Fond farewell

Published on LCDR Peter Arnold (author), LSIS Dove Smithett (photographer)

Location(s): West Head Gunnery Range

Topic(s): West Head Gunnery Range

M22 Fire Control System maintainer, Mr Peter Wetzel conducts the final firing for the system at West Head Gunnery Range, Flinders, Victoria. (photo: LSIS Dove Smithett)
M22 Fire Control System maintainer, Mr Peter Wetzel conducts the final firing for the system at West Head Gunnery Range, Flinders, Victoria.

At 2 o’clock on Thursday 20 February, forty years of naval history came to an end at West Head Gunnery Range, with the last live firing controlled by an M22 Gunnery Fire Control System, the last of its kind in operation in the world.

With Commodore Training, Commodore Michael Rothwell RAN and Director General Navy Capability Transition and Sustainment, Commodore Peter Quinn RAN observing, the system was used for the final time to conduct a gun function trial and simulated anti-aircraft firing of the 76mm gun. It seems appropriate that the maintainer operating the equipment for the last firing was Mr Peter Wetzel, who is retiring shortly following more than 40 years service in the RAN and Australian Public Service. Peter is the last M22 Gunnery Fire Control System maintainer working for Navy, having joined the Navy in 1973 as a junior recruit.

Following category training at HMAS Nirimba, Peter posted to sea as an Electronics Technician - Systems in HMAS Vendetta (II). Follow on postings in HMA Ships Vampire (II), Brisbane (II) and Torrens (II) provided a depth of experience in naval gunnery weapons and systems that would stand him in good stead for the future.

In 1985, then Petty Officer Wetzel left the Navy and took up a position at the West Head Gunnery Range as the lead M22 fire control system operator/maintainer. He has held this position for 29 years and will be familiar to the multitude of officers and sailors who have trained at the range in the last  three decades.

Firing of the 76mm gun using the M22 Fire Control System for the last time at West Head Gunnery Range, Flinders, Victoria.

Firing of the 76mm gun using the M22 Fire Control System for the last time at West Head Gunnery Range, Flinders, Victoria.

Following the decommissioning of the M22 system, Peter was presented with a Secretary of Defence 40 year Service Award by Commodore Rothwell AM RAN in recognition of his contribution to the defence of Australia.

“It truly is the end of an era; today we farewell an iconic member of the Navy family. I thank you for your significant contribution to the training of hundreds of officers, thousands of sailors, and for your years of service in the Navy and the Department of Defence,” said Commodore Rothwell.

Situated on a headland at the entrance to Westernport Bay near Flinders in Victoria, the West Head Gunnery Range was established in 1959 as the RAN shore-based gunnery training facility.

Over the last 55 years many types of weapons and controlling systems have been and gone. The M22 system was originally installed in HMAS Yarra (III) in 1973 and when Yarra decommissioned in 1985, was moved to the range.

With the decommissioning of HMAS Torrens (II) in 1999, the range's M22 became the last one operating in the RAN. It will be replaced with the more contemporary Mark3E combat management system, as fitted in HMAS Perth, along with a single face of the Anzac Anti Ship Missile Defence CEAFAR phased array radar, which will be integrated with the range's 76mm gun by the end of this year. A concurrent project will see installation of a Typhoon weapon system and Australian Tactical Interface Control system from the new Hobart Class Guided Missile Destroyer in preparation DDG crew training next year.

These latest project's  follow successful installation of other weapons and sensors such as: the Mini Typhoon, fitted to the Adelaide Class Frigates; the Rafael Typhoon, found in the Armidale Class Patrol Boats; the Toplite Electro-Optical Sensor, installed in RAN frigates and patrol boats; and, a Sharpeye Surface Search Radar as installed in the upgraded Anzac Class frigates.

With new facilities and weapons, the West Head Gunnery Range will continue to provide high quality live weapons training for Navy's officers and sailors many years to come.

Imagery is available on the Australian Defence Image Library at http://images.defence.gov.au/S20140372.

From the left; Mr Christopher Long; Mr Peter Loran; Mr Peter Wetzel; Mr Jason Plant; and Officer in Charge West Head Gunnery Range, Lieutenant Commander Peter Arnold, RAN at West Head Gunnery Range, Flinders, Victoria.

From the left; Mr Christopher Long; Mr Peter Loran; Mr Peter Wetzel; Mr Jason Plant; and Officer in Charge West Head Gunnery Range, Lieutenant Commander Peter Arnold, RAN at West Head Gunnery Range, Flinders, Victoria.