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HMAS Castlemaine J244

HMAS Castlemaine (J244/M244/A248), named for the city of Castlemaine, Victoria, was one of 60 Bathurst-class corvettes constructed during World War II, and one of 36 initially manned and commissioned solely by the Royal Australian Navy. Like the rest of her Class, she had a complement of eighty five men, and was capable of fifteen knots. Her armament consisted of one 4-inch (102 mm) gun, three 20-mm Oerlikon guns machine guns, plus depth charges, chutes and throwers.

Operational history

After commissioning in 1942, Castlemaine sailed to Sydney, where she was involved in training exercises and convoy escort along the east coast of Australia.

On the night of 11 August 1942, the corvette collided with a Manly ferry, requiring a week of repairs at Cockatoo Island Dockyard.
After repairs, Castlemaine was ordered to Townsville, then assigned to Darwin in October: at both locations the ship was tasked with supporting and supplying Allied guerrilla operations in Timor.

In late November 1942, the RAN was called on to evacuate the commandoes of the 2/2nd Independent Company , a contingent of Dutch troops, and over 100 Portuguese civilians, while delivering a relief contingent. An earlier evacuation attempt in September failed when the destroyer HMAS Voyager grounded and was scuttled after being badly damaged by attacking Japanese aircraft.

HMAS Castlemaine
HMAS Castlemaine

Click on the image for a better view.
Castlemaine, her sister ship Armidale, and the auxiliary patrol boat Kuru were assigned to the operation by Commodore Cuthbert Pope, Naval Officer in Charge Darwin, with Castlemaine the commanding ship. The plan was for Kuru to reach Betano Bay early on the night of 30 November, offload supplies, and take on the civilians. The two corvettes were to arrive two hours later; Kuru would deliver her passengers to Castlemaine, which was to head for Darwin at first opportunity, then shuttle relief troops aboard Armidale to shore while evacuating the soldiers.

The corvettes sailed from Darwin at midday on 29 November, leaving just as Japanese aircraft flew over the harbour. At 09:00 on 30 November, the two ships were located by a Japanese reconnaissance plane, but were unable to shoot it down. Because of the likelihood of attack during the day and the distance from the destination, the ships radioed Darwin and suggested that the mission be aborted, but Pope instructed they were to continue after steering away from their intended destination for an hour, and promised fighter support.

Armidale and Castlemaine were attacked at midday by 14 Japanese bombers, but these were driven off by a force of Bristol Beaufighters, which then returned to Australia.

Another attack came at 14:00, but neither side was able to do damage.

Delays from the evasive course and two air attacks meant the corvettes reached Betano Bay after 02:30 on 1 December, with no sign of Kuru, and retreated to sea. Kuru was sighted at daybreak-assuming the corvettes were not coming, her commander chose to sail for Darwin with the civilians-and the civilians were transferred to Castlemaine.

Although as senior ship, Castlemaine's commanding officer felt he should return to Betano Bay with the soldiers, the troops were aboard the other corvette, and at 11:00 he ordered (with Commodore Pope's approval) Armidale and Kuru to return by separate routes and attempt the operation again that night. Although Castlemaine returned without trouble, Armidale was attacked and sunk by Japanese aircraft on 1 December.

On 15 December, Castlemaine was escorting the merchant ships Period and James Cook to Thursday Island when they were attacked by Japanese aircraft. Four of Period's crew were killed. The three ships were attacked two more times on 15 December, and a fourth time on 16 December. No further damage was sustained, with the aircraft driven off by the corvette's anti-aircraft armament on all four occasions.

Following the Allied withdrawal from Timor in early 1943, Castlemaine was assigned to minesweeping and escort duties in northern Australian waters. This continued until the end of 1943, when she was reassigned to the convoy escort role between Queensland and New Guinea.

In August 1944, the corvette was tasked with survey duties in Australia waters, before sailing to Hong Kong for the Japanese surrender in September 1945.

The ship was granted three battle honours for her wartime service: "Darwin 194243", "Pacific 194243", and "New Guinea 194244".

Decommissioning and preservation

Castlemaine paid off to reserve on 14 December 1945.

She was immobilized at HMAS Cerberus at Crib Point in Victoria as a training hulk for Engine Room Artificers, who ran the boilers in part providing steam heating throughout the base. During this period, she was also used for damage control training for service personnel.

In September 1973, Castlemaine was presented as a gift to the Maritime Trust of Australia from the Australian Government. Transferred into Trust ownership by the end of 1973, Castlemaine was restored and converted into a museum ship.

Castlemaine is presently berthed at Gem Pier, Williamstown, Victoria, adjacent to the historic Customs House. The ship is not capable of sailing, as the main mess deck houses a museum, and the engines have been converted to run on compressed air, displaying their mechanical operation to visitors.

Between 14 and 29 August 2015, Castlemaine was dry-docked for maintenance, cleaning, and hull preservation at the nearby BAE Systems Williamstown shipyard.

She is one of two surviving examples of the Bathurst class, the other being HMAS Whyalla.