Tobruk's illustrious history

Published on SGT Dave Morley (author), CPL Gary Ramage (photographer)

Location(s): Mogadishu, Somalia

HMAS Tobruk in port at Mogadishu in 1993 (photo: Corporal Gary Ramage)
HMAS Tobruk in port at Mogadishu in 1993

Among HMAS Tobruk’s more distant and significant operations during her illustrious 34-year career was supporting the Australian Defence Force’s Operation SOLACE deployment to Somalia in 1992-93.

According to the Sea Power Centre’s Senior Naval Historical Officer, and former Chief Petty Officer Signals Yeoman in Tobruk during the operation, John Perryman, the ship’s participation proved invaluable.

“Along with HMAS Jervis Bay, she provided the heavy-lift capability necessary to convey elements of 3/4 Cavalry Regiment and all of its associated heavy equipment to and from Somalia,” he said.

“At that time it was the largest Australian Defence Force military sealift operation since Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Tobruk remained in Somalia, under the auspices of Operation RESTORE HOPE, providing logistical and communications support to the Commander of the Australian Forces, as well as conducting surveillance off the Somali coast.

“In a little-known role, she was used as a platform to rehearse visit, board, search and seize operations by US Navy Seals, following a tip-off a merchant vessel was on passage to Somalia carrying an illegal cargo of weapons.”

Mr Perryman said Tobruk also proved popular with Australian soldiers who spent time in her during periods of respite from operations in both Baidoa and Mogadishu.

Tobruk’s embarked Sea King helicopter, Shark 05, was also used in ship-to-shore transport of personnel,” he said.

Tobruk sailed from Mogadishu on 20 May 1993, on her voyage home to Australia following the successful five-month deployment, with personnel from the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment onboard and 844 tonnes of vehicles and stores embarked.

Mr Perryman said, from Navy’s perspective, the effective sealift of a battalion's heavy vehicles and necessary supplies at short notice and the support to that group through the ongoing presence of an amphibious heavy-lift ship was an unbridled success.

“For Jervis Bay it was to prove a highlight in her career and for Tobruk it was to be one of many successful amphibious operations to follow in a career that spanned more than three decades,” he said.