Chapter 28



Service Details

Alan Zammit joined the cruiser HMAS Australia in March 1945 at the age of 17 years. In 1948 he sailed to England on HMAS Kanimbla. After spending five months on the British Aircraft Carrier HMS Glory he was in the crew that commissioned HMAS Sydney in which he served for six and a half years including her two deployments off Korea in 1951-1952 and 1953-1954. Alan is an active member of the Naval Historical Society and although past mandatory retiring age he continues to work full time in his family business. He also takes a keen and active interest in the affairs effecting veterans and particularly those of former RAN personnel.


HMAS Sydney had been ordered to Korea. On 31 August 1951 (Captain Harries in command) she sailed for Manus (Papua-New Guinea) accompanied by HMAS Tobruk, carrying out AA sleeve target firings and flying training as the ships moved north. While passing through the St Georges Channel, signals were received indicating that some of the native inhabitants of Rabaul were causing trouble, and that HMAS Sydney's personal appearance at Rabaul would be a great help. Both ships entered Rabaul for a short period and on leaving harbour HMAS Sydney flew off all her aircraft in a suitable demonstration over the town. After leaving Rabaul a fire broke out in one of the Sea Fury aircraft in the forward deck park, but quick action by the crew stopped the fire spreading to the other closely parked aircraft full of AVGAS.

Three days were spent at Manus, HMAS Tobruk going alongside at Lombrom Point, whilst the carrier anchored off the naval base. Both ships took on supplies including fuel and water. Recreational leave was given. With my brother David we went and had a look at the Japanese war criminals who were imprisoned at Manus. Amongst the prisoners were a General and a Rear Admiral and two doctors, who, we were told, cut out the livers of Australian Prisoners of War (POW's) while they were still alive. There were numerous former Japanese guards who had badly mistreated Australians on the Burma railway. The taking of photographs was prohibited, but as many of the prisoners were working around the naval base, it was easy to talk to them. After having a swim we walked through the jungle to a native village, where all the girls were topless, but when the sailors started taking photos they ran to their huts and put tops on. We returned to the naval base, HMAS Tarangau. The Japanese prisoners had finished work and most were playing netball and tennis. They all appeared to be fit and healthy. At Manus most of the expatriate Australians visited the ship, as well as the recruit seamen of the Papua New Guinea Division of the Royal Australian Navy, Pacific Islands Regiment, native police and prison camp guards. Not much happens on Manus. This was a big event.

We sailed from Manus on 10 September 1951, crossing the equator the same day. Flying training was carried out continuously, with one Sea Fury aircraft being ditched and lost due to engine failure. The pilot, Sub Lieutenant E. Webster was rescued by our sea-boat. A few days later the sea-boat was used to rescue Naval Air Mechanic Spargo who had fallen overboard from a gun sponson. One aircraft could not get its hook down so was directed to Guam for repairs, rejoining HMAS Sydney as it steamed past the island. As we proceeded north towards Japan, war routine was exercised, including darkened ship and dawn action stations. We were issued with British identification cards (ID) in case we were taken prisoner. The RAN did not have ID cards for its sailors in those days. At recreation and before the main film was shown we were lectured by our Medical Officers and shown Army films on venereal diseases which should have turned the sailors off Japanese girls forever. However, when anchoring at Yokasuka an American Landing Craft Personnel (LCP} came alongside with a US Naval Band and a troupe of scantily clad dancing girls. This was our welcome to Japan and Korea by the US Navy. All the lectures and films on social diseases had been forgotten.

Our six days in Yokasuka was very popular with the sailors. We were amazed at the way Yokasuka, Yokahama and Tokyo had changed since 1945, from a defeated nation to a prosperous economy.

