Auxiliary Minesweeper
Greenock & Grangemouth Dockyard, Grangemouth Scotland
7 November 1939
14 July 1942
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 456 tons
Length 145 feet 3 inches
Beam 30 feet
Draught 8 feet 8 inches
Speed 10 knots
Guns 1 x 4 inch gun
Other Armament 4 x Type D depth charges

HMAS Tambar was a 456 ton coastal trading vessel built in 1912 by the Greenock and Grangemouth Dockyard Company, Grangemouth, Scotland for the North Coast Steam Navigation Company (Australia). She was sold in 1919 to the British New Guinea Development Company. She was sold in 1928 to the Tasmanian Government who, in turn, sold her a year later to Holyman & Sons, Pty Ltd.

Tambar was requisitioned by the RAN on 18 October 1939 and commissioned at Williamstown Dockyard as an auxiliary minesweeper on 7 November 1939 under the command of Lieutenant Vivian Gilbert, RANR(S). From 7 December 1939 she operated as the sole unit in the 74th Minesweeping Group based in Brisbane to ensure the port and its approaches via Moreton Bay were kept open to shipping. 

On 1 January 1940 Lieutenant James Fyffe, RANR(S), assumed command of the vessel. Her crew was made up mainly of RAN Reserve personnel and her work routine but essential. On 4 September 1940 Lieutenant Gordon Keith, RANR(S), assumed command and she underwent a period of maintenance in Sydney during October-November 1940 before returning to Brisbane on 23 November. Lieutenant Joseph Dixon, RANR(S), took command of Tambar on 2 July 1941. Soon after HMAS Kianga joined the minesweeping group and the two vessels became a familiar sight in Moreton Bay and on the Brisbane River.

On 4 March 1942 Tambar was conducting a routine patrol of Moreton Bay when she approached the Australian Army Examination Battery at Fort Cowan Cowan, on the western side of Moreton Island. This fort had two 6-inch breech loading guns, formerly installed in an RAN light cruiser. The examination battery signalers challenged Tambar but the vessel failed to reply correctly. Noting the recent Japanese victories in Southeast Asia, and the bombing of Darwin only a few weeks before, the gun crew at Fort Cowan Cowan were not prepared to let a lapse in procedure go unanswered. The battery’s gun director ordered that a shot be put across the ship’s bow in order to bring her to a stop.

A single 6-inch round was fired but instead of passing across Tambar’s bow, it struck the forecastle and exploded. 21 year old Able Seaman Archibald Bartsch (PA 1922), who was a member of the forecastle party, was killed instantly. Shell fragments struck the ship’s superstructure and badly wounded 33 year old Steward Eric Harrison, who died from his wounds the following day, and other fragments killed 48 year old Commissioned Officer from Warrant Rank Henry Theeman, RANR(S).  Several other members of the crew were wounded in the incident. All three deceased personnel were buried in Brisbane General Cemetery on 6 March 1942 with full naval honours.

The members of Tambar killed when a warning shot went awry were buried with full naval honours at the Brisbane General Cemetery on 6 March 1942.
The members of Tambar killed when a warning shot went awry were buried with full naval honours at the Brisbane General Cemetery on 6 March 1942.

The damage to Tambar and casualties was officially announced at the time as an accident at sea, but it was difficult to keep the matter secret. Lieutenant Dixon was replaced by Lieutenant Thomas Hehir, RANR(S), on 18 March 1942. Dixon was appointed to the training depot HMAS Cerberus – but later given command of the corvette HMAS Kapunda in January 1943. Tambar was repaired but decommissioned on 14 July 1942 and transferred to the Commonwealth Salvage Board. She operated in Darwin during December 1942 – July 1943 and was used in a failed attempt to salvage the RAN coal hulk Kelat, which had been damaged during the first air raids on Darwin and had subsequently sunk at her moorings. She also operated as an auxiliary boom defence vessel in Darwin and Port Moresby.

Tambar was recommissioned in the RAN at HMAS Moreton, Brisbane, on 31 July 1944 under the command of Lieutenant Norman Goodwin, RANR(S). She operated briefly as a gate vessel at Moreton but was decommissioned later in the year. Tambar was returned to her owners, Holyman & Sons Pty Ltd, on 11 July 1945. She was de-registered on 5 March 1959 and subsequently broken up for scrap in Melbourne.  

Following her RAN service, Tambar was returned to her owners and eventually scrapped.
Following her RAN service, Tambar was returned to her owners and eventually scrapped.