HMAS
Esmeralda

Type
Auxiliary Patrol Boat/Rescue Launch
Pennant
15
Builder
Percy Coverdale, Hobart, Tasmania
Commissioned
20 November 1941
Decommissioned
30 January 1946
Fate
Sold. Continued operating as a tourist vessel.
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 181 tons
Length 48 feet
Beam 12.5 feet
Draught 4 feet
Performance
Speed 10 knots
Propulsion
Machinery 2 Hercules marine diesel engines, twin screw
Armament
Guns .303 Vickers machine gun
Other Armament 2 x depth-charge chutes

With much of the Royal Australian Navy fleet deployed to foreign waters in the early years of World War II, the defence of Australia’s coastlines became a primary concern for the Naval Board. The Naval Auxiliary Patrol (NAP) was a war-raised unit approved on 25 June 1941, charged with patrolling and safeguarding Australia's inner harbours, ports, rivers and estuaries against enemy sabotage or attack. The NAP fleet was comprised primarily of former pleasure craft, offered freely by their owners, and crewed by their owners and volunteers enlisted, from May 1942, into the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve.

In addition to the NAP were a number of requisitioned small pleasure craft known as Channel Patrol Boats (CPB). In February 1941 the Naval Board directed that motorboat patrols should be established at Sydney, Fremantle, Hobart and Darwin consisting of five boats at each port, two of which were to be fitted with ASDIC. The boats were to be selected locally, except at Darwin as no suitable boats were available. Darwin’s complement was to be made up of boats sourced from Sydney and Brisbane.

In selecting the boats, the Naval Board stated that:

The main considerations should be:

a. Seaworthiness
b. The minimum speed for the ASDIC fitted boats should be 12 knots and non-ASDIC fitted boats 10 knots
c. Suitability for fittings with machine gun and 2 depth charges in chutes
d. Suitable superstructure for freedom from damage at sea or suitable for alteration
e. Twin screws
f. Diesel engine

The Naval Board also noted the possible acquisition of further boats in the future and, indeed, just two months later the board directed the acquisition of an additional three, non-ASDIC fitted, boats.

The acquired boats were lightly armed with a Vickers gun and a few depth charges, and crewed by a mix of experienced RAN sailors, possibly back in Australia following a period of service overseas, and fresh recruits serving a stint in a CPB before moving on to a larger unit. The commanding officer was normally a junior officer straight out of Flinders Naval Depot. As former luxury motor cruisers, locals knew the Sydney-based boats as the ‘Hollywood Fleet’. One of those vessels was HMAS Esmeralda.

Originally named Tanda, Esmeralda was constructed by Percy Coverdale, who eschewed construction drawings in favour of hand-built ‘half-models’, in his shipyard at Battery Point, Tasmania. As Hobart’s Mercury newspaper proudly proclaimed on 1 August 1927, Tanda was "designed by Tasmanians, built by Tasmanians, of Tasmanian materials," though she was built for a New South Welshman, Sydney architect Reginald Prevost. She was launched in early August 1927, departed Hobart on the 12th and arrived in Sydney on 18 August having endured inclement weather in Bass Strait. Tanda’s navigator for the delivery voyage from Hobart was a retired naval officer Lieutenant Commander Cyril Lowther, ADC, RAN. Lowther had served with the Royal Navy during World War I before transferring to the RAN in 1919. He was a former Commanding Officer of HMA Submarines J1 and J3, and the torpedo boat destroyer, HMAS Tasmania, before retiring in 1923. He re-enlisted for war service in 1939 and served the entirety of World War II on loan to the Royal Navy attaining the rank of Commander.

Tanda was purchased by a Mr and Mrs Claude Carter in 1936 and renamed Esmeralda. She underwent an extensive refit in 1938, which included the installation of two new Hercules diesel engines, a new tail shaft, new lighting, and extensive hull maintenance inside and out.

Esmeralda was one of five Sydney based boats identified for requisition in August 1941, three of which were later earmarked for service in Darwin, and was formally requisitioned by the Navy on 25 September. She was fitted out for naval work over the following two months, including additional ‘hull work’ at the WM Ford shipyard at Berry’s Bay, North Sydney.