Shops were full of goods, even selling cigarettes, tobacco, chocolates and soap. Fruit shops displayed bananas, apples, pears and figs. Some Japanese were driving 1951 models of US cars. Tokyo was full of US servicemen on leave from Korea, spending money as if it was going out of fashion. We left Yokasuka and after a two day trip arrived at Kure on 27 September 1951 and secured alongside the pontoon with HMS Glory, the ship we were relieving, lying on the other side. HMS Glory was very dirty, inside and out. She took our damaged aircraft for return to Australia, and sent us some of her aircraft and equipment. HMS Unicorn, wearing the flag of Rear Admiral Scott Moncrieff, DSO., arrived at Kure on 28 September, and HMS Alert, with the C-in-C Far East Station, Vice Admiral, the Honourable Sir Guy Russell, KCB, CBE, DSO, was also in Kure for two days. The Admiral inspected HMAS Sydney followed by an inspection of HMS Glory. HMAS Sydney was so clean that the condition of HMS Glory must have made the Admiral wonder.

Vice Admiral Russell then sent the following signal to HMAS Sydney ;

"I congratulate you on a very smart turnout and the excellent appearance of the ship. I wish you every possible success in your operations.

C-in-C Afloat"

HMS Glory sailed for Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney via Fremantle escorted by HMAS Anzac.

The troopship HMS Empire Orwell, arrived at Kure on 2 October 1951. We supplied her with stores and received some from her. Kure, like the rest of Japan, had improved greatly. The huge Kure Naval Dockyard, a wreck in 1945, was now repairing Royal Navy, United Nations and Japanese ships. Kure House, a former Japanese Naval Officer's club, had been converted into a very popular servicemen's club, the shops were full of goods, including oysters and other sea foods. HMAS Sydney sailed for her first patrol in Korean waters on 3 October 1951. Once in the operational area, war routine was carried out. At 0645 hours (6.45 am) 5 October, HMAS Sydney's aircraft started operations against the enemy forces on the west coast of Korea, 47 sorties being flown. One aircraft returned with bullet holes in its wing. Daylight operations against the enemy continued until 1500 hours Sunday 7 October, when we made a rendezvous with the 16000 ton fleet tanker "Wave Premier", from which we received fuel and mail. The next day Captain Harries announced that we were heading for the east coast of Korea for special operations. Radio silence was to be maintained and no "gash" (rubbish) was to be thrown over the side as this could identify the ship's whereabouts to the enemy. At about 0400 hours 10 October, about 40 bombers could be heard flying overhead. At dawn "action stations" we could see the gun flashes from HMS Belfast, HMS Comus and HMS Cossack as they bombarded the coastal Kojo area of North Korea. HMAS Sydney had a screen of British, Canadian and US destroyers. Our first aircraft were in the air by 0630 hours and attacked any targets that they could find. By 1500 hours the sea became very rough, and after 58 sorties flying had to be cancelled.

Thursday 11 October, was our best day. At 0300 hours the battleship, USS New Jersey left HMAS Sydney to commence a 16 inch bombardment, pounding targets such as bunkers, stores, ammunition dumps and troop concentrations. All day we could hear the thunder from her massive 16 inch guns, relentlessly pounding away at enemy installations. HMAS Sydney provided the USS New Jersey with "spotter aircraft". The "Big Jay" as the Americans called the USS New Jersey, on her first patrol which ended 22 November fired more than 3000 rounds of 16 inch shells and more than 4000 rounds of 5 inch. The USS New Jersey's broadside was nine 16 inch shells, each weighing 2700 pounds (one and a quarter tons) and could reach 30 miles (48 kilometres). HMAS Sydney's crew could see the destroyers firing at the enemy and during the morning were so close to the North Korean coast, that we could see landmarks and buildings. Our Sea Furys, on their last patrol, caught more than a 1000 enemy troops engaged in digging in. The enemy suffered more than 200 casualties from the attack. By dusk we had completed a record 89 sorties, and then sailed for Sasebo at 20 knots, escorted by HMS Belfast and four destroyers. The Admiral sent us the following message on the completion of our first patrol ;

"Your air effort in the last two days has been unprecedented in quantity and high in quality. It has been a magnificent achievement on which I warmly congratulate you. Eighty-nine sorties in one day is grand batting by any standard, especially in the opening match"

