HMAS Melbourne, Anecdotes
Anecdotes from HMAS Melbourne that are sad, serious, amusing, exaggerated but basically true!
A ship with a crew of 1335 is like a small town or a busy ants nest and many things happen every day, however life in an aircraft carrier has its moments. Melbourne was for the most part a happy, vibrant ship of the RAN and her crew were always efficient and a credit to the service.
Some one once wrote that the painting of "Chloe" which once adorned the wall in the bar at the Young & Jackson Hotel, Flinders Street, Melbourne, was adopted as the mascot for HMAS Melbourne however the only "Chloe" I can remember was a test weight with 4 wheels that was used to test the steam catapult. It was launched into Sydney Harbour and in no way resembled the painting of "Chloe".
"On The Beach"
In 1959 HMAS Melbourne was part of the making of a movie called "On The Beach", starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astair, Anthony Perkins and many others. The story line, in part, was that Australia was the last likely place on Earth to be effected by radiation following a nuclear war. There was a memorable take of Peck, Perkins and the lovely Ava arriving on the flight deck via the aft aircraft lift.
Melbourne was at the time alongside the wharf at Williamtown Dockyard in Melbourne.
When returning to Sydney from Auckland, New Zealand, Melbourne ran into some heavy weather. In the early hours of the morning of 10th. September, 1961, the ship rolled a huge 21 degrees to starboard! A lot of sailors were thrown from their bunks in the mess decks and given that the bunks were 4 high it was no wonder that some were hurt. The photo shows Melbourne being heeled at 15 degrees during builders trials and on the night of 10th passed this angle by a further 6 degrees!
The Melbourne was to have a practice firing of a Mk 30 passive electric anti submarine homing torpedo and all the TAS (Torpedo Anti Submarine) sailors in the ship were to participate in the preparation and the exercise of loading, monitoring and recovering the fish after the run. The torpedo workshop in HMAS Melbourne was on 3C deck next to the sickbay. There was access to the fwd aircraft lift for taking the torpedo trolleys up on the flight deck. The workshop was a hallowed place on Melbourne with a small team consisting of a CPO, L/S and AB (TAS) as permanent crew. During action stations or exercises the remainder of the TAS sailors, being all ABs who were forecastle party, including me, were allocated there for duty.
For the practice firing we were all involved in the preparation and testing of the fish. The torpedo was fitted with a practice head designed to support the torpedo once the engine stopped at the end of the exercise. All the tests were OK or so we thought and I should point out here that all the MK 30 torpedoes were designed to shut down for safety if they operated above a depth of 30 feet. The TAS team took the prepared torpedo to the flight deck and watched as the "birdie armourers" loaded it into the bomb bay of a gannet; We then went to the two cutters on the port side. Number 2 & 4 ships boats (32 foot Kitchener cutters) were to be used for the exercise. One cutter with CPO Kanga R in charge, was the target and this involved hanging a noise box 50 feet under the boat to simulate a propeller sound source for the torpedo to home in to. The Mk 30 was a passive homing torpedo (it had no active sonar) and therefore needed the sound of propellers before it would attack a submarine.
The second cutter, with Sub Lieut. Garth W, the Melbourne TAS Officer in charge, which was the one I was in, would monitor the exercise running of the torpedo using hydrophones and then both boats would perform the recovery. All in readiness and the gannet dropped the torpedo which naturally disappeared from view as expected. Much to every ones surprise it was soon seen running at a shallow depth of about 2 feet and after making a pass at the target circled round to recommence an attack and in doing so, the torpedo accidentally caught our boat a glancing blow, splitting a plank in the side but continued on and attacked the sound source again; this time it scored a direct hit amidships on the target cutter severely holing the side and it was soon awash remaining afloat only by means of inbuilt buoyancy tanks. Quite soon all the crew from both boats were sitting waist deep in water! The remaining cutter from Melbourne was used to tow us alongside, where both boats were hoisted bit by bit to allow the water to drain from the hulls.
The TAS Department and indeed the whole TAS branch of the RAN had "the piss taken" for years after the incident became common knowledge especially as Navy News published photos of the event and the two partly submerged cutters.
