HMAS Lismore


The acute shortage of ships early in WWII saw the Australian Government embark on a program of building ships suitable for mine-sweeping, anti-submarine protection of ports and merchant shipping and myriad other tasks suitable for small agile ships.

The ‘Bathurst Class’ ship was primarily designed for mine-sweeping and 56 ships of this class were built from 1940 to 1944 as part of this program. The original concept of mine-sweeping became a minor role for this class of ship when it was quickly established that they could be better used on other tasks.

They became known as ‘Bathurst Class Corvettes’ and their major role was the anti-submarine protection of merchant shipping. Other roles including shore bombardment, transport of troops and materials to forward positions, surveying and port protection soon gave them a reputation as the ‘Navy's Workhorse’. The ships were named after Australian towns and were adopted by the town after which they were named.

The second of this class of ship, built in Mort's Dock, Sydney, was commissioned on 24 January 1941 as HMAS Lismore, named after our town. The Town Council presented HMAS Lismore with a plaque of the Town Seal and she carried this plaque attached to her bulkhead through all her five years and six months of active service in the Royal Australian Navy, during which she steamed 354,310 kilometres on active service, most of them over hazardous oceans and seas from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The original plaque can be seen in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Although her crew normally numbered about 90 officers and men, nearly 500 Australian, New Zealand and English sailors served on HMAS Lismore during her active service.

Leaving Australia in February 1941, barely one month after her commissioning, HMAS Lismore steamed to Singapore, where she provided anti-submarine patrols outside the harbour before proceeding on to the Red Sea to become part of the Red Sea Force, which was responsible for blockading the coast of French Somaliland. This was a boring exercise and orders to transfer back to Colombo and join the Eastern Fleet were welcome. This commenced the ship's best role as convoy escort and these duties saw her visiting ports along the coasts of East Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean islands and the entire coast of India and Burma, including escorting the last convoy from Rangoon before the city fell to the Japanese.

In 1943, HMAS Lismore was summoned to the Eastern Mediterranean Fleet to participate in ‘Operation Husky’, the invasion of Sicily; the first major assault on German-occupied Europe. With three of her Australian sister-ships and five Royal Navy ships, she formed the 2nd Escort Group, which was charged with escorting large convoys over the entire length and breadth of the Mediterranean Sea and out into the Atlantic Ocean. For this role, HMAS Lismore was painted in a specific camouflage to thwart the ferocious air attacks employed by the Germans at that time. This was the second of the three colourings in which the HMAS Lismore was painted during her service: the light grey colour of the Eastern, the camouflage of the Eastern Mediterranean and the light blue/dark blue colour of the British Pacific Fleet. During her tour of duty in the Mediterranean, HMAS Lismore visited such famous Mediterranean ports as Gibraltar, Malta, Haifa, Alexandria and all those North African ports which figured prominently in the campaigns of that era. Only one of the many dozens of merchant ships entrusted to the care of her group was lost, the troopship, SS Yoma. Through the personal bravery of HMAS Lismore crew members (ignoring the possibility of submarines in the vicinity and using boats or just diving into the water employing life-saving techniques learnt on beaches back home) 389 survivors were taken on board, packing the decks of the ship until they could be disembarked at the port of Derna.

During the previous months, scrounging in arms stores, abandoned Italian supply dumps and wherever Australian ingenuity could be used, HMAS Lismore’s armaments had increased until she was now the most heavily armed corvette in the Fleet, perhaps even the Navy. In addition to her main armament of a 100mm gun, she had anti-aircraft armament of one 40mm ‘Pom-Pom’, four 20mm Oerlikons and two Italian 20mm Breda anti-tank guns which had been converted to anti-aircraft guns.

The invasion of Sicily saw HMAS Lismore escorting a convoy to the invasion port of Syracuse, mine-sweeping the channel and then carrying out anti-submarine patrols along the invasion coast while the ships of the convoy were unloading. During this time the battleships of the Fleet were hurling their 380mm shells over the patrolling HMAS Lismore, bombarding the enemy shore positions. These projectiles sounded like express trains as they roared overhead. At the same time, enemy bombers endeavoured to discourage HMAS Lismore, straddling the ship with bombs but failing to record a hit while the ship’s gunners claimed a number of hits on the bombers. HMAS Lismore was then ordered, together with her sister-ships GawlerIpswich and Maryborough, to proceed to Malta and escort a convoy from that port back to Alexandria.