HMS Glory held the record with 84 sorties until HMAS Sydney did 89. However, HMS Ocean, later beat HMAS Sydney's record and was awarded the Admiral Sir Denis Boyd Trophy for outstanding naval aviation. I believe that a Sea Fury from HMS Ocean shot down a North Korean MIG-15 jet fighter capable of 650 mph. During patrols, in addition to bombardments, our Fireflys would carry out anti submarine patrols and Sea Furys would carry out combat air patrols over the group. During the second patrol, HMAS Sydney's aircraft flew 389 sorties, including morning patrols up the coast of Korea to the Manchurian border, attacking Junks, Sampans and shore targets such as buildings, bridges, railways and tunnels.

Undercover agents working for US Intelligence, reported enemy Junk activity on the Yalu River, believed to be a threat to the friendly island of Taehwa-Do off the coast of North Korea. A couple of weeks earlier, 600 North Korean troops landed on the large Yalu Gulf island of Sinmi-Do. The garrison held out for 3 days with support from HMS Ceylon but the island fell to the enemy on 12 October 1951. On 21 October, six Sea Furys attacked the suspected invasion Junks, sinking 7 and damaging 15.

Two Sea Furys were detailed to assist HMAS Murchison negotiate shallow water hazards which threatened her safety on 24 October. The aircraft carried out a mine search ahead of the frigate. On October 23 our aircraft had taken part in the search for a ditched B29 bomber (US) whose crew were in the sea well north of Chinnampo. A specially equipped air-sea rescue flying boat (nicknamed "Dumbo") picked up four of the crew while being covered by aircraft from HMAS Sydney. Later our aircraft sighted a further survivor flashing his signal mirror from a small dinghy. HMAS Murchison's sea-boat rescued the USAF pilot after he had transferred to a larger dinghy dropped within 90 feet of the downed airman by one of our Fireflys. While searching for the bomber crew, a suspected mine was strafed by one of our aircraft.

In June 1951, the Chinese Communists had over 300 MIG-15s concentrated on airfields north of the Yalu River, a formidable force against which the Americans had only 44 F86A Sabre Jets. It was a considerable source of annoyance and frustration to the United Nations pilots that they were not permitted to cross the Yalu River to strike at enemy bases. Nevertheless, despite the fact they were outnumbered, the Sabres managed to hold their own. It was touch and go in October 1951 when the MIGs succeeded for the first time in seriously interfering with the bombing raids on North Korean targets and the situation only eased in January 1952 with the arrival of a second Sabre Wing - the 51st.

On 25 October, Lieutenant Colin Wheatly, a Sea Fury pilot from 808 Squadron, had his aircraft seriously damaged by flak off Chinnampo and ditched on his way back to the carrier. He was unhurt and after inflating his dinghy, was rescued by a patrolling Dumbo. Off Korea, the American air-sea rescue service of helicopters, sea-planes and rescue boats was very efficient. Any of the aircrew who ditched into the sea had a good chance of being rescued in the warmer months, provided they had a dinghy. However, in the freezing winter months a ditched flier could meet his end in about 3 minutes. The aircraft of the CO of 808 Squadron, Lieutenant Commander J.Appleby, RN, was damaged by flak on 25 October but landed at Kimpo (near Seoul). On the 26 October Sub Lieutenant "Noel" Knappstein's was also damaged by flak and he came down on a mud flat on the Han River, the aircraft breaking in two. He was rescued by a boat from the HMS Amethyst. The same day, Sub Lieutenant Neil MacMillan and Observer Philip Hancox, in a Firefly and whilst engaged in bombing a rail tunnel, were hit and crash landed near Sasiwan in North Korea, north of the Han River and 60 miles behind enemy lines. The US Navy helicopter UP28 on HMAS Sydney was flown by Chief Petty Officer "Dick" Babbit and his crewman, Aviation Mechanics Mate, "Callis" Gooding. Both volunteered to go to the rescue of the Firefly's crew. UP28 left HMAS Sydney at 1622 hours (4.22 PM) . An American shore based helicopter was closer to the crashed aircraft so UP28 was recalled to HMAS Sydney. CPO Babbit ignored the order and passed the shore based "chopper" which was returning to its base as ordered. Babbit reached the scene of the crash at about 1730 hours. Airman Gooding shot dead a North Korean soldier while the Firefly's crew boarded UP28 which then headed for Kimpo Air Base, arriving at about 1830 hours where a line of jeeps used their headlights to mark the landing strip.

