The decision to acquire a new generation of frigates was announced in August 1950. The six new anti-submarine frigates were to be a modified version of the Royal Navy’s Type ’12’ Rothesay Class frigates, but with improvements in habitability to meet specific Royal Australian Navy (RAN) needs.
In the event only four hulls were finally approved, with an armament of one twin 4.5 inch turret, one twin 40 mm Bofors Mk 5, two Limbo anti-submarine mortars and twelve 21-inch torpedo tubes. The ships also introduced a number of new capabilities, including a hull-mounted medium range sonar, and in the case of Derwent and Stuart, a Type 199 variable depth sonar that could be lowered below the surface temperature layer.
The 4.5 inch twin turret was designed as dual purpose, having both anti-surface and anti-aircraft capabilities. A crew of six was carried in the turret for loading and operation, and a further 18 below for supply of shell and cordite from the magazines to the gun bay and up to the turret.
Derwent, with her consort, Stuart, were the second pair of Type 12’s to be ordered in 1958, but to a slightly modified design. Both ships featured a flushed hull on the portside aft, to accommodate a control room and deck space for their variable depth sonar. From Navy News, dated May 15 1964, “Derwent also is prepared for atomic warfare and has a ‘wetting-down’ device to cope with nuclear fall-out. An elaborately equipped operations room is the hub of the frigate. The ship can be controlled from this compartment, where a mass of dials and screens gives the Commanding Officer all available technical information.”
The second of three Type 12 anti-submarine frigates to be built at Williamstown, Derwent was launched on 17 April 1961. “I name this ship, Derwent, I congratulate all those who have so faithfully and skillfully constructed her. May she be a valuable addition to the Royal Australian Navy, and may God’s protecting care be over all who sail in her.” With these words by Lady Burrell, wife of the First Member of the Naval Board, Admiral Burrell, Derwent was officially named and launched. She was the fourth warship to bear the name, with the previous three having served in the Royal Navy.
The pennant number of HMAS Derwent was initially F22 on commissioning in April 1964. This was later briefly changed to DE22, with the prefix standing for Destroyer Escort, before reverting back to F22. On 1 January 1969, the Royal Australian Navy adopted the numbering practice used by the US, Canadian and Pakistan Navies, removing the pennant number letter prefix from its ships’ hulls. Derwent’s pennant number thus became 49.
On 23 April 1964, at Williamstown Naval Dockyard, Melbourne, Derwent was officially accepted by the Minister for the Navy, Mr Chaney. Following inspections and trials, Derwent was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy on 30 April 1964 in the time-honoured way: a parade of the ship’s company, inspection of the Guard of Honour, prayers, the reading of the Commissioning Warrant by the ship’s Commanding Officer, CMDR RC Swan, and the marching aboard of the ship’s company.
She was named after the Derwent River in Tasmania, and was the first RAN ship to be equipped with an operational guided missile system, the Seacat, which would provide a capability out to 5000 yards. The Navy News reporter at the time was obviously impressed by the technology involved. The 29 May 1964 edition carried the following information about Derwent’s missile system:
“The Seacat guided missile supplied to the Royal Australian Navy as part of Australia’s modernization programme, provides the RAN with one of the most effective close range ant-aircraft systems yet envisaged.
A small and highly manoeuvrable weapon, “Seacat” is designed to be instantly ready to repel attack by hostile aircraft which may evade a naval unit’s outer defensive fighters and long range guided weapons.
Power is provided by a solid fuel motor and the large warhead carries both contact and proximity fuses. The missile can be used in a purely visual guidance system or can be integrated with a blind fire director.
The system to be installed in the RAN frigates will consist of a visual director and a launcher, mounted on deck, and a fire director room containing a launcher control console and a guidance transmitter.
The director is manned by a control officer and an aimer. The former receives the target bearing on his pan from the ship’s warning radar. He maneouvres the director onto the bearing indicated, and the aimer picks up the target in his binoculars.
Movements of the binoculars are transmitted electrically to the launcher control console. The missile is then fired into the aimer’s field of vision and he guides it to the target by joy-stick control, stick movements being processed by the guidance transmitter and passed on to the missile in flight by an aerial mounted on the launcher.
The launcher carries four missiles grouped round the transmitting aerial. It automatically aligns itself to the correct bearing and elevation received from the control console… A launcher can be completely reloaded in less than three minutes.”
In May 1964, Derwent sailed from Melbourne to the Sydney exercise areas in May 1964 to conduct missile firings. On 25 May she became the first RAN ship to fire her Seacat guided missile, successfully shooting down a Pilotless Plane Target, the propeller of which was retained by the ship as a trophy.
The ship’s program for the remainder of the year included shakedown, work-up and trials in the East Australian Exercise areas (EAXA), plus visits to Brisbane, Sydney and Hobart.
In December 1964, Derwent sailed on a three-month South-East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) deployment. SEATO had been established under the auspices of the 1954 Manila Pact between Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the USA, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, and France. It was intended to be a vehicle for collective defence, in the same way as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO. The regular involvement of Australian warships such as Derwent in large multinational exercises provided the RAN with a high operational tempo and valuable experience it would have otherwise lacked.
In the early 1960s the new nation of Malaysia was proclaimed. Indonesia strongly opposed this and embarked on a policy of ‘confrontation’. The Australian government made plain its resolve that if Malaysia was subjected to invasion or subversive activity, then Australian military assistance would be added to that of Britain to defend Malaysia. Consequently, Royal Australian Navy (RAN) warships in the Strategic Reserve based in Singapore were made available for naval patrol and escort operations to counter possible Indonesian attacks.
During her first SEATO deployment, Derwent spent Christmas at anchor off Tawau, Sabah, acting as Guardship. The main task of the Guardship was to provide naval gunfire support as required, as a deterrent to Indonesian activities.
After spending a somewhat lonely Christmas at anchor as Tawau Guardship, Derwent continued her deployment with a port visit to Bangkok. A Navy News article of the day reports the ship’s company’s astonishment at the cost of a beer – eight shillings!
Derwent’s first deployment was busy. She spent a considerable amount of time working with Britain’s largest aircraft carrier, HMS Eagle, took part in FOTEX, an international exercise with four aircraft carriers and forty other warships. This was followed by Exercise SHOWPIECE 65, which demonstrated the striking power of combined Far East Forces to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, who was embarked in Eagle, and to send an unambiguous message to Indonesia on Commonwealth capabilities.
