HMAS Melbourne, visit to Canada and United States of America
In 1967, HMAS Melbourne made an unscheduled visit to Canada and the US replacing HMAS Sydney. The main purpose of the voyage was to bring back new generation aircraft for the Royal Australian Navy Aviation Group
HMAS Melbourne sailed from Australia in May 1967 for a visit to the Far East, Japan and SEATO exercise Sea Dog. After returning to Australia, 816 and 817 Squadrons were disembarked and 816 was disbanded. The RAN had purchased new aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm from the USA and HMAS Sydney was to bring them back, however after years on the milk run to Vietnam, the aging ex-aircraft carrier, ex-troop transport was found to be unseaworthy when dry-docked and was hastily replaced by Melbourne for the voyage. A dry-docking at Garden Island, already scheduled as part of the half life conversion for Melbourne saw the ship de-ammunitioned, destored, the torpedo workshop gutted of torpedo racks and armour plating, the removal of the 277 radar from the light deck, removal of the 27 ft. whaler and associated gear, the landing of the port aft cutter and removal of the quadrantel gantery. When Sydney was condemned as unseaworthy Melbourne was hastely prepared for the voyage.
At the time the crew onboard was only a refit crew of less than 50 officers and sailors (We were accommodated at the newly rebuilt HMAS Kuttabul at King's Cross) , so some crew had to be recalled from leave or transfered from Sydney. We sailed from Sydney Harbour in September 1967 for Pearl Harbour, Vancouver, Seal Beach, San Francisco, San Diego, returning via Pearl Harbour, Suva & Jervis Bay.
What was interesting about this voyage was that in the past Melbourne never sailed anywhere without at least one escort and some times two, providing protection from unexpected attack from a non friendly country. For this voyage to North America she carried no ammunition for the bofors, and was unescorted, therefore unprotected and once the new generation aircraft for the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm were loaded and she was returning to Australia, was a sitting duck for any non friendly country. One unexpected attack would have deprived the RAN of its only aircraft carrier and the new planes! At that time (the middle 1960s) Australia was still involved in the cold war with Communist Countries, the invasion of Vietnam (supported by China) with the USA and was just emerging from the Confrontation with Indonesia (supported by Russia).
The ship's first port of call was Pearl Harbour in Hawaii (2 days), before sailing for Vancouver (5 days), Canada. Melbourne was photographed by a RCAF aircraft approaching Victoria Harbour in light fog and "no" - that is not a helo on deck but "Jumbo," the mobile crane. The ship's company were well welcomed in Vancouver, with the Canadian Navy Reserves at HMCNS Endeavour organising a succession of tours and night activities that were the best of the whole North American trip. Endeavour's divers joined us for a propellor scrub alongside the wharf where the temperature was exceedingly cold - there were pieces of sheet ice floating in the water!
From Vancouver, Melbourne sailed for Seal Beach ammunition depot port (4 days) where 100 Mk 44 electric homing torpedoes complete with warheads were loaded into my torpedo workshop. Entering Seal Beach through a long breakwater was the only time on any ship I was ever asked by the bridge to steer in quarter degrees - this little Australian aircraft carrier was out to impress the Yanks. Entering San Fransisco Harbour with me, as Chief Quatermaster, at the wheel. The trouble with being at the wheel is one could not appreciate the scenery entering a port, as the wheelhouse was fully enclosed. After a goodwill visit to San Fransisco (3 days), Melbourne berthed in San Diego (for 5 days) to load A4G Skyhawks and S2E Trackers for the reformed 805 and 816 Squadrons respectively, before returning to Australia via Pearl (2 days) and Suva (1 day) for a major refit which kept her in dock for all of 1968 and into 1969. The Melbourne had a dual mission of a goodwill visit to the West Coast Cities of the United States and Canada and to collect the Skyhawks and Grumman Trackers, replacing HMAS Sydney.
Loading the Aircraft
Arriving in Jervis Bay - Unloading A4Gs
On arrival back in Australia Melbourne anchored in Jervis Bay and the Skyhawks (secretly) were off loaded onto barges and towed ashore to HMAS Creswell then trucked to Naval Air Station, Nowra.
Arrival in Sydney
On completion of discharging the Skyhawks in Jervis Bay, the ship proceeded to Garden Island Dock and berthed on the FOW (Fitting out wharf) where the Trackers were off loaded onto low loaders and trucked through the middle of Sydney to Mascot, for preflight checks. This operation was a huge media event. The two box semi trailers on the flight deck are aircraft simulators.
Unloading the Trackers - Trucking to Mascot
Thanks to Martin Edwards, ADF Serials for these Tracker photos
Preparing for Half Life Conversion
On the 22nd. November 1967, HMAS Melbourne berthed in Sydney and after unloading the Tracker aircraft, moved to number 4 buoy to de-ammunition the Mk 44's and then destored before commencing an extended refit to prepare her for operating the new aircraft. Refit commenced on 1st. January 1968 and continued until 17th. January, 1969. I drafted from Melbourne to Watson on 13th. May 1968, with the refit half completed.