CPO Dick Babbit was awarded the British Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) and the United States Navy's, Navy Cross. Aviation Mechanics' Mate Callis Gooding was a real "character" and a daredevil. As soon as the helicopter would leave the flight deck (weather permitting), he would sit at the opened sliding door, minus his safety harness, legs dangling outside, clearly noticeable by his multi coloured non service and smoking cigarettes.

Anyone caught smoking on the flight deck was in real trouble. but once in the air, Callis did as he pleased. He received the Commendation Ribbon for Distinguished Service which indicated that it had been awarded in combat but to us it appeared to be a minor recognition. Many of us believed that Callis Gooding should have also been awarded the DSM. However, medals are not everything and most of us accept that many are won and earned in war but few actually receive them. News of the successful rescue was announced over the ship's public address system and both crewmen were very popular with the crew that evening.

Sub Lieutenant Neil MacMillan later became a helicopter pilot and after leaving the navy lost his life in a commercial flying accident. He and Sub Lieutenant Noel Knappstein had taken passage on the HMAS Sydney during her maiden voyage from England to Australia as rating pilots in 1949. Some time later he appeared on the Quarter Deck as Officer of the Watch. He had returned in disguise. His ever friendly nature never changed and he was most popular with the sailors.

HMAS Sydney did not originally have any rat infestations but during her 1951-1952 tour of Korean waters it did become somewhat of a problem. Lieutenant Commander (LCmdr) Lapage, RN, issued rat trap cages and the first person to catch one was Vic "Jesus" Zammit and the Lieutenant Commander congratulated him. Vic suggested that it might be a good idea to take it to the Sick Bay to ascertain if it had any diseases which was agreed to. About fifteen minutes later the Commander (Lapage) later asked me "where is Zam?" and when told that he taken the rat to the Sick Bay he said " Oh no, its a mistake, it was a joke. Go and get him to bring the rat back to me". On entering the Sick Bay I was told that Doctor Muldoon (who in real life was a Sick Berth Attendant) and Doctor Zammit were busy conducting an autopsy on the rat and could not be disturbed. Fortunately or otherwise, depending on your outlook, the Surgeon Commander was in the Wardroom.

HMAS Sydney returned to the west coast for her third patrol on 5 November 1951. Lieutenant K.Clarkson, DFM,RAN, was leading a strafing run on trucks in the Han River area when his Sea Fury was hit by flak, rolled over on its back and went straight into the ground and the pilot killed. The remaining two aircraft of the flight were also damaged by flak but returned safely. During the third patrol Rear Admiral Scott Moncrieff, RN., transferred from HMS Belfast to HMAS Sydney thus making HMAS Sydney the flagship for a short period. Vice Admiral E.M. Martin, USN, transferred by helicopter from the USS New Jersey to HMAS Sydney for a day during this third patrol. HMAS Sydney sailed from Sasebo on 18 November with HMS Belfast and destroyers for the north east coast of Korea for a combined air-surface strike on Hungnam scheduled for 20 and 21 November. Ships taking part in the strike were HMAS Sydney, HMAS Tobruk, HMS Belfast, HMS Constance, HMCS Sioux, the Dutch destroyer Van Galen, USS Hyman and three Landing Craft Medium, Rockets (LCMR). The gunfire bombardment commenced with aircraft from HMAS Sydney attacking shore installations including buildings, oil storage tanks, railway lines and airfields. Reconnaissance aircraft reported at least 20 destroyed aircraft on one airfield. After dark on the first day of the strike, the three LCMR's laid down a barrage of 3600 rockets, a truly spectacular sight. The bombardment continued throughout the daylight hours of the second day after which the Force withdrew. On the west coast Force 8 winds were encountered and flying was severely restricted. Off Shoppaiul Island the senior Midshipmen were transferred to HMS Ceylon to take their seamanship examinations.