Derwent returned to Sydney on 24 April, and undertook pre-refit trials in the local exercise areas. CMDR JD Stevens assumed command from CMDR Swan on 3 May 1965. On 3 May, Derwent commenced a six month refit at Williamstown Dockyard, which included the fitting of the new Australian-designed and built Ikara anti-submarine missile system. Ikara was a rocket-propelled guided missile which carried a homing torpedo towards its intended submarine target. At an appropriate range, the torpedo was dropped into the water by parachute at which time it acoustically homed in on the target.
Derwent commenced the year with trials and work-ups in the Sydney/Jervis Bay area, followed by a visit to Tasmania in February. In mid-February, in company with the destroyer, Vampire, Derwent embarked on a six month tour of duty as part of the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve, under the Australian Government’s military commitment to its policy of ‘forward defence’ and regional security and stability.
During this deployment, Derwent undertook patrols in the Singapore and Malacca Straits, as part of the naval force deterring incursions by Indonesian warships, and preventing movement by armed parties of Indonesians in local trading boats. Patrolling against potential infiltrators was characterized by long periods of tedious routine, punctuated by moments of high activity and occasional hazard. However, by providing military assistance in this conflict, with its uncertain, provocative and constantly changing threat environment, the RAN in general, and ship’s companies of participating ships gained valuable skills and experience.
During March 1966, Derwent was again assigned the duty of Tawau guardship. Her Commanding Officer reported that “because firepower in the Tawau area is limited it is accepted that the guardship could be called upon at short notice to provide Naval Gunfire support to our troops ashore. To this end Derwent during the period in Tawau from 22-31 March has carried out three operational shoots … and formed a good liaison with the Naval Gunfire Support Observer ashore. It is intended to carry out at least one bombardment per week using both ground and air spot during the ship’s tour of duty.”
In April Derwent carried out a further four shoots against Indonesian targets. Following port visits to Hong Kong and Manila, Derwent assisted other RAN ships escorting the troop transport, HMAS Sydney (III), to Cape St. Jacques, South Vietnam. Once Sydney and her escorts anchored off Cape St. Jacques, it became the scene of non-stop activity for 48 hours as Sydney disembarked her cargo of Australian troops and equipment.
Derwent also undertook an official visit to the Salakan Islands which lie 110 miles north of Tawau, North Borneo. As part of a civil aid project, volunteers from Derwent’s ship’s company undertook the task of building a jetty; an assignment which was continued by Vampire later on.
The deployment also saw Derwent go to the aid of a Panamanian freighter grounded on a reef off the Sibutu Islands in the Philippines.
Derwent returned to Australia in August 1966, and unDerwent a mid-cycle docking at Williamstown Naval Dockyard. In October the ship was involved in Exercises RUN-UP and SWORDFISH, followed by visits to Adelaide and Fremantle, before returning to Sydney for Christmas.
After completing Christmas leave in Sydney, Derwent, now under the command of CMDR G.J. Woolrych, RAN was mainly involved in exercises in the East Australia Exercise Areas (EAXA). On 4 February, she did, however, find time to act as the flagship for the annual RAN Sailing Association Regatta which was held on Sydney Harbour.
Derwentwas next programmed for an official visit to Hobart. Whilst she was enroute to that port, southern Tasmania was hit by catastrophic bushfires.Derwent was ordered to proceed with all dispatch to render assistance.
Within two hours of her arrival in Hobart, Derwent’s ship’s company was fully involved fighting bushfires and providing other relief. Navy News tells the story:
‘During their stay they established communication facilities between Tasmania and the mainland. They also provided continuous assistance in many and varied activities conducted by the Civil Defence authorities, and their talents were not overtaxed by such tasks as burning firebreaks, ditch digging, rebuilding burned out bridges, providing a fresh water pipe line to homeless victims of fire in Snug. When the ship returned to Sydney … she carried messages containing the thanks of the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Charles Gairdner and the Lord Mayor of Hobart. The message from the Governor read: ‘On behalf of all in Southern Tasmania I would like to thank the ship’s company for all its efficient, willing and unassuming work in assisting during the bushfire crisis…’
In May, Derwent deployed once again to South East Asia, visiting the Philippines, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Operational port visits to Japan were a feature of this deployment, including Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Sasebo. During these visits, members of Derwent’s ship’s company acted as ambassadors for Australia by handing out books and pamphlets on Australian wines, tourist spots and general holiday promotional material. Other significant ports of call included Manila and Hong Kong.
Derwent returned to her home port of Sydney in early October 1967 finishing the year in refit at Williamstown Dockyard, from which she emerged in May 1968.
Completion of the refit in early May was followed by post refit trials, work-up and exercises in the East Australia Exercise Area (EAXA).
During July 1968 Derwent undertook a series of exercises in New Zealand waters before returning to Sydney later that month for leave and maintenance, prior to another South-East Asian deployment.
Derwent arrived in Singapore in late October. Her program then saw her gradually working her way northward through the tropics into a northern Pacific winter. In December for example, Derwent and her consort, Duchess undertook an 11-day Flag showing visit to Korea and Japan during which four ports were visited. While on passage to Inchon, South Korea, Derwent received five very welcome bags of mail from Duchess. At Seoul, Derwent’s divers spent a day assisting in the construction of the Colombo Plan Dredge “Australian Endeavour”, which was a gift from the Australian Government; and the ship also gave a party for 65 Orphanage children.
In Nagasaki, Japan, Derwent and Duchess were both open to public, and despite unpleasant weather, over 1000 visitors arrived onboard. Christmas and New Year saw Derwent alongside in Hong Kong for a self maintenance period.
She services of Jenny’s Side Party, a group of 30 Chinese women ship painters who devotedly painted and cleaned many visiting warships. The Side Party workers supplemented their normal operational earnings on non-navy vessels by selling soft drinks to visiting ship’s crews.
