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HEN Nazi propaganda
Minister Josef Goebbels
called Australian destroy-
ers operating in the
Mediterranean, “The Scrap Iron
Flotilla”, he was unaware of the dam-
age they would unleash on Axis forces.
Nor was he aware his derogatory
title would later become a badge of
honour for the crews of the WWI-era
HMA Ships Stuart, Vampire, Vendetta,
Voyager and Waterhen.
Flotilla leader Stuart led the
Australian destroyers against the
Italian Navy in the Battle of Calabria,
on July 9, 1940, the first fleet action in
the Mediterranean since Lord Nelson’s
While the results of the battle were
indecisive, the Royal Navy believed
it had asserted its superiority over the
On September 29-30, 1940, Stuart
attacked the Italian submarine Gondar,
forcing her crew to surrender, becom-
ing the first RAN ship to claim an
enemy submarine in WWII.
Jerry Garrard, 94, of Sydney, who
was on ‘B’ gun during the action,
remembers the incident well.
He said Stuart had already rescued
two airmen who had been shot down
by Italian fighters that day when they
pinged a submarine at 9pm.
“We were up all night dropping
depth charges and flares and manoeu-
vring,” he said.
“We got 29 POWs and I was guard-
ing them till 2pm when we got to
Mr Garrard said one of the prison-
ers asked him, in English, where he
“When I told him I was from
Sydney, he told me he could name all
the shops in George Street from the
Town Hall down to Wynyard Station,
and then proceeded to do so,” he said.
“Not what you’d expect from an
Italian submariner you’d just dragged
out of the middle of the Mediterranean
Mr Garrard was so proud of his
service in Stuart that he named his son
Later, Stuart provided a destroyer
screen for British warships in the night
Battle of Matapan on March 28-29,
With HMS Havock she got in close
to a burning 10,000 tonne Italian Zara-
class cruiser to finish her off.
Stuart’s CO then saw another Zara-
class cruiser slowly circling the burn-
ing one and fired her full outfit of tor-
pedos at both, believing he scored a hit
on the second.
Two of Stuart’s salvos caused an
explosion in her and started fires.
Shortly after, Stuart engaged a
Old ships like HMAS Stuart I played a major
role in WWII, SGT Dave Morley reports.
March 28, 2013
third cruiser with gunfire for six min-
utes. Then at a range of 500 yards the
Italian destroyer Vittorio Alfieri swept
Again and again Stuart’s guns
roared, raking the Italian with a
sweeping, searing blast from stem to
Havock finished her off with a tor-
pedo which lifted her out of the water.
The Battle of Matapan was Italy’s
greatest loss at sea during WWII, with
three heavy cruisers and two destroyers
sunk and more than 2400 men dead.
Commonwealth losses were a
Fairey-Albacore torpedo bomber and
its three-man crew.
The majority of Stuart’s gun crews
were ordinary seamen of the RAN
Reserve who had only been in the ship
for five weeks.
During the siege of Tobruk, Stuart
took part in the ‘Tobruk Ferry Service’
resupplying Australian soldiers and
evacuating the wounded back to
By mid-1941, Stuart had suffered
more than 50 air attacks, all without
sustaining casualties, but the ship itself
was beginning to feel the strain.
Stuart left Egypt on August 22,
with her port engine out of commis-
sion and limped all the way back to
Australia on one engine, arriving in
Fremantle on September 16.
She arrived in Melbourne on
September 27, where she went into
refit until April 1942.
Stuart’s CO, CMDR Hec Waller,
was awarded the DSO and Bar and
two mentions in dispatches for his ser-
vice in the Mediterranean.
Stuart irons out enemies
FIGHTING HISTORY: Australian
destroyers, like HMAS Stuart, carried
their ‘Scrap Iron Destroyer’ nicknames
with pride during WWII.
Photo courtesy of Sea Power Centre
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