Guardians of Sunda Strait: Remembering HMAS Perth and USS Houston

Before its deployment to Asian waters, HMAS Perth saw duty in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Egypt was exotic and exciting for the young Australian sailors, and photographs to send back home were a priority. Image: Naval Heritage Collection.

Before its deployment to Asian waters, HMAS Perth saw duty in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Egypt was exotic and exciting for the young Australian sailors, and photographs to send back home were a priority. Image: US Naval History and Heritage Command.

On the night of 28 February–1 March 1942, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth and the American heavy cruiser USS Houston fought bravely and defiantly against overwhelming odds – outnumbered and outgunned by a large advancing Japanese naval force – as they approached Sunda Strait, a narrow sea passage between the islands of Java and Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Both ships sank that dreadful night in the Battle of Sunda Strait. Continue reading

Opening ‘Guardians of Sunda Strait’ in Houston

Speeches at the opening reception for Guardians of Sunda Strait. Image: Ashley Patranella.

Speeches at the opening reception for Guardians of Sunda Strait. Image: Ashley Patranella.

It’s been a busy few days here in Houston with museum’s Guardians of Sunda Strait exhibition. All the objects and their labels have been successfully and safely installed in their showcases or on display panels and all the graphics have been applied to the walls. The final graphic caused a few headaches though! Firstly, the paper didn’t arrive at the factory, then the wrong graphic was accidentally printed, then the colours were wrong. But we have it now and it looks great. Exhibition installation always has a contingency of a few days built in just for this kind of last minute problem!

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Remembering the Guardians of Sunda Strait: An exhibition at the Houston Public Library

Peeling vinyl from the exhibition walls. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

Peeling vinyl from the exhibition walls. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

On a dark and stormy day in Houston, Texas, museum’s latest international travelling exhibition starts to take shape.

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Man in the machine: submarines, ships, sailors and National memory

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

This is not a blog about the current Federal election … this is about something much more enduring and exciting – a bold new art installation that plays with the idea of animus, memory, the machinery of war, and to a degree geopolitics. It will be launched in the coming months on the forecourt at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and today, International Museums Day with its focus on cultural landscapes, seems an appropriate time to reveal something of the art work.

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Naval traditions continue as HMAS Canberra is commissioned

Last Friday saw the commissioning of the Royal Australian Navy’s newest and largest fleet member – the Landing Helicopter Dock (or LHD for short) HMAS Canberra (III).
In a short space of time and in century-old tradition, she went from being Nuship Canberra to raising the Australian white ensign for the first time as part of her formal commissioning into the Fleet.

HMAS canberra

The Royal Australian Navy’s latest helicopter, the MH60R ‘Romeo’ Seahawk, flies past the Navy’s latest ship, NUSHIP Canberra in Sydney, NSW. Courtesy Royal Australian Navy.

It was a significant moment for all those associated with the building and fitting out of the LHD, especially the tri-service ship’s company who have been training for months in preparation for the introduction of the LHD. Navy, Air Force and Army come together to operate this ship.

As well as raising the white ensign another tradition was also observed, that of the youngest member of Canberra’s ship’s company (Seaman Marine Technician Michael Lane) cutting the commissioning cake alongside Canberra’s Commanding Officer (Captain Jonathan Sadleir AM, RAN).

White ensign for HMAS Canberra

LS Stewart Thurlow raises the Australian white ensign for the first time on board the newly commissioned HMAS Canberra. Courtesy Royal Australian Navy.

In the life of a naval ship there are many ceremonial milestones including ship naming, keel laying, christening, commissioning and final decommissioning. The commissioning ceremony completes the cycle from christening and launching to bring the ship into full status as a warship of her nation.

Canberra carries a proud name indeed. The first Canberra was a heavy cruiser sunk in action at the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942. The second Canberra was a guided missile frigate and saw service during the Gulf War; she was sunk off Ocean Grove, Victoria as an artificial reef and dive wreck. In line with naval tradition, Canberra (III) inherits the battle honours from the previous two ships of the same name – East Indies 1940-41, Pacific 1941-42, Guadalcanal 1942, Savo Island 1942 and Persian Gulf 2002.

So what is Canberra going to be doing for the Royal Australian Navy? She is the lead ship of the two Canberra class amphibious assault ships designed by Spanish shipbuilders Navantia. Canberra and her sister-ship Adelaide are prefabricated in Spain and then fitted out in Melbourne. They are capable of conducting large-scale humanitarian missions and will focus on regional military support, including disasters (they can be deployed as floating hospitals and command and control centres); evacuation missions (such as a raid from the sea to recover hostages); and peacekeeping. They will also play a key role in extreme natural disasters at home.

The Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ship concept.

An internal cross-section of the Canberra class Amphibious Assault Ship puts in perspective her ability to carry an incredible amount of vehicles, vessels and aircraft.

There are many mindboggling and impressive statistics associated with the ship. Here are a few:

  • Construction cost was $A1.5 billion;
  • She’s 230 metres long, the flight deck is eight stories above the water and as big as 24 tennis courts;
  • Canberra could sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge – with 40 cm to spare!
  • She can embark 1,100 fully-equipped infantry troops and 110 trucks and armoured vehicles;
  • She can carry 18 helicopters (six can operate simultaneously from landing points on the flight deck);
  • Elevators and ramps are used to move vehicles, aircraft and personnel around the ship;
  • Cooks can prepare up to 6,000 meals daily;
  • There are two operating theatres and 56 hospital beds, an eight-bed critical care unit, pathology and radiology services, x-ray, pharmacy and dental facilities.
  • The ship can make 150 tonnes of fresh water per day and generate enough power to power a city the size of Darwin;
  • The heavy vehicle deck covers 1400 square metres;
  • The ship can carry 196 shipping containers;
  • The well dock holds water the equivalent of 1.2 Olympic swimming pools and has access to the open sea through the stern to allow the landing craft and other boats to sail straight in and out.

