EPISODES OF WWII: Corvette HMAS KALGOORLIE – Photo Derek Simon [1919-2004] courtesy Graeme Andrews.

EPISODES OF WWII: Corvette HMAS KALGOORLIE – Photo Derek Simon [1919-2004] courtesy Graeme Andrews.
4th of july crafts
Image by Kookaburra2011
4368. Built by Broken Hill Pty Co. at Whyalla, SA, and commissioned on April 7, 1942, HMAS KALGOORLIE’s first role was as an anti-submarine escort on Australia’s east coast. And a busy role it was.

On June 5 that year – five days after the midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour – KALGOORLIE [LCDR H.A. Litchfield RANR] was rushed to the assistance of S.S. Echunga, which was being chased on the surface off Wollongong by the big Japanese motherboat submarine 1-24, one of five Japanese submarines gathered 30 nautical miles [56km] off Sydney waiting in vain for the return of the three 46-ton midget craft involved in the Harbour raid.

After the chase, HMAS KALGOORLIE escorted the alarmed merchantman into the steel port, Port Kembla, south of Sydney.

With all the sensation caused by the Sydney Harbour raid on May 31-June 1, it is now somewhat forgotten how dramatically activity was increased off Sydney as the three motherboats and two fleet submarines with floatplanes – respectively motgherboats I-22, I-24 AND 1-27, and I-21 and I-29 – turned to commerce raiding, and seeking to instil a sense of public panic in Eastern Australia by shelling areas of both Sydney and Newcastle.

They seem to have gone about their raiding with a complete contempt for Australian defences – or perhaps that was the psychologically message they were seeking to convey. In the early hours of May 30, before the raid, 1-21 had sent her float plane over Sydney with her navigation lights burning, and circling the Harbour twice as she attempted to identify targets [and reported USS CHICAGO as a battleship]. Another floatplane flight is believed to have been made over Newcastle that night [and there had been earlier float plane reconnaissance flights from Japanese submarines over Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart in March – and Wellington and Auckland in NZ soon after, and yet another over Sydney on May 23].

On 4 June, just south of Gabo Island, a Japanese submarine – believed to have been 1-24 – attacked and damaged the steamer BARWON with torpedo and gunfire, but she managed to make port. In the late afternoon on the same day, the coke and ore carrier IRON CROWN was torpedoed in the same area and sank immediately, losing 37 men from a crew of 42. Again 1-24 was thought to be responsible.

Following these incidents, in the early hours of June 8, the 1-24 randomly fired ten 5.5-inch shells into the southern suburbs of Sydney over a five minute period, but with totally neglible results. Only one shell exploded, in Bellevue Hill, and a grocery was superficially damaged.

Around the same, about 2 a.m., the submarine 1-21 [Captain Kanji Matsumura] surfaced about nine miles off Newcastle and fired thirty four 5.5 inch shells ashore over 20 minutes attempting to damage the industrial city’s shipyards. Again only one shell exploded, and while some buildings and houses were modestly damaged the result were also neglible. The submarine submerged when Fort Scratchley fired four rounds in reply.

Two nights later a submarine surfaced and fired on the coastal freighter AGE heading into Newcastle without results and an hour and a half later the bulk carrier IRON CHIEFTAIN was torpedoed and sunk in the same area, 43 kilometres north easty of Sydney, with the loss of 12 lives,, uincluding the ship’s Master.

In the two months after the midget submarine attack on Sydney, 14 Allied merchant ships were attacked off the coast, with six being sunk, with 60 seamen’s lives and 29,000 tons of shipping lost. While the attacks closed ports and disrupted the efficiency of Australian shipping – forcing the introduction of a cumbersome convoy system, and the diversion of forces to protect them, the immediate results were poor for the weight of forces deployed, and the Harbour raid itself – sinking only the barracks ferry KUTTABUL – was a failure.

The Japanese submarine campaign off Australia’s East coast would continue, however, until July 1943, with the last penetrations being a reconnaissance patrol off north western Australia in late 1944. A total of 54 Japanese and German submarines entered Australian waters during WWII, sinking 30 ships for a total of 151,000 tons. Among the last attacks was the sinking of the 7180 ton U.S. Liberty ship Robert J. Walker off NSW about 165 miles south east of Sydney, off Montague island, on Christmas Eve 1944, by U- 862 . It was the only sinking by a German submarine attack in the Pacific theatre.

The well-armed liberty ship had attempted to defend itseldf with gunfire and smoke floats, exploding one of the five torpedoes fired at it in the water by 20mm gunfire. The ROBERT J. WALKER lost two crew, with 69 survivors picked up from two lifeboats and rafts by the destroyer HMAS QUICKMATCH.

All of which has taken us rather far from HMAS KALGOORLIE, the ship in the photo, which was involved in the east coast anti-submarine campaign, and had also been involved in operations out of Darwin to occupied Timor, supporting Australian and Dutch forces. We’re not sure where or when Derek Simon has taken the photo above, but probably in those northern waters.

Photo: Derek Simon [1919-2004], courtesy Graeme K. Andrews [RAN 1955-1968, RANR 1980].