Armidale file photo [7729]


Ship ClassBathurst-class Corvette
BuilderMort's Dock and Engineering Co, Sydney, Australia
Laid Down1 Sep 1941
Launched24 Jan 1942
Commissioned11 Jun 1942
Decommissioned1 Dec 1942
Displacement650 tons standard
Length186 feet
Beam31 feet
Draft8 feet
MachineryTriple expansion engine, 2 shafts
Power Output2,000 shaft horsepower
Speed15 knots
Armament1x4in guns, 3x20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, depth charge chutes and throwers


ww2dbaseThe island of Timor, situated 580 kilometres from Darwin, holds a strategic position whose possession could arguably make an invasion of Australia's northern areas possible. When Japan began her expansion into South East Asia, the Australian government was wary of the Japanese gaining influence in Timor. The island was divided into eastern and western halves: Potuguese and Dutch spheres of influence respectively. The Dutch portion was considered part of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) and was defended by a large native NEI army led by Dutch officers so was considered secure, whereas the Portuguese half of the island was defended by a small garrison army with no Portuguese navy operating in South East Asia so was not considered secure. As Japanese business interests increased in Portuguese Timor Australia asked Britain to propose a plan to Portugal to defend Portuguese Timor with Australian, Dutch and Portuguese troops. Portugal prevaricated, saying they could not agree to such a scheme until Timor had been invaded. The reason for the delay was that Japan had offered Portugal an air service between Tokyo and Dili, the capital of Portuguese Timor. Alarmed, the Australian government decided to make a secret move towards their proposed plan to secure Portuguese Timor. When the Netherlands requested assistance from Australia for various islands in the NEI, including Timor, Australia sent the 2/40 Battalion, dubbed Sparrow Force, to Koepang, the capital of Dutch Timor. The Australian Army attached the 2/2 Independant Battalion, which had been earmarked for operations in Portuguese Timor, to Sparrow Force. After the 2/2 Independant Company had entered Portuguese Timor, the Japanese bombed Koepang and Dili on 20 February, then landed assault troops near each capital on 23 February. The 2/40 Battalion resisted the Japanese in Dutch Timor until it became obvious that resistance was futile, then they surrendered and were interned in a POW camp. The Japanese established a large air base at Koepang. Meanwhile the 2/2 Independant Battalion commenced guerrilla operations against the Japanese in Portuguese Timor, making this small band of men the only Australians successfully overtly struggling against the Japanese on land in South East Asia by this stage. Japan tried almost everything to stop their defiance: from encouraging the Timorese natives to oppose the Australians, to enticing Portugal to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on Britain so they might convince Australia to be reasonable, finally fielding an army significantly larger than the proportion necessary to obliterate a force the size of the 2/2 Independant Company. Japan discussed a proposal, to withdraw Japanese troops from Portuguese Timor if the Australians reported for internment in Dutch Timor, to the British dominion secretary, Clement Atlee. He presented the proposal to the Australian government on 9 June 1942, it was refused on the grounds that the fighting was much too important, both to the Timorese and Australia's war effort. Around this time the Australian unit began losing strength, dwindling in numbers, and losing ground, so senior Army officers in Melbourne began arguing for the supply and relief of the 2/2, and its replacement with the 2/4. With the Japanese fighters operating out of an air base at Koepang, this could not be done from the air. The Japanese had air supremacy over the Timor Sea. These tasks became the responsibility of the navy, who began a ferry service between Darwin and Timor on 27 May, within the RAN the service was referred to as "Operation Hamburger". The command of the stretch of sea between Darwin and Timor was the responsibility of the Officer-in-Charge, Darwin, Commodore Cuthbert J Pope, RAN, who saw that the resources provided for the task was limited. After the first Japanese raid on Darwin on 19 February there were few remaining Australian warships to undertake the task. There were remaining in Darwin harbour three ships large enough to carry all troops and equipment in one trip: the aging depot ship HMAS Platypus; and two four hundred ton minesweepers, Tolga and Terka. All were unarmed, and so slow that the final approach would not be under the cover of darkness, enabling the Japanese pilots in the dangerous skies above the Timor Sea a clear view of the ships. To avoid daylight all the way to Timor, Pope employed the fast, tiny fisheries protection vessels, Kuru and Vigilant, which could make the run to Betano Bay on the east coast of Portuguese Timor. Kuru and Vigilant, however, had such small holds that they needed multiple trips, and were attacked for seven hours straight. In response, Pope requested a larger ship that was faster than the large ships Darwin currently had. The RAN sent HMAS Voyager from Freemantle for Pope's use on the Timor run. This old destroyer was not at all unfamiliar with dangerous missions to help the army, in 1940-1941 it served with the Scrap Iron Flotilla in the Mediterranean, participating in the Tobruk Ferry. In September 1942 the 2/4 Independant Company travelled to Darwin to board HMAS Voyager. Voyager, being navigated by a RAN reservist officer that had guided Kuru to the tiny bay on the east coast of Portugese Timor, sped to Betano Bay in occupied Timor, as she was disembarking the 2/4 Independant Company on land, Voyager ran aground on 23 September. Operation Hamburger, however, was far from complete, there were still NEI troops that needed to be ferried to Timor, and injured AIF soldiers and Portuguese returned to Darwin. Commodore Pope's remaining resources included a number of Bathurst class corvettes. The Bathurst class was originally designed for mine sweeping duties, and as an escort for convoys along the Australian coastline. The Bathurst class were to be the focus of an Australian construction program based on a decision by the Naval Board in 1939. Sixty were manufactured in Australia, thirty-six of which were sold to the Royal Navy, four were sold to the Indian Navy, and the remaining twenty retained by the RAN for use around Australia. Problem was that in a corvette a trip between Darwin and Timor would take 24 hours, many corvettes would be needed to ferry men both ways, increasing the risk that one would be attacked by Japanese pilots. One of these corvettes was the HMAS Armidale. The Armidale escorted a convoy from Sydney to Port Moresby in October 1942, then travelled to Darwin to join the 24th Minesweeping Flotilla, which was operating out of Darwin. On 29 November Armidale left Darwin for her first run of the service. On 1 December 1942 the HMAS Armidale was attacked by thirteen Japanese planes off the coast of Timor, as his fellow sailors scrambled for the liferaft, Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean committed an act of self-sacrifice that was far from ordinary, he strapped himself to his Oerlikon gun and maintained his position under fire long enough for his mates to get away. Over fifty years later, the RAN named its fifth Collins class submarine the HMAS Sheean in recognition of this selfless act, it is the first RAN ship named after a naval rating.

ww2dbaseSources: F. B. Walker, HMAS ARMIDALE: The Ship that Had to Die, Australian War Memorial, D. Stevens (ed.), The Royal Australian Navy in World War II, Wikipedia, Royal Australian Navy.

Last Major Revision: Apr 2009


Australian corvette HMAS Armidale in Port Moresby harbor, New Guinea, Sep 1942

Armidale Operational Timeline

11 Jun 1942 Armidale was commissioned into service.
1 Dec 1942 Armidale was decommissioned from service.

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Australian corvette HMAS Armidale in Port Moresby harbor, New Guinea, Sep 1942

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