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Bathurst-class corvette
HMAS Latrobe)
HMAS Latrobe
Class overview
  • Cockatoo Island Dockyard (Lead shipyard)
  • Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd
  • Walkers Limited
  • Evans Deakin & Co
  • HMA Naval Dockyard
  • Morts Dock & Engineering Co
  • NSW State Dockyard
  • Poole & Steel
Succeeded by: Ton class minesweeper (RAN)
Cost: A£250,000 per vessel
Built: 1940–1942
In commission: 1940–1960 (RAN)
Completed: 60
Cancelled: 3, plus a 1938 prototype
Lost: 5
Preserved: 2
General characteristics
Type: Australian Minesweeper (Corvette)
Displacement: 1,025 tons (full war load)
Length: 186 ft (57 m)
Beam: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Draught: 8.5 ft (2.6 m)
Propulsion: Triple expansion, 2 shafts. 2,000 hp
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Complement: Normally 85
Sensors and
processing systems:
Type 128 asdic

Varying, but generally:
1 x 12 pdr (76-mm) gun or 1 x 4 inch (102-mm) Mk XIX gun or 1 x 4 inch Mk XVI gun
1 x 40 mm Bofors gun
2–3 x 20 mm Oerlikon guns

up to 40 depth charges

The Bathurst class corvettes were a class of general purpose vessels produced in Australia during World War II. Originally classified as minesweepers, but widely referred to as corvettes, the Bathurst class vessels fulfilled a broad anti-submarine, anti-mine, and convoy escort role.

Sixty Bathurst class corvettes were built in eight Australian shipyards to an Australian design. 36 were constructed for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), while 20 were built on British Admiralty orders but manned and commissioned by the RAN, and 4 served in the Royal Indian Navy. Three more were ordered for construction in India, but were cancelled. Although designed for the anti-submarine and anti-mine role, the Bathursts operated as "maids-of-all-work" during the war; serving as troop and supply transports, supporting amphibious landings, providing air defence for convoys and disabled ships, participating in shore bombardments, and undertaking hydrographic surveys. Three ships were lost during the war—one to Japanese air attack and two to collisions with friendly merchant ships—while a fourth struck a friendly mine while sweeping the Great Barrier Reef in 1947 and sank.

After the war, the Admiralty ships were sold to the Turkish Navy, Royal Netherlands Navy, and civilian operators, while several RAN-owned vessels were transferred to the Royal New Zealand Navy, temporarily reactivated to facilitate National Service Training, or sold to civilians. Four of the Netherlands Bathursts were sold onward to the Indonesian Navy, one of which was destroyed in 1956 by rebels opposing the 'Guided Democracy' political system. The rest of the RAN and Admiralty ships were sold for scrap to help fund other projects. Two ships of the class are preserved as museum ships.


In February 1938, the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board (ACNB) identified the need for a general purpose 'local defence vessel' (which itself evolved from plans for a training tender attached to the anti-submarine warfare training school at HMAS Rushcutter) that was easy to construct and operate.[1][2] The ships had to be capable of both anti-submarine and mine-warfare duties.[2] The RAN's Director of Engineering, Rear Admiral P. E. McNeil, was instructed in July 1938 to prepare plans for such a ship, with a displacement of approximately 500 tons, a speed of at least 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph), and a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km; 2,300 mi).[3]

In an initially unrelated development, three Bar class boom defence vessels were ordered by the RAN in 1937, but when the requirement was lowered to two ships in early 1938, the third, HMAS Kangaroo, was earmarked for construction as a prototype of the 'local defence vessel'.[3] McNeil completed his drawings in February 1939; his design was for a 680 ton vessel, with a speed of 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph), and a range of 2,850 nautical miles (5,280 km; 3,280 mi).[1] The prototype would have been armed with a 4-inch gun, equipped with asdic, and able to fitted with either depth charges or minesweeping equipment depending on the planned operations.[1] Although closer to a small sloop than a local defence vessel, the increase in size and speed meant the design was more versatile than originally envisioned.[1] Before construction could begin, the number of boom vessels was increased back to three, and Kangaroo was laid down as a boom defence vessel.[4]

