HMAS Melbourne, More Anecdotes
More anecdotes from HMAS Melbourne that are sad, serious, amusing, exaggerated but basically true!
The Crash Barrier
If an aircraft declared an emergency landing, and depending on the nature of the emergency Melbourne put up the crash barrier. The barrier was a nylon web net affair which the plane flew into (hook up, no attempt to hit the deck or pick up a wire) and was designed to catch the plane while protecting on deck aircraft from being damaged by one which was out of control. In the late 1960's the Navy trained Able Seamen Underwater Control sailors (UCs - they operated the ship's sonar) to be UC(Air). They were promoted to Petty Officer and joined flight crew in the Gannets to begin with. Later the Wessex, Trackers and SeaKings. In early 1967 during exercise Sea Dog a friend of mine who was a UC(Air) was in a Gannet that declared an emergency landing. The barrier was rigged and the Gannet flew into it - broke through the net and the pilot just stopped short of going over the front of the flight deck. My mate jumped out and immediately lit a smoke to calm himself down (he was in the aft cockpit facing backwards!) - up raced the Flight Deck Officer (FDO who we all called "FIDO") "Put out that cigarette, you know there is no smoking on the flight deck!!" Reply was "Stick your planes and your flight deck up your big fat arse!!" - he then calmly walked off, still puffing away on his smoke. This photo is of the actual recovery.
In late 1967 HMAS Melbourne without any escort or carrying any aircraft sailed to North America, calling at Pearl Harbour then Vancouver in Canada. The first port of call in California for HMAS Melbourne on 18th. October 1967, was Seal Beach, which is an ammunition port for the US Navy on the West Coast, not far from the famous Huntington Beach and the infamous "pipeline", where I just had to go for a surf. Melbourne was to load 100 Mk 44 torpedoes for service in the RAN. This electric active homing antisubmarine torpedo was small and was designed to be launched from fixed wing aircraft, helos, ship mounted tubes and was incorporated into the design of the Australian antisubmarine guided missile "Ikara". The electrolyte for the battery was salt water gathered as the torpedo entered the water (via the small scoop in the photo) and enough power was generated to turn the propellers and enable the electronics within 3 seconds. The Ikara (Aboriginal for "Throwing Stick") was developed by the RAN at RANEL as an anti submarine weapon for the new Type 12 Frigates and later the DDGs, it was far more advanced than the US Navy ASROC missile. Ikara was only to be exported to Commonwealth Navies and was used by the RN, although subsequently sold to the Brazilian Navy. Experimental missiles were painted yellow and were tested at the Woomera rocket range in South Australia. Once over the target the torpedo was launched from the missile by being blown out using 6 small charges, these charges also blew off the bottom half of the tail fin. To stabilise the missile a swing down fin with two small panels replaced the ventral fin and was refered to as the "rabbit ears". The Ikara had a range of 12 nm and flew at 1000ft with a constant speed of 600 knots. Ikara was stored in the magazine with out any wings and these were clipped on prior to the missile entering the launcher. I was the first instructor in Ikara at HMAS Watson in 1968/9 and wrote & compiled the original instructing notes.
Seal Beach being the first port of call, protocol demanded that the Captain & officers hold a cocktail party for officials and guests. The face of Australia in Hollywood at that time was Chips Rafferty, a 3rd. rate ham actor but the best that Australia could offer. Rafferty arrived for the party an hour early and was the last to leave, having consumed large quantities of Aussie beer.
As Chief Quarter Master, I, with two Quartermasters had to standby the gangway and "pipe the side" as the guests arrived and left.
One of the guests was well known comedian Shelly Berman and as he was waiting to leave, he came up behind me and passed me a card. There was a real party at his place and we would be welcome. It was a real party, actually a "Pool Party" and the dress rules were "fully clothed or naked". No in-betweens!! Not a single officer from Melbourne had been invited. I know what you are thinking, but it was not a "poofs" party, as there were eager young & beautiful starlets everywhere, that I can guarantee!!
On 27th. October 1967 Melbourne berthed starboard side to in San Diego, California to load new aircraft. The next morning when "Call the Hands" roused the crew, there berthed astern of us was a huge aircraft carrier, the USS Constellation.
She had returned from Guam and the Vietnam invasion for a crew change and new aircraft. One hundred and thirty (130) aircraft were unloaded on to the wharf and a similar number of new ones embarked. 5,500 crew were changed over, the ship was stored and sailed during the night of 30th. October. Constellation had been in port for a mere 4 days!. The might and organisation of the US Navy was being displayed, unintentionally, to us and we were really impressed with the speed of this turnaround! A turnaround of this nature would have been impossible in the RAN as it did not even have a second complement of aircraft for Melbourne!
|S2Es towed down the wharf.||An S2E Tracker lifted aboard, they were not carried fwd but lashed roughly midships opposite the island.||An A4G being craned onboard, then taken down into the hanger for the trip home.|
|Skyhawks unloaded by barge from HMAS Melbourne loaded onto low loaders for transport to HMAS Albatross, Naval Air Station, Nowra.|
Meanwhile at the same time the 8 A4G skyhawks (6 + 2 trainers) and 12 S2E tracker aircraft for Melbourne were craned off the wharf at a more leisurely pace concurrently. The A4Gs were taken below and stored in the hanger deck while the S2Es were lashed on the flight deck. All the aircraft were in "mothballs". Melbourne sailed from San Diego for Pearl Harbour, Suva and Jervis Bay at 0800 on 31st. October 1967.
