Home' Navy News : March 18th 2010 Contents 20
March 18, 2010
By LSIS Paul McCallum
IN A bizarre set of circum-
stances, a 6-inch gun from
HMAS Sydney (I) killed
three sailors on an Australian
minesweeper 28 years after it
helped bring down the German
raider SMS Emden.
One of the lesser known
incidents of WWII involved the
minesweeper HMAS Tambar and
an Army gun emplacement on
Moreton Island near Brisbane.
Weighing in at just 456 tonnes
and requisitioned for the RAN in
October 1939, Tambar was fit-
ted with a 12-pound gun and four
depth chargers to act as a coastal
minesweeper for the approaches to
With such a large military
presence in Brisbane, including
GEN Douglas MacArthur's Pacific
headquarters and thousands of
Australian and American troops,
defence of the city was an impor-
tant Government priority.
To keep the harbour safe, the
RAN established 10 specialist
stations providing signal support,
controlled mining and a forward
base for Fairmile escort ships. The
Minesweeping Group 74 was also
established to keep the approaches
to Brisbane safe from mines.
Assisting the protection of
the harbour were Army-control-
led shore batteries, including the
Fort Cowan Cowan battery on
Armed with a single 6-inch
gun (formerly fitted to HMAS Sydney I), the battery
was responsible for providing covering fire to the
approaches of Brisbane River.
For almost two and a half years, Tambar and her
fellow Minesweeping Group 74 ship HMAS Kianga
patrolled the waters between Brisbane and Moreton
Island almost daily.
Local lighthouse keepers on Moreton Island and
nearby Bribie Island reported the familiarity of seeing
the two ships was like seeing the local bus; such was
the frequency of these ships being in the area.
On March 14, 1942 Tambar was returning to port
after a routine patrol when she was challenged by the
shore battery at Cowan Cowan. For some unknown rea-
son, the challenge was either not correct (as had been
reported on several occasions previously) or the reply
was confusing to the Army-run battery.
The gun director at Cowan Cowan ordered a warn-
ing shot to be fired across the bow of the ship. One
single round was fired, however, the round did not pass
in front of the bow, but over it.
Anchorman AB Archibald E. Bartch was killed
instantly before the projectile ricocheted through the
bridge and killed Steward Eric R. Harrison. Still mov-
ing through the ship, the round passed through the radio
room and severed the legs of WO Henry Theeman, who
died in hospital of his injuries, before it ended up in the
Tambar immediately turned to shore and the injured
personnel were transferred to medical stations by ambu-
The authorities at the time decided to cover up
the incident to prevent any drop in morale among the
troops and the remaining crew were disbanded to other
units. The CO, LEUT Joseph H. P. Dixon (RANR), was
assigned to another command and the ship was handed
over to the Commonwealth Salvage Board.
Tambar then spent time in Darwin and was involved
in the unsuccessful attempt to recover the coal hulk
Kelat, which sunk five days after the bombing of
Darwin by the Japanese.
Tambar was recommissioned into the RAN in July
1944 but was returned to her original owners a year
later and sold to scrap in Melbourne in 1959.
TARGET: HMAS Tambar suffered one of the
Navy's lesser known wartime tragedies.
Photo: Bruce Gilbert
The gun from
(I) at Fort
(below) and its
place on the
Photo: Bruce Gilbert
blunder in QLD
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