HMAS Warrnambool
Bathurst Class
Australian Minesweeper
Mort's Dock & Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney
Laid Down
13 November 1940
8 May 1941
Launched by
Mrs Simpson, wife of a Director of Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd
23 September 1941
13 September 1947
Lost at sea on 13 September 1947
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet
Beam 31 feet
Draught 8 feet 6 inches
Speed 15 knots
Crew 85
Machinery Triple expansion, 2 shafts
Horsepower 1750
  • 1 x 4-inch gun
  • 1 Bofors (later)
  • Machine guns
Other Armament
  • 3 x Oerlikons (later 2)
  • Depth charge chutes and throwers
Battle Honours

HMAS Warrnambool (I) was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers (commonly known as corvettes) built during World War II in Australian shipyards as part of the Commonwealth Government's wartime shipbuilding programme. Twenty were built on Admiralty order but manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty six (including Warrnambool (I)) were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

Warrnambool was laid down on 13 November 1940 at Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney, NSW. She was launched by Mrs ET Simpson, wife of a Director of Mort's Dock, on 8 May 1941 and commissioned in the RAN at  Sydney on 23 September 1941 under the command of Lieutenant Eric J Barron RANR(S).

Warrnambool slides down the slipway at Mort's Dock, Sydney, 8 May 1941.

Following completion of sea trials, Warrnambool (I) was immediately engaged in patrols in Bass Strait before proceeding to northern Australian waters. She was present at Darwin when the first Japanese air raid occurred on 19 February 1942, but sustained no damage or casualties. The following day the ship rescued 73 survivors of the chartered US Army transport ship DON ISIDRO which had been attacked and set on fire by Japanese dive bombers. During the rescue operation Warrnambool (I) was bombed by a Japanese flying boat, but sustained no damage or casualties.

In the first twelve months of Warrnambool (I)'s commission, all except the first three of which were spent in northern waters, the ship had carried out five evacuations or rescue trips, been present during 18 air raids, and ferried 4,000 troops in New Guinea. In July 1942, in company with HMAS Southern Cross, she carried Netherlands East Indies troops and stores from Darwin to Dobo, in the Aru Islands. In September 1942 Warrnambool (I) rescued survivors of the force from Dobo.

Later in September the ship assisted in the rescue of personnel of HMAS Voyager (II), which had grounded at Betano on the south coast of Timor whilst landing Australian troops and subsequently became a total loss.

Late in 1942 Warrnambool (I) transferred to the Australian east coast and spent most of the remainder of the war operating in that area on anti-submarine patrols and convoy protection. Late in September 1944 she proceeded to Fremantle where she was based until the end of February 1945. Warrnambool (I) then transferred to Darwin where she was based for the remainder of 1945.

Following the cessation of hostilities, Warrnambool (I) was present at the Japanese surrender at Koepang, Timor, on 11 September 1945.

Warrnambool as she appeared when part of the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla.

Warrnambool (I)'s subsequent post war career consisted of mine clearance work in Solomons and New Guinea waters, followed by similar operations in the Great Barrier Reef area. On 13 September 1947 minesweeping operations were in progress in the Great Barrier Reef area to clear the defensive minefield laid by HMAS Bungaree during 1941-43 to protect entrances to the reef. Warrnambool was leader of the 1st division comprising her sister ships Mildura, Katoomba, HDML 1326 and HDML 1329. The operation was under the command of the Senior Officer, 20th Minesweeping Flotilla, in the sloop  HMAS Swan. At 15:56 Warrnambool struck a mine. As a result of the explosion Signalman Norman Lloyd Lott, 28608 was lost overboard and listed as missing, believed killed. Thirty two men (three officers and 29 ratings) were injured. Stoker Ronald John Garrett, 34344, Ordinary Seaman John Herbert Hyland, 28583 and Able Seaman Donald Bain Sigg, 31199 subsequently died from the injuries they sustained. All of those killed were from Victoria.

After the rescuing Warrnambool's survivors, an attempt by HDML 1326 was made to tow the vessel but was abandoned.

An attempt was made to tow Warrnambool clear of the minefield by HDML 1326 but because of the strong tidal stream the corvette drifted back towards the line of mines and was abandoned at 16:54. She then drifted across the line in a sinking condition and finally turned over and sank at 17:45. Warrnambool was the only RAN ship ever lost in a minesweeping operation.

Warrnambool after she drifted across the line of mines and began sinking.

Operations by Navy divers in May 1948 recovered a number of items, including the ship's bell and a plaque depicting the seal of the town of Warrnambool. The latter item had been presented to the ship by the Warrnambool Town Council, to whom it was returned. It was established that the wreck lay in position 11 degrees 45.5'S, 143 degrees 14.2'E (approximately) or five cables from Fairway Reef on a bearing 73 degrees 30'.

Left: The barnacle encrusted seal of Warrnambool. Right: Warrnambool's ship's bell (believed to currently be located at Flagstaff Hil, Warnambool) both items were retrieved from her wreck by RAN divers in May 1948.

As a result of an enquiry by another firm in 1970 tenders were called for the purchase and removal of the wrek, Southern Cross Diving and Salvage being the successful tenderer. The former Department of the Navy reserved the right to any items considerd to be of historical interest.

Salvage operations took place between 1972 and 1975. The salvor reported that the wreck was in 26 metres lying on her starboard side with the funnel top buried in coral. The wreck was pointing in a north easterly direction and had sunk approximately 1.2 metres into the mud.

It was considred by the salvor that because of the condition of the wreck after being so long submereged, it would almost certainly break up if lifting it were attempted. It has, there-fore, not been removed as provided for the contract of sale. The wreck does not constitute a navigational hazard.

On 8 March 2016 HMAS Mermaid conducted a survey over the wreck of Warrnambool producing the above high definition image.

Further reading

  • 'The Corvettes: Forgotten Ships of the Royal Australian Navy' by Iris Nesdale - published by the Author, October, 1982.
  • 'Corvettes - Little Ships for Big Men' by Frank B Walker - published by Kingfisher Press, NSW, 1996.
  • 'The Australian Centenary History of Defence Volume III, The Royal Australian Navy', edited by David Stevens, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2001.