Following a festive season break, Derwent’s new year program took her steadily south into tropical waters, with visits to Singapore, Chittagong and Madras in India, and as far south as Trincomalee in Sri Lanka. She then retraced her route northward, with official visits to Singapore, Vung Tau, Bangkok and Hong Kong, before sailing ‘west about’ for her home port of Sydney, where she arrived on 25 April. This was closely followed by a mid-cycle docking period at Williamstown Dockyard.
During a port visit to Brisbane 16-20 August, Derwent’s ship’s company enjoyed the benefits of a “Dial a Sailor” program. It proved so popular with the public that it was not possible to find enough sailors to meet all the invitations received by the ship.
The Brisbane visit was closely followed by an unsuccessful three-day search off the north coast of NSW, for survivors from the merchant ship, SS Noongah, and the annual harbour inspection by CAPT J.D. Stevens, RAN, Commander of Australian Destroyer Squadron Three.
Late on the afternoon of Wednesday, 17 September, Derwent sailed from Sydney for another deployment, this time to the Northern Pacific; initially setting course for New Caledonia and a fuelling stop in Noumea.
Derwent’s Navy News correspondent recorded the following non-operational snippets from the deployment: ‘the passage from Noumea to Pago-Pago, the capital of American Samoa, set the pattern for most legs of this deployment – we had flat seas, a hot sun and nary a sign of another ship… Conditions below decks were torrid at night (don’t ever believe that Derwent is effectively air-conditioned) and many moved on deck for relief… USN authorities in Canberra and Pearl Harbor really extended themselves to assist and by the day prior to our arrival we had a very good idea of our programme – both work and play. We entered Pearl Harbor on the morning of Friday, October 3, to find ourselves allocated the most accessible (amenities-wise) berth… There on the wharf to greet us was a USN band, a host of welcoming ‘brass’ and last but by no means least, the Hula girls…Ever seen a sheepish commanding officer piped back aboard complete with Lei? The girls were in fact USN wives who do this as part of their navy wives’ activities and they were very good indeed.’
Derwent was soon fully involved with a full round of exercises with USN units which was the purpose of her deployment. Derwent’s Hawaiian deployment ended with her Navy News correspondent recording that ” Derwent will volunteer for a similar tour at a moment’s notice!”
Derwent then continued her deployment, proceeding to Singapore via Kwajalein, Guam and Subic Bay. Kwajalein is in the Marshall Islands, and is a major US defence facility. Derwent’s reporter recorded that ‘one interesting little bit of naval history now lies bottom up, with only a bit of the stern and two propellers showing – the Prinz Eugen. She, as one of the only two German capital ships still seaworthy at the close of the war in Europe, subsequently became a target ship in the Bikini (Atomic) Test. She was later towed into Kwajalein where she unfortunately came to grief, [capsizing] during a typhoon.”
Derwent then spent two weeks in a Singapore Shipyard undergoing maintenance, which included an external boiler clean, and the painting of the entire ship’s side. From Singapore, Derwent sailed for Australian waters in company with the troop transport, Sydney, ‘westabout’ with a ‘dog-leg’ around Christmas Island, and a refueling stop at Fremantle, before returning to Sydney on 11 December in time for an Australian Christmas.
Derwent commenced the year alongside Garden Island Dockyard, Sydney, for seasonal leave. This was followed by exercises in the EAXA until early March when the ship sailed from Sydney for another deployment ‘up top.’
Exercise SEA ROVER was the focal point of seagoing activity in early April. One of Derwents ship’s company became a fatality during the exercise. On 25 March, during SEA ROVER’s harbour work-up phase, ABQMG David McKee, one of Derwents divers got into difficulties during a standard diving exercise in Manila Bay, and could not be resuscitated.
This was the 37th exercise to be conducted by SEATO member nations since the organization was formed in 1954. Some 40 ships from Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States were involved. Apart from Derwent, Australia’s contribution included HMA Ships Yarra, Duchess, Oxley and Melbourne.
SEA ROVER’s closing ceremony was due to take place aboard Melbourne’s flight deck at Sattahip, Thailand, on 9 April. However, a few minutes before the ceremony was due to commence, and as the invited guests assembled, a tropical deluge caused a rapid change of venue to a large store shed on the wharf.
Maritime Exercise CRACKSHOT was the next multi-national naval activity. On completion of this, more than 30 ships of the Australian, British, Malaysian and New Zealand Navies, Derwent included, made a Ceremonial Entry into Singapore Naval Base.
Derwent next took part in BERSATU PADU. This was an international exercise designed to train the military forces of Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom in combined operations under the conditions which would prevail following the forthcoming withdrawal of UK forces from the region. The exercise’s main phase took place in June 1970, and involved a large RAN task group.
During this busy, four month deployment, several favourite ports were revisited, and Derwent proceeded as far north as Osaka and Kobe in Japan. For many of her ship’s company, it was their first visit to the land of the rising sun. The most popular attraction in Osaka was Expo 70, the international fair with its hundreds of pavilions set in the beautiful Senri Hills near the city. The buildings featured a bewildering array of futuristic architectural styles, including the towering hammer and sickle-shaped Russian building, the glittering and delicate light-studded Swiss pavilion, and, of course, the eye-catching Australian pavilion.
In mid May, Derwent bade the land of the rising sun ‘Sayonara’, and sailed south for further exercises with the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve, before returning home on 15 July 1970, via Darwin and the inner Barrier Reef.
Derwent commenced a seven month refit at Williamstown Naval Dockyard on 25 July 1970.
Derwent started the year in refit at Williamstown Dockyard. Following post refit trials, she was fully occupied with shakedown, workup and exercises in the EAXA.
Derwent commenced a further tour of duty with the Strategic Reserve, when she departed Sydney on 5 June 1971, proceeding ‘up top’ via Manus and Guam. This deployment saw the destroyer escort making 17 port visits, including Guam, Kagoshima, Okinawa, Hong Kong, Subic Bay, Singapore, Bangkok, Ko Samui, Manila, Tacloban, and Vung Tau. Derwent’s first visit to Hong Kong in July was interrupted by Cyclone Lucy; necessitating a hasty departure to escape Lucy’s destructive winds.
On completion of the deployment, Derwent returned to Sydney ‘west about’ with port visits to Fremantle and Adelaide, before departing for Melbourne and a well-earned refit at Williamstown Dockyard.
