Waterhen file photo [8052]


Ship ClassV and W-class Destroyer
BuilderPalmers Shipbuilding Co Ltd, Hebburn-on-Tyne, England, United Kingdom
Laid Down3 Jul 1917
Launched23 Mar 1918
Commissioned17 Jul 1918
Sunk30 Jun 1941
Displacement1,100 tons standard
Length312 feet
Beam30 feet
Draft10 feet
Machinery3 Yarrow type Water-tube boilers, Parsons geared turbines, 2 shafts
Power Output27,000 SHP
Speed34 knots
Armament4x102mm QF 4in Mk V guns, 1x40mm QF 2-pdr Mk II guns, 2x3x21in torpedo tubes
Transferred to RAN11 Oct 1933
Recommissioned by RAN for WW21 Sep 1939


ww2dbaseHMAS Waterhen was part of the Scrap Iron Flotilla, she had been given the nick"name "The Chook" by the seamen of the RAN. She departed Mersa Matruh on the afternoon of 29 June 1941 on her thirteenth run between Mersa Matruh and Tobruk, with a British destroyer from the 20th Destroyer Division, HMS Defender. Chook's thirteenth run of this particular section of the Tobruk Ferry service was to have attached to it all the misfortune superstitious men believe to follow that number. Her motto was "Always Ready", but was she ready for disaster? She embarked approximately seventy troops and fifty tons of stores at Mersa Matruh, Defender was similarly loaded. Waterhen's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Swain, ordered the Chook's crew to observe normal precautions for putting to sea upon departing. The asdic sweeps were searching for marauding submarines, lookouts were posted to scan the skies, as both senior commanders aboard these ships were wary of facing Axis opposition to any run of the Tobruk Ferry service. Despite the precautions, this would be the Chook's last run on the Tobruk Ferry. On 29 June, when the ships were off Sollum, a squadron of fifteen Stukas were spotted flying in formation in the direction of the destroyers. Two groups of five dive bombers broke off from their formation to pounce upon the ships at 1945 (7:45pm). Jericho trumpets screaming a song of terror, the German aircraft dived upon their prey, as the warship's guns barked in defiance of the intruders, but they could do little else but wait to see the damaged caused by the planes' deadly payload. The first bomb dropped in this encounter was aimed at Defender, however it missed, causing no damage to its intended target. The bombs aimed at Waterhen likewise missed, but the cluster of bombs exploded in the water, damaging and jolting the Chook, she began listing to port, and the officers inspected the death and damage aboard the Chook. The stores Waterhen had been carrying to Tobruk had been jolted from their place of rest and now haphazardly painted the inside of the hull. Only one fatality was accounted for among Waterhen's crew in the ordeal so far, a naval rating had been struck by a can of peaches that the violent seizures that had shook the ship after the nearby explosion had transformed into a dangerous missile. Lieutenant-Commander Swain ordered the crew to abandon ship. Defender picked up survivors of the Chook's crew and the troops Waterhen was carrying, and moved away from the sinking ship. Defender's captain spent a few moments of soul-searching considering if the sinking Waterhen might be towed to port, and her hull spared. However, it was evident that Waterhen was lost, and on 30 June the Chook was consigned beneath the waves. Her captain, true to the old adage of a leader showing bravery in poor circumstances, went down with the ship. After firing a few shells at an enemy submarine observing Waterhen's watery grave, Defender set a course for Alexandria, dropping off the survivors from Waterhen that the British destroyer had picked up. Andrew Cunningham reported to the Admiralty that HMAS Waterhen had been paid off from that day. Three weeks later, the destroyer's loss was first reported in Australian newspapers. She was the first RAN ship to be sunk by enemy action during the Second World War. This was not the only time during her service during her service in the Mediterranean where Waterhen faced aerial attack, there were other attacks previously that did not result in mortal wounds to the ship. Waterhen and Vendetta were targeted by dive bombers in Tobruk harbour on 14 April 1941, but neither ship was damaged. As the ships of the Scrap Iron Flotilla were on loan from the Royal Navy, the RAN faced the unforeseen consequences of the loss of a vessel on loan during a war. HMAS Waterhen was not the only Australian ship lost during the Tobruk Ferry, on 27 November 1941 the RAN sloop, HMAS Parramatta, was sunk by U-559 off Tobruk.

ww2dbaseSources: Wikipedia, L. J. Lind & A. Payne, Scrap Iron Destroyers: The Story of HMA Ships Stuart, Waterhen, Vampire, Vendetta, and Voyager, Royal Australian Navy.

Last Major Revision: May 2009

Waterhen Operational Timeline

17 Jul 1918 Waterhen was commissioned into service.
26 Dec 1940 Australian destroyer HMAS Waterhen stopped Italian schooner Tireremo Diritto in the Mediterranean Sea between Bardia and Tobruk, Libya. After removing the crew, Waterhen sank Tireremo Diritto.
30 Dec 1940 HMAS Waterhen entered Port Taufiq on the Suez Canal in Egypt for repairs, which would be completed in Jan 1941.


Destroyer HMAS Waterhen, date unknown

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. David Ellis says:
21 May 2021 07:04:28 AM

My father was a midshipman in Waterhen. There were no casualties and the captain did not go down with his ship. I have his written account of the sinking.

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Destroyer HMAS Waterhen, date unknown

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