Three separate ships: a Town class light cruiser, a Majestic class aircraft carrier – known as the cursed ship due to two collisions with other ships – and currently an Adelaide class frigate. Motto: VIRES ACQUIRIT EUNDO - She Gathers Strength As She Goes.
The first HMAS Melbourne
was launched in 1912. She served in World War I
, and in 1917 was fitted with a revolving aeroplane platform
. She was present at the surrender of the German
fleet in 1918, and spent the remainder of her service as the Australian flagship
. She was disarmed and decommissioned
in 1929, and returned to England
The second HMAS Melbourne was commissioned as HMS Majestic for the Royal Navy. She was purchased by the Royal Australian Navy in 1955, and underwent modifications to allow the use of jet aircraft. She operated jet fighters; anti submarine aircraft and helicopters, before being re-equipped with tracker patrol aircraft and fighter bombers in 1967.
She underwent major refitting in 1967, 1970 and 1975. She was involved in relief operations off Darwin, Australia in 1974 after the devastation of Cyclone Tracy. Melbourne was decommissioned in 1982. She was sold to China, and was broken up in 1985. She was the longest serving flagship of the R.A.N, and the ship involved in both the disasters detailed below.
The current HMAS Melbourne is an Adelaide class (Oliver Hazard Perry class) guided missile frigate. Launched in 1989 and commissioned in 1992, she is capable of carrying two helicopters, and along with her sister ships was the first R.A.N. ship to be powered by gas turbines.
HMAS Voyager tragedy:
On the 10th of February 1964 HMAS Melbourne collided with the Daring class destroyer HMAS Voyager off the south east coast of Australia, cutting Voyager in half. She was lost with 82 crew members – the R.A.N.’s worst peacetime tragedy.
Melbourne and Voyager had been involved in night flying exercises 20 miles south east of Jervis Bay in New South Wales. Jervis Bay is the major town near HMAS Cresswell, a training base. HMAS Voyager was acting as “guard ship” – involving the rescue, if necessary, of aircrew personnel.
The exact events leading up to the disaster will probably never be known. At around 2056 hours, the ships were travelling in the same direction, and were to execute a turn. HMAS Voyager turned across the bow of HMAS Melbourne, which failed to also turn. Melbourne struck Voyager midships, cutting her in two. Her forward section sank almost immediately, the aft section some time later.
Of the 82 people who died, 14 were officers (including the commanding officer: Capt Duncan Stevens, and some midshipmen newly graduated from HMAS Cresswell), 67 were sailors, and one a civilian dockhand. 232 crewmembers survived the accident. HMAS Melbourne and her commanding officer were exonerated from all blame. Crew members of HMAS Melbourne at the time are still seeking compensation, although all compensation claims for crew of the Voyager have been resolved. HMAS Melbourne suffered fairly extensive bow damage, but no loss of life.
USS Frank E. Evans tragedy:
On the 3rd June, 1969, during exercises in the South China Sea, Melbourne collided with the Sumner class destroyer USS Frank E. Evans in the early hours of the morning. The event was extremely similar to the previous HMAS Voyager disaster – the two ships were travelling close together at night, performing tight manoeuvres, the Frank E. Evans acting as guard ship to pick up any accidentally ditched crew or aircraft. The destroyer turned across the bow of Melbourne, and was cut in two. The bow section sank, and the stern section was later sunk in target practice. 74 people lost their lives, all from the destroyer.
The commanding officer of HMAS Melbourne was cleared of any blame, and though he faced a court martial, was honourably acquitted. The crew of the Melbourne were recognised by the US government for their valiant rescue attempts. Again, HMAS Melbourne suffered little damage.
Statistics for HMAS Melbourne I, II and III:
HMAS Melbourne I
Builder: Cammell Laird and Co Ltd.
Displacement: 5,600 tons
Length: 430 feet
Beam: 49 feet 10 inches
Armament: 8 x 6inch 50 calibre guns
1 x 13 pdr. gun
4 x 3 pdr. guns
4 x machines guns
2 x torpedo tubes ( 7 torpedoes carried)
Machinery: Parsons Turbines
Speed: 24.75 knots
Ships Company: 376 officers and crew
HMAS Melbourne II
Builder: Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd.,Barrow-in-Furness, England
Displacement (tons): 16,000 standard, 20,000 full load
Length: 701.5 feet
Beam: 80 feet
Armament: 25 x 40 mm (later 12 x 40 mm)
Machinery: Parsons geared turbines
Speed: 24 knots
Ships Company: 1,355 officers and crew
HMAS Melbourne III
Builder: Transfield Shipbuilding Pty Ltd,Williamstown Victoria
Displacement: 4,100 tonnes
Length: 138 metres
Beam: 14.3 metres
Armament: Harpoon anti-ship missiles
Standard anti-air missiles
Mk 92 fire control system
One 76 mm Mk 75 gun
One 20 mm Phalanx Mk 15 close-in weapon system
Two Mk 32 triple anti-submarine torpedo tubes
Machinery: Two General Electric LM2500 gas turbines
Speed: 30 knots
Ships Company: 184 officers and crew
Books about the two Melbourne tragedies include:
“In The Wake: The True Story of the Melbourne-Evans Collision, Conspiracy and Cover-up” by Jo Stevenson
“Where Fate Calls – the HMAS Voyager tragedy” by Tom Frame.