The period to mid-March saw Derwent completing her refit at Williamstown Dockyard. This was followed by exercises in the EAXA, before the ship departed Sydney once more for a four month deployment ‘up top, arriving in Singapore on 10 August 1972, to relieve her sister ship, Stuart, which had completed a deployment with the Five Power Defence Arrangement.
Derwent’s port visits included Bangkok, Hong Kong, Yokosuka and Manila, among others.
In October, Derwent and other RAN units were actively involved in Exercise SEA SCORPION in the South China Sea. More than 20 ships plus aircraft from the six SEATO nations took part in the exercise, the main phase of which tested convoy protection from submarine and air attack.
As part of positive steps to enhance Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, in mid-November 1972, Derwent and Brisbane, took part in the first bilateral exercise with the Indonesian Navy off Surabaya. Exercise CAKRAWALA BARU (New Horizons) took place on passage from Surabaya to Bali with five Indonesian Navy ships. The exercise involved general fleet maneouvres, screening exercises, replenishment at sea and an impressive display of close range gunnery firings by the Indonesian ships.
Derwent arrived back in her home port of Sydney on 28 November for leave and maintenance.
In the early 1970s, following the drawdown of the Royal Navy in the Far East, the Australian Government became increasingly aware of the growing political and strategic significance of the Indian Ocean, and made the decision to explore common interests with littoral countries. To this end, the RAN became actively involved in a ‘Show the Flag’ deployment and on 19 February 1973, HMA ships Perth, Derwent, and Supply departed Fremantle for a three month Indian Ocean goodwill and training deployment.
The first port of call was St Louis in Mauritius on 1 March, before sailing to Mombasa, Kenya. From Mombasa, Supply returned to Fremantle, whilst Derwent and Perth sailed for the Ethiopian Red Sea port of Massawa. At this point Derwent and Perth separated, with the latter visiting the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, whilst Derwent called at Bahrain. On the homeward leg of the deployment, Perth and Derwent visited the Pakistan port of Karachi, Bombay in India, the Sri Lankan port of Colombo and Medan in Indonesia.
The following snippets, which read like a travelogue, have been extracted from Navy News reports:
“The ships arrived at Mauritius for a 2 day visit on 1 March… As the ships approached, the island glittered in the morning sun – an emerald set in the blue of the Indian Ocean … The visit coincided with the spectacular Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratree…The official languages are English, French and Creole …At a reception aboard Perth, Muslim guests were informed that foodstuffs being served conformed to the rites of their faith. It was with great reluctance that members of the ships’ companies had to leave this little paradise of the Indian Ocean … And now onwards to Mombasa.”
Whilst visiting Mombasa, two of Derwent’s sailors, CY John Wright and LROS Gary Rickwood, took the opportunity to go sky diving at Nairobi. As they descended, one of them took ‘showing the Flag’ to the extreme by flying the Australian flag from his parachute harness.
A series of safaris were also arranged and a large proportion of the sailors enjoyed a close-up view of the real African wilderness. On one such safari, four young lions were seen feeding on a warthog. Not even the noise of an antiquated Mercedes bus rattling itself to death deterred them from their meal, and the sailors were able to approach to within 20 yards.
Reportedly, the hospitality shown by the Mission to Seamen and the Kenyan Navy to the visiting ships was first class.
Having farewelled Supply, which was returning to Australia via Mahe, in the Seychelles, Derwent and Perth sailed into Massawa, Ethiopia’s chief port on 21 March, firing a 21 gun salute which was returned by the Imperial Ethiopian Navy. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie dined onboard Perth during the visit. Whilst at Massawa, numerous sailors took the opportunity to ride a camel, the traditional ‘ship of the desert’.
A small group of sailors from both ships took an overnight bus tour to Asmara, a small city some 7500 feet higher than Massawa. A highlight of the tour was the actual drive there where the road continuously winds its way around hair-pin bends, climbing 6000 feet in a mere 30 kilometres. The drive, did, however, provide some of the most spectacular scenery in Ethiopia.
The visiting ships were particularly well looked after by the Imperial Ethiopian Navy which provided an overnight Banyan trip to nearby islands.
Following Massawa, the ships separated temporarily: Perth visiting Bandar Abbas in Iran, whilst the “Indian Ocean tourists” aboard Derwent went deeper into the Persian Gulf for a two day visit to the Arab Sheikdom of Bahrain, 29-30 March 1973.
Derwent was hosted by the Bahrainie Defence Forces, and generous invitations were received to see camel races at Rifa, sightseeing tours to historic temples and excavations. The ship’s hosts also showed Derwent’s soccer team the art of playing the game in the sand;Derwent lost 3-7.
Departing from Bahrain, Derwent joined up again with Perth, and together they sailed on passage to Karachi, Pakistan, where, on 2 April, they were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of some 6000 people.
It was reported that Karachi was very popular for shopping. The opportunity was taken to play sport against the Pakistani Navy. Two classics were Rugby in the desert, which was won 46-0, and Soccer in the sand, which was lost 8-2.
A visit to Bombay followed on 6 April, where Derwent berthed alongside, surrounded by Indian Navy ships while Perth anchored in the harbour.
Perth and Derwents next port visit was Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, where they arrived on 11 April for a three day visit. Colombo they found to be a strange and fascinating blend of the ancient and modern, of east and west, and the common-place and beautiful. When they sailed, it was generally agreed that they were fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka, but unlucky to have so few days in this friendly and beautiful island.
Enroute to the port of Belawan, chief port for Medan in northern Sumatra, the two RAN ships sailed in company with the Royal Navy frigate, HMS Chichester. Derwent’s crew was bowled over by the hospitality of the Indonesian people. A bus tour to beautiful Lake Toba, a large volcanic lake which is reputedly the biggest freshwater lake in the world, was very popular. As was the Navy Race Day Meeting, which had been arranged to coincide with the ships’ visit.
Singapore was just one day’s steaming from Belawan, a ‘home away from home’ for the Australian sailors. Derwent and Perth berthed alongside at Sembewang on 20 April, apparently looking for time to relax after their hectic Indian Ocean Cruise.
During their eight day stay, the ships took part in the eight-sports Perth Cup challenge competition, which is contested whenever three or more Commonwealth Armed Forces are gathered together in Singapore. The end of the challenge saw the Royal Navy come first, whilst the Aussies comprising Derwent, Perth, Torrens, Ovens and the resident ANZUKERS came an equal second with the Malaysian Navy.
