Steady Hour

Motor Yacht
Lars Halvorsen & Son, Sydney NSW
26 August 1941
Dimensions & Displacement
Length 56 feet
Beam 14 feet 6 inches
Draught 5 feet
Speed 14 knots
Guns 2 x .303 ich Vickers machine gun
Other Armament 2 x Mk VII depth charge, 1 x PAC projector

Motor Yacht (MY) Steady Hour II was a 56-foot pleasure cruiser built by Lars Halvorsen and Sons at Neutral Bay for Mr Fred Harris, a member of the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Rose Bay, and the second vessel of that name owned by Mr Harris.

She was requisitioned by the Navy on 17 July 1941 and commissioned as HMAS Steady Hour on 26 August 1941 under the command of Lieutenant Athol Townley, RANVR, a future Minister for Defence in the Government of Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, although according to Townley’s service record he did not actually assume command until 31 October. The vessel was purchased outright by the Navy on 10 April 1942.

Steady Hour was to feature prominently during the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour on the night of 31 May/1 June 1942. She, along with five other channel patrol boats, was off duty and moored at Farm Cove when the attack commenced. One of the midget submarines, M27, became entangled in the harbour’s boom defence net at about 8:15pm and was subsequently spotted by a Maritime Services Board worker who raised the alarm. Unable to escape, M27’s crew detonated scuttling charges killing themselves and destroying the vessel rather than be captured.

The resulting commotion on the harbour aroused the patrol boats’ curiosity and, without waiting for further orders, two of the boats, HMA Ships Marlean and Toomeree, slipped their respective moorings to investigate. Steady Hour and Sea Mist were to follow later.

Meanwhile an accompanying midget submarine, M24, had successfully entered the harbour firing two torpedoes at the American cruiser USS Chicago. The torpedoes did not hit their intended target; one ran aground at Garden Island failing to explode, while the second torpedo struck the sea wall at Garden Island exploding beneath the converted ferry and depot ship HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors (19 RAN and two RN). M24 then made good its escape at about 2:05am on the morning of the 1st and was not seen again until its wreck was discovered off Sydney’s northern beaches in late 2006.

At around 3:00am Steady Hour and Sea Mist were ordered to get underway. As the senior officer, Lieutenant Townley instructed Sea Mist to patrol between Bradleys Head and the west boom gate, an area which included Chowder Bay and Taylors Bay, while Steady Hour commenced a roaming patrol.

At around 5:00 am Sea Mist entered Taylors Bay to investigate a possible submarine sighting and saw the conning tower of a submerging submarine. Commanding Officer, Sub Lieutenant Reg Andrew, RANVR, commenced an attack dropping two depth charges over the site where the submarine was last seen. The second depth charge exploded close to Sea Mist causing damage to her engines and she was forced to break off the attack. Sub Lieutenant Andrew, believing his attack had successfully sunk a submarine, signalled Lieutenant Townley in Steady Hour that he believed that there were multiple submarines still active in Taylors Bay. Steady Hour and HMAS Yarroma then initiated their own attacks dropping further depth charges between 6:40am and 8:30am. The attacks by the three vessels had effectively disabled M22 which now lay on the seabed in Taylors Bay. The M22’s two man crew, realising that there was no hope of escape, took their own lives within the doomed vessel that was later recovered from the seabed.

Following the events of 1 June, Steady Hour resumed the normal routine of patrol and general harbour duties between Sydney and Newcastle.

Steady Hour featured prominently during the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour on the night of 31 May/1 June 1942.
Steady Hour featured prominently during the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour on the night of 31 May/1 June 1942.

The following year, just before midday on 13 April 1943 while conducting a boom net patrol, Steady Hour reported sighting a disturbance in the water in the eastern channel and initiated a depth charge attack supported by Marlean. The Port of Sydney was consequently closed to outward shipping, and shipping bound for Sydney from Newcastle and Port Kembla was also suspended. Three distinct oil patches were observed in the water but there was no further evidence of enemy submarine activity, even after divers had entered the water to investigate.

On 18 April 1944, having transferred to the Naval Auxiliary Patrol, Steady Hour departed Sydney with Sea Mist, both under tow by HMS Springdale, bound for Darwin and service as Air-Sea Rescue (ASR) vessels. They arrived in Darwin, via Cairns, Thursday Island and Melville Bay, on 22 May 1944. While in Cairns in late April and early May work was carried out in both vessels to improve ventilation in their respective engine rooms to address what the Naval Officer in Charge, Cairns, Captain Ernest Rhodes, ADC, RAN, considered to be a hazardous environment due to heat and fumes; an assessment which was later disputed by the Deputy Engineer Manager at Garden Island, Commander Otto McMahon, OBE, RAN.

Upon arrival in Darwin Steady Hour was initially assigned to ASR duties in the Wessel Islands group in the East Arnhem region, and later to West Bay on the Coburg Peninsula. In early October, she investigated a report of a submarine in the vicinity of Lesueur Island off the Kimberley coast of Western Australia.

Steady Hour reverted to the Channel Patrol Boat group in November 1944 at which time her Commanding Officer, Skipper John Sykes, commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant in the RAN Volunteer Reserve. The boat returned to Darwin in early January 1945 to have her engines replaced. She was slipped later in the month and it was subsequently decided that the engine change out should be conducted in Townsville due to the scope of the work. She departed Darwin on 26 February in company with Sea Mist and MV Alma Doepel.

On 3 March, Steady Hour and Sea Mist stopped at Melville Bay in East Arnhem in order to repair a cracked bearing in Sea Mist’s port engine. While refuelling alongside the RAAF jetty a static electric spark ignited fumes in Steady Hour’s starboard fuel tank causing a large explosion and fire. The crews of both Steady Hour and Sea Mist courageously fought the flames but the fire quickly took hold igniting the vessel’s ammunition. She was subsequently evacuated and towed clear by an RAAF work boat. After an unsuccessful attempt to sink her she was beached south of Drimmie Head. Several members of Steady Hour’s crew suffered burns including her Commanding Officer, Sub Lieutenant Sykes. Sykes was to make a full recovery, later commanding HMAS Mischief before being promoted Lieutenant in July 1945. He demobilised on 5 March 1946.

The subsequent Board of Inquiry found a static spark ignited fumes that had accumulated in a void above the fuel tank. The Board determined that the crews of both vessels did everything possible to extinguish the fire and salvage the ship. The Board also specifically recorded “their appreciation of the action of Telegraphist Percy Allan Shirley, O/N B4611 of HMAS “SEA MIST” in diving into shark infested waters to rescue Leading Seaman [William] Piper who was blown overboard from “STEADY HOUR” and is unable to swim.” Telegraphist Allan Shirley was later further commended by the Naval Board for his actions.

Commanding Officers

Lieutenant AG Townley, RANVR
Sub Lieutenant KD Kershaw, RANVR
Lieutenant AR Cornell, RANVR
Skipper JA Sykes, NAP
Sub Lieutenant JA Sykes, RANVR