While embarking oil fuel and aviation fuel (AVGAS) from the RFA "Wave Chief", in a rising sea an accident occurred. A considerable amount of fuel was spilt and the tankers derrick was destroyed. The weather continued to worsen with wind gusts up to Force 12. Due to such adverse weather conditions very little flying was undertaken during the fourth patrol.

HMAS Sydney's catapult (for launching aircraft) was giving the crew considerable problems caused by malfunctions and when there was a breakdown rumours were rife that we were to proceed to the Naval Dockyard at Hong Kong for repairs. However our expectations of leave in Hong Kong did not eventuate as the catapult was refitted by a team of Japanese workers at Kure. We sailed from Kure on our fifth patrol on 5 December. Friday 7 December was a bad day as we had five aircraft hit by flak, two of which were lost. During the morning, Sub Lieutenant Smith was shot down, his aircraft finally coming to rest on a beach on the island of Paengyong-Do off the north Korean coast which was in friendly hands. He was rescued by helicopter. Later, Sub Lieutenant Sinclair's aircraft was hit by flak, caught fire and he bailed out. Sadly, as he jumped, he was hit by the tail of the plane and killed.

His body was recovered by helicopter, returned on board, taken to the Sick Bay and wrapped in canvas. After flying was completed, all crew not on watch, were mustered on the after end of the flight deck. A short service was held, a salute of three guns and as light snow fell his body was committed to the deep. The ship's company looked grey, the ship was grey and the sea and the sky were grey, except on the western horizon where the sun was just setting. The next day Lieutenant Oakley was shot down as were Lieutenant Commander Bowles and Lieutenant Cooper. It was 13 December and our fifth patrol. Of the 383 sorties flown there were 25 cases of flak damage which resulted in five aircraft being lost. HMS Constance, one of the destroyers we had been operating with, was hit while bombarding shore installations on 16 December.

HMAS Sydney was in Kure for Christmas 1951. All of the ship's company received gift parcels from Australia, two of which were from newspapers and one from the Returned Soldiers League (RSL).

We commenced our sixth patrol on 27 December 1951 and like previous patrols included giving support to United Nations held islands being attacked by the enemy, air cover for convoys and mine spotting. Lieutenant Coleman, a Sea Fury pilot, was on Carrier Air Patrol (CAP) duty on 2 January 1952, when he disappeared into the Yellow Sea. Cause of his disappearance is not known but it was believed to be a mechanical malfunction. HMAS Sydney once more flew the flag of Rear Admiral Scott-Moncrieff when he transferred from HMS Belfast. He personally briefed the aircrews on targets on the north bank of the Han River. Lieutenant Peter Goldrick was wounded when his aircraft was hit by flak but he managed to return safely. Whenever a pilot was overdue or in trouble the whole ship's company would wait anxiously for news. Commander VAT Smith knew what it was like as he had been shot down twice whilst serving in HMS Ark Royal.

During the sixth patrol the weather became freezing as the winds blew down from Manchuria and the Siberian plains and at times with gale force strength. The ship's sides were caked with ice as sea spray froze. Many of the crew had colds and ice dribbling from one's nose would turn to ice. Somehow we retained a sense of humour. Leading Airman, "Reg" Bolton, came down from the flight deck dressed like an Eskimo to make himself a cup of tea. "Vic" Zammit sat next to him and dropped his dentures into Reg's cup. When Reg found them (after he had drunk the tea) he was not amused and felt very seedy. On completion of our sixth patrol we again returned to Kure.