HMAS Canberra will proceed to sea in the coming weeks for a period of training and assessment for the crew. She will be home ported to Garden Island, Sydney, so take yourself down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and see for yourself just how impressive this new addition to the Royal Australian Navy really is.

– Lindsey Shaw (@NavyCurator), Australian National Maritime Museum Research Associate

Warships, storyworlds and the story so far

I’ve walked through our Oberon-class submarine many times. Before the visitors arrive, it’s quiet. You can hear the creaking of the ropes that secure the sub to the wharf, and sometimes the far away voices of people in Darling Harbour. Remnants of life onboard remain – the boardgames in the mess, the roster on the wall and the ingredients in the kitchen – settled and silent. I’ve also been onboard the patrol boat Advance and climbed up and down from the bridge to the kitchen, avoiding its sharp corners and examining the menacing-looking Bofors guns on deck. I’ve walked onboard our destroyer HMAS Vampire many times before too. It smells like the 70s. There’s linoleum throughout, a faint scent of oil and what might be the remaining tendrils of thousands of cooked dinners served in the mess. There’s a sense of chasing someone else’s long-forgotten memories down the lengthy corridors and through the maze of tunnels and ladders.

In the past nine months, in the course of researching these three vessels, I’ve also spent many hours speaking with naval personnel about their time serving on HMAS Onslow, Advance and Vampire. Through their stories, photographs and records, I got glimpses of three very alive, very dangerous and very exciting worlds. One submariner described to me the sounds that the ocean makes when it wakes in the morning, how you can hear the animals stir and react to the sun the same way that birds do at dawn. Another described the feeling, through your feet, of the submarine dashing away from the surface and diving beneath the waves. It sounded to me like the feeling of taking off in a small airplane – just going in the other direction. One ex-submarine commander talked sparingly of his involvement in covert operations onboard Oberon submarines, responding to our questions with silence and a smile.

HMAS VAMPIRE at sea, image courtesy of the Sea Power Centre Australia

HMAS VAMPIRE at sea, image courtesy of the Sea Power Centre Australia

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100 years: The first fleet of the Royal Australian Navy

On this day, 100 years ago, the Royal Australian Navy’s first fleet of warships entered Sydney Heads ‘from out the morning mist’, as The Sydney Morning Herald dramatically described it. Headed by our first naval flagship, the aptly named Indefatigable class battlecruiser HMAS Australia, HMA Ships Sydney, Encounter, Melbourne, Warrego, Parramatta and Yarra comprised our first Fleet Unit. Sydney’s shores were lined with thousands of people, dressed in their Edwardian best, with their waistcoats and feathered hats. Over the next few days, Sydney Harbour will come alive once more, this time without the Edwardian garb, for International Fleet Review and what will be the largest gathering of navy ships most of us has ever seen.

Video: Reproduced courtesy of Sea Power Centre – Australia, via 1913 Fleet Entry Continue reading

A life in service of Australia: The Sam and Lyla Landau Collection

The final layout for the showcase – it all fits!

Every four months or so we install a small display in our New Acquisitions Case – to highlight recently-acquired objects or collections.  Our current feature is the Sam & Lyla Landau Collection. Samuel Landau’s career began in 1936 as administrative assistant to the Secretary of Defence. He became First Assistant Secretary working with the war cabinet secretariat during World War II, travelling with several prime ministerial delegations during that time.

In the 1950s he was secretary to the ANZUS meeting in Pearl Harbor; a member of the Australian delegation to Manila; the Commonwealth Conference in London; and attended the Imperial Defence College in London in 1958. From 1963 to 1973 Landau was Secretary of the Department of the Navy. In 1974 his career in the defence system took him to Washington DC as Minister for Politico-Military Affairs at the Australian Embassy. With his wife Lyla he attended many commemorative events and was often presented with small gifts and mementos which have been donated to the museum by his family.

Putting the display together starts with the curator selecting the objects and then discussing their conservation and display needs with a conservator and designer; a preparator is brought on board to make special supports; and a showcase layout is then provided by the designer. It’s a team effort that works well.

The finished product!

Last flight for Sea King helicopters

Sea King Helicopter mid air lowering an officer to the water

Sea King Helicopter in action

Tomorrow, Thursday 15 December the Royal Australian Navy Sea King helicopters of 817 Squadron will make their final flight before decommissioning. This final flight will mark the end of an era. The Sea King helicopters will be retired after 35 years’ service and 817 Squadron decommissioned after 48 years’ continuous service at a traditional ceremony in Nowra on Friday 16 December 2011.

The following schedule was published by the Royal Australian Navy today.

Thursday 15 December 2011 between 0930am and 1pm. (Please note that timings for all locations are approximate). The formation will depart Nowra at 0930am and arrive at Sydney Heads at 1020am. The formation will fly over Sydney Harbour between 1020am and 1030am. Arrival in Canberra is expected between 1145am and 12pm. The formation will depart Canberra at 1215pm at the latest and is expected to arrive back in Nowra by 1pm.

A formation of Sea Kings will launch from the Naval Air Station at HMAS Albatross, Nowra, proceed up the NSW coast to Sydney, fly over Sydney Harbour then turn south to Canberra, fly over Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian War Memorial before heading east to the coast, then over the Shoalhaven and back to the Naval Air Station.

So keep a look out tomorrow…

For more information, visit the Royal Australian Navy website.