The hydraulics in the Fairy Gannet were not particularly efficient and were unable to cope with any of the tasks asked of it in a "Navy like" way. After start-up, the pilot would unfold the wings, which broke in two places and looked like a Z attached to each side of the aircraft. The system would start to unfold the two wings until the load became too much and then one wing would give up until the other was down and locked then it would unfold. Check out the wings of the Gannets in the pic. After take off a similar problem occurred retracting the undercarriage as the nose wheel always came up first along with one of the main wheels while the remaining wheel hung there, often half way up, until the other two were up and locked. The plane may have been called a "fairy gannet" but often flew off like a "sick seagull with a broken leg".
The Fairy Gannet was powered by two turbo prop engines driving contra-rotating propellers through a single boss and the practice on patrol was to shut down one engine and fly on the other. The engines were started on deck by firing a cordite charge however once airborne the expended charges could not be replaced and the shut down engine was feathered to achieve a restart; often the engine refused to fire so the plane declared an emergency landing. During exercises emergency landings were common and not always successful.
Onboard HMAS Melbourne following joint Commonwealth exercise JET 1961 in the Indian Ocean, there was a day of recreational flying whereby any sailor interested could put their name in a draw in the briefing room and the lucky ones could have a flip in one of the ships aircraft, either one sailor in a venom or two in a gannet. A normal launch was 2 venoms and 4 Gannets. I was young and keen for any experiences and was drawn for the rear cockpit of a gannet. The observer in the rear cockpit faces aft which did not worry me until the landing. The aircraft was catapulted from the ship (take off was tremendous) and we flew round for an hour or so before joining the circuit for landing (with both engines running). Having been lifebuoy sentry on many watches I had seen hundreds of landing approaches from the quarter deck and always marveled at the fact that although an aircraft was woddling and weaving all over the place it still managed to land safely.
The experience of landing was not reassuring as I could see nothing of the ship on finals, although as we flew down the port side and turned to approach, Melbourne did look about as big as a one penny postage stamp, so once safely on deck, I decided I had no wish to ever experience that again. As far as I can recall, while ever I was in Melbourne and that was often, recreational flying was never again held. The reason may have been that Shady L, a venom pilot on that day achieved success in attempting to make his passenger sick by inverting the aircraft and the result was spew all over the instruments and remainder of the cockpit.
|From the aft lift looking into into C Hanger and along the aft flight deck.||From the aft lift looking fwd into B Hanger a row of Venoms and a row of Gannets lashed down|
Interesting to look into the C Hanger - in the early days the two rescue helos were kept there together with the ship's vehicles - a blue Landrover rag top for the Postie and other duties, a blue Holden sedan with white duck seat covers for the Captain and Officers on official duties and a black Humber with blue embroidered white duck seat covers for the Admiral. The flight deck tugs were also stowed in C Hanger. The aft lift well was also the open air movie theatre with a projection room built in on the starboard side. When it rained the lift was left up and we sat under it. This area was also used for Exercise "wash-ups" and band recitals, which were extermely entertaining, the "bandies" being very talented. The daily Colour Guard and Band appeared on deck via this lift. When in a foreign port at sunset the traditional "Beat the Retreat" and the "Firing of the last Gun" was held with Guard and Band coming on deck on the lift. I hated doing "Beat the Meat" as we jokingly called it.
There was a set of rails accross the well in both lifts so equipment and stuff could be mover through the hanger deck while flying operations were taking place. In the fwd lift well there was a watertight deck plate that was removed during "store ship" that gave access directly to the aft cafe above the victualling stores. Trucks with victualls were either hoisted on board or used a bailey bridge if one was available, brought below on the aft lift, driven through the hangers and unloaded directly into the victualling stores. Sure beat the old "man handling" up the gangway which we used to do! The torpedo warheads were also directly loaded via the fwd lift, to the torpedo workshop thence down to the warhead magazine
The Big E, HMAS Supply followed by the Little M
In the August 1962, following exercised TUCKER BOX in the Coral Sea with British Navy ships of the FESR, HMAS Melbourne found anchorage in Platypus Bay, Fraser Island to prepare the ship and crew for Admirals Inspection. During the exercise a Gannet went in to Bundaberg on a daily basis to pickup mail etc. for the fleet and the helos then distributed it to the other ships. On the last day when Melbourne separated from the fleet and proceeded to Hervey Bay, Lt. N took off for Bundaberg to collect the last mail for 14 days and failed to return. The message that came to Melbourne was that N made a bad landing and damaged the nose wheel of his Gannet by overshooting the runway which was most unusual for a pilot used to landing in a small area, such as the flight deck of the worlds smallest carrier. The aircraft could not be flown until a team from HMAS Albatross at Nowra in NSW came up and repaired the damage. Lieutenant N was of course, a Bundaberg "native"!!! He was forced to miss "Admirals" (lucky devil) and had to stay home with his family until Melbourne was again under way 14 days hence, to recover him and his Gannet.
