Fairmile B Class
Lars Halvorsen & Son, Sydney NSW
17 November 1943
18 November 1943
19 November 1945
|Dimensions & Displacement|
|Beam||18 feet 4 inches|
|Draught||4 feet 10 inches|
|Machinery||Twin Hall Scott Defender petrol engines, 650 HP each, twin screws|
|Other Armament||16 x Depth Charges|
Fairmile motor launches were small, fast, highly manoeuvrable, lightly-armed ships designed in the United Kingdom. They were originally intended to be used for coastal anti-submarine and convoy protection duties but soon proved to be vessels capable of much broader operational tasking.
In April 1941 the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) recognised the need for a vessel which could be built locally and used in the littoral waters of Australia, New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies and their surrounding islands. On 5 January 1942 the War Cabinet gave approval to construct Fairmiles in Australia. Between November 1942 and April 1944, thirty-five vessels were commissioned into RAN service.
ML 824 was a ‘B’ type Fairmile, larger, heavier, though slightly slower than the unsuccessful ‘A’ type Fairmiles but with a greater range. She was laid down on 20 June 1943 by Lars Halvorsen & Sons Pty Ltd in Sydney (one of eleven Fairmiles constructed by Halvorsen’s), launched on 17 November 1943 and commissioned into RAN service on the following day.
In January 1944, ML 824 was one of three Fairmiles based in Sydney preparing to deploy to Fremantle. The Admiralty had a policy of developing Fremantle and Sydney to accommodate the entire fleet and, consequently, Fremantle had developed as Western Australia’s main port providing fuel, water, victualling and workshop facilities for Allied ships patrolling the Indian Ocean. Fremantle had also become the home of the United States Navy’s (USN) submarines of the Asiatic Fleet. Forty-one USN submarines were based at Fremantle along with ten British and Dutch submarines making it the largest submarine base in the southern hemisphere. Corvettes (‘Bathurst’ class minesweepers) were originally tasked with providing anti-submarine patrols in Fremantle; however, as the Corvettes had a greater range of capabilities, that task soon fell to the Fairmiles and other auxiliaries.
ML 824, under the command of Lieutenant F.P. Wallis, RANVR, departed Sydney on 12 February 1944 in company with ML 826. After a short period of being towed by HMAS Lithgow while on passage to Melbourne, poor weather forced the two MLs to slip and proceed independently. After rendezvousing with ML 812 in Melbourne, the trio proceeded to Port Adelaide and from there on to the Fairmile base on North Wharf at Fremantle, arriving on 17 March 1944. They were joined some six months later by ML 815, which had travelled from Darwin, and in January 1945 by HDMLs 1340 and 1352 completing the Fremantle Fairmile flotilla.
The crew had not had time for a proper work-up or training prior to departing for Fremantle. Furthermore, anti-submarine training could not start until the ship’s ASDIC dome, a sonar-based submarine detection device, was installed, which happened on 20 April 1944.
ML 824 departed Fremantle on 22 April, just two days after having her ASDIC dome fitted, and proceeded to Gage Roads to relieve ML 826 for her first patrol. While no enemy contact was made, contact of another kind certainly was. HMAS Dubbo collided with 824 on her port side on 23 April. Fortunately, the impact was fairly light and quick use of fenders prevented any serious damage. 826 relieved 824 on 25 April and 824 returned to Fremantle where she was once again involved in a collision, this time with the dredge Hermes. Once again, fortunately, there was no damage.
What followed for the next 18 months was the routine but essential work of the Fremantle-based anti-submarine Fairmiles. The six boats would rotate patrol duties with each patrol typically lasting three or four days.
Patrol work was essential, at times tedious, and potentially dangerous which, to some extent, remains unheralded. The long hours spent protecting the fleet in Fremantle from submarine attack was occasionally broken by performing escort duties for the large number of allied vessels entering and leaving the port, and also by participating in anti-submarine exercises.
On 21 July 1944 ML 824 returned to port for maintenance and alterations including a major engine overhaul. Her forward 2 pounder Rolls Royce gun was replaced by a 40 mm Bofors gun and the position of her depth charge chutes was also altered. She returned to patrol duty a month later, on 21 August. She entered a re-fit shortly afterwards on 12 December 1944 and returned to active duty at the end of February 1945.
Routine patrol duties continued until the Japanese surrender in September 1945. ML 824 spent October at the Fairmile Base in Fremantle during which time she was completely disarmed. The following month her propellers were removed, her fuel tanks emptied, washed and pumped dry, her main and auxiliary engines were removed, and all naval and victualling stores, batteries and electrical fittings were removed. ML 824 was decommissioned on 19 November 1945.
ML 824 was sold at auction on 29 November 1947 to R. Moore and Sons, a Fremantle engineering firm. She was subsequently on-sold to the Nor’West Whaling Company, converted into a whale-chaser and re-named Norwegian Star. She was wrecked at Wedge Island en route to the whaling base at Point Cloates in north-west Australia in 1950. It is thought that the lowering of the metal mast, in order to clear a bridge on the Swan River, had had a detrimental effect on the compass throwing it out by more than five degrees.