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The history of the Royal Australian Navy (Part Three)

In the days surrounding Anzac Day, Defence Connect will be looking back on the history of the Australian Defence Force branches, with the current series focusing on the Royal Australian Navy.

In the days surrounding Anzac Day, Defence Connect will be looking back on the history of the Australian Defence Force branches, with the current series focusing on the Royal Australian Navy.

For part one, please click here. For part two, please click here.


Post World War II

After the surrender of the Japanese, the RAN moved to reduce the size of its fleet, which was obviously no longer required to operate at the same size now the threat to Australian shores had been resolved.

However, their services would soon be required to assist in the Malayan Emergency at the request of the British Commonwealth, although it wouldn't be until 1955 that naval units were actually deployed, in which they were used to help with defending and developing the Federation of Malaya.

This force was named the Far East Strategic Reserve, and the first destroyers deployed were HMA Ships Warramunga and Arunta, with 11 other vessels rotating through the Strategic Reserve until 1960.

Australia committed to deploy at least two destroyers/frigates to Malaya at any point, plus a yearly visit from their newly acquired aircraft carriers.


The RAN purchased the two carriers, HMA ships Sydney and Melbourne from the Royal Navy following the Second World War, with Sydney commissioned into the RAN in 1948, and Melbourne in 1955.

Sydney would operate as the RAN's flagship in the early year's of commission, and would be one of the earlier warships deployed to the Korean War, although not in the initial fleet sent across by prime minister Robert Menzies.

That task fell to HMA Ships Shoalhaven and Bataan, which were placed under United Nations command on 29 June 1950, and were immediately assigned to the Commonwealth naval force.

Shoalhaven would become the first Australian unit to participate in an operation during the Korean War, when it escorted ammunition ship USNS Sergeant George D Keathley into Pusan Harbour on 1 July, with Bataan firing the RAN's first shots when engaging an enemy on 1 August 1950, a shore battery near Haeju.

While the RAN's intention was to rotate vessels for six-month deployments to the Korean War, they soon reached the decision to extend that to yearly deployments, beginning with HMAS Warramunga, which came across to relieve Shoalhaven.

The RAN's involvement ran the duration of the Korean War, culminating with the signing of the armistice on 27 July 1953, with nearly 5,000 personnel aboard nine Australian ships serving in the operational area, with three killed and six wounded.

The RAN assisted United Nations efforts in combat operations as well as humanitarian missions, such as delivering supplies and food to those in need in the warzone.

Vietnam War

Following the Korean War, Australia would once again answer the call from the US and, more broadly, the United Nations, by supporting their invasion of Vietnam. 

The RAN would send a total of 18 ships to Vietnam between 1965 and 1972 for operational duties, with 13,500 Navy personnel participating in active service, but also sent over HMA Ships Vampire and Quickmatch in 1962 as "goodwill visits" to Saigon.

This was done in order to flex the Navy's muscle and show their capabilities in the region, and was built upon with a primary contribution from the RAN of destroyers, Fleet Air arm personnel, a clearance diving team and a logistical support force that consisted of transport in escort ships.

The clearance diving team, Clearance Diving Team 3 (CDT3), would leave Vietnam highly decorated and commended by the US, receiving the US Presidential Citation, two US Navy Unit Commendations and a US Meritorious Unit Commendation, the only non-US unit to receive all three awards.

This group of 49 officers and men were tasked with first searching the hulls and anchor cables of shipping in the Vung Tau anchorages for IED units, as well as salvaging downed helicopters, searching for ammunition caches and demolishing Viet Cong cave and tunnel complexes.

CDT3 searched nearly 7,500 ships during their four-year deployment, and was eventually working alongside the US Navy Seals after originally being directed not to participate in their operations.

One of the other major contributions from the RAN to the Vietnam War effort was HMAS Sydney being used as a transport ship, becoming known as the Vung Tau Ferry, after carrying over 16,000 troops, nearly 6,000 tons of cargo and over 2,300 vehicles during the war, in 25 voyages to Vietnam.

Gulf Wars

Following the withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam in 1971, the tasks of the RAN had largely shifted from wartime contributions to humanitarian efforts (such as supporting the victims of Cyclone Tracy) and Pacific patrols.

That would change majorly when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, with the RAN to take primary responsibility for the ADF's contributions to the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman under Operation Damask.

Over nearly a year from 6 September 1990 to 4 September 1991, the RAN would deploy six vessels, HMA Ships Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Success, Sydney and Westralia, to the active war zone, marking the first time in nearly two decades that the Australian Navy would be at war.

These vessels sought to provide a naval blockade, alongside UN forces, clearing approaches to Iraqi ports and significant mine clearing operations.

After the liberation of Kuwait, a ceasefire was signed, and despite active warfare no longer being at the forefront of the RAN's task, it would keep a presence in the Gulf by maintaining sanctions against Iraq.

When the Second Gulf War broke out, the RAN sought to instead support coalition land forces instead of continuing its enforcing of sanctions against Iraq, and again worked at clearing approaches to Iraqi ports.

This assistance would continue to be provided until the withdrawal of the ADF from Iraq beginning in 2008, with combat operations formally ceasing on 2 June, although the RAN has continued to support stability in the Middle East through Operation MANITOU, which currently has HMAS Ballarat stationed there.

This is the RAN's 67 rotation of a Navy vessel to the Middle East region since 1990, which is used to support the US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) to defeat terrorism, prevent piracy, encourage regional co-operation, and promote a safe maritime environment.

The history of the Royal Australian Navy (Part Three)
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