Stalwart (II) was the second Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ship to carry the name. The first was an ‘S’ class destroyer of 905 tons armed with 3 x 4-inch guns and 4 x 21-inch torpedo tubes. Stalwart (I) and four sister ships were transferred from the Royal Navy in June 1919, spending the majority of their RAN service life in port and on the east coast of Australia. Stalwart (I) paid off into the Reserve on 1 December 1925 and was sold to Penguins Ltd of Sydney for breaking up.
Stalwart‘s career in brief
Stalwart‘s keel was laid at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, on 23 June 1964. The then Minister for the Navy, Mr Chaney, stated that the Escort Maintenance Ship would be of particular importance to the Royal Australian Navy because it would greatly increase the Navy’s self-sufficiency and its scope for ‘afloat support’. It would enable warships to operate for long periods away from their homeports. For this purpose Stalwart was fitted as a mobile base facility allowing vessels coming alongside to ‘shut-down’ and have repairs carried out as in a shore base. Stalwart was able to supply such essentials as fresh water, steam, electricity and telephone services.
Stalwart was the largest naval vessel wholly designed and built in Australia. With CAPT G.V. Gladstone, DSC*, RAN as her first commanding officer, she was commissioned into service in a traditional ceremony at Garden Island Dockyard (GID) on 9 February 1968.
After trials and a working up period, Stalwart commenced duty as a maintenance ship in March 1968. Since then she has served in Australian and Far Eastern waters as well as Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. Later in her career she served as Fleet flagship and as a training ship.
Highlights of Stalwart‘s career include a deployment to Darwin in January 1975 as part of the Navy’s contribution to relief efforts in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy. She was present at the celebrations to mark the granting of independence to Papua New Guinea in September 1975. Stalwart was again involved in disaster relief in June 1986, on this occasion in Honiara; and in September 1986 she hosted a Cabinet meeting at sea.
Stalwart also took part in two precautionary deployments in the South Pacific following the outbreak of civil disturbances in Fiji in May 1987 and Vanuatu in May 1988.
Stalwart was decommissioned on 9 March 1990. It is interesting to note that her first commanding officer, Rear Admiral Gladstone AO, DSC*, RAN (Rtd), was also present at the ship’s decommissioning on 9 March 1990.
Equipped for her maintenance role
As designed, Stalwart‘s engineering, electrical, weapons, shipwright and other workshops equipped her to maintain up to four destroyers or frigates simultaneously. She was fitted with five three-ton and one six-ton FAVCO cranes for lifting heavy machinery parts and stores over the ship’s side and into heavy-duty automatic lifts which provided access to storerooms and workshops. Stalwart was designed with wide passageways to allow the flow of equipment and stores. A number of battery-powered trolleys were used to transport heavy equipment around the ship. Being a Sydney-based ship, her main thoroughfare was named George Street.
Five diesel generators provided power to operate cranes, lifts, workshop equipment and domestic requirements. In addition to her own needs, Stalwart was also able to produce power for ships refitting alongside. Her hatches and watertight doors were electro-hydraulically operated, and could be controlled from the bridge. A fully-automatic telephone exchange was fitted for her own needs and also for ships alongside.
Stalwart‘s evaporators were capable of producing up to 350 tons of condensed fresh water from the sea each day; and a steam boiler was fitted to provide steam for the evaporators, domestic use and for ships alongside.
Boats were seen as essential to enable the ship to carry out her role, particularly when away from her home port. Stalwart carried four 40-ft, 40-man powerboats, two 26-ft utility boats, a 26-ft sea boat, and a diving boat.
Stalwart‘s flight deck was capable of operating every type of helicopter used by the RAN.
Stalwart was fully air-conditioned and designed to enable a high standard of living and sleeping accommodation. She was equipped with a modern galley, chapel, classroom, laundry and gymnasium, plus excellent medical facilities. The sickbay area included a waiting room, examination room, dental surgery, dispensary, doctor’s office, two wards, and a fully equipped operating theatre.
Stalwart‘s ship’s company included the various specialists in the numerous RAN trades and professions. In fact more than 75% of her complement were engaged in repair and maintenance tasks.
Because Stalwart spent much of her time secured to the EMS mooring at Garden Island Dockyard in her maintenance role, she was, for a period, derisively referred to within the RAN as Building 215 – in reference to her pennant number. Later she was used to her full potential when she assumed the role of RAN flagship following the decomissioning of HMAS Melbourne (II).