Esmeralda was commissioned on 20 November 1941 as a tender to HMAS Penguin under the command of Sub Lieutenant John Dennis, RANR(S), though she was not actually purchased by the Navy until the following June via an impressment order. She was fitted with a single .303 Vickers machine gun and depth charge chutes, port and starboard, at the stern.

HMAS Esmeralda was part of the 'Hollywood Fleet', a number of requisitioned small pleasure craft known as Channel Patrol Boats.
HMAS Esmeralda was part of the 'Hollywood Fleet', a number of requisitioned small pleasure craft known as Channel Patrol Boats.

Esmeralda had originally been identified for service in Sydney but the Naval Board decided, in December 1941, to re-allocate the boat to Port Moresby in lieu of HMAS Silver Cloud as “Esmeralda possesses adequate ventilation, long range, sound engines and is generally considered more suitable for tropical service.” The Board further directed that her hull was to be metal sheathed. Esmeralda, however, never made the voyage due to engine problems, which would persist for the entirety of her naval service, making the reference to her ‘sound’ engines in the Naval Board’s decision somewhat ironic.

She appears to have remained in Sydney until August 1944 but a paucity of contemporary records means that we know little of her actual operations during that time; however, she appears to have spent an inordinate amount of time alongside due to her troublesome engines. She was present in Sydney Harbour during the Japanese midget submarine attack on the harbour on the night of 31 May/1 April 1942, however, she was alongside in Farm Cove, engine defects rendering her unserviceable.

She departed Sydney on 13 August 1944 to serve as an air/sea rescue vessel in Darwin. Engine problems would once again, however, prevent her from reaching her destination. She arrived in Newcastle on 15 August and twice attempted to leave that port before being forced to return on both occasions with engine defects. On 26 August she made good her departure from Newcastle and arrived in Cairns, via Coffs Harbour, Gladstone and Townsville, on 21 September. This would be as far north as she ventured.

The Naval Officer in Charge (NOIC) Cairns, Commander Henry Palmer, RAN, reported a defect in Esmeralda’s port main engine generator and expected repairs to be completed by 20 November. Upon receipt of this information, NOIC Darwin, Captain Cecil Baldwin, MVO, RAN, wrote to the Naval Board in November “observing this and previous engine trouble, and in view allocation of 63 foot ASR...recommend Esmeralda be returned Sydney.”

The boat departed Cairns on 11 December originally bound for Sydney, however, the Naval Board subsequently instructed that she should be retained in Brisbane and examined for her suitability as an air/sea rescue vessel at Merauke, New Guinea. NOIC Brisbane, Captain Edward Thomas, OBE, RN, reported in January 1945 that Esmeralda could be made ready for service in the tropics after a refit which would include the removal and complete overhaul of her engines.

Esmeralda entered refit in Brisbane; however, sourcing the necessary parts to make her engines serviceable proved to be problematic. In June the Naval Board approved the replacement of her engines rather than persisting with overhauling her existing ones. It appears, however, that Esmeralda never got her new engines and she remained in refit until being decommissioned in Brisbane on 30 January 1946. She was sold that March without engines.

Following her naval service, Esmeralda operated as a tourist vessel in Queensland waters, primarily in the Whitsunday region, and on the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria. In March 1947 she was fortunate to escape serious damage when the vessel moored adjacent to her suffered an explosion on board, catching fire. The fire spread to Esmeralda’s awning before being extinguished. She has reportedly since borne two other names, Ralda and Lady Margaret, and her current owner intends to return her to Tasmania under her original moniker Tanda.

Commanding Officers of HMAS Esmeralda

(*some of the dates below have been extrapolated from incomplete and/or illegible records)

20/11/1941-01/06/1942 SBLT JA Dennis, RANR(S)
01/06/1942-07/09/1942 SBLT SH Moray, RANVR
08/10/1942-28/02/1944 LEUT WD Archer, RANVR
28/03/1944-01/11/1944 Skipper NAP GA Phillips
01/11/1944-19/07/1945 SBLT GA Phillips, RANVR
19/07/1945-30/01/1946 LEUT GA Phillips, RANVR