During Admirals Inspection in Platypus Bay, Fraser Island, awaiting the Admiral, "Arch" Harrington (later Sir Hastings Harrington) to inspect the Forecastle part of ship, we were told to "get lost" and remain out of sight until the Admiral had moved on. I decided that I would go fishing so gathered my line and climbed down the hawse pipe onto the starboard anchor, which was the spare and could easily accommodate three fishermen. Being totally hidden from view I was safe from Arch; so I thought, until he saw my line being thrown out and immediately wanted me on deck. Arch gave me a dressing down as only an Admiral could; one which I never forgot!! If I bumped into Arch at any time in the ship, he always remembered me saying : "Aah! the fisherman". One afternoon on the flight deck, Arch and the Captain, VAT Smith were pacing up and down when I heard "You there, the fisherman, here lad", so I ran over to the pair and stood at attention. Arch said to VAT "this is the one I was telling you about". I thought my prospects for a happy time in Melbourne had come to an end however no further action was forthcoming; thankfully!! When the ship was at anchor the spare anchor was still my preferred fishing spot!
Speaking of Fishing
When Melbourne was rounding Sandy Cape one Saturday afternoon during a voyage from the FESR to Sydney, the Bridge piped (announced) that the ship would be stopping at dusk for a fishing competition. How exciting, every spare nut and bolt was scrounged for sinkers and just on dusk, the ship went astern and drifted over the Gardiner Banks off Fraser Island. A thousand fishing lines hit the water on the words "Start Fishing" from the bridge. After going around and having a second drift, the OOD piped "Stop Fishing" and "take all fish to the galley", where the winner was decided. An officer on the quarter deck won with a huge red emperor, but the entire crew benefited with fresh fish Sunday night for tea, as in the space of a couple of hours the ships company had caught over two thousand big reddies, other reef fish and shark!
In the tropics Melbourne heated up and became unbearably hot down below as in those days warships were not air-conditioned; below temperatures reached 50 degrees Celsius. "Hands to Bathe" was a common practice, although not every day, and in calm seas was always held aboard Melbourne after a days work, usually at 1630hrs. A cutter would be lowered with a marksman on board, another marksman was posted on the flight deck and a scrambling net rigged in the starboard PV space. When the ship stopped and "Hands to Bathe" piped, a thousand officers and matelotes hit the water together. Games of water polo were organised using floating nets and aside ropes. "Hands to bathe" always took place on the starboard side fwd. of the island so the OOD on the Bridge could see what was happening in the water. Climbing the scrambling net, racing to the flight deck and leaping off was only for the adventurous and the ship diving team; clearance divers and cuff divers were known to be quite mad anyway!!
Jesus Christ Wire
Melbourne had 6 arrester wires to catch the landing aircrafts hook and 5 were spaced close together at the aft end of the angled flight deck, then there was a gap to the sixth wire which was known as "The Jesus Christ Wire" being the last chance to land! The aft lift was between the 5th. wire and the "JC" wire.
A day after my birthday on 5th. May 1967, during flying exercises, a Wessex ditched near the ship and the flotation balloons in the wheel hubs kept the aircraft afloat until Melbourne was maneuvered alongside. The ship divers (me included) were all sent over to rescue the crew and attach the crane wire to lift the helo on board. The wire was attached, but did not have the weight, when one of the balloons gave up and deflated causing the helo to roll over. (In the pic the floatation balloon on the starboard wheel is not as large as the port one.) When lifted onto the deck the salt water was reacting with the metals in the aircraft and it sounded like a mob of angry ants eating the insides out of it.
