Home' Navy News : April 26th 2012 Contents 23
April 26, 2012
'THE Tarakan seemed
to swell like a boxer
expanding his chest,
wisps of dust eddied
from the ship's plates and then, like
a flash of lightning, a flame swept
the ship from end to end."
This eye-witness account provides
a vivid record of the explosion that
ripped through the HMAS Tarakan,
lifting it out of the water, on January
25, 1950, at Sydney's Garden Island.
Seven sailors and a civilian dock
worker died, with many others receiv-
ing horrific injuries, from which some
never fully recovered.
Among the dead, AB William
Tysoe had been one of just 24 survi-
vors of the sloop HMAS Parramatta,
torpedoed by a U-boat off Bardia,
North Africa, in November 1941.
Another fatality, AB Frank
Manning, had returned to the ship
from his honeymoon only 30 minutes
before the explosion.
In a bid to rescue the injured, 11
firemen were overcome by petrol
fumes and toxic methyl-chloride gas
In 1950, a violent
explosion shook the
HMAS Tarakan, killing
eight and wounding
dozens, SGT Dave
VIVID MEMORIES: LST's were designed to ferry troops and equipment across the English Channel.
Photo: Courtesy of Sea Power Centre
Ship's explosive past
from the shattered refrigeration plant.
They later described the scene as
"hell on earth".
Dockyard workers Frank Geddes,
50, and John McComas, 22, cut a hole
in the side of the ship to get the injured
out, only to find they had cut into a
An injured sailor inside directed
them to a clear section of deck wall
and urged them to hurry.
Working in hellish conditions, and
near collapse, they cut a second hole
in the ship's side, allowing rescuers to
reach 22 seamen trapped in the mess.
Former stoker Harry Shand, now
83, only received a few cuts on the head
after getting up from his seat in the
stokers' mess and walking outside a few
minutes before the explosion occurred.
"One of the blokes, Johnny Rolfe,
hardly had an inch of skin left on him,
and if you touched him you got a
handful of cooked flesh," he said.
"Well he's still alive and well and
lives at Bankstown and I see him
every month at our Naval Association
Emergency services and hospitals
across Sydney swung into action
More than 1000 people responded
to radio appeals for blood donations.
The Red Cross Blood Bank was
unable to cope with all the volunteers.
The then Minister for the Navy,
Joe Francis, personally authorised the
purchase of 21 bottles of beer for the
injured members in hospital.
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Funerals were held two days after
the explosion for five of those killed.
Traffic in the CBD was brought to
a standstill as an estimated 50,000 peo-
ple lined Sydney's streets to watch the
procession of five hearses, each sur-
rounded by an honour guard of sailors.
An investigation revealed electric
fans had been placed in the ship to
extract fumes from a near-empty 2000
gallon petrol tank.
The petrol tank, which had been
used in wartime for refuelling vehicles,
had previously had salt water pumped
into it, but still had a quantity of petrol
floating on top.
When a workman switched a fan
off the circuit was broken, throwing an
arc which is believed to have ignited
the fumes, causing the explosion.
A 50th anniversary memorial
service for those killed was held at
Garden Island on January 23, 2000,
where a memorial plaque was
A building near Garden Island's
Cruiser Wharf was re-named the
Tarakan Building to ensure the memo-
ry lives on.
Landing Craft Heavy HMAS
Tarakan, which has served the Navy
since 1974, also perpetuates the mem-
ory of those lost.
ERA II W.L. Hoy
AB W.F. Tysoe
Stoker J.S. Bolton
AB D.D. Messenger
AB F.A. Manning
AB Cook D. Graydon
Stoker J.L. Robertson
Dockyard Worker Reg Sanders
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