The next trip for the 2nd Escort Group was to take a convoy from Alexandria to England. Forty merchant ships left Alexandria with some left at each North African port enroute and others picked up, so that when dusk approached on the evening of Friday, 13 August 1943 near the island of Alboran, off the coast of Spain, some 190kms east of Gibraltar, the convoy still had 40 ships. Out of the setting sun, 35 Heinkel 111 torpedo bombers and 12 Junkers 88 high-level bombers attacked. The battle lasted for an hour with one torpedo passing under HMAS Lismore (again justifying her reputation as a lucky ship). Her gunfire caused one bomber to veer away without launching its torpedo and hits were scored on another bomber. In all, nine bombers were shot down by the defensive fire of the escort, while only two merchant ships suffered hits and these were escorted into Gibraltar. The Commander in Chief signalled the group: “I congratulate you, the escort force of Convoy MKS21, for your sturdy defence of convoy against heavy torpedo bomber attacks. The enemy got a sore head he is likely to remember.” Disappointingly for her crew, when almost in sight of England, HMAS Lismore’s escort group was relieved of her convoy, being given an outbound convoy to escort back through the Mediterranean.

In September 1943, HMAS Lismore was ordered back to the Arabian-Bengal-Ceylon Escort Force of the Eastern Fleet and spent the following 15 months escorting convoys to those same ports of 1941-1942, taking offensive convoys from South African ports to Chittagong in Burma. During this period, one of her encounters with an enemy submarine saw a torpedo travel down the side of HMAS Lismore without doing any damage, convincing her crew that HMAS Lismore was always going to bring them home.

At the end of 1944, HMAS Lismore was ordered to join the British Pacific Fleet in Sydney. She arrived in Fremantle on 3 December, her first Australian port for three years and nine months, the longest continuous period of overseas service of any RAN vessel in WWII.

Her duty with this fleet was to escort merchant ships of the Fleet Train, which supplied the Fleet in advanced areas. After being involved around the coast of the Philippines and the invasion of Okinawa, HMAS Lismore returned to Fremantle via Auckland, New Zealand, for a much-needed major refit. It was during this refit that the Americans dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Japan surrendered. But HMAS Lismore’s duties were not over.

As if to prove her reputation as a workhorse, HMAS Lismore was given the difficult and onerous job of towing two huge barges, loaded with many ne of steel and explosives, from Fremantle to Yampi Sound on the north West Australian coast.

HMAS Lismore then became the control ship of a special task-force – TIMFORCE – charged with the task of removing Japanese troops from the Dutch and Portuguese East Indies islands and taking war criminals to base for trial. On successful completion of this task, TIMFORCE was disbanded and HMAS Lismore returned to Brisbane to be ‘paid-off’ (removed from the Navy's list of active ships) as so many ships were at this time. But before this could happen, she was ordered to steam back to Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the scene of a large part of her overseas service where, on 3 July 1946, she was handed over to the Dutch Navy, being renamed HMNS Batjan, under which name she served for another 12 years.

Before leaving on this last voyage, the opportunity was taken, from 21-24 March, to accept the hospitality of the citizens of Lismore and this firmly established the bond between the ship, her crew and the town. This bond has continued for more than half a century. The town became a city, HMAS Lismore became a memory and her crew became HMAS Lismore Association. Its members, in diminishing numbers because of the ravages of age and illness, continue to make an annual pilgrimage to Lismore every Anzac Day from all parts of Australia. The pilgrimage in 1998 is marked by an historic marker on the Flame of Remembrance, erected by Lismore City Council and the HMAS Lismore Association to perpetuate the name of this gallant ship. Council also granted Freedom of the City to the Association as a mark of appreciation for the manner in which the ship and her crew represented the name of Lismore.

The RAN Cadet Unit in the region, TS Lismore, is a further link with HMAS Lismore, being named after the ship.