Leeuwin and Diamantina start Vampire (I) hunt off Sri Lankan coast

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Ryan Zerbe (author), LSIS Kayla Jackson (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Leeuwin (A245), HMAS Diamantina (M86), HMAS Vampire (I)

HMAS Leeuwin transits across the Bay of Bengal on her way to Sri Lanka where she will search for the wreck of the lost destroyer HMAS Vampire (I). (photo: LSIS Kayla Jackson)
HMAS Leeuwin transits across the Bay of Bengal on her way to Sri Lanka where she will search for the wreck of the lost destroyer HMAS Vampire (I).

HMA Ships Leeuwin and Diamantina are on the hunt for the lost destroyer HMAS Vampire (I), 77 years after the Australian warship was sunk in battle.

The hydrographic survey ship and minehunter are sailing off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean to scour the seafloor for signs of Vampire, which was destroyed after enduring air attacks from Japanese forces on 9 April 1942.

Vampire, already battle-hardened from months deployed in the Mediterranean, had been trying to protect the British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes which was also lost in the engagement.

Despite successfully shooting down at least one Japanese aircraft, Vampire was struck by four enemy bombs, breaking her in half.

Nine members of Vampire’s ship’s company, including her Commanding Officer Commander William Moran, died in the battle or later from wounds while the survivors were rescued by the hospital ship Vita and taken to Colombo.

Commanding Officer of HMAS Leeuwin, Commander Richard Mortimer said his ship’s capabilities, combined with those of Diamantina, would allow for a thorough search for Vampire’s wreck and the resting place of her lost crew members.

“Together, Leeuwin and Diamantina bring advanced underwater search systems including multibeam SONAR and remotely operated submersible vehicles to provide a complementary capability, that gives us the best chance of success” he said.

“We’re also working with our counterparts from the Sri Lankan Navy to complete the most meticulous search we can and hopefully, together, we can answer one of the oldest questions in the Australian Navy’s history and find our fallen shipmates.”

“Whatever the outcome, to have a hydrographic survey ship and a minehunter deployed farther from Australia than either have ever been before and working closely with our Sri Lankan Navy partners is an achievement in and of itself.”

Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator - Mine Warfare Jade Bourke from HMAS Diamantina said the mission was unusual for the minehunter’s crew.

“I’ll be split across two roles, closed up in the ops room operating the SONAR, or out on the deck operating our remotely operated vehicles which also have SONAR and cameras,” she said.

“It’s a bit out of the ordinary for us. Usually we’re identifying mines so this will be tricky, but it’s also exciting to try and find something different with our technology aboard,” Able Seaman Bourke said.