"They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep...He raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves...they reel to and fro and stagger like drunken sailors!" (psalm 107)

HMAS Curlew, M1121, from 1962 until 1990

Curlew Crest

The Ton Class minesweeper/hunter, pennant number M1121 was built by Montrose Shipyard, Montrose, UK, completed on 20th. February 1953 and named HMS Chediston, later renamed HMS Montrose, renamed HMS Chediston, then sold to the Royal Australian Navy in 1961 and renamed HMAS Curlew.

Ton Crest

A Brief History of M1121 from 1962 until 1990

Ton DrawingAt the end of the Second World War it was generally accepted that the emphasis on explosive antiship mines had shifted from deeply laid moored mines to ground mines laid in the shallow approaches to ports and harbours. The large steel built ocean minesweepers were, therefore, mostly unsuitable for sweeping sophisticated modern mines laid in coastal and inshore waters. As a result, a team was formed at Bath in the UK in 1947 to design a new generation of minesweepers. This team produced sets of hull drawings in 1949 for the construction of future coastal mine countermeasure vessels, each hull design being further subcategorized into two variants, namely a minesweeper and a minehunter. Although no orders were initially placed, mainly owing to a lack of funding, the impending offensive in Korean waters and the cold war with all communist countries, Russia in particular, led to the acquisition programme being brought forward to September 1950. The coastal minehunter variant was, however, suspended in June 1952 and cancelled altogether in March 1953, because no suitable minehunting sonar had been developed. Although the original names allocated to the coastal minesweepers were those of insects, this was later changed to villages in the UK ending in "TON". Pennant M1121 was originally to be called "Red Centipede", but ended up being called "Curlew", a name she still has today.

Six Tons (4 minesweepers and 2 non converted minehunters) were transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1961, refitted in England and commissioned into the RAN in 1962. Swanston, Somerleyton, Singleton, Alcaston, Chediston and Jackton became the Australian Navy's HMAS Gull, Hawk, Ibis, Snipe, Curlew and Teal with Snipe & Curlew being the non converted minehunters. They formed the 16th. Mine Countermeasure (MCM) Squadron of the RAN. Curlew is still afloat (2011), in Tasmania, whilst Teal was called the MV Near East Teal and when last heard was a University Training Vessel in Cyprus.

(There is a misconception that the Australian Minesweepers were "Bird Class" because thay were named after aquatic birds species however they were built as "Ton Class" and remained as such. The "Bird Class" Minesweeper was a naval trawler built to British Admiralty specifications during WW11, so it could function as a minesweeper - forty-five were built by Henry Robb Ltd, Leith, Scotland. USN "Lapwing Class" Minesweepers were often referred to as "Bird Class" Minesweepers, but the Aussie ships were "Ton Class" until the day the bridge rang down "Finished with main engines!")

Arriving in Australia

Arrival in Sydney Entering GI
M1121 arriving in Sydney from UK,
no armament fitted, enclosed bridge.
Entering GI, partly built Opera House in background and
first highrise unit block ever built in Australia at Milsen's Point.

HMAS Curlew, minesweeper, 1963 - 1966

On arrival the sweepers went into refit to be armed with a single 40/60mm bofor on the forecastle and another on top of the engine room housing aft of the funnel. Shortly after being armed, in September 1963, the six minesweepers of the RANs 16th. MCM Squadron went to New Guinea to sweep for WW11 moored mines. Operation "Gardening" was designed to clear magnetic mines from Tonolei Harbour, Bougainville dropped there by the US Navy during the war in the Pacific. The crews gained the minesweeping experience that had been lost from the RAN following the end of WW 11.

Hammer Oscillator Sweep Deck
The Hammer, towed on the starboard side. The Oscillator, towed on the port side. The crowded sweep deck on a Ton.
Loop O Float Kite
My "Office", streaming the Loop. Streaming an "O" Float Kite when rigged with 3 legs
Otter when rigged with 4 legs

Mechanical minesweeping entailed two sweep wires towed and regulated for depth by "floats" and a "kite". The sweep was spread by the use of an "otter" sometimes called a paravane. Influence sweeping required a noise maker towed either side of the minesweeper (hammer and oscillator) and a magnetic sweep towed astern (the loop). There was no sweep for pressure mines. When recovering all sweeps simultaneously "clear lower decks, all hands to sweep deck" had to be employed.
With the Formation of the Federated States of Malaysia in 1963 and the subsequent Indonesian Confrontation many Tons from Commonwealth Navies were deployed to the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve or BCFESR, as patrol/minesweepers in the waters of Malaysia. HMAS Curlew with her sister ship HMAS Snipe were on operational service in the renamed FESR from 1964 to 1965 and 1965 to 66. Below Curlew is seen receiving a coston gun line for an alongside under way fuel transfer on arrival in the FESR.

