Silver Cloud

Motor Cruiser
Lars Halvorsen & Son, Sydney NSW
21 July 1941
22 July 1943
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 53 tons
Length 65 feet
Beam 15 feet 6 inches
Draught 4 feet 6 inches
Speed 12 knots
Guns 2 x .303 inch Vickers machine gun
Other Armament 2 x Mk VII depth charge, 1 x PAC projector

The motor cruiser that was to become HMAS Silver Cloud was the third vessel constructed by Lars Halvorsen & Sons of Sydney to carry that name in the 1930s. All three were built for Mr John (Jack) Bruce, the cousin of Stanley Bruce, the former Prime Minister of Australia, and a vice-commodore of the Royal Motor Yacht Club. Bruce was also a member of the NSW Volunteer Coastal Patrol (VCP), an auxiliary naval service established in March 1939. Members were not commissioned into the RAN though the service did have a rank structure based on that of the RAN. Members underwent a course of training and conducted exercises designed to assist authorities such at the RAN, Water Police and Maritime Services Board in the event of an emergency.

Construction of Silver Cloud commenced in mid-1938 and she was launched in January or early February 1939. At a length of 65 feet, she was the largest vessel of the VCP, at that time under the overall command of Captain Morris Blackwood, DSO, RN (Ret’d), and was duly designated flagship of the VCP.

Silver Cloud was formally requisitioned by the Navy on 23 June 1941. She was armed with two .303 Vickers machine guns and depth charge chutes and commissioned as a tender to HMAS Penguin on 21 July under the command of Lieutenant Richard Breydon, RANR. The 32-year-old Breydon was an experienced naval officer, having joined the Naval Reserve as a Midshipman in 1927. He was appointed commander of the fleet of Channel Patrol Boats known as the ‘Hollywood Fleet’, a position he would hold until June 1942. He remained an active member of the naval reserve until he retired as a Lieutenant Commander in 1967.

In November 1941, Silver Cloud was allocated for service in Port Moresby. That decision was superseded in December, however, and HMAS Esmeralda, considered more suitable for service in the tropics, was sent to New Guinea instead. Remaining in Sydney, Silver Cloud was employed primarily for base duties and for ferrying VIPs around the harbour. While patrols were only occasionally carried out, she did report the sighting of two possible submarines in the early hours of 4 June 1942 inside the harbour’s first indicator loop, though no loop crossing was detected. In heavy rain, she dropped seven depth charges but her report was later determined to be a false sighting.

The RAN purchased Silver Cloud outright in May 1943 following a period of protracted negotiation with Mr Bruce, though a final purchase price was yet to be determined; however, just six weeks later Silver Cloud was severely damaged by fire. On the morning of 12 July 1943 as she prepared to depart her mooring in Hunters Bay, a fire broke out in her engine room shortly after starting her starboard engine.

Fire stations were immediately ordered while her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Charles Gasking, RANR, who had also taken command of the CPB group in April, proceeded to the engine room just in time to catch a crew member who had been overcome by fumes and was falling backward. After assisting the sailor on deck and ordering the crew to don their gas masks Gasking attempted to return to the engine room but was prevented by the increasing flames and fumes. He subsequently ordered all depth charges made safe and released overboard to be later recovered by divers.

The cocks at the aft fuel tanks were closed and the engine room sealed in an effort to contain the fire. HMAS Steady Hour and the diving tender Otter soon arrived on the scene with the intention of beaching the stricken vessel; however, with a fire party in attendance at HMAS Penguin she was instead brought alongside where the fire was extinguished. There were no serious injuries but two crew members were admitted to sick bay suffering from respiratory complaints.

A subsequent Board of Inquiry found that the fire was caused by the flooding of the carburetor on the port engine. The subsequent ignition resulted in a blow back through the carburetor due to a faulty inlet valve. The second order effect of the initial fire caused the metal casting of the petrol pump to melt, discharging fuel through an open ended petrol pipe from the aft petrol tanks and engulfing the engine.

The Commanding Officer of Penguin, Captain Rupert Garsia, RAN(E), later reported to the Naval Officer in Charge, Sydney, Rear Admiral Gerard Muirhead-Gould, DSC, RN, that “the planking, timbers and stringers from two thirds of the vessel’s length are burnt beyond repair from the water line to the upper deck.” He further reported that he considered the hull beyond repair. Silver Cloud was formally decommissioned on 22 July 1943.

At her commissioning in June 1941, Silver Cloud’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Richard Breydon, RANR, was appointed Commander of the fleet of Channel Patrol Boats, known as the Hollywood Fleet.
At her commissioning in June 1941, Silver Cloud’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Richard Breydon, RANR, was appointed Commander of the fleet of Channel Patrol Boats, known as the ‘Hollywood Fleet’.

In spite of the extensive damage caused by the fire, plans were drawn up to convert the hull into a stores carrier. However, at an estimated cost of £5700, the proposal was considered uneconomical when compared to the purchase price of a purpose built vessel, without taking into account the cost of labour for dismantling as well as slipping costs, and also considering the Lloyd’s valuation of the vessel in August 1941 of £4000. Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould instead recommended that she be sold.

A potential impediment to the sale was identified, however, in that the Commonwealth was still yet to finalise a purchase price with Silver Cloud’s original owner, Jack Bruce. The Naval Board determined, however, that as the vessel had been formally, permanently requisitioned, and Mr Bruce had already accepted a progress payment even though the final price had not been agreed, that a sale could proceed. Mr Bruce came to agreement for the final purchase in January 1944.

What remained of Silver Cloud’s hull was purchased by the vessel’s original builder, Lars Halvorsen & Sons, who restored the luxury yacht to her former glory. The engines, which had been marked for disposal via the Department of Army Salvage, were also acquired by the Halvorsens, refurbished and re-installed. Since then she has changed hands several times and has been fully overhauled and restored, and may still be seen sailing the coastal waters of New South Wales today.

Commanding Officers

21/07/1941 Lieutenant RE Breydon, RANR
30/06/1942 Lieutenant Commander RE Breydon, RANR
08/04/1943 Lieutenant Commander CS Gasking, RANR