On Anzac Day 1973, the traditional Dawn Service was well attended at Kranji War Cemetery, with the customary wreath being laid.
The ships sailed on 26 April, and following exercises with Royal Australian Air Force Mirages and Royal Air Force Phantoms, and gunnery firings, course was set for Tandjuk Priok, where they arrived on 28 April for a short visit.
On 30 April, Derwent and Perth sailed for Australian waters, arriving in Darwin for a short visit 4-5 May, finally arriving back in their home port of Sydney on 14 May 1973.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Mr. Lance Barnard, described the cruise: “as being highly successful in demonstrating Australia’s interests in the region. Australia considers itself as an Indian Ocean littoral state and the cruise had underline Australia’s involvement as a neighbour of those countries bordering the Indian Ocean. The ships and their men have created a great deal of interest and goodwill in the countries visited, and had effectively demonstrated Australia’s friendship and common interests with the people of the region.”
On completion of her Indian Ocean cruise, Derwent spent the period to 9 July undergoing leave and maintenance. On 23 August, Derwent sailed once more for foreign waters; this time to New Zealand, where she visited Auckland during the period 29 August to 2 September.
The remaining months of the year saw Derwent operating in the EAXA, and concluded with ship in a leave and maintenance period alongside Garden Island Dockyard.
Derwent commenced 1974 in a self maintenance period, which was followed by a refit at Williamstown Dockyard from which the ship emerged in late September. The only event of note was Derwent’s participation in the Captain Cook Bicentennial Celebrations at Norfolk Island on 6 October.
The period 28 October to 20 November saw Derwent at Williamstown Dockyard.
On December 1974, Mr. Lance Barnard, the Minister for Defence, announced that approval had been given for the modernization and extensive refitting of the RAN‘s River Class Destroyer Escorts, including gunnery, anti-submarine weapons, hull and machinery, with the first modernization commencing in the second half of 1976 and the last finishing late in 1980.
1974 concluded with Derwent berthed at Garden Island Dockyard, Sydney for maintenance and seasonal leave.
Derwent’s maintenance period alongside Garden Island Dockyard soon ended, and the period to early February was occupied with activities in the EAXA.
On 5 March 1975, Derwent, now under the command of CMDR M. Ward, RAN sailed from Sydney for a five month deployment in the Far East.
Darwin was Derwent’s last Australian port enroute to the Far East. A working party of three officers and 38 sailors was landed and contributed to the ‘Navy Help Darwin’ operation by assisting in the demolition of houses that had been badly damaged by Cyclone Tracy.
Surabaya was the next port of call, followed by participation in Exercise ORION with the Indonesian Navy. Derwent finally arrived in Singapore on 31 March, as Australia’s contribution to the newly-formed Five Power Defence Agreement. After only three days in port, Derwent sailed to participate in Exercise PENANGEX 6, in company with a Royal Navy task group. On completion of the exercise, the task group continued on passage to the UK, whilst Derwent returned to Singapore.
On April 14, Derwent sailed for Hong Kong for a 19 day self maintenance period. Whilst on passage, one of the ship’s sailors suffered acute appendicitis and was evacuated by helicopter to Changi Military Hospital, Singapore. According to Derwent’s Navy News correspondent, “excitement was high when the ship berthed at HMS Tamar, particularly for the husbands whose wives were flying out for a two week break.”
The ship’s visit to Hong Kong coincided with an official visit by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. During the opening ceremony, Derwent manned and cheered ship, which was a first for the majority of the ship’s company.
In mid May, Derwent undertook a Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) shoot, which the ship’s gunnery sailors thoroughly enjoyed. A port visit to Penang followed, where the ship anchored at the Man-of-War Anchorage on 23 May. Navy News reported that ‘soon after, the liberty boats began to run and in a short time thereafter, nearly the whole of the ship’s company were ashore…During the stay, RAAF Butterworth provided some excellent sporting competition and every challenge was met.’
Back in the Singapore Exercise Areas in early June, Derwent exercised with the submarine, Otway, and over a four day period, completed over 57 hours of Combined Anti-Submarine Exercises, much to the professional delight of the ship’s Operations and TAS departments.
On 3 June, Derwent had her second casualty evacuation, when another sailor was air lifted to Changi Hospital suffering acute appendicitis. The ship’s Navy News reporter wrote that “This has been our second case in a comparatively short time and our CPOCK hotly denies rumours about his ‘corned dog’ from the Main Galley.’
Derwent’s correspondent had this to say about the remainder of the deployment, ‘We left Singapore in June and proceeded to Bangkok where we berthed in mid-stream alongside the Klong Toey Dolphins. This did not ‘cramp the style’ of our intrepid libertymen, so armed with many Bahts and smiles on their faces they went ashore (via Bangkok’s premier means of transport, the V8 canoe).
The ship cleared Bangkok Bar … on 16th June and headed to Hong Kong – just another quick 9 day stopover! Time was spent wisely and quietly… tours, visits, shopping and relaxing…We had one unscheduled change to the programme and that was a three day docking at Kowloon. Repairs were carried out on a leaking valve and we had a hurried ‘shave and paint’ job before moving back to HMS Tamar. After a few finishing touches from Suzie’s Side Party, we …bade farewell to Hong Kong for the last time and set course for Subic Bay.
Our host ship for the stay was the USS Badger. Many who had never been to Subic Bay before soon came to realize just what it was like…The facilities on the base were used to their full extent and we now possess some of the best archers, mini golfers and trap shooters in the Far East. Our appreciation must go to the Naval Base Command and our host ship for their efforts in making our stay so enjoyable.
Derwent sailed for the Subic Exercise Areas on Monday, 7th July and we spent the next three days in company with various units of the USN before proceeding to Cebu.
It took only 38 hours sailing time to Cebu, and the passage through the islands of the Philippines provided the OOWs with plenty of shiphandling practice in the form of avoiding numerous fishing boats intent on playing ‘chicken.’ The majority of our time in Cebu was spent on tours … so readily organized by the Philippines Department of Tourism. The main attracts of the city were the San Miguel Brewery and the Guitar Factory; the former because of the many free samples, and the latter because of the low prices and good quality. We now have enough guitars onboard to put Brazil 66 to shame, but the playing expertise is still somewhat lacking!!”
