Royal Australian Navy personnel gathered at HMAS Waterhen on Friday 27 June, to commemorate the first RAN ship lost due to enemy action in World War II, HMAS Waterhen (I).
Current and former personnel joined Commodore Support, Commodore Tony Partridge, RAN at the service to mark the loss of the ship affectionately known as the ‘Chook’.
HMAS Waterhen (I) began her wartime career conducting anti-submarine patrols in waters off Sydney, before receiving orders that saw her operate in support of the hard-fought campaign in the Mediterranean. During the long and bitter struggle for sea control of the Mediterranean, Waterhen I served with distinction.
On the night of 29 June 1941, Waterhen (I) was attacked by Italian dive bombers while enroute from Alexandria to Tobruk.
HMAS Waterhen’s current Commanding Officer, Commander David Jones, RAN has reflected on how lucky it was that no one was killed in the attack.
“At 7:45pm Waterhen was dive bombed by Italian aircraft. Though not directly hit, Waterhen was severely damaged by near misses and immobilised. Thankfully the destroyer was travelling in company with HMS Defender, so her ship’s company and embarked troops were able to be transferred, with no casualties,” said Commander Jones.
“While the original Waterhen was sunk, her name lives on today. Everyone who serves at HMAS Waterhen, Navy’s lead establishment for mine warfare, is proud to reflect on the accomplishments of this small but mighty ship and those who served in her,” said Commander Jones.
HMAS Waterhen (I) was one of a number of ‘V’ and ‘W’ Class destroyers loaned to the Royal Australian Navy by Britain in 1933. On entering the Mediterranean theatre they were mockingly dubbed the 'Scrap Iron Flotilla' by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. A name the Australian sailors adopted with pride.
More imagery is available at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20130551.
A history of HMAS Waterhen (I) can be read here http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-waterhen-i.