During the voyage from Hawaii to Australia, a "crossing the line" ceremony was held as was the custom in those days of carefree non political correctness and minor physical and verbal abuse of fellow ship mates and officers in such a ceremony was acceptable. King Neptune and his entourage are seen coming on board using the fwd lift. Trackers on deck for the voyage home were in "mothballs" - even the propeller blades were fitted with canvas socks!
|Underway in Jervis Bay, 1962 - Gannets and Sycamores on deck.||At anchor in Jervis Bay, 1971|
Heavy seas are a fact of life when at sea, but it takes a smart Captain to manage his ship and not just go flat out to arrive on time. In one particularly bad sea as Melbourne was making for Hong Hong in the South China Sea a succession of waves broke on the flight deck with such mass as to force the fwd lift down slightly and allow hundreds of tons of water to enter the hanger deck. It was always assumed that a couple of inches of free surface water in the hanger deck would capsize the ship however that did not occur although the wave of water rushing from side to side caused the ship to hang on to a roll. The feeling was not reassuring to say the least but gradually the water was drained away and pumped out while the ship slowed down a couple of knots.
When in HK with some American sailors buying the drinks, one would describe the practice of surfing down the flight deck in heavy weather and catching an arrestor wire to stop being washed over the stern. Being Yanks they always believed it and shouted more drinks!!
Sick Bay Blenders
The torpedo workshop was fwd of the sickbay and access was down a passage beside it. I made friends with a Sick Berth Attendant (SBA), Dusty M and he regularly called in for a brew. One day he seemed to be a bit vague and after a while revealed that he had sucked a couple of oranges injected with pure medical alcohol. The old frig. in the workshop seemed like a perfect place to store treated oranges and the practice of sucking an icy cold "Orange Blender" after work was hugely successful, although very guarded!
Most Important Visitor
In early 1967 Melbourne spent 4 months in the Far East and at sea one morning before "stand easy" the main door to the torpedo workshop opened and in walked A.W.R. McNicoll, OBE, GM, Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet (FOCAF). We were a bit slack that day, so me and the team were having early smoko and he caught us red handed. McNicoll stood there with the three of us gaping at him, and all I could think of to say was "Coffee, Sir?".
Thankfully he accepted and during conversation while sitting on a 4 gallon drum with rags for a cushion, revealed that he had joined the Navy before WW11 (1922 in fact), specialised in torpedoes during that war, and worked his way up to become Rear Admiral and FOCAF.
He once remarked that an Admiral had no privacy and to escape his Flag Lieutenant ("Flags") during quieter periods at sea, McNicoll would go walkabout. He paid regular visits to our workshop thereafter heralded by his cabin boy with a plate of freshly made lamingtons or biscuits, so we always looked busy when he arrived, a point which was not lost to him as he would remark "busy today I see" or something similar. For an Admiral he was the perfect gentleman.
Shore Patrol in Subic Bay
In 1962, when Melbourne was alongside in Subic Bay, Philippines I was duty watch and allocated to the shore patrol. I was picked up from the ship by a US marine and taken to SP headquarters for briefing. The SP unit I joined was a jeep with a .5 caliber machine gun mounted in the back, a Marine, a Petty Officer and an Ensign all armed with side arms and Tommy guns and little old me with an armband with "NP" on it and a night stick! The Ensign said if there was trouble we would have to move quickly and I confirmed however decided that running like hell away from any trouble would be a very positive response!
The ship was to sail at midnight and the word came that 3 sailors were adrift. We searched the dock yard and into Oloongapo and found the three passed out in a bar from too much hooch. They were bundled into the back of the jeep and taken back to the ship which was ready to sail. The only gangway still down was the aft brow, the officers gangway, so the three had to be carried onboard. I had one over my shoulder in a fireman carry and crossed the gangway. As I came over the side I saw lots of officers coming into the gangway space, FOCAF (Arch Harrington) was showing his guests (Admirals and Senior Officers of the USN) ashore and at that moment I tripped off the end of the brow and me and my drunk went flat on the deck. At this moment my charge spewed and there were several explosions of spew shooting all over the place! Such a colourful display of red, white and blue for our American friends - How Embarrassing!!!
Some Mothers Do Have 'Em!
|Ooopps!||This one parked on the flight deck bofor!|