At the Kure shopping centre, Vic Zammit used to feed and make a fuss of a half starved mongrel dog. A Japanese shopkeeper asked Vic if "you wanna buy dog". There was of course a communication problem and the shopkeeper mis-interpreted Vic's response. The next morning as we were about to sail from Kure for our seventh and last patrol, the Japanese trader, with dog on leash walked onto our deck. The Officer of the Watch was advised that the dog was being delivered to Vic Zammit. He was promptly told that dogs were not permitted on RAN ships which considerably upset the trader. As we cast off, there on the pontoon wharf stood the dog and trader, both looking very disappointed and forlorn.

On our last patrol we carried out anti-aircraft (AA) firings and then relieved the USS Badoeng Strait on the west coast of Korea. Rear Admiral JWM Eaton, DSO,DSC, the new Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet, spent several days on board and flew as an Observer in a Firefly on a strike mission. Off the coast we would come across fishing boats which would sometimes come into the immediate area where we were attempting to land aircraft. Several times during this last patrol we had to fire Bofors guns close to these boats to get them to move out of our way. 293 sorties were flown on this patrol and on convoy escort duty. For the greater part of 2 days the weather was so bad that we were unable to launch aircraft.

The Korean tour of duty had been costly, with 80 aircraft hit by flak and 10 lost. Sadly, three Sea Fury pilots lost their lives and one was wounded although it appears to be miraculous that, given the circumstances, not more aircrew were killed or wounded. There were no casualties aboard, although there could have been when returning aircraft landed sometimes still carrying 60 pound rocket projectiles that had failed to fire. As the aircraft "hit" the flight deck, at times, the rockets launched themselves, speeding along the deck and then disappearing over the bow into the sea. To protect the flight deck crew, a mesh was rigged at No 3 Barrier. After being caught in the mesh the 60 pound shells were tossed over the side. The 20 mm aircraft cannon rounds could also go off unexpectedly or accidentally and on one occasion several 20 mm rounds were fired from an aircraft in the hangar which went through to the flight deck.

Our Type 96 Radar excelled itself by detecting aircraft up to 190 miles away. Whilst operating off the west coast, we were able to pick up aircraft on our radar which were operating off the east coast.

"Reg" Lascelles, a former crew member, recently said of his time in Korea ;

"You will see driving along roads under construction signs stating that radios should be turned off as explosives are being used. This turns my mind back to Korea. Carrier personnel are aware that transmission aerials are positioned on the Port side of the flight deck and are about 20 feet high. While not flying aircraft, the aerials are in a vertical position and when flying is being undertaken, are placed in a horizontal position. After the sorties of the day had been completed the aerials would be raised so that normal transmissions could take place. It became normal practice at that period for returning aircraft to be re-spotted, re-armed and re-fuelled for early morning take-off for what was colloquially referred to as the Milk Run over Korea. During this period the Armament Department got into full swing, usually at dusk, with gun changes, loading cannon shells and 60 pound rocket projectiles with their high explosive (HE) heads into each aircraft. Rockets were loaded onto rails under the wings, 6 rails taking 2 rockets each, making 12 rockets per aircraft. At the rear end of the rails were sockets into which the leads for each rocket were plugged. As a safety precaution, into each socket a small globe was inserted. If, for any reason, the globe lit up, that part of the equipment was deemed to be faulty and would be replaced. The globes would remain in the sockets until the aircraft had been positioned on the catapult for take-off. Prior to this, happening, each aircraft would be rechecked while the engine was being run up to ensure that no fault was recorded. When the Leading Armourer was satisfied that all was well, the globes would be removed and the firing leads plugged into the sockets. The rockets were then ready for firing.

Now, to go back to the flight deck. The ship is blacked out. All aircraft have been checked and reloaded. Those not on duty are asleep. Some are still working in the hangar repairing flak and other damage to aircraft. The ship is steaming along. Across the flight deck came two armourers. They stopped in their tracks as they sighted two small lights flashing on and off. This was caused by the aerials being raised to the vertical position and the ship transmitting signals. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had have been plugged into the firing circuits?. Each of the aircraft, with 12 rockets, all pointing at the Bridge of HMAS Sydney !!!. The rearming procedures were changed post haste with no rearming carried out in darkness. A valuable lesson had been learned on the dangers of radio transmissions and explosives".

