Submariners across the Australian Fleet will this year be sporting a new patch on the right arm of their Disruptive Pattern Naval Uniform. Officially launched on Saturday, the 100th anniversary of the arrival of our first submarines into Sydney Harbour, the patches will replace the existing ones for the remainder of the year.
According to John Perryman, an historian at the Sea Power Centre - Australia, the practice of decorating military equipment and articles of kit with personal motifs appears to be as old as warfare itself.
“Patches advertise all manner of sentiments, from pride in the parent service, unit or specialist category to involvement in a specific event such as a deployment or specific operation,” he said.
The centenary year of Submarine Service in Australia is one such special event.
The standard Submarine Force patch comprising a silhouette of a Collins class submarine on a black background has been replaced with a 3D image of the Collins submarine on a bright blue field. The centenary patch will be worn by all serving, qualified submariners as well as support staff.
“Patches worn on official uniforms promote esprit de corps and within the Navy engendering camaraderie has always been an integral part of the fighting efficiency of any warship or submarine,” he said.
Camaraderie within the Royal Australian Navy submarine branch has been built over the last hundred years. The submariners of today will, this year, honour the proud tradition of their service and the men who have lost their lives in service to our nation.
“For that reason these patches form a unique and important part of Australia’s social military history and, no doubt, will become coveted collectibles in years to come,” he said.
Five classes of submarines have been operated by the Royal Australian Navy over the last one hundred years, as well as a single Dutch submarine, K9, which saw brief service during World War II. Each contributed to the maritime security of Australia. At the outbreak of WWI, HMA Submarines AE1 and AE2 were manned by both Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy submariners. Sadly, AE1 disappeared with all hands in 1914 during operational service in waters off Rabaul. No trace of her, or her crew, was ever found.
AE2 gained the distinction of being the first Allied submarine to penetrate the Dardanelles and enter the Sea of Marmara during the Gallipoli campaign in April 1915. She was subsequently lost when her crew were forced to scuttle following a brisk action with a Turkish gunboat. AE2’s crew was taken prisoner spending the remainder of the war in a prison camp where one officer and three sailors died in captivity.
Following World War I the Royal Australian Navy made attempts to reinstitute a permanent submarine squadron, firstly with six British J Class submarines and later with two British O class boats. Due to economic reasons the concept did not proceed and was temporarily abandoned.
The next era of the Royal Australian Navy submarine service began in the 1960s with the introduction of six Oberon class boats. These vessels, designed for anti-surface and anti-submarine roles, proved very successful and were highly regarded for their stealth and overall capability.
The current Collins class submarines were built in Australia and brought into service in the late 1990s to replace the ageing Oberon class vessels, the last of which decommissioned in 2000.
These highly capable submarines provide a potent strategic capability for Australia forming a vital part of Australia’s Defence strategy.
The patches will be on sale to the public at key centenary events later in the year.