HMAS Melbourne, Modifications
HMAS Melbourne was continually being modified to improve her performance as a fighting ship of the Royal Australian Navy
Melbourne had an ever present problem with being top heavy and at almost every refit some objects were considered to be of no further use and so were removed to reduce top weight.
When Melbourne was built there were two single 40/60 bofors mounted on the quarter deck, one in each quarter on a sponson. These were the first to be taken off however the base plates (rings) were left in place and covered by a scrubbed beech grating to provide seating for the officers as the quarter deck was their recreation space. Radar aerials were always a problem on Melbourne as her original lattice mast shook violently when the ship was at speed, in a big sea or when she launched an aircraft as the force of the catapult hitting the stops made some areas of the ship shake and vibrate excessively. In the original configuration Melbourne had a long range Type 293Q radar atop the mast, with a Type 975 navigation radar beneath it and three Type 277 radars, two facing forward and the other one on the aft light deck. In 1963 Melbourne was fitted with a new radar, the Dutch designed LW02 which was placed atop the mast. The 293 was repositioned down the mast as was the 975 - two of the 277s were kept.
The LW02 was a heavy aerial being first fitted to the Navy's new Type 12 frigates Yarra and Parramatta. When these ships were alongside and the radar on standby, the rotating aerial was so heavy as to cause a slight though noticeable ship roll. When Melbourne entered dockyard hands in January 1968 her mast was removed for substantial rebuilding & modification.
After half life conversion the mast carried the 293 and the 975 plus several electronic warfare domes, the LW02 was moved to the GDP and the fwd 277 moved to the top of the compass platform. The aft 277 was dispensed with being replaced by an American designed modern height seeking approach radar (SPN-35) which is shown under a dome on the aft light deck.
The Gannet and Venom aircraft were started by cordite charges however the Wessex were air start and so a network of compressed air tanks and pipes was built into the ship, along the 2 deck passageway on the starboard side. Shortly after the Wessex were commissioned, to reduce top weight the flight deck twin bofor (the only bofor ever placed on the filght deck) and the gun director were taken off, but not at the same time. The gun director was removed first and at the next refit the bofor and ready use ammunition lockers were removed. The space left was used to park firefighting equipment and tractors. From refit to refit most of Melbourne's bofors were taken off
To further reduce topweight, armour plating 3 inches thick was removed from the torpedo workshop. It was intended that 21inch diesel/air torpedoes would be carried and they were to be stored with warheads attached, however when the FAA was equipped with Gannets this had to be changed to the new Mk 30 electric homing torpedo. The war heads were kept down in the bottom of the ship in a magazine and could be fitted together with nose and pistol, to a fish in 15 minutes or so. The armour plating weighed many tons and was covered with thick blast mats of asbestos. The deck heads were lagged with asbestos and when aircraft were being launched a fine white powder fell from the deck head & bulkheads and settled everywhere, including in our lungs!
HMAS Melbourne was commissioned with a pennant "Y" on the flight deck so aircraft could identify the ship, and her ship pennant number was "R21" painted on the sides of the island. Her aircraft had an identifying "Y" painted on the tail. After arriving in Australia the flight deck pennant and the aircraft letters were changed to "M". The ship pennant number was left unchanged until after half life refit when both the flight deck pennant and the ship pennant were changed to "21".
In 1967 number 4 boat, a 32 ft. Kitchener cutter was removed and replaced with a light weight zodiac or "Rubber Duckie", which as a utility boat to service the ship was totally useless. It was however used by the ships divers when bottom searching the ship or scrubbing propellers but of little or no use for any other tasks. To be used for 'man overboard' it proved OK in calm conditions, however in heavy seas one of the remaining two cutters was still the preferred option. Mostly the port cutter was always used as crash boat during flying operations unless U/S when the starboard cutter was used. The reason that the port cutter was preferred was that it was on the side of the ship closest to where an aircraft may ditch, either off the catapult or the angled flight deck.
The hanger deck could not be enlarged so became quite crowded as Wessex, Skyhawks and the larger Trackers were brought below. During her half life conversion the arrester wires on Melbourne were repositioned, the "Jesus Christ" wire was dispensed with and all 5 arrester wires were equally spaced. The catwalk across the stern of the round down was shortened and a pendulum was hung from the middle of the centre line to assist landing aircraft. The mirror landing system was modified and a flight deck landing position was built on the port quarter of the flight deck from where a Landing Signal Officer (LSO) guided an aircraft in by voice. A jet exhaust blast deflector was built just behind the catapult.