HMAS
Wollongong
(I)

HMAS Wollongong (I)
Class
Bathurst Class
Type
Australian Minesweeper (Corvette)
Pennant
J172
Motto
Second to None
Builder
Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney
Laid Down
29 January 1941
Launched
5 July 1941
Launched by
Mrs Beasley, wife of the Minister for Supply and Shipping
Commissioned
23 October 1941
Decommissioned
11 February 1946
Fate
Renamed Banda she served with the Royal Netherlands Navy until April 1950, when she was handed over to the newly created Indonesian Navy, being renamed Radjawali. ‘Jane's Fighting Ships’ reported that Radjawali arrived at Hong Kong in April 1968 for scrapping.
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet
Beam 31 feet
Draught 8 feet 6 inches
Performance
Speed 15 knots
Complement
Crew 85
Propulsion
Machinery Triple Expansion, 2 Shafts
Horsepower 2000
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x 12-pounder gun (later 1 x 4-inch HA gun)
  • 1 Bofors (later)
  • Machine Guns
Other Armament
  • 3 x Oerlikons (later 2)
  • Depth charge chutes and throwers
Radars Types 271 & 291 Radar
Awards
Battle Honours

HMAS Wollongong (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 (including Wollongong (I)) were built on Admiralty order but manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty six were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

HMAS Wollongong was laid down on 21 January 1941 at Cockatoo Docks and Engineering, Sydney. She was launched by Mrs Beasley, wife of the minister of Supply and Shipping on 5 July 1941 and commissioned at Sydney on 23 October 1941 under the command of Lieutenant Gordon A Keith RANR(S).

Wollongong (I) began her operational career escorting merchant convoys on the east coast of Australia.

Wollongong at sea during acceptance trials. Note the 'Red' ensign flying from her mainmast.

On 11 January 1942 Wollongong departed Darwin for Singapore in company of her sister ships HMAS Toowoomba (I) and HMAS Ballarat (I), undertaking escort, patrol and evacuation duties throughout the campaigns in Malaya, Java and Sumatra. She sailed from Singapore at midnight on the night of 6/7 February 1942, with Commander Farquharson and his staff on board who had been responsible for operating the Australian AMS vessels thoughout the Singapore campaign. Wollongong was the last Australian warship to leave before the city’s surrender to Japanese forces on 15 February. Picking up her sister ship HMAS Bendigo (I), which had left Singapore a few hours earlier, Wollongong (I) proceeded first to Palembang, where the two ships joined Ballarat (I) and Toowoomba (I).

With the Allied situation rapidly deteriorating as the enemy advance continued, Wollongong (I) sailed from Tanjong Priok, Batavia, at about midnight on the night of 27/28 February 1942 as rear escort of a convoy of six ships, the main escorts of which were the sloops HMAS Yarra (II) and HMIS Jumna. One of the vessels, the minesweeper HMS Gemas, turned back to Tanjong Priok and had to be sunk on 2 March by Ballarat (I) to prevent her capture.

Wollongong in wartime camouflage.

Some four hours after the convoy sailed the tanker HMS War Sirdar ran aground on a reef west of Tanjong Priok. Wollongong (I) detached and stood by until daylight when she made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to tow the tanker off the reef. The efforts were terminated by an enemy air attack and Wollongong (I) set off to rejoin the convoy after advising War Sirdar to abandon ship and land on a nearby island. Commodore JA Collins, CB, RAN (commanding the American, British, Dutch, Australian (ABDA) Detachment of the Eastern Fleet) was advised.

Further misfortune befell the convoy after dark on 28 February, when the tanker SS British Judge was torpedoed south of Sunda Strait. However, she remained afloat and proceeded to Tjilatjap some distance astern of the convoy at slow speed and escorted by Wollongong (I).

When the convoy arrived off Tjilatjap, Commodore Collins ordered Jumna to Colombo, and Yarra (II) and the convoy to Fremantle. British Judge intercepted the signal to Jumna and passed it to Wollongong (I), who instructed the latter to make for Colombo independently, while Wollongong (I) set course for Fremantle. Wollongong (I)'s detachment from the convoy almost certainly saved the ship from destruction. Yarra (II) and her three remaining charges, the depot ship HMS Anking, the tanker HMS Francol and the minesweeper MMS 51 were sunk south of Java on 4 March a strong Japanese force.

Following a period of escort duties in Western Australian waters, Wollongong (I) departed Fremantle on 14 September 1942 for Diego Garcia to become a unit of the Eastern Fleet. For more than two years she operated on escort and patrol in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, with the exception of a period from mid-1943 to the end of September in that year when she served in the Mediterranean.

On 13 July 1943, three days after the start of the Allied invasion of Sicily, Wollongong (I), in company with her sister ships HMAS Cairns (I), HMAS Cessnock (I) and HMAS Geraldton (I), visited the island as part escort of a convoy from Alexandria. They spent the day carrying out an endless chain patrol off the beach and saw an American Liberty Ship blown up in an air raid.

HMAS Wollongong (I) at sea.
HMAS Wollongong (I) at sea.

On two occasions (one in August and one in September) Wollongong (I) entered the Atlantic to rendezvous with Mediterranean bound convoys for which she acted as part escort. Each comprised seventy five ships.

Late on the night of 11 September 1943 the German submarine U-617 was attacked in the western Mediterranean by a Wellington aircraft of 179 Squadron, RAF. The U-boat was seriously damaged, and after fifteen minutes moved off slowly on the surface for the North African coast. In the early hours of 12 September another Wellington from 179 Squadron also attacked and damaged the submarine. U-617 beached herself on the shore of Spanish Morocco at 2:00am. The crew abandoned ship under gun fire from the requisitioned Dutch trawler Haarlem. The corvette HMS Hyacinth, with Wollongong (I) under her orders, later arrived at the scene and the two ships shelled the U-boat. The destruction of U-617 was officially credited to the two aircraft of 179 Squadron, Haarlem, Hyacinth and Wollongong (I).

Wollongong (I) returned to home waters when she arrived in Fremantle on 16 May 1944 for a two month refit. On completion of the refit she sailed from Fremantle for further service with the Eastern Fleet.

Wollongong (I) completed her service with the Eastern Fleet when she returned to Australia in February 1945. The concluding months of hostilities were spent chiefly in the Manus area. This included participated in the operation for the capture of Okinawa (Operation ICEBERG) between March and May 1945.

At 11:00 on 9 June 1945, Wollongong berthed at Port Kembla to visit her namesake city. Owing to the minimum depth of water at Wollongong, and to the regret of the local council, the corvette was unable to berth any closer. The Mayor and Councillors met the ship on arrival and were duly welcomed by the Commanding Officer. The officers were hosted at a civic reception at the Town Hall, while her ship's company were transported to Wollongong to march through the main street to the War Memorial where a wreath was laid. Afterwards they were entertained at a luncheon and into the evening.

In the immediate post war period Wollongong (I) proceeded to the Far East and spent a few weeks on anti-piracy patrols followed by a brief period of service at Morotai.

On 11 February 1946 Wollongong (I) paid off at Sydney in preparation for transfer to the Royal Netherlands Navy. She had steamed more than a quarter of a million miles during her commission with the Royal Australian Navy.

Renamed Banda, she served with the Royal Netherlands Navy until April 1950 when she was handed over to the newly created Indonesian Navy, being renamed Radjawali. ‘Jane's Fighting Ships’ reported that Radjawali arrived at Hong Kong in April 1968 for scrapping.

Ex-HMAS Wollongong in service in the Netherlands Navy as the Banda.
 
 

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.