Perth Class

FAREWELL TO STEAM

by

Robin Clark
robin.clark@bigpond.com
 

October 1999 saw the beginning of the close of a chapter in the history of the Royal Australian Navy, when on Friday the 15th, HMAS PERTH was decommissioned after serving the Australian Navy for thirty-four years, and sailing over a million nautical miles.  HMAS PERTH was the class leader of three Australian destroyers built to the United States Charles F Adams class design.  These three vessels are the last steam powered fighting ships to serve with the Royal Australian Navy. 

In 1960 naval planners saw the need for the Royal Australian Navy to acquire guided missile armed surface ships.  Traditionally, Australia had operated ships, armaments and stores based on Royal Navy classes.  Therefore, the initial thinking was to purchase ships of the 'County' class, then under construction in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy.  However, the Australian planners had severe doubts about the suitability of the 'County' class package.  In particular, the performance of the guided missile system, the Sea Slug, then being developed, failed to impress; instead the tried and proven United States Tartar system selected for the DDG class of destroyers was considered to be superior.  Also engineering experts expressed concern about the "County' class propulsion equipment, a combination of gas and steam turbines, instead they favoured proven steam turbines.

The Admiralty indicated that they were unable to modify the 'County' class design to meet the RAN requirements.  Further studies indicated that the United States Charles F Adams class DDG destroyer best suited the Royal Australian Navy needs, even though the ship was considerably smaller than the 'County' class.  The United States vessels were equipped with Tartar missiles and were powered by conventional steam turbines.  Australian naval experience with gas turbine propulsion would have to wait until the commissioning of the FFG 7 frigates.

There were initial concerns about operating United States designed vessels alongside British designed surface vessels, largely as regards logistics and operating procedures.  These concerns were overcome, and the Australian Government decided to purchase the American destroyers.   On 6 January 1962 a contract was signed for two guided missile destroyers with Defoe Shipbuilding Co. of Bay City, Michigan, the ships to be named PERTH and HOBART.  In June 1963 the order was extended to a third ship, to be named BRISBANE.  The three destroyers had sufficient modifications from the United Stated design for them to be separately identified as the 'Perth' class.  The main modifications were the addition of two broad deckhouses, one on each side of the vessel between the funnels, housing the Australian designed Ikara anti submarine missile system, and the mounting of a single-arm missile launcher instead of the twin mounting installed on the American ships.

The Charles F Adams class resulted from United States  Navy design requirements of the late 1950s.  The ships were based on an improved Forrest Sherman class, the main differences being that the Adams class was fitted with Tartar anti aircraft guided missiles instead of the Sherman's aftermost 5-inch gun, and an aluminium superstructure.  A total of twenty three ships were built for the US Navy, the vessels being commissioned between 1960 and 1964.  Apart from the three modified versions built for the Royal Australian Navy, three vessels were also built for the West German Navy.  The German ships were LUTJENS, MOLDERS and ROMMEL

Acquisition of the destroyers has been regarded by many as a significant milestone in Australian naval history.  They were the first Royal Australian Navy warship to be designed and built in the United States, marking the decline in Royal Naval influence and the strengthening of the North American Alliance.  Also the ships marked the graduation of the Royal Australian Navy into the age of guided missiles.

The three destroyers were formed into the First Australian Destroyer squadron, based at Sydney's Garden Island naval dockyard.

Soon after their commissioning the destroyers were to see action in the Vietnam conflict.  Initially the Australian surface ship commitment was in providing logistic support for the Australian army.  However, in 1966 the Australian Government decided to extend the naval involvement to a combat role.  It was decided that the compatibility with the United States equipment made the new Charles F Adams class vessels ideally suited for this role.  The first of the ships to be deployed was HMAS HOBART.

The ships served as units of the United States Seventh Fleet.  Their main service was with the 'gunline', providing fire support to the allied land forces.  The ships also served on Operation Sea Dragon, a naval operation which intercepted supply vessels travelling from the north, as well as the bombardment of military and logistic targets north of the demilitarised zone.  Operation Sea Dragon ended in November 1968.  The destroyers were also used to provide anti aircraft screening to the Unites States aircraft carriers.  At various times the commanders of the RAN ships were delegated command of 'gunline' and SEA DRAGON operations.  HMAS PERTH also supervised an abortive attempt to return North Vietnamese prisoners of war.

On several occasions the destroyers operated close inshore and were fired upon by North Vietnamese shore batteries.  Only one of the destroyers suffered damage from shore based enemy fire.  On 18 Oct 1967 HMAS PERTH was under fire for four hours, and during this engagement the ship hit by an artillery shell which penetrated one deck.

The only other of the guided missile destroyers to be damaged was HMAS HOBART.  On June 17, 1968 the destroyer was attacked by an aircraft, which launched three missiles.  Two of the missiles hit the ship, one hitting it amidships causing damage to the superstructure, and the other struck aft below the main deck.  Two members of HOBART's crew were killed and several were injured in this incident.  The destroyer sailed to Subic Bay for repairs.  Analysis of the shrapnel identified the missiles as being of United States Air Force origin.

