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Stuart file photo [7821]

HMAS Stuart

CountryAustralia
Ship ClassScott-class Destroyer
BuilderR. W. Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd, Hebburn-on-Tyne, England, UK
Laid Down19 Oct 1917
Launched22 Aug 1918
Commissioned21 Dec 1918
Decommissioned1 Dec 1942
Displacement1530 tons standard
Length333 feet
Beam32 feet
Draft11 feet
MachineryBrown Curtis turbines
Power Output40000 SHP
Speed36 knots
Crew164
Armament5x4.7in guns, 1x3in guns, 2x 3-pdr guns, 2x3x21in torpedo tubes

Contributor:

ww2dbaseWith the declaration of war, the Admiralty requested approval from the Australian cabinet to allow RAN ships to operate outside the Australia station. Approval was duly given, and a flotilla of five ancient Australian destroyers were sent to Singapore. En route, the flotilla received orders from the Admiralty on 16 October 1939 to proceed to the Mediterranean. Later ordered to travel to the Indian Ocean to hunt for the German pocket battleship Graf Spee, the five destroyers resumed their journey to the Mediterranean, and were in Malta by Christmas. Consisting of four of the superseded V/W class destroyers: Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager, and Waterhen; the Australian destroyer flotilla was led by the Scott class destroyer, HMAS Stuart, commanded by Commander Hector Waller of the RAN. None were less than twenty years old, and only Stuart was modified to bring it up to modern standards of armament. Yet they were five out of the 22 Allied destroyers to serve in the Mediterranean during the war. On 2 January 1940 the Australian destroyers, which had been on loan from Britain since 1933, became the 19th Destroyer Division, with Commander Waller in command of the division. They performed patrol and escort duties, and challenging Italian minelayers near the approaches to Alexandria. The 19th Destroyer Division was combined with the 20th Destroyer Division to form the 10th Destroyer Division on 27 May 1940, under Commander Waller's command. The 10th Destroyer Division then took an inshore support role, supporting the advance of British and AIF divisions along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, bombarding Italian stronghold towns to prepare them for Allied capture, and providing supply and communications for the advance of the Allies. Wavell observed the importance of the 10th Destroyer Division's service in a report of the land operations, saying:

The maintenance problem of this quick-moving operation over a distance of 500 miles would have been insurmountable without the Navy's assistance keeping the supply lines open and opening up Salum, Bardia and Tobruk, thereby shortening lines of communication and releasing motor transport for the vital task of stocking successive supply depots.

ww2dbaseDue to the age of the Australian destroyers were known as "Crocks" and "the Wobbly 10th" to the Commonwealth naval forces in the Mediterranean. Admirals Cunningham and Tovey were so impressed with the execution of these tasks by Commander Waller and the men under his command that they recommended that the Australians should be provided with new, modern destroyer models. In the middle of 1940 two of the new, replacement destroyers, Nizam and Napier, were made available in the UK, but the threat posed by Italy's entry into the war prevented Australian crews from leaving their antiquated ships to man the replacements, reservists needed to be sent from Australia to man the newly acquired ships. Captain Waller was the only man in the RAN suitably qualified to commission them, so he needed to leave HMAS Stuart and the destroyer division under the command of a Royal Navy officer, S. H. T. Artliss, while in the UK commissioning the new acquisitions. Napier and Nizam would be in the Mediterranean themselves by November-December. Hitler's pledge of support for his hapless Italian ally in January 1941 was twofold: on land he sent the elite Afrika Korps under the command of Erwin Rommel, the naval conflict was made more dangerous with the assigning of large amounts of Luftwaffe anti-shipping air force to the Mediterranean. These two factors were about to place a huge task upon the shoulders of the men manning the Australian destroyers in the Mediterranean. The defenders of Tobruk, holding their fortress in defiance of the Desert Fox, were cut off from supply and reinforcement. The aging Australian destroyers were to become a central part of the effort to supply the port town, under constant aerial attack from the Luftwaffe. This service was known as the Tobruk Ferry. HMAS Stuart, which made 24 runs of the Tobruk Ferry herself, recalls an average run in her chronicle, where it says:

