.

The first three weeks of January 1942 saw Vampire continuing to shepherd shipping in and out of Singapore and Batavia. On 24 January she arrived at Singapore as part of the escort of a troop convoy of six strips. The next two days were spent at the naval base. On 26 January she was ordered to proceed with the destroyer HMS Thanet to attack Japanese transports reported to be lying off Endau some 80 miles north of Singapore. They had arrived that day and comprised in fact two transports escorted by the light cruiser Sendai, destroyers of the 3rd Destroyer Squadron and some smaller craft.

Vampire and Thanet sailed in the afternoon of 26 January and arrived off Endau after moonset shortly before 2:00 am the following morning. The two ships steamed in, Vampire leading at 15 knots into what was a veritable hornet's nest. In addition to the cruiser Sendai, there were covering the transport six destroyers, Hatsuyuki, Shirayuki, Fubuki, Yogiri, Asagiri and Amagiri.

At 2:37 am the dim shape of what CMDR Moran took to be a destroyer appeared on Vampire's starboard bow. Seeking the transports he continued in towards Endau and soon sighted a second 'destroyer' 'right ahead and close.' Vampire swung to port and fired two torpedoes without result. This ship, which was in fact a minesweeper patrolling outside the anchorage, sighted Vampire and gave the alarm. The two British destroyers continued their course towards Endau until shortly after 3:00 am and when not sighting the expected concentration they turned south east by east and increased to best speed.

At 3:18 am their luck ran out. A destroyer appeared on Vampire's port bow and she fired her remaining torpedo. Again she missed while Thanet altering course to starboard fired all her torpedoes but they too sped harmlessly past the target. The Japanese destroyer opened fire and the cruiser Sendai joined in the confused melee that followed. Hopelessly outnumbered Vampire and Thanet retired south east by east at top speed, returning the Japanese fire in the unequal engagement.

Thanet was hit and at about 4:00 am Moran saw 'great clouds of black smoke issuing from her.' He tried to cover her withdrawal with a smoke screen but she was doomed and was last seen from Vampire stopped and listing heavily to starboard. She sank shortly afterwards at about 4:15 am on 27 January. Vampire, unscathed, made good her escape and entered Singapore Harbour at 10:00 am that morning. The action off Endau brought Vampire's service in the Malayan theatre almost to a close.

On 28 January 1942 she sailed in company with HMAS Yarra (II), escorting a convoy to Sunda Strait. On 30 January her position as escort was taken over by HMS Sutleg and she proceeded to Batavia. She sailed on 1 February as part of the escort to the American transports Westpoint and Manhattan through Sunda Strait, returning to Batavia on 3 February. Two days later on 5 February she sailed escorting two merchant ships for Colombo where on 11 February Vampire joined the East Indies Station.

The remainder of February was spent on escort duties and screening the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes. At the close of the month her War Diary recorded that Vampire had been underway on 69 out of 83 days since the outbreak of the Pacific War. In March 1942 Vampire continued operating from Ceylon as a part of the Eastern Fleet.

Vampire conducting a light-line transfer at sea.
Vampire conducting a light-line transfer at sea.

At the beginning of April 1942 the overwhelming success of Japanese operations on land and at sea made it abundantly clear to the British naval command that Ceylon was untenable as a base for operations. The enemy had complete control of the Bay of Bengal and at his will was in a position to control the waters south and south west of Colombo. On 28 March 1942 Admiral Somerville, Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet, received warning of a pending air attack on Ceylon on or about 1 April. He decided to concentrate his Fleet which comprised five battleships (Warspite, Resolution, Ramillies, Royal Sovereign and Revenge); three aircraft carriers (Indomitable, Formidable and Hermes); six cruisers (Cornwall, Emerald, Enterprise, Caledon, Dragon and Dorsetshire); and fourteen destroyers, including Vampire, on the night of 31 March in a position from which he could launch an air attack during the night.

For three days and three nights the fleet operated south of Ceylon without anything happening so that in the evening on 2 April, with the old R Class battleships running short of water, Admiral Somerville shaped course for Addu Atoll, the then British operational base in the Maldive Islands. Before doing so, however, he detached the cruisers Dorsetshire and Cornwall to Colombo and Hermes and Vampire, to Trincomalee to prepare for operations pending against Madagascar.

Meanwhile, powerful Japanese forces under the command of Vice Admiral Nagumo had sailed from Starling Bay in the Celebes on 26 March to attack Ceylon. It comprised five fast carriers (Akagi, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku); four battleships (Karishima, Hiyei, Haruna and Kongo); and was supported by two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and eleven destroyers. The entire group was fuelled at sea by six fleet tankers. Late in the afternoon of 4 April a patrolling Catalina flying boat sighted Nagumo's force but was shot down before it could report its strength. The Eastern Fleet put to sea but far too late to intervene in Nagumo's plan to attack on the morning of Easter Sunday, 5 April 1942.

Memorial window, Garden Island Chapel
Memorial window, Garden Island Chapel

In Colombo the Deputy Commander-in-Chief began to clear the harbour of shipping and ordered Dorsetshire and Cornwall to sea. Both were intercepted by Japanese aircraft and sunk in less than fifteen minutes. Hermes (Captain R.F. Onslow RN) and Vampire, were ordered to get clear of Trincomalee before an expected follow up attack developed on the port, sailed on the night of 8/9 April and proceeded southward. The next morning, 9 April, 54 bombers from Nagumo's carriers inflicted severe damage on the dockyard and airfields. The raid ended, Hermes and Vampire set course to return to Trincomalee.

At 10:35 am on 9 April, off Batticaloa, Ceylon, aircraft were sighted from Hermes on the starboard quarter diving out of the sun at about 10,000 feet. Hermes opened fire with every gun that would bear (she was carrying no aircraft) but in the face of the relentless Japanese dive bomber she was helpless. The end came suddenly twenty minutes later and she went down with one 4-inch gun still firing.

Immediately the carrier vanished the dive bombers turned their attention to Vampire. Fighting back she shot down at least one of the Japanese aircraft before she broke in half and sank in less than ten minutes. Nineteen officers and 288 ratings of Hermes and the Commanding Officer and eight ratings of Vampire were lost or died of wounds. Some 600 were rescued by the hospital ship Vita, others were picked up by local craft and a few swam ashore.

Further Reading

  1. Scrap Iron Destroyers: The Story of HMA Ships Stuart, Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager and Waterhen by L. J. Lind and A. Payne. - published by the Naval Historical Society of Australia, Garden Island 1976.