HMAS Melbourne and USS Frank E Evans collision remembered

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Natalie Staples (author), ABIS Jake Badior (author)

Location(s): Garden Island, Sydney

Topic(s): HMAS Melbourne (II), Memorial Service

RADM Tony Horton, AO, RAN (Rtd) addresses attendees of the 45th Anniversary of the HMAS Melbourne (II) and USS Frank E Evans collision in a small ceremony held at Garden Island Chapel, Sydney. (photo: ABIS Jake Badior)
RADM Tony Horton, AO, RAN (Rtd) addresses attendees of the 45th Anniversary of the HMAS Melbourne (II) and USS Frank E Evans collision in a small ceremony held at Garden Island Chapel, Sydney.

Forty-five years after the USS Frank E Evans collided with the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II) in the South China Sea, personnel who served on the night have reunited for a memorial service in Sydney.

Survivors, friends and families reflected on the 74 American personnel who were killed when the USS Frank E Evans crossed Melbourne’s bow and was cut in two during a training exercise.

Acting Commander of the Australian Fleet, Commodore Jonathan Mead, Director at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs NSW and ACT, Mr Effie Cauchi, and Consul of the US Consulate, Scott Simpson joined the 58 ex-Melbourne personnel and the two American sailors for the service.

The Commanding Officer of Melbourne, Captain John Stevenson, who was on the bridge and took urgent action to try and avoid the collision also attended the reunion.

Organiser of the reunion, Rear Admiral Tony Horton (Rtd), who was the navigating officer in Melbourne at the time of the accident, said 3 June 1969 was an extraordinary and a very sad day.

“Initially there was almost disbelief that the collision had occurred and that there would clearly be a significant loss of life,” Rear Admiral Horton (Rtd) said.

“As the morning progressed, Melbourne personnel were swift to respond and played an important role in the recovery of the 199 US survivors. This established the strong bonds between officers and sailors involved in the collision, which continue today.”

Ex-serving members of the Royal Australian Navy and the United States Navy are reunited at the HMAS Melbourne (II) and USS Frank E Evans 45th Anniversary service at Garden Island Navy Base, Sydney. From Left, Gordon Lowe, retired Radar Plotter, RAN; Del Francis, retired 3rd Class Radarman USS Evans; and Chris Mitchell, also a retired Radar Plotter of the RAN. Chris was on duty onboard HMAS Melbourne at the time of the collision.

Ex-serving members of the Royal Australian Navy and the United States Navy are reunited at the HMAS Melbourne (II) and USS Frank E Evans 45th Anniversary service at Garden Island Navy Base, Sydney. From Left, Gordon Lowe, retired Radar Plotter, RAN; Del Francis, retired 3rd Class Radarman USS Evans; and Chris Mitchell, also a retired Radar Plotter of the RAN. Chris was on duty onboard HMAS Melbourne at the time of the collision.

“This reunion is again a reminder of the loss of 74 fine people. It is an opportunity to remember them, to remember the survivors and to acknowledge the sterling efforts of many to save lives,” Rear Admiral Horton (Rtd) said.

“Periodic reunions have helped to maintain our strong bonds and have provided us with a wonderful opportunity to renew acquaintances with old shipmates.

“We have also remain bonded as we understand first hand that life at sea, particularly in the naval environment, can be fraught with many challenges and possible dangers,” Rear Admiral Horton said.

Following the service, the former service men and their families were invited to tour frigate HMAS Newcastle, before they reminisced over lunch at the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre.

Melbourne was one of 40 ships from six nations taking part in Exercise SEA SPIRIT, when in the early hours of 3 June 1969, the USS Frank E Evans was ordered to change position.

The USS Frank E Evans crossed Melbourne’s bow and was cut in two. The forward section of the Frank E Evans sunk, resulting in the loss of 74 American personnel. No Royal Australian Navy personnel died in the collision, though Melbourne sustained extensive bow damage.

USS Frank E Evans after the collision with HMAS Melbourne (II) on 3 June 1969. Image scanned from Navy Historic Archive.

USS Frank E Evans after the collision with HMAS Melbourne (II) on 3 June 1969. Image scanned from Navy Historic Archive.

Imagery is available on the Australian Defence Image Library at http://images.defence.gov.au/S20141580.