Thanks Reg.

On the 6 February 1952 whilst HMAS Sydney and HMAS Tobruk were in Hong Kong, we received news of the death of His Majesty King George V1. We sailed for Singapore with a deck cargo of Royal Air Force (RAF) Spitfires and Vampires. Our first Australian port of call was Fremantle. At Fremantle there was a tug strike was in progress. On departure, 12 Sea Furys were used to manoeuvre the ship with their slipstreams in a tactic known as Operation Pinwheel. The slipstream caused many of the dresses and skirts worn by admiring ladies on the wharf to rise much higher than they wished. The operation was a success and we moved away from the berth with ease. At Fremantle, our long leave personnel had transferred to HMAS Tobruk, leaving HMAS Sydney free to head straight for Jervis Bay to land aircraft.

HMAS Sydney had returned.

Typhoon Ruth

It was a night of terror. During the Korean War the Aircraft Carrier, HMAS Sydney, was replenishing ammunition, aircraft spares, stores etc at the Japanese port of Sasebo after its record breaking first operational patrol off the coast of Korea when Typhoon Ruth, a revolving tropical storm was reported to have reached wind speeds of up to 200 kilometres per hour and was heading straight for us. Because of the large number of warships and transports in Sasebo Harbour, Rear Admiral Scott-Moncrief, DSO,RN, ordered HMAS Sydney and all large British warships to sea on 14 October 1951 to ride out the typhoon. Once clear of the sheltered harbour, the 19500 ton aircraft carrier began to roll like a pig in mud, in a brown sea with torrential rain beating down on the crew working on the flight deck. Because HMAS Sydney was on active service she carried an extra squadron of Sea Fury fighters, making a total of 36 aircraft plus one United States Navy manned helicopter for rescue duties. The hangar could accommodate about 20 aircraft. This left well over a dozen aircraft lashed to the after part of the 695 foot flight deck.

The concern of Captain David Harries, RAN, (later Rear Admiral Harries, CB, CBE) was first to save the aircraft. By late afternoon the typhoon was getting worse. To prevent damage, speed was reduced to two knots and Captain Harries "heaved to" by heading up to the sea using the engines just sufficiently to hold Sydney in position where it was hoped that the ship would ride more safely. At this time the wind was circulating in an anti clockwise movement at about 130 kilometres. Visibility was down to the length of the ship. The air was filled with spray and foam and the sea was almost totally white, vaguely resembling steep hills or houses covered with soap suds. At about 1700 hours (5 PM), the "Skimmer", a fast 16 foot motor boat also known as the "Jolly Boat", which was stowed just below flight deck level, 36 feet above the water line, was washed over the side by a wave close on 45 foot high. This was followed 45 minutes later by fork lift truck also going over the side from the flight deck. An hour later, our starboard 36 foot Cutter, stowed inboard on the weather deck was smashed to pieces by a huge wave. The remainder of the ship's boats were all damaged to some extent.

Below decks, the whole ship shook and shuddered each time the angry sea hit her. The Chief and Petty Officers galley had been put out of action. The only meal served from the ship's company galley was a cold sausage between two slices of bread and that had to be eaten standing up. The forward cafeteria had taken in sea water and each time the ship rolled, that water turned into a wave which smashed everything from one side of the cafeteria to the other. Down below, in the machinery spaces the stokers were working in up to one foot of sea water. In the Hangar, a two ton power plant almost broke loose and the Naval Airmen risked their lives in lashing it to the bulkhead. During Sunday night a number of fires broke out caused by sea water getting into the electrical equipment and we heard the pipe - FIRE - FIRE - FIRE - time and time again. There was an added danger as aviation fuel (AVGAS) from the smashed aircraft's' fuel tanks had leaked into the ship's ventilation system and a spark from an electric motor could have caused an explosion. Many sailors were on duty with life jackets on. Anyone not on duty turned into their hammocks but sleep was impossible. The Executive Officer, Commander "Vat" Smith (later Admiral Sir Victor, AC,KBE,CB,DSC) worked for 36 hours without a break, directing damage control, fire and working parties.