HMAS Fremantle

Although the Kangaroo prototype was never built, the design was retained as it had advantages over dedicated British minesweeper and anti-submarine vessels, and with the exception of weapons and specialised instruments, could be built using local resources.[1][5] Although not perfectly suited for any specific role, the all-round general capability for minesweeping, anti-submarine warfare, patrol, and escort duties was seen as a good short-term solution until better vessels could be requisitioned or constructed.[6][7] The design underwent the normal procurement process, and in September 1939, the ACNB approved seven ships of a slightly modified design.[1][5] Additional orders were quickly placed by the RAN, the British Admiralty and the Royal Indian Navy, with 60 ships constructed over the course of World War II; 36 were commissioned into the RAN, 20 were manned by RAN personnel but were paid for by the Admiralty, and 4 were built for the Royal Indian Navy.[6] The ships were officially designated "Australian Minesweepers" (AMS) to hide their intended anti-submarine role, although the Bathursts were popularly referred to as corvettes.[6][8]


Each ship's company varied in size: the standard complement was 85[citation needed], including 6 commissioned and 12 to 13 non-commissioned officers.[9] Over 20,000 personnel served on a Bathurst during the war: the early ships were primarily manned by reservists, while the majority of the 'Hostilities Only' personnel recruited during the war served on a Bathurst class vessel sometime during their career.[6][10] Sailors were accommodated in ten-man messdecks, which were small, poorly-lit rooms that were perpetually damp from seawater and sweat.[9] In anything but calm weather, hatches and portholes would have to be closed: sunlight and fresh air was a rarity inside the hull.[9] Because of the conditions, high rates of sickness (particularly pneumonia and tuberculosis) were experienced.[9] Officers slept in cabins with bunks (as opposed to hammocks), and ate and relaxed in each ship's wardroom, complete with bar and steward service. The difference in conditions between officers and sailors prompted tensions between these two groups.[9]

Six large escort vessels based on a scaled-up version of the Bathurst design were considered for construction in mid-1941, but the design was determined to be inferior to the River class frigate.[11]

Armament and equipment

The most common armament for Bathurst class corvettes was a 12-pounder gun or a 4-inch Mark XIX high-angle gun, three Oerlikon 20 mm cannons, two Lewis .303 machine guns, and two .303 Vickers machine guns.[12][13][14] The corvettes carried up to 40 depth charges, which were deployed by 4 throwers and 2 chutes.[12][13] Many of the 12-pounder carrying corvettes were refitted with the 4-inch during their service life, while one of the Oerlikons was often replaced with a Bofors 40 mm gun.[15] Bathursts equipped with the 4-inch main gun were primarily allocated to northern waters, because of the increased air threat and the greater anti-aircraft capabilities of the 4-inch compared to the 12-pounder gun mounted on other corvettes.[16]

HMAS Cowra's 4-inch Mk XIX gun during a training exercise in 1945

Due to the variety of shipyards constructing the corvettes, as well as the varying roles the Bathursts were pressed into, there was no true standardisation of armament. Some ships varied significantly from the common armament profile, while an individual ship's weapons outfit could vary significantly for different periods of her career.[14] At one stage, HMAS Geraldton carried six Oerlikon cannons, a number later reduced to four.[17] HMAS Junee only carried a single 4-inch gun and a single 40 mm gun, possibly the lightest armament on a Bathurst class corvette.[18]

The Bathursts were equipped with modified Type 128 asdic equipment, redesigned to be used without a gyroscopic stabiliser.[19] Minesweeping equipment also varied across the class: ships equipped with the newer 'LL' minesweeping gear were distributed as evenly as possible throughout major Australian ports.[16]

Each was fitted with a triple expansion steam engines (usually fabricated by railway workshops) to drive two propellers at a theoretical maximum speed of 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph), although this required ideal conditions and was rarely achieved.[20]


Minutes after the launch of HMAS Deloraine, by Morts Dock, dock workers begin preparations to lay down the next vessel.