Derwent returned to Australia ‘westabout’ via Fremantle and Melbourne, and whilst in the latter port Derwent’s annual inspection was carried out. The ship finally returned to Sydney on 8 August for leave and maintenance.
The remainder of the year was spent in Australian waters before commencement of a well earned Christmas leave period.
Derwent’s year commenced with a Change of Command Ceremony, when CMDR C.K. Callins, RAN, assumed command on 12 January.
The following weeks were spent working up in the local exercise areas; culminating with the ship’s Operational Readiness Evaluation (ORE) and Disaster Relief Exercise in the Jervis Bay area, prior to Derwent’s 1976 South East Asia deployment under the Five Power Defence Agreement. On 3 March, farewelled by friends and relatives in wet, blustery weather, Derwent sailed ‘west about’ for Singapore. On 17 March the ship passed through Sunda Strait, and, using Bottom Classification Sonar, carried out a series of runs over the position of the wreck of the modified Leander Class light cruiser, HMAS Perth, which was sunk during the Battle of the Sunda Strait on 1 March 1942. An object believed to be the wreck was located. Derwent arrived in Singapore on 19 March, berthing alongside USS Fox, a unit of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet.
Derwent then exercised with a US Navy submarine, giving the ship realistic practice in anti-submarine warfare procedures.
The remainder of the deployment was similar to those of previous years with official port visits to Penang, Subic Bay, Hong Kong and Yokosuka, whilst new ports of call included the Japanese ports of Maizuru, Otaru and Ominato. Altogether, Derwent spent three weeks in Japanese waters. The ship was welcomed to Maizuru by a Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force Band playing “Waltzing Matilda”. This was Derwent’s introduction to the overwhelming generosity and hospitality which was extended to the ship throughout her time in Japan.
During her subsequent visit to Hong Kong, Derwent temporarily became ‘HMS Hero’ when the crew filming the British television series ‘Warship’ utilized Derwent to stand in for the Leander class frigate feature in the series. The ship’s company reported that this was a pleasant change to their daily work routine, and that they looked forward to seeing that particular episode.
Having been relieved by her elder sister, Parramatta, Derwent returned to Sydney from on 6 August 1976, having finished her second deployment in a little over a year.
The rest of the year was spent exercising off the East Australian coast. Following the successful completion of Exercise KANGAROO II, Derwent sailed south to rendezvous with the US carrier, USS Enterprise, for a combined visit to Hobart.
Derwent’s year ended undergoing refit at Williamstown Dockyard, Melbourne.
Derwent’s nine month refit ended in September and was followed by a brief workup period before she deployed to New Zealand in company with Vendetta. The two Australian ships exercised with the New Zealand frigates Waikato and Otago and US Ships Gray and Agerholm before returning home for the Christmas period.
In February 1978, Derwent deployed once more to South East Asia, this time proceeding ‘east about via Brisbane. The start of the deployment was spent in company with a Royal Navy Task Group. The task group was made up of ships of the Royal Navy’s Second Flotilla commanded by Rear Admiral Wemyss. The Admiral spent some time aboard Derwent, and took the opportunity to meet and talk with as many of the ship’s company as his limited time allowed.
Sea-going Sports Days were a feature during Derwent’s deployment with the task group. Tug-o-War, Deck Hockey, Soccer (sea-going version), Rifle shooting and Obstacle Races were contested. Port visits whilst in company included visits to Cebu, Subic Bay and Bangkok. Whilst in Cebu, volunteers from Derwent helped paint one of the new school buildings in Cebu’s Consolacion District. When the call went out for blood donors, Derwent was not found wanting and some 40 pints were donated, including a pint from the Captain.
In Bangkok, the combined wardrooms of Derwent and HMS Cleopatra challenged HMS Rhyl to a cricket match. It was reported that US servicemen visiting Bangkok scratched their heads in bewilderment as strange figures in white wielded odd-shaped bats as they attempted to hit a little red ball out of the ground.
Detaching from the Task Group in March, Derwent continued her deployment to the ‘mystic East’, exercising with Thai, Philippine and Malaysian units as she visited each respective area.
Derwent celebrated her 14th birthday during a two-week maintenance period in Hong Kong. The celebratory cake weighed some 250lbs and measured six feet by eight feet!
Naturally a visit to ‘Honkers’ was not complete without a visit by Jenny’s Side Party, which applied a new spring coat of paint to the ship’s side.
Derwent returned to her home port of Sydney in early September for an assisted maintenance period and leave.
Derwent helped celebrate the recognition of the Northern Territory Government with a visit to Darwin on 2 July 78. Exercises of the east coast of Australia followed, including JUC99 and LONGEX 78.
Following the brief Celebrations Derwent returned to Sydney for a well earned rest.
The year started with the familiar shakedown and workup off the East Australian coast, plus participation in Exercise SCREENPLAY. In March, Derwent departed Sydney, visiting the ports of Adelaide, Bunbury, Fremantle and Darwin, as part of a Task Unit comprising Derwent, Perth and Vendetta. In Exercise DIRK HARTOG, off the West Australian coast, the RAN ships exercised with, and against, four ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy.
Returning to Sydney in June, Derwent resumed the EAXA weekly running exercise program. In October she departed for the sunnier climes of North Queensland to participate in Exercise Kangaroo III, returning to Sydney in November. CMDR J.G. Longden, RAN, assumed command on 10 December 1979.
Following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the carrier HMAS Melbourne (III) led a task group comprising Perth, Derwent, Stalwart and Supply on an extended ‘Flag-showing’ cruise through the Indian Ocean. Described by the Australian Government as the largest and longest RAN task group deployment since World War II, the operation clearly demonstrated the level of reach and autonomy attained by the Australian Navy. This deployment included visits to Karachi, Singapore and Surabaya, and exercises with regional navies. The 1980 working year started quickly for Derwent. The RAN Task Group returned to Sydney in early April.
As a footnote to Derwents participation in the 1979 Indian Ocean deployment, she was awarded the Commodore T.E. Wardle Cup for communications excellence. In presenting the Wardle Cup to Derwent‘s commanding officer, CMDR J. Longden, the Fleet Commander, RADM P.H. Doyle, praised the high standard of visual signaling achieved.