Up on the flight deck, the aircraft handlers, secured to lifelines, worked constantly on each aircraft, checking and securing the wire lashings. When relieved, they would come below looking like drowned rats, many of them collapsing from sheer physical exhaustion. I remember Leading Airman "Reg" Holton coming down from the flight deck, soaked and bruised and saying ;

"I think we have had it. If it gets any worse, I don't think any of us will see tomorrow"

Reg was a World War 2 destroyer man, a champion boxer and played football for the Navy. He was tough and one of the most popular sailors in the RAN. Everyone respected him and he certainly was not a "panic merchant" or a pessimist. Another "old salt" who had spent over 30 years at sea said ;

"These seas are the worst that I have ever been in. It is like being in another world."

At 2100 (9 pm) hours the typhoon was at its worst. The Wind Recorder had been smashed.

Captain Harries and the Navigator, Commander Shand, both outstanding specialist navigators, estimated the typhoon was between Force 12 and Force 13 with winds between 120 and 150 kilometres. Another specialist navigator, Lieutenant Commander Brian Murray, (later His Excellency Rear Admiral Sir Brian, KCMG,AO, KSJ, Governor of Victoria) estimated that the wave height was 40 to 45 feet with very high precipitation and confused seas. At about 2000 hours, a Firefly, a 2 seater Fighter/Strike aircraft was washed overboard and disappeared into the boiling sea in a matter of seconds. As the huge seas of hundreds of tons of water rained down on the flight deck the carrier constantly pitched and rolled. The under carriages of a number of aircraft collapsed, falling on to their bellies. Some ended up in the gun sponsons and six of these were complete write-offs. Not far from us, a US Navy leased Troop Transport, the 7000 ton Kongo Maru, nicked named the "Red Ball Express" with 500 American troops on board, sailing from Sasebo to Pusan in South Korea, ended up grounded on an island 15 miles from Sasebo with its holds filled with water and waves pouring over its superstructure. There were 12 other wrecks as a result of Typhoon Ruth.

As the centre of Typhoon Ruth moved north, we steamed back to Sasebo arriving at 1200 hours on 15 October. We secured to No 18 Buoy, near HMS Unicorn. We sent over our aircraft by lighter that had been written off during Typhoon Ruth and received replacement aircraft in exchange. The hull of HMAS Sydney was fairly rusty with a lot of paint gone, and the plates near the bow were stoved in and corrugated. As each ship entered harbour we would race up on to the flight deck to see how much damage had been done and to compare it with ours. Ashore in Southern Japan approximately 200 people had been killed with many others missing. One hundred sea going fishing vessels were sunk in harbour. Rail transport came to a stand still with bridges destroyed, overturned railway carriages and lines and sleepers washed away. Sasebo Harbour was filled with all kinds of debris including complete houses as a result of landslides coming down from the 2000 feet high volcanic mountains. Kagoshima recorded 30 inches of rain and most of the dams in Southern Japan were filled, ending a drought and hydro electric power rationing was relaxed. After two days of cleaning up HMAS Sydney in Sasebo, we sailed for the Yellow Sea and the West coast of Korea on 18 October 1951 to commence our second tour of the Korean War.

HMAS Sydney ended her 1951 - 1952 tours of duty in Korean waters on 25 January 1952 after completing seven war patrols. She expended 18 X 1000 pound bombs, 784 X 500 pound bombs, 6539 Rocket Projectiles and 269249 X 20 mm cannon rounds. Sadly, three Sea Fury pilots, Lieutenant K.E. Clarkson, DFM, RAN, Sub-Lieutenant R.R. Sinclair, RAN, and Sub-Lieutenant R.J. Coleman, RAN, were killed. In all eleven aircraft were lost in action or on patrol and aircraft suffered flak damage seventy seven times. Captain Harries was awarded the Commander of the Order of the Bath (CB), with six other members of the ship's company also being decorated and thirteen, including Lieutenant Commander Brian Murray were Mentioned in Despatches (MID).


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