Construction of the ships required a significant expansion of the Australian shipbuilding industry. This was achieved by bringing disused dockyards back into production and establishing new facilities.[21] The lead shipyard was Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney, which laid down the first ship, HMAS Bathurst, in February 1940, and produced a further seven vessels.[8][22][23] The other seven shipyards involved were Walkers Limited in Maryborough, Queensland (7 ships), Evans Deakin & Co in Brisbane (11 ships), Morts Dock & Engineering Co in Sydney (14 ships), Poole & Steel in Sydney (7 ships), NSW State Dockyard at Newcastle, New South Wales (1 ship), HMA Naval Dockyard at Williamstown, Victoria (8 ships), and Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd at Whyalla, South Australia (4 ships).[23][24] Each ship cost approximately A£250,000 to build.[25]

The initial rate of construction was slow, due to a variety of factors: delays in equipment delivery from overseas, industrial problems, a lack of qualified labour, and the difficulty of naval overseers in supporting all eight shipyards at once primary among them.[1][22] The initial prediction was that two vessels per month would enter service through 1941, but by June 1940, only five of the seventeen ordered so far had been laid down, and the RAN was advised at the end of 1940 that only seven would be completed December 1940.[22] The prioritisation of Admiralty orders by the Australian government meant that RAN-ordered ships were further delayed, although the Admiralty later allowed the first four of their ships to remain in local waters until replacements entered service.[1] Rate of construction increased by late 1941, although the increasing need of shipbuilding resources for repairs as the war progressed slowed the rate of construction back down.[26] The Bathurst class build time was comparable to that of an Essex class aircraft carrier: the fourteen-month construction time for USS Franklin was equal to or faster than the individual build time of half the corvettes.[27]

Three additional Bathursts were to be built for the Royal Indian Navy by Garden Reach of Calcutta.[28] All three were laid down on 3 May 1943, but were cancelled and broken up on the slipways in March 1945.[28] Instead, three Flower class corvettes were transferred from the Royal Navy to India.[28]


The two main purposes the ships were intended for were minesweeping and anti-submarine escort. However, the corvettes found themselves performing a wide range of duties, including troop and supply transport, bombardment, assault landings support, survey and hydrography mapping, and providing aid to disabled ships.[6][29] The Bathursts were seen as 'maids of all work' by the RAN, even though the design was inappropriate for some roles; being too small, too slow, or inadequately armed or equipped.[8] It was not until March 1943 that sufficient ships were available to take the individual variations and capabilities of the Bathursts into account: prior to this, the first (and often only) available vessel.[30]

Because of the dual, conflicting roles of local defence vessel and ocean-going escort, Bathursts based in Australia were under two different controllers for the first part of the Pacific War; operationally under the US Navy's Naval Commander South West Pacific Area Forces (COMSOUWESTPAC), and administratively under the Naval Officer In Charge (NOIC) of the ship's homeport.[31] Following multiple incidents where a ship would be assigned to two different tasks simultaneously; conflicts between local needs, escort schedules, and maintenance requirements; and protests from the NOIC in Fremantle and Darwin, the Australian-based corvettes were placed completely under NOIC control in May 1942.[32] COMSOUWESTPAC would indicate that ships would be needed from a particular port for escort duties, leaving the NOIC of that port free to allocate available ships.[32]

Bathurst class ships were assigned up to three different pennant numbers during the course of their career. With the exception of HMAS Ararat (K34), all of the Bathurst class corvettes were given numbers with the 'J' flag superior, designating them as minesweepers.[33] Ships of the class that served with the British Pacific Fleet, like many other ships serving with the fleet, had their pennant numbers changed to ones with a 'B' flag superior.[33] At the end of World War II, a reorganisation of the pennant system saw the Bathursts given new numbers with 'M' as the flag superior, which was the new designator for minesweepers.[33]

Operational history

World War II

In the early part of their war service, Bathursts were involved in the evacuation of several locations which fell to the initial Japanese advance, and in the transportation of supplies and reinforcements to Australian and Dutch guerrilla operations in Timor.[34] HMAS Armidale was the only ship of the class destroyed by enemy action;[25] she was sunk by torpedoes from Japanese aircraft on the afternoon of 1 December 1942 while transporting personnel of the Netherlands East Indies Army to Betano, Timor.[35]