The period to early July saw Derwent exercising in the EAXA before departing Sydney on 7 July 1980 and sailing for Western Australia. On completion of exercises in the WAXA she deployed for South-East Asia visiting Singapore, Karachi and Surabaya. During this deployment Derwent participated in Exercises SERENDIPITY and CHE SERA 80. The end of the year saw Derwent berth at Garden Island Dockyard, Sydney for leave and maintenance.
During the first six months of the year, Derwent was involved in exercises in the EAXA. She sailed from Sydney on 20 June 1981, on passage to Williamstown Naval Dockyard, Melbourne. On 3 July, the ship decommissioned to commence a modernization that would take four and a half years to complete.
During the 17 years from commissioning in 1964 to her modernization refit, Derwent has spent more than 5 ½ years deployed to South-East Asia and the Indian Ocean, taking Australia abroad. In doing so, Derwent and her successive ship’s companies showed themselves as a professional and hardworking unit of the Royal Australian Navy to many of the World’s navies.
The overall aims of the modernization program were to:
- Ensure the ship’s combat effectiveness for the remainder of her life
- To reduce naval manpower requirements
- To improve habitability.
The modernization refit saw many changes onboard, both external and internal. The most obvious change was the removal of the LWO 2 search radar from the foremast to a position further aft and situated lower down. The MR3 Fire Control System Director was replaced by a M22 Fire Control System radar “golf ball” dome. Redesigned masts and funnel were also fitted. Two triple-tube surface launch torpedo mounts were installed while the Limbo Mortars were removed and the Ikara system upgraded.
Below decks, the installation of the Australian designed and built Mulloka Sonar was of note. Fuel efficiency was improved with steam atomizers being installed in the boilers. Also down below the 500kw Turbo Alternators were replaced with 750kw Turbo Alternators along with a new electrical switchboard.
Nearing the end of the modernization, a group of Derwent’s ship’s company recorded the ship’s official song, as a fitting way to let the fleet know of the ship’s impending return to operational status. Sixty officers and men from the “Deadly Lady” gathered at the AAV Music Recording Studios in South Melbourne to create a musical masterpiece. They combined their “talents” with those of the “Up There Cazaly” duo, Mike Brady and Peter Sullivan. The result was a ‘crackerjack’ little number with a rousing chorus and four verses, to let the fleet know that a revitalized Derwent would return very soon, with a new face, a new crew and a new sound.
Following several years in the hands of the dockyard, Derwent was recommissioned by the Chief of Naval Staff, VADM M.W. Hudson, AO, RAN on 6 May 1985. In his speech, he stressed to the assembled ship’s company that “you have a fine ship which carries a proud name and the challenge is now yours. How she performs in the Fleet will depend on how you, individually and collectively do your job. Best of luck and good sailing.”
Now under the command of CMDR M. Biddle,RAN, Derwent put to sea for the first time on 10 May 1985. Various sea trials followed for the remainder of November and into December. Derwent finally returned to her home port of Sydney on 18 December 1985. The year ended with the ship alongside at Garden Island for seasonal leave.
Following Christmas leave, Derwent underwent workup activities in the EAXA, broken by a port visit to Geelong in early March. She returned home in time to participate in the Ceremonial Fleet Entry into Sydney to mark the start of the Royal Australian Navy’s 75th Anniversary celebrations.
The period April to June saw Derwent active in the exercise areas off the East Australian coast. During this time she sailed as far north as Cairns and Mackay, and took part in Exercise TASMAN LINK off the Queensland coast in May.
A very successful Family Day at sea was held on 10 June. On 13 June, Derwent sailed ‘west about’ for her first deployment ‘up top’ since her refit. The deployment saw the ship visiting Jakarta, Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Subic Bay and Manila. She also played an active role in exercises with units from the United States Navy, Royal Navy and New Zealand Navy.
Derwent returned to her home port just in time to participate in the 75th Anniversary Fleet Review held in Sydney Harbour in perfect weather.
Following the 75th Anniversary celebrations Derwent participated in Exercise CROWEATER with ships from the various visiting nations. A mix of exercises in the EAXA and port visits to Devonport, Gladstone, Cairns and Townsville occupied most of the remainder of the year. On her return, Derwent received a pleasant surprise from the Catering Institute of Australia who awarded the Silver Platter to the ship for displaying the best culinary skills in the Fleet.
Derwent ended the year alongside Garden Island Dockyard, Sydney.
The year started early for Derwent with a change of home porting from Sydney to Fleet Base West. A crew changeover with HMAS Stuart was effected alongside HMAS Stirling in just three days.
The ship’s first duty in the West was as support ship for the America’s Cup defence off Fremantle. During the period to mid April the ship was actively involved in exercises in the West Australian Exercise Areas (WAXA), plus port visits to Geraldton and Port Hedland.
Following a leave and assisted maintenance period alongside at Fleet Base West (FBW), HMAS Stirling; Derwent and her sister ship, Swan deployed for South-East Asia.
Nearing Port Hedland, Derwent intercepted a radio distress call from the yacht Aussiedan which was drifting off Shark Bay with a damaged engine and steering problems. Once Derwent arrived on the scene, she provided assistance to the yacht, and towed it to a position off Carnarvon, where the tow was slipped, and the yacht proceeded into port with the assistance of four of Derwent’s crew.
The deployment saw Derwent visiting Darwin, Surabaya, Lumut, Singapore, Jakarta and Christmas Island. A highlight during the trip was the return of the Perth Cup (the five nations sporting trophy) to Australia for the first time in 17 years at the end of Exercise STARFISH.
Following the ship’s return from ‘up top’, she was involved in Exercise WESTERN APPROACHES off the uninhabited coast near Broome. A Fleet Concentration Period (FCP) was the next activity. During the FCP, a missile shoot was scheduled against towed air targets and a derelict oil fuel lighter. Derwent’s Seacat aimer recorded two successful firings, his first live firings since becoming qualified. The FCP was conducted over eight days, and enabled the West Australian-based fleet units to exercise with their eastern seaboard counterparts. In the closing stages of the FCP, the RAN units conducted an opposed transit against the aircraft carrier, USS Constellation and its battle group.
