Daily Event for February 10, 2012

Two ships of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), fresh from refit, were exercising off Jervis Bay, New South Wales, Australia. HMAS Melbourne (R21) a modified ‘Majestic' Class aircraft carrier (ex HMS Majestic) and HMAS Voyager (D04). Voyager was laid down by Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, on 10 October 1949. She was launched on 1 May 1952 and commissioned into the RAN on 12 February 1957. She was a ‘Dearing' Class destroyer to a design amended to suit the operational requirements of the RAN.

Both ships were conducting post refit trials and exercising various manoeuvres. On the night of 10th February, 1964, Melbourne was manoeuvring for flying with Voyager acting as ‘plane guard. This required her to always be at a prescribed distance (1,500 to 2,000 yards; 1,400 to 1,800 metres) off Melbourne's port quarter. However, Melbourne signalled her intension to reverse course by turning to starboard and expected Voyager to maintain station. In the event Voyager ‘cut the corner' and came up on Melbourne's starboard side. In an attempt to regain her proper station, Voyager should have passed astern of Melbourne by turning to starboard, but in the event crossed the carrier's bows by turning to port. At 20:56 local time, Melbourne struck the Voyager just aft of the bridge structure and entered the forward boiler room with dire consequences. Voyager was sliced in two, the forward section passing down Melbourne's port side and quickly sank due to the weight of her two forward 4.5” gun houses, each weighing in excess of 52 tons. The after section passed down Melbourne's starboard side and remained afloat for some time.

A large rescue effort was mounted to search for survivors, this included five minesweepers and several helicopters. Of the 314 people in Voyager at that time, 14 officers, 67 sailors and 1 civilian lost their lives. There were no casualties in Melbourne.

Following the collision there were, unusually, two Royal Commissions to look into the tragic event. It was not until 25 June that the first inquiry was ended and the report begun. The Spicer Report was released publicly on 26 August 1964. The report was generally considered to be of poor quality and there was considerable public, press and political unease as to the outcome. The report, which was controversial, cited the navigation officer in Melbourne but did not place any blame on the command of Voyager.

Eventually, a second Royal Commission was announced on 18th May 1967. In this enquiry it was alleged that the Commanding Officer of Voyager was unfit for command on the evening of the incident due to illness, drunkenness, or a combination of the two, and that the description of the collision in the first report and the conclusions drawn from it were inconsistent with events. Also, officers in Melbourne were absolved of blame for the incident.

While the inattentiveness of the lookouts and bridge crew were a contributing factor to the collision, the exact cause has been difficult to determine, because all but one sailor from the bridge of Voyager were killed. In the immediate aftermath of the collision, there were thought to be five possible causes:
  1. Communications between the two vessels did not reflect the ships' intentions,
  2. Those aboard Voyager had an incorrect idea of where they were in relation to Melbourne ,
  3. The sea room required for the destroyer to assume her correct station was miscalculated,
  4. The level of training aboard one or both ships was deficient, or
  5. Equipment failure occurred aboard one or both ships.
The equipment failure, inadequate training, and miscalculated sea room theories were disproven by both Royal Commissions, leaving the ideas that either a communication error aboard one of the ships caused Voyager to manoeuvre in an undesired manner, or the officers aboard Voyager were incorrectly aware of their vessel's position in relation to the much larger aircraft carrier.

The arguments about the incident persisted with those favouring a signaling problem and others the sheer misjudgment by Voyager's command. One outcome was that the operating procedures for ships acting as plane guards were more clearly defined.

