Vice Admiral Donald Bruce Chalmers

Chief of Navy (1997 - 1999)

Commander Australian Fleet (1993 - 1995)

Vice Admiral Donald Chalmers

Donald Bruce Chalmers was born in Young, NSW on 29 April 1942 and entered the Royal Australian Naval College in January 1958. He graduated from the college in December 1960 and proceeded to sea in the training ship HMAS Swan, in early 1961, for four months training. Chalmers was promoted Midshipman in May 1961 and undertook further training at Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth during 1961-62. He was promoted Sub Lieutenant in September 1962.

During August-December 1962 he served in the minesweeper HMAS Teal during her delivery voyage from England to Australia. In January 1963 Sub Lieutenant Chalmers was appointed to the destroyer HMAS Voyager and saw service in her in Southeast Asia before undertaking direction officer courses at HMAS Watson in late 1963. Chalmers then joined the frigate HMAS Yarra, in January 1964, as the assistant direction officer, ships diving officer and correspondence officer. He saw operational service in Yarra during the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation (1964-66). He was promoted Lieutenant in October 1964.

Lieutenant Chalmers joined the frigate HMAS Parramatta in January 1966 and the ship operated extensively in Australian and Southeast Asian waters. During his time as navigating officer the ship grounded briefly in November 1966, off the west coast of the Malaysian Peninsula, and despite being found guilty at court martial the verdict was later quashed and he remained serving in the frigate. During November 1967-July 1968, Chalmers served at the Recruit School (HMAS Cerberus) as Training Officer before proceeding to the United Kingdom to undertake the long navigation course at HMS Dryad. He then served on exchange with the Royal Navy as navigating officer of the Tribal Class frigate HMS Mohawk on the West Indies Station. Following this sea service he returned to Dryad as a navigation school instructor.

After returning to Australia in July 1971, he was appointed as a navigation school instructor at HMAS Watson in Sydney. Chalmers was appointed as Navigating Officer of the guided missile destroyer HMAS Brisbane in May 1972 and promoted Lieutenant Commander in October that year. During his time onboard the ship operated in Australian waters and also took part in Exercise RIMPAC off Hawaii. In May 1973 he became Navigating Officer of the training ship HMAS Anzac and was later loaned to HMS Dryad for the advanced navigation course. Lieutenant Commander Chalmers was appointed Navigating Officer of the tanker HMAS Supply in August 1974. Following in the wake of Cyclone Tracy, which devastated the city of Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974, Supply was part of Operation NAVY HELP DARWIN dispatched to clean up the city and restore essential services to the population.

In January 1976 he joined the aircraft carrier and RAN flagship HMAS Melbourne. The carrier took part in Exercise RIMPAC 76 in Hawaiian waters and also operated extensively in Australian and Southeast Asian waters. In 1977 Melbourne was deployed again to Hawaii for Exercise RIMPAC 77. Don Chalmers was promoted Commander in June 1977 but remained in Melbourne as Staff Officer Operations (Fleet Headquarters Staff) as the ship was deployed to the United Kingdom for Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee celebrations including the fleet review at Spithead.

He remained as Staff Officer Operations until mid-1978 when he travelled to the United States to study at the US Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island and the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California. Upon return to Australia he returned to Fleet Headquarters, in 1980, as the fleet plans and navigating officer. Commander Chalmers took command of the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth on 18 November 1981. During his time in command the ship operated in Australian, New Zealand and South Pacific waters as well taking part in Exercise RIMPAC 82 off Hawaii. In March 1983 he relinquished command of Perth and was appointed as the Director of the Tactical School at HMAS Watson. Promoted Captain in December 1983 he joined the Force Development and Analysis Division, Canberra, in early 1984, where he undertook a number of capability reviews. In July 1986 Captain Chalmers became the Director Surface Warfare, Command and Control within Navy Office, Canberra.

Promoted Commodore in December 1987 he studied at the Royal College of Defence Studies, in the United Kingdom, during 1988 before returning to Australia and appointment as the Director General Manning and Training in the Personnel Division in January 1989. While in this appointment he was also head of the Regular Officers Career Study. In March 1990 Commodore Chalmers became Commodore Flotillas at Fleet Headquarters in Sydney and held this important position until December 1991. In August 1990 the RAN deployed a task group to the Gulf of Oman following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Commodore Chalmers commanded this first task group during 26 August-5 December 1990 and was subsequently appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) in 1992 “in recognition of his services as Commander of the first Royal Australian Navy Task Group during the Persian Gulf War.”

Promoted Rear Admiral on 13 January 1992 he was appointed as Chief of Naval Personnel (later renamed the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff - Personnel) dealing with the myriad issues affecting recruiting, retention, training and conditions of service. He was appointed Maritime Commander - Australia in December 1993, Assistant Chief of Defence Force - Development responsible for Australian Defence Force development and international defence relationships in April 1995, before being promoted vice admiral and becoming Chief of Navy in July 1997.

During his time as Chief of Navy the RAN underwent a significant period of renewal with Collins Class submarines and Anzac Class frigates entering service as well as the increase in operational activities supporting the peace monitoring group (Operation BELISI), on the island of Bougainville, Southern Ocean fisheries patrols and ongoing ship deployments to the Arabian Gulf as part of Operation DAMASK. Additionally, on 5 May 1998 the navy suffered a major disaster onboard the tanker HMAS Westralia with the loss of four lives and major damage to the ship.

Vice Admiral Chalmers retired from the RAN on 2 July 1999.