Derwent, in company with Darwin, Torrens and Swan sailed from Fleet Base West on September 11 to join the US amphibious fleet off Fremantle for Exercise VALIANT USHER. This exercise involved a total of 27 ships from the RAN and USN and was conducted over a period of six days north of Lancelin.
Devonport was visited in the later part of the year to exercise Derwent’s right of Freedom of Entry to the city. Returning for the highlight of the year, Derwent participated in the arrival of the tall Ships and First Fleet into Fremantle on their journey to Sydney for the Bicentennial celebrations in 1988.
After an enjoyable Christmas leave period, a brief shake down started the year for Derwent. This was then followed by a visit to Albany to assist in Australia Day celebrations.
The Western Australia exercise area was Derwent’s home for a brief period with Broome and Geraldton visited before returning to HMAS Stirling to prepare for a forthcoming South-East Asian Deployment.
That deployment involved a self maintenance period in Lumut, plus visits to Cocos Island and Singapore.
Derwent returned to FBW on 28 March for a well-deserved Easter Weekend. This was followed by a port visit to Geraldton to participate in the inaugural Mid-West Games. On 11 April, the ship sailed from Geraldton to participate in Exercise BLACK CAT 88. During one of the exercise serials, Derwent’s Seacat aimer, ABFC Carroll scored a direct hit with a Seacat missile on a Hutts target.
A second deployment soon followed. In May Derwent was back in South East Asian waters to participate in Exercise STARFISH, before returning to Australia with the USN Task Group headed by USS New Orleans.
In October, Derwent sailed on passage for Darwin to carry out an Operational Readiness Evaluation under the critical eyes of the Fleet Training Group. She returned south in company with the Royal Navy’s Global ’88 task group.
The ship returned to HMAS Stirling in December for a quiet end to what has been a very busy year.
1989 saw Derwent deploying north for a Far-East deployment for the third time in nine months. During March she conducted Night Encounter Exercises with RMN Musytari, RMN Markin, RSS Sea Dragon, Sea Scorpion, USS Daring and USS Independence. The deployment included an official port visit to Madras, the first by an RAN warship in 10 years.
On 10 April 89 Derwent ‘passed the weight’ to Parramatta and returned home to FBW. Following her return, Derwent celebrated 25 years service in the RAN. Now 25 years young, according to the ship’s anniversary book, the event was marked by a weekend of events to celebrate the occasion, including a traditional Mess Dinner to which the Governor of Western Australia was invited.
While in the WAXA Derwent assisted in Stuart’s ORE, followed by Divisions and the Annual Inspection. August saw Derwent participating in Exercise KANGAROO 89.
On 24 January 1990, Derwent was presented with the prestigious Gloucester Cup for her overall performance as a fleet unit in the preceding year. This was followed by an Annual Maintenance Period. February saw Derwent ‘Up Top’ again, this time visiting Surabaya, Singapore, Penang, Kuantan, Kota Kinabula, Manila, Subic Bay, Hong Kong, Sattahip, Lumut and Jakarta, before returning to Stirling on 19 June.
On 16 March Derwent slipped from ASI and conducted work-ups with her sister Destroyer Escorts Stuart, Swan and Torrens until August. November saw Derwent ‘Up Top’ again. This time conducting exercises with Torrens, Launceston and Geelong.
Departing Darwin on 13 March, Derwent participated in Exercise KANGAROO 92 with Swan and Torrens. Pilotage Training for the SEAACs enabled Derwent to visit Noumea and the Whitsunday Group during the months of June July. A Reduced Activity Period commenced from the 15 August until the end of the year.
January and February involved the standard ‘shakedown’ activities, followed by Fleet Concentration Period (FCP) 1-93, then it was off to New Zealand with junior seaman officers embarked for pilotage training in the Hauraki Gulf. During March, Derwent sailed via Suza, Cebu, Malila, Singapore, Tanjung Emas and Surabaya back to HMAS Stirling.
During July, Derwent was consort for the submarine Oven’s workup which was closely followed by FCP 2-93. After a short break Derwent joined the submarine Orion for her workup and later, in company with Torrens and Melbourne, she took part in the ‘at sea’ phase of Principle Warfare Officer training. In October Derwent was granted the Freedom of Entry to the City of Portland and for the remainder of the year was involved in pilotage training for junior seaman officers which saw her navigate her way to Auckland, Tonga and Brisbane before berthing in Sydney.
Derwent sailed for her 21st and final South East Asian deployment on 23 March, visiting Surabaya, Singapore, Port Blair, Lumut, Kuching and Muara. Visits to coastal Australian capital cities followed, allowing the public to inspect Derwent for a last time. The seas throughout the deployment were moderate to calm, apart from Derwent’s final run between Albany and HMAS Stirling, an overnight passage remembered by most for its appalling weather and rough seas.
Derwent arrived at Stirling on Friday 29 July 1994. On arrival she received a signal sent by the Chief of Naval Staff acknowledging her contribution to Australia’s security as part of the RAN fleet:
“…During her life Derwent saw service throughout South East Asia, the Indian Ocean, the South West Pacific and Hawaiian waters…Fittingly, Derwent’s final deployment this year included joint exercises with the Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean Navies. Throughout all these deployments, Derwent and her ships company have done much to foster and maintain close military and diplomatic ties in the region…By reputation Derwent has always been a happy ship, and one of which all who have served in, are justifiably proud. Farewell Derwent.”
Following a 30-year career which saw her steam in excess of 800,000 miles, HMAS Derwent decommissioned at Fleet Base West on 8 August 1994.
After decommissioning, Derwent continued to serve the nation when she was used as the platform for the Ship Survivability Enhancement Program (SSEP). The SSEP involved a series of fire, smoke, weapons effects and electronic experiments, with the data being used to enhance the combat survivability of ships and their crews to a range of weapons and associated threat effects.
On completion of this valuable but destructive program which had inflicted greater cumulative damage than originally estimated, Derwent had been reduced to a hulk. The estimate to make the ship safe as a dive site was $500,000 and this was deemed to be beyond the then current Defence Budget. Accordingly, she was towed out to a position 12 nautical miles west of Rottnest Island and at 1446 local time on 21 December 1995, she was scuttled in deep water.