However this tragic collision occurred, it claimed the lives of many and caused grief to their families.
© 2012 Philip J. Heydon, I.S.M.
All rights reserved



Roll of Honour
In memory of those who lost their lives in
HMAS Voyager D-04
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Name
Rate
Ashwell, Noel J.
Leading Engineering Mechanic
Beavis, Errol S.
Sub-Lieutenant
Bermingham, Peter W.
Ordinary Seaman (U.C.)
Brokate, Max A.
Ordinary Seaman (Writer)
Brooks, Edwin A.
Lieutenant
Royal Navy
Brown, Neil B.
Able Seaman
Butts, Warren G.
Ordinary Seaman
Carr, Peter R.
Able Seaman
Carrington, Bruce L.
Lt. Commander
Castle, Barry E.
Ordinary Seaman (C.O.)
Clarke, Peter L.
Electrical Mechanic
Clayton, John D.
Ordinary Seaman
Cobban, Gerrard F.
Stores Assistant (V)
Condon, William J.
Electrical Mechanic
Cook, Harry D.
Lieutenant
Cullen, Kevin V.
Communications Yeoman
Curgenven, John H.
Engineer Mechanic
Davies, John S.
Sub-Lieutenant
Davis, Kevin J.
Leading Steward
Deans, John C. G.
Electrical Mechanic
Denham, Robin A.
Radio Operator
Diepenbroek, Nicholaas G.
Engineer Mechanic
Dowling, James L.
Lieutenant
Earl, Jeffrey N.
Assistant Steward
Fenwick, John McG.
Leading Electrical Mechanic
Fitzallen, Graham D.
Ordinary Seaman (C.O.)
Fleming, Leonard B.
Ordinary Seaman (M.E.)
Garrett, Leo J.
Engineer Mechanic
Glennie, Norman C.
Able Seaman
Guy James B.
Petty Officer Electrician
Hale, Stanley
Able Seaman
Harcla, Eugene K.
Petty Officer
Harris, Peter L.
Tactical Operator
Hendy, Rex W.
Ordinary Tactical Operator
Keddie, Kenneth S.
Engineer Mechanic
Kelly, Gordon J.
Ordinary Seaman (M.E.)
Kingston, Norman E.
Leading Steward
Lambert, Urban J.
Able Seaman
Leeson, Laurence J.
Engine Room Artificer
Legg, Clifford G.
Leading Engineer Mechanic
Lehman, Leonard C.
Ordinary Seaman (Cook)
Lindsey, Barton C. O.
Midshipman
MacArtney, Donald R.
Petty Officer Engineering Mechanic
MacFarlane, Donald E.
Leading Radio Operator
MacGregor, Ian A. G.
Lt. Commander
Marien, Kelly F.
Midshipman
Maunder, Ronald W.
Midshipman
McDonald, Ronald E.
Engineer Mechanic
McLean, Geoffrey E.
Able Seaman
Milbourne, Peter D.
Assistant Cook (O)
Morgan, Franklin J.
Midshipman
Muller, Keith L.
Tactical Operator
Nuss, Graham C.
Ordnance Artificer
O'Leary, Eric L.
Ordinary Seaman (M.E.)
Owen, Ernest R.
Ordinary Radio Operator
Parker, H. S.
Civilian (Williamstown Dockyard)
Parker, Ronald W.
Able Seaman
Perrett, Gary E.
Engineer Mechanic
Price, Donald H. M.
Lieutenant
Royal Navy
Reid, David W.
Ordnance Artificer
Rogers, Jonathan
Chief Petty Officer
Schmidt, Brian M.
Leading Airman
Scott, Barry A.
Ordinary Seaman (Writer)
Sharkey, Francis B.
Leading Seaman
Smye, William J.
Leading Cook
Solomon, Arthur J.
Able Seaman
Sparrowhawk, John E.
Leading Seaman
Stevens, Duncan H.
Captain
Commanding Officer
Stocker, Peter G.
Able Seaman
Syaranaumual, Anton V. W.
Ordinary Seaman
Tait, Kevin C.
Leading Seaman
Tapp, Edward W.
Commander
Taylor, Frank T.
Able Seaman
Taylor, Ronald A.
Engineer Mechanic
Teape, Arthur W.
Leading Tactical Operator
Thompson, Arthur W.
Assistant Steward
Trautman, John B.
Ordinary Radio Operator
Vincent, Leslie D.
Chief Petty Officer Cook
Walker, Graeme S.
Radio Electrical Mechanic
West, Richard A.
Ordinary Seaman (C.O.)
Williams, John
Able Seaman
Woodward, Ronald E. W.
Ordinary Seaman


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