The Bathursts were involved in several attacks on submarines during the war.[36] On 20 January 1942, Japanese submarine I-124 was sunk outside Darwin.[37] This, the first RAN kill of a full-size submarine, was credited to HMAS Deloraine, with sister ships Katoomba and Lithgow assisting.[37] On 11 September 1943, HMAS Wollongong assisted in the destruction of German submarine U-617.[29] On 11 February 1944, the corvettes Ipswich and Launceston, along with Indian sloop HMIS Jumna, were responsible for the sinking of Japanese submarine RO-110 in the Bay of Bengal.[38]

In early 1943, HMA Ships Benalla and Shepparton were modified to serve as hydrographic survey ships.[36] The corvettes were assigned to Task Group 70.5 of the United States Seventh Fleet, and were used to survey waters prior to several amphibious landings during the war.[36]

Eight corvettes were deployed to the Mediterranean in May 1943.[39] Their anti-aircraft armament made them appropriate for escort duties during the Allied invasion of Sicily.[39] A month later, four Bathursts were part of an eight-ship escort for a 40-strong convoy to Gibraltar when it was attacked by 50 German torpedo bombers; the corvettes' air defence destroyed nine aircraft, and only two merchant ships received damage.[36] During their time in the Mediterranean, several corvettes reached the Atlantic Ocean.[36]

In early 1945, eighteen Bathurst class corvettes were assigned to the British Pacific Fleet.[40] Eight of these ships cleared Victoria Harbour before the BPF arrived in Hong Kong at the end of the Japanese occupation, while three-Ballarat, Cessnock, and Ipswich-were present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed.[36][41]

The poor working and living conditions aboard the ships, combined with the heavy and often difficult workloads, led to mutinous acts aboard four ships during the war: Toowoomba, Lithgow, Geraldton, and Pirie.[42] The incidents in Geraldton and Lithgow were minor and resolved without disciplinary charges, while the 'mutiny' aboard Toowoomba was caused by a lack of communication: after a hard day loading supplies, the sailors did not respond to an order to assemble on the quarterdeck as they felt they had laboured enough that day, but changed their mind when informed that the order to assemble was so the captain could thank them for their efforts, and reward them with drinks.[42] However, the Pirie mutiny was far more serious: the ship's company were unable to respect their commanding officer, who was an ineffective leader but an overly strict disciplinarian with a superiority complex.[43] This lack of respect was compounded while repairs were made to the corvette following an air attack off Oro Bay in April 1943, when the captain forced the rest of the company to live aboard, while he took residence at a hotel.[44] A lack of pay, mail, and shore leave contributed to the sailors' frustration, and in response, 45 junior sailors refused to report for duties on 9 May until they could present their grievances to the commander.[45] Instead, he had the ship surrounded by armed guards and disabled the main gun.[45] A Board of Inquiry failed to identify any ringleaders, and the problem was handed back to Pirie's commander to solve as he saw fit: fourteen men were charged with mutiny, with ten sent to prison.[46] Relationships between commander and company did not improve until he was replaced at the end of 1943 for his botched handling of the event.[47]

Only three Bathurst class corvettes were lost during World War II.[25] Apart from Armidale, the other two ships were lost following collisions with merchant vessels of the United States: HMAS Wallaroo in June 1943, and HMAS Geelong in October 1944.[25]


HMAS Warrnambool sinking after she struck a mine on 13 September 1947

After the war, the 20 Admiralty-owned vessels were disposed of; five to the Turkish Navy, eight to the Royal Netherlands Navy, and one to China, with the rest converted and sold for civilian use or broken up for scrap.[6] Four of the Netherlands Bathursts were later sold on to the Indonesian Navy.[6] One of these, HMAS Ipswich, renamed KRI Hang Tuah, was bombed and sunk on 28 April 1958 by a CIA Douglas B-26 Invader[48] operating in support of Permesta rebels opposed to the Guided Democracy in Indonesia established the previous year.[49]

Of the 33 surviving RAN vessels, twelve were formed into the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla and tasked with clearing minefields deployed during the war in the waters of Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomons.[6] HMAS Warrnambool was sunk by an Australian mine in the Great Barrier Reef in September 1947.[36] Several ships were also used to transport soldiers and liberated prisoners of war.[36] The corvettes were then were placed in operational reserve, with the intention that they be reactivated for escort work in the event of another war or international crisis.[50] Most were sold off during the 1950s, including four to the Royal New Zealand Navy, to help offset the cost of acquiring and operating two aircraft carriers.[51][52] Four corvettes (Colac, Cowra, Gladstone, and Latrobe) were recommissioned in 1951 as training vessels for the National Service Program.[53] The RAN component of the program ended in 1957.[53]

