Home' Navy News : July 22nd 2010 Contents NAVY NEWS
July 22, 2010
By SGT Dave Morely
ALMOST 50 years ago a
RAN ship sank near Sydney
following an explosion and
fire that left two sailors dead.
The 603-tonne wooden-hull
ed armament store carrier, HMAS
Woomera, sank on October 11, 1960.
The ship sank about 90 minutes after
a fire started in the hold, during an
ammunition dumping operation.
The ship's former Executive
Officer, CDRE (Retd) Sam Bateman,
-- a 22-year-old LEUT at the time --
said most of the crew got off the ship
"It was a wooden ship, so once
the fire took hold it burnt very quick-
ly," CDRE Bateman said.
"The crew abandoned ship most-
ly with their lifejackets.
"The fire came up over the super-
structure so there was no time to
launch the lifeboats," he said.
CDRE Bateman said he remained
on board with the captain, navigator,
HMAS Woomera sinking: 50 years on
as it was reported
on the front page of
Navy News on Friday,
October 21, 1960.
Woomera's crew was
flares from the vessel
when the fire occurred.
phorus quickly caught fire and then
the other ammunition went off," he
said.Media reports at the time said the
men in the water were attacked by
albatrosses, though CDRE Bateman
said this was not true.
"Fortunately HMAS Quickmatch
and HMS Cavendish were exercis-
ing about 10 miles away at the time
and we were all picked up within the
hour," he said.
The two sailors killed, Ordinary
SMN Robert Bruce Herd and for-
mer RN sailor AB Barry Bryant
Baker, were part of an attached work
party, not actual crew members of
After a fruitless search for the
missing sailors, Quickmatch returned
to Sydney with the 25 survivors.
CDRE Bateman said both he and
Woomera's captain, LCDR Doug
Marshall, were court-martialled and
"As you may appreciate, it's not a
particularly happy memory," he said.
Radio operator Francis
Thompson was awarded a British
Empire Medal (BEM) (Military) for
his gallantry during the sinking. He
remained at his post ensuring his
SOS message and ship's coordinates
had been received, as his radio room
was burning around him.
Chief engine-room artificer Ray
Butler also received a BEM (M) for
his courage in trying to fight the fire.
Butler had to be ordered to abandon
ship by the captain.
Woomera's loss only received
10 lines on the front page of Navy
News on October 21, 1960 (left).
The ship was never replaced and
there is no memorial to those lost.
CDRE Bateman was appointed
a Member of the Order of Australia
in 1993 and retired from Navy as a
Commodore the same year.
He now holds a position as a
Professorial Fellow at the Australian
National Centre for Ocean
Resources and Security (ANCORS)
at the University of Wollongong.
chief engineer and radio operator for
another 10 minutes after the rest of
the crew left the ship.
"We were dumping parachute
flares, which had to be removed
from their boxes before being
"It's never been 100 per cent
proven, but it's thought maybe a sail-
or was souveniring the parachutes
and set one off.
"However it happened, the phos-
ABANDON SHIP: (Above left) Fire spread so quickly through the wooden-
hulled Woomera there was no time to launch her lifeboats.
LOSS OF LIFE: (Below) All but two of the 27 people on board Woomera
were rescued by the nearby HMAS Quickmatch and HMS Cavendish.
Completed: November 1945
Commissioned: 1945, as Army
RAN as HMAS
February 20, 1946
Gross Tonnage: 300t
1000Nm at 7.5kt
diesel engines, two
Complement: 3 officers, 17
1300 112 114
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