The following fits any or all of the runs. Morning of the first day, sailed from Alexandria for Tobruk with troops, ammunition and stores. Air attacks at so and so and so during the day. Arrived Tobruk in dark, unloaded and took on so many wounded, 200 troops and ammunition empties and proceeded to Mersa Matruh. Air raid at Mersa. Next day embarked wounded troops and empties. Tobruk continuously raided throughout stay (During recent visits it has also been shelled at random by the enemy).

ww2dbaseAs the Australian destroyers were supplying defenders of Tobruk, a fortress that was resisting Rommel, on Berlin radio the propaganda minister of Nazi Germany, Josef Goebbels, gave the Australian destroyers the derogatory name "The Scrap Iron Flotilla". Nizam and Napier arrived in the Meduterranean in time to participate in some of the Tobruk Ferry runs. The Tobruk Ferry wore out the Scrap Iron Flotilla, but the involvement of these rusting ships, both in supply and coastal bombardment, played an important role in the fighting in North Africa. HMAS Stuart led the flotilla of Australian destroyers in the Battle of Calabria, the first fleet action in the Mediterranean since Nelson's day. Stuart provided a destroyer screen for British warships in the Battle of Matapan. Like Stuart's coastal bombardment in North Africa, she hammered Vichy positions in Syria.

ww2dbaseStuart had suffered approximately fifty air attacks, and by mid-1941 she was feeling the strain. A refit had become imperative if she was to continue her service. On 25/26 July Stuart made her final run to Tobruk, and limped back to Alexandria. On 22 August, with her port engine out of commission, Stuart headed for Australia. Making the entire trip home on a single engine, Stuart reached Freemantle on 16 September and Melbourne on 27 September, where it remained for a long refit until April 1942. In April 1942, under Commander S. H. K. Spurgeon, HMAS Stuart began a period of escort duty. At first her duties were confined to Australian waters, but in October 1942 she escorted convoys between Queensland ports and New Guinea. Between March 1943 and the end of the year she remained confined mainly to Australian coastal waters. In March/April 1945 she was converted into a store and troop carrying vessel, and continued to give useful, albeit humbler, service in New Guinea and Australian waters until January 1946. Over the course of the war HMAS Stuart travelled almost a quarter of a million miles in over seventeen thousand hours. Although she endured a vast amount of aerial bombardments during her service, not a single man aboard Stuart was lost to enemy action. She was paid off at Sydney on 27 April 1946, and sold to T. Carr to be broken down for scrap on 3 February 1947.

ww2dbaseSources: D. Stevens (ed.), The Royal Australian Navy in World War II, Royal Australian Navy, G. Odgers, 100 Years of Australians at War, Wikipedia, L. J. Lind & A, Payne, Scrap Iron Destroyers: Stuart, Waterhen, Vendetta, Vampire, Voyager.

HMAS Stuart Operational Timeline

21 Dec 1918 Stuart was commissioned into service.
1 Dec 1942 Stuart was decommissioned from service.

Photographs

Starboard view of HMAS Stuart, off Sydney, Australia, 2 Jan 1938; note black band around her forefunnel, indicating her as flotilla leaderAustralian destroyer Stuart in harbor, date unknown




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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Dan Flynn says:
4 May 2016 08:58:20 PM

My father, Dan Flynn R23356 was a seaman on this ship. I have his service record and various photos from his time in the Med. Since his death in 1999 they have been a valued family record but I am aware of the need to build/add to historic records and would be prepared to donate them. If you are interested, please let me know Dan Robert FLYNN

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Event(s) Participated:
» Malta Campaign
» Battle of Matapan
» Campaigns in the Middle East

Destroyer HMAS Stuart Photo Gallery
Starboard view of HMAS Stuart, off Sydney, Australia, 2 Jan 1938; note black band around her forefunnel, indicating her as flotilla leaderAustralian destroyer Stuart in harbor, date unknown


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