M1121 ariving in FESR

Refit 1965

In Floating DrydockAfter returning to Sydney on 7th. February 1965 following her first deployment to the FESR during the Indonesian Confrontation, Curlew went into refit and during dry-docking in the floating dry dock at Garden Island was found to have substantial dry rot in her hull. The Dynal sheeting below the waterline had failed and the hull was badly rotted. As she was one of only two non converted minehunters and the Navy needed all the sweepers for patrol work in the FESR her hull was repaired and fibreglassed. The whole of the floating dry-dock and most of the ship was covered with tarpaulins, large lights were placed under the ship and the space was heated to help with the curing of the fiberglass. This was the first time that any vessel of this size was fibreglassed as the procedure was quite new.
The ship spent from October 1965 until December 1966 on allocated service in the FESR during the Indonesian Confrontation, often referred to as "The Silent War". In December 1966 after returning from the FESR, Curlew decommissioned to be converted to a minehunter.

HMAS Curlew, Minehunter, 1968 - 1990

BridgeThe conversion entailed fitting a high definition, short range sonar, the A/S 193 into the dome space, fitting up the ops room, rudders were replaced with active rudders powered by small diesel engines in the tiller flat and the ship was steered with a joystick via a computer instead of the traditional wheel. The crew was made up of 3 officers and 28 other ranks with 5 being Clearance Divers. Tons converted for minehunting had their influence minesweeping systems removed but retained their Oropesa mechanical sweeps, a precaution against deep moored mines. The hunters were instantly recognised by the pair of davits just aft of the funnel.

The identification and disposal of mines was achieved by a clearance diving team. The divers used an inflatable boat and a transit (just in front of the radar) mounted to the top of the bridge and were "conned" on to the sonar target by matching the echo of the sonar reflector suspended beneath their dinghy with the echo of the "mine like" contact on the sonar display. Tons converted for minehunting had their influence minesweeping systems removed but retained their Oropesa mechanical sweeps.

Curlew, the Minehunter, recommissioned on 13th. December 1968

Typical Exercises

Curlew operated as the only minehunter in the RAN until HMAS Snipe was converted. The hunters had only the type 193 sonar and carried a team of five clearance divers. The diving equipment used was the Drager FGT 1A, a German set which was very quiet and with a low magnetic signature. A one man recompression chamber was located in the starboard waist. The diving capability was to 180 feet. An extended refit was carried out in 1984. Typical exercises were:

  • * Workups were usually conducted off Broken Bay and Jervis Bay particularly for both minehunting and minessweeping exercises.

  • * Mine Counter Measure exercises involving Squadron only took place off Port Lincoln in South Australia.

  • * Major exercises were conducted in Shoalwater Bay, North Queensland, the Kangaroo Series of Exercises involving Australian and US forces an example.

  • * Combined exercises with the Royal New Zealand Navy were held in the Hauraki Gulf, NZ.

  • * Combined MCM Exercises with the RN in the FESR.

HMAS Curlew Decommissioned

Paying Off

HMAS Curlew decommissioned on 30th. April 1990, after a service with the RAN of 28 years and 38 years after being laid down. The tradional ship's paying off pennant was so long it was hard for the many balloons to keep it aloft! When Curlew de-commissioned in 1990 after 37 years of service, the ship had steamed a total of 377,055 nautical miles and been underway for 39,542 hours.

M1121 - Statistics

Length : 152ft. Beam : 28ft. Draught : 8ft.
Range : 2300nm. @ 13 knots Engines : 2 x Napier Deltic 'Y' diesel engines @ 3000hp. Generator : Foden powered by 1 x Napier Deltic.
Speed : cruise @ 13 knots on one engine. maximum 16 knots on both. Rudders : Normal variable until 1968 then active. Ships company : 5 + 28
Armament : 2 x 40/60 bofors until 1968 then 1 x 40/60. Boats  16ft. slow motorboat until 1968. Assault boat in Malaysia. After 1968 : 2 x inflatables. Radar : 975 (still working in 2005). Sonar after 1968  A/S 193

Napier Deltic Engines

Napier Deltic Napier Deltic

The Napier Deltic diesel engine adapted for marine use (18-7A overhaul life 4000 hours) - the gearbox is actually a gear phasing unit for three crankshafts as this engine is configured like a Y with 3 banks of 6 pistons - an 18 cylinder two stroke diesel engine. Before cold starting the crank had to be turned 100 revolutions by hand to build up oil pressure and to ensure there was no water between the pistons which would cause the engine to hydraulic at start up, and bend connecting rods which might break at a later date. These engines were started by firing a cartridge or at sea by 'trailing in' the second engine.

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