The last ship to leave RAN service was HMAS Wagga on 28 October 1960.[54] The gradual loss of minesweeping-capable ships was not rectified until late 1962, when the RAN purchased six Ton class minesweepers from the Royal Navy.[55]

The 56 corvettes commissioned as Australian vessels travelled a combined total of 6,700,000 nautical miles (12,400,000 km; 7,700,000 mi) during their service with the RAN.[56] A total of 83 personnel were killed in service across the entire service life of the class.[56]


World War II

Surviving examples and monuments

Stained-glass window listing the names of the Bathurst class corvettes serving in the RAN during World War II

Of the 60 vessels, only two examples remain.[57] HMAS Castlemaine is a museum ship in Williamstown, Victoria.[57] HMAS Whyalla is a land-based tourist attraction in Whyalla, South Australia.[57]

A monument to the 56 Australian-operated corvettes is located at the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre, at Garden Island, Sydney. The monument, Corvettes, was unveiled by Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair on 12 November 1995.[56] Also at Garden Island, Sydney, a stained glass window listing the names of the corvettes frames the upper balcony doors of the Naval Chapel.[58]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 The Australian Corvettes, p. 1
  2. 2.0 2.1 Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 103
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, pp. 103–104
  4. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 104
  5. 5.0 5.1 Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 105
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Donohue, From Empire Defence to the Long Haul, p. 29
  7. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 148
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 108
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Frame & Baker, Mutiny!, p. 165
  10. Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p 115
  11. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, .p 166
  12. 12.0 12.1 HMAS Goulburn – HMA Ship Histories
  13. 13.0 13.1 HMAS Glenelg – HMA Ship Histories
  14. 14.0 14.1 Lind, The Royal Australian Navy – Historical Naval Events Year by Year, p. 173
  15. HMAS Gympie – HMA Ship Histories
  16. 16.0 16.1 Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 228
  17. HMAS Geraldton (I) – HMA Ship Histories
  18. HMAS Junee – HMA Ship Histories
  19. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, pp 154–155
  20. Frame & Baker, Mutiny!, p. 164
  21. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry, p. 455
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 152
  23. 23.0 23.1 Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry, p. 457
  24. Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945, p. 104
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, opp. p. 112
  26. Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, pgs. 121, 132
  27. Colebatch, The enemy within that killed Curtin
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Lenton,British and Empire Warships of the Second World War, p. 258
  29. 29.0 29.1 Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian military history, p. 78
  30. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p 227
  31. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 188
  32. 32.0 32.1 Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 189
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 Lind, The Royal Australian Navy – Historic Naval Events Year by Year, p 315
  34. Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, pp. 129–30
  35. HMAS Armidale (I) – HMA Ship Histories
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 36.4 36.5 36.6 36.7 The Australian Corvettes, p. 2
  37. 37.0 37.1 Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 183
  38. Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 148
  39. 39.0 39.1 Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 141
  40. Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian military history, p. 113
  41. Allied Ships Present in Tokyo Bay During the Surrender Ceremony, 2 September 1945
  42. 42.0 42.1 Frame & Baker, Mutiny!, p. 161
  43. Frame & Baker, Mutiny!, pp. 164–7
  44. Frame & Baker, Mutiny! p. 171
  45. 45.0 45.1 Frame & Baker, Mutiny! p. 173
  46. Frame & Baker, Mutiny! pp. 179–80
  47. Frame & Baker, Mutiny! pp. 182–4
  48. Conboy & Morrison 1999, p. 116.
  49. Lind 1986, p. 236.
  50. Stevens et al, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 162
  51. Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, pp. 169–70
  52. HMAS Inverell (I) – HMA Ship Histories
  53. 53.0 53.1 Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 172
  54. HMAS Wagga – HMA Ship Histories
  55. Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 189
  56. 56.0 56.1 56.2 Information plaque, Corvettes memorial, Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre
  57. Nesdale, The Corvettes, p. vii


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