The destroyers were in the combat zone for deployments lasting about six months.  HMAS PERTH served three deployments; September 1967 to April 1968, September 1968 t0 April 1969 and September 1970 to April 1971.  HMAS HOBART served three deployments; March 1967 to September 1967, March 1968 to October 1968 and March 1970 to October 1970.  HMAS BRISBANE served two deployments; March 1969 to October 1969 and March 1971 to October 1971.  Also the Daring class destroyer, HMAS VENDETTA, served one deployment; September 1969 to October 1970.

During their service in the Vietnam conflict the Australian destroyers sailed almost 400,000 nautical miles and fired over 100,000 shells.  Their contribution to the United States naval effort received recognition from the United States Department of the Navy, with HMAS HOBART being awarded an US Navy Unit Commendation and HMAS PERTH being awarded an US Navy Unit Commendation as well as an US Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation.

HMAS BRISBANE returned to Australia at the end of her last deployment.  This marked the end of the Australian warship commitment to the conflict.  The following year the remaining Australian armed forces were withdrawn.

During their service careers the destroyers underwent a number of refits, which ensured that the weapons systems, the radar and accommodation were up-to-date and matched the latest US Navy standards.  The first major refit was performed on PERTH at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in 1974.  The Australian government then decided that further refits to the class would be undertaken at Australian establishments.  Refits have included the fitting of airconditioning, upgrade of the missile firing and control systems, the replacement of the Tartar missile with the Standard missile and the modification of the missile systems to fire the Harpoon anti ship missiles.  In 1991 the Ikara missile system was removed from the class.

The destroyers played key roles in numerous United States Australian joint exercises in both Australian and American waters.  Their compatibility with United States being an important operational factor.  The destroyers' crews earned themselves a high reputation for operational excellence, and in particular for gunnery accuracy.

In 1977 a representative of the class made a visit to the United Kingdom.  Two units of the Royal Australian Navy, HMAS BRISBANE and the aircraft carrier HMAS MELBOURNE took part in the Silver Jubilee Naval Review held at Spithead in June of that year.

In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and United Nations intervention soon followed.  Once again Australian naval ships found themselves in a war zone as Australia fulfilled its obligations to the Multinational Force.  The Australian commitment consisted of HMAS BRISBANE, together with a number of Australian FFG 7s and replenishment vessels.  HMAS BRISBANE served in the Persian Gulf from December 1990 to March 1991 and was present throughout the period of the hostilities.  The ship spent much of her time with Battle Force Zulu, the force of United States Navy aircraft carriers and their escort vessels.  Her duties included providing anti aircraft and anti surface ship protection, planeguard duties, interception of merchant vessels, and escorting replenishment vessels. 

HMAS BRISBANE did not come under enemy fire during this conflict, but on occasions red alerts were declared when Iraqi aircraft were detected taking off from their air bases.  On 18 February 1991, HMAS BRISBANE  was 30 nautical miles from the amphibious assault ship, USS PRINCETON when that vessel struck a mine.

HMAS BRISBANE is the only warship in current Royal Australian Navy commission to have served in two wars.  In recognition of her Gulf War service the ship was awarded the Australian Meritorious Unit Citation.

In early 1999 the Perth class returned to Vietnamese waters.  HMAS PERTH became the first Australian combat warship to return to Vietnam since the Vietnam War when she visited that country in company with HMAS ARUNTA . From 24th to 28th April.

The Perth class have served the Royal Australian Navy with distinction, and have proved their value under combat conditions.  The destroyers have been one of the most successful and cost effective components of the Australian fleet, being an effective and potent weapons platform and having a long service life that extended beyond normal expectations.  They were highly capable vessels inspite of their relatively small size and lack of helicopter facilities. 

The two remaining destroyers are to be decommissioned in the near future. HOBART and BRISBANE are to be decommissioned in 2000 and 2001 respectively.  With these two ships ending their careers, a chapter in the Royal Australian Navy's history will close, and for the Navy it will be farewell to steam.

DETAILS OF THE PERTH CLASS

Name No. Laid down  Launched  Commissioned

Perth  38 21 Sep 1962  28 Sep 1963  17 July 1965

Hobart  39 26 Oct 1962  9 Jan 1964  18 Dec 1965

Brisbane 41 15 Feb 1965  5 May 1966  16 Dec 1967

 

Builder: Defoe Shipbuilding Co. Bay City Michigan

Displacement  4720 tons

Length  133.2 metres

Beam  14.3 metres

Draught  6.1 metres

 

Armament

 2x 5" mark 42 mod 10 automatic rapid fire guns

 Standard anti aircraft missile system

 Harpoon anti ship missile system

 2x Vulcan phalanx mk15 close in weapons systems

 4x 0.50 cal. Machine guns

 2x triple mount anti submarine torpedo tubes firing mk48 torpedoes

 

Machinery 2x GE steam turbines driving 2 shafts. Producing 70,000 shaft horse power

Boilers 4x Foster Wheeler "D" type

Speed in excess of 30 knots.

Range  4 500 nautical miles at 15 knots

2 000 nautical miles at 30 knots

 

Complement 333. (21 Officers, 312 sailors)

 

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