An operational HMAS Melbourne was starboard side to, alongside the Fitting Out Wharf (FOW), at Garden Island, Sydney, in the summer of 1964 during a period of severe dry northerly winds, when the "Birdies", bored out of their tiny brains when not flying, decided to attempt a full deck take off of a Gannet while the ship was alongside.
Full deck takeoffs were practiced occasionally at sea when there were high winds and I only ever saw Gannets do this, never the Venoms. For a catapult launch there needed to be a wind speed over the deck of 30 knots and Melbourne failed on many occasions to achieve this, especially in the tropics when there were periods of calm winds, as the ship could muster 23 to 24 knots when clean and had to search for a breeze of at least 10 knots to be able to launch aircraft. Blustery N winds in Sydney at the time were in the order of 40 knots and the take off was successful. There was never any intention to recover the aircraft, so it flew to Albatross and was recovered when the ship next put to sea.
I served in Borneo in 1965-66 during the Confrontation of the Federated States of Malaysia by the Indonesians and following the conclusion of that conflict, when Indonesia and Australia were "friends" again, the remaining Gannets of the RAN Fleet Air Arm were given to Indonesia, I and many other who had "been there", thought that was a good move by the RAN as hopefully the Gannet was too difficult an aircraft for the Indons to fly and their pilots would wipe themselves out permanently!!.
Visitors From USS Bennington
In 1962, during SEATO Exercise Sea Devil, a USN S2E Tracker from USS Bennington, landed on Melbourne in the South China Sea to evaluate this aircraft as a replacement for the Fairy Gannets and after a lengthy inspection the aircraft was catapulted off. For no apparent reason the tracker circled the Melbourne in what appeared to be a landing approach however it passed low over the deck and bombed the ship with several rolls of toilet paper, all of which landed on the flight deck. Closer examination revealed "Australian Navy issue bum fodder"!! Who said the Yanks did not have a sense of humor on rare occasions??
While operating with USS Bennington in the South China Sea near the Philippines in 1967 (I think), an experimental VTOL aircraft made a single "touch and go". The aircraft were experimental and trials were conducted by the boffins in Bennington. This concept of swing or tilting wing aircraft, both 4 engined and 2 engined were being tested to see how they would operate in the equatorial doldrums when the air became hot and thinned. They were roughly about the size of a Tracker.
Pink, Pink, everywhere Pink!
After a days flying the aircraft were spotted for night flying. On completion of the days work on the forcastle the storeman had two buckets of dirty turpentine used for cleaning paint bushes to dispose of and as was the custom, ascertained the lee side and threw one overboard. He returned to the store and without further thought tipped the contents of the second bucket overboard. Unfortunately the ship had been turning and the turps, bright pink in colour, was carried by the wind along the ship side into the crash boat, up over the flight deck and further aft to the squadron leaders venom on spot one and a second venom on spot two!! Guess who the forecastle storeman was?? In Deep Shit - again!!!
Because Melbourne was the flagship of the fleet there was always ceremony on board and when possible divisions was held every Sunday followed by church when the "Sky Pilots" earned their keep. One did everything to avoid going to divisions and a favorite of mine was to go sailing in the whaler. As an AB I went sailing as a crew and later I was coxswain. The 27 ft. whaler which was gripped up under the flight deck, would be lowered by the crew and sail off, usually to the closest pub to buy beer for a day out. On return to the ship the whaler had to be hoisted and this was done by running the falls over the quarterdeck, which was the officers recreational space, to the aft capstan. A young Midshipman came with us once and became quite drunk (actually more so than the rest of us) and when hoisting the boat, he tripped and fell flat on his face on the quarterdeck. There stood the Commander, coffee cup held in the correct naval manner for officers, looking down at the Mid. "You're drunk, get out of my sight and see me in the morning". Our Mid. didn't go ashore for a long time after that day!
The cat walk across the stern of the ship mounted the overtaking light and allowed both the Captain and the Flag Officer to access the flight deck from their quarters.