Submarines & Destroyers – Australian Maritime Museum

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - Title

If you are standing on the shores of Darling Harbour you will no doubt see what are quite obviously naval ships – it is not a naval base but the National Australian National Maritime Museum. Mind you, some of these museums tend to call themselves national despite the fact that they are only state based (the National Railway Museum in Adelaide is quite guilty of that) however since Canberra happens to be very landlocked, and carting the ships overland can be very difficult, the National Maritime Museum finds itself in Australia’s First City – Sydney.

Actually is probably is not all that surprising that the National Maritime Museum is here, since Sydney has a pretty large harbour upon which the CBD sits, and one of the major shipyards was also located here. Oh, and this was also where the first British colonists arrived to set up the fledgling colony (on the harbour that is, not where the maritime museum is located). In addition to this, there is also a major naval base (Garden Island) and Sydney Harbour is the place where the only naval battle that occurred on Australian waters was fought (though I may be exaggerating a bit).

Japanese Sub
This was the loser of the battle

Anyway, having seen these naval ships a number of times in the past as I traversed Darling Harbour, I decided that I would go and check the place out. Mind you, I do tend to have a limit on the amount of time I will spend in a single museum, namely because there is so much to see and do that to remain in one place the entire day, to me, is sort of a waste. However, like a lot of museums, this place is quite large and two to three hours is probably nowhere near enough time to fully appreciate the place. As well as having a number of displays inside the building, there are also ships outside in the harbour, including a destroyer, a submarine, and a patrol boat (as well as a couple of sailing ships, one of which you can get on and explore).

The Vampire

I started off having a look through the interior of the museum when an announcement came over the intercom advising us of a tour of the Vampire that was beginning in about ten minutes. Going on a tour is always a good thing because not only do you get somebody to tell you things about the place, but you don’t have to read the little tags either (not that they had any tags). Anyway, our guide explained that the museum offers a social history – namely the who and how of life at sea. The tour began in what was originally the class room, and was informed that the destroyer was originally launched in 1956 and had its first refit in 1972. In 1980 it was retired from active service and went into operation as a training ship, before finally retiring to sit at the dock in Darling Harbour.

Vampire and the Onslo
The Destroyer and the Sub

Our guide explained a few things about the ship before taking us on a tour (which was helpful because the last time I went onto a warship I just wandered around it taking photos without any idea – or at least making vague guesses – as to what I was seeing). The main deck is roughly the middle and the levels are counted up and down from the main deck (though he did suggest that the main deck is actually two deck). He also explained that the ship was a British design, but built in Australia at Cockatoo Island (adding, like many other guides have also said, that there was a time that Australia was at the fore front of technology, but these days we can’t trust them to build a refrigerator – which is probably why I shudder when I discovered that my television was built in Australia).

Our first stop, after the class room, was one of the guns. Actually, the ship has three main guns – two pointing to the front, and one to the aft (rear). Not only that but it also has mines, torpeadoes, and anti-aircraft guns, effectively making it a floating weapons platform. The main guns themselves have three levels, and on each of the levels there are six guys making sure the guns would work. The ammo would start in the magazine (below), would be passed up to the next level where it would be loaded, and it would be fired from the turret. Considering that there were 18 men per gun, with three guns, it made the place pretty crowded. In fact the ship could hold up to 300 crew, 40% of which were trainees.

These days fire control (that is the systems that co-ordinate and fire the guns) are all done electronically, with sophisticated computers and satellite navigation systems, however back in the days when this ship was strutting its stuff, it was much more primitive – namely a guy with a pair of binoculars and a radio (the we must remember that the Battle of Midway was fought without the ships on either side ever actually seeing each other).

Anyway, here is a picture of one of the anti-aircraft guns.

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - Ack Ack Cannon

Our next stop was the front of the ship, which was pointing out into the harbour. As was explained, whenever a ship is in dock it is always pointed with its front to the entrance to the harbour, in case it needs to be deployed quickly. The only time it is docked pointing away from the entrance is when it is going to be docked for an extended period of time, possibly for a refit (or upgrade). He also pointed to some semaphore symbols painted on the side of the ship that, when translated, read out Vampire. These semaphore symbols, despite our advanced technology, are still used to this day.

Our next stop was the observation deck (or the bridge). At first I thought that the bridge was synonymous with the control room – but it’s not – it’s basically an observation deck. The ship is not steered, or controlled from this area – that operation is performed further below. Rather it is here that the crew observe what is going on around them, though these days much of the observation is performed using radar and spotter planes – even with a pair of binoculars you can’t see all that far from this point. However, as was explained, only one person was allowed to sit down up here – the captain – there are no other chairs, and only the captain is allowed to sit in the captain’s chair.

It was then that he took us down to the lower decks, and to the control room – which is located in the heart of the ship. Obviously, nobody can actually see anything from here, so they rely upon radar and communication with the people on the bridge. It is here where you find the helm – the controls that actually steers the ship.

We were then shown the comms room, where communications between ships and with naval HQ are conducted.

After spending some time in comms, and operations, we then made out way back through the ship where we stopped off at the crew’s kitchen:

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - Vampire Kitchen

The crew’s mess hall:

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - Vampire Crew Mess

The kiosk:

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - Vampire Kiosk

An officer’s cabin:

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - Vampire Officer's Cabin

and the officer’s kitchen:

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - Vampire Officer's Kitchen

Yep, there is an aura of privilege about this place – if you are an able seaman then you are at the bottom of the bucket, and you have to eat with all the other able seaman. In fact you don’t actually have a cabin – your bunks are placed where-ever there is room. If you wanted some privacy you needed to progress up the ranks. Obviously the highest was captain, who had the privilege to eat in his own room.

We finished off this tour in the Ward Room – which is a room for the officers, though the captain can only enter by invitation only. On the wall was a picture of Queen Elizabeth, though our guide told us how surprised he was that very few people seemed to recognise her. While in the ward room, we were also told that this is the third ship named Vampire – the first was a sub and the second was a British ship that was given to Australia, and crewed by Australians, to fight Rommel in North Africa.

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Well, that was a pretty long part of the post, but then again it was a pretty big ship – much bigger than the river destroyer at the Queensland Maritime Museum (though we didn’t have anybody take us on a tour of that one). It also makes me wonder how long it would take to explore an aircraft carrier, though considering much of those massive ships consist of hangers, it probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as long as I suspect (though much more than this destroyer).

The Onslow

Well, docked right beside the Vampire happens to be a submarine. Mind you the only way to access the submarine is by crossing a gangplank from the Vampire, and due to it’s cramped spaces they only allow a certain number of people on board. Compared to the Vampire, it is much smaller, and since it is an Australian vessel it is not nuclear powered either (though I’m not sure if the nuclear powered ones are open to the public).

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - HMAS Onslow Outside 01

All I can say is that if you thought that the Vampire was cramped, you should see inside the Onslow – with a full crew I am surprised that there would be any space for people to move about. Okay, the captain has his own cabin – but he’s the captain – everybody else has to sleep on the bunks that are positioned at various points along the deck. It even seems as if the crew eat their food on their bunks.

You enter the Onslow from the front which takes you directly into the torpedo room (torpedoes differ from missiles in that missiles are rocket powered while torpedoes are propeller powered) and then make your way along the deck to the engine room at the back. There is somebody in the torpedo room, and somebody in the engine room, for you to ask questions, but there is no guide.

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Also in this room is a diving suit, though it isn’t exactly a suit for diving, but rather for escaping the submarine if things go wrong underwater. Apparently it can operate at quite deep levels, though I’m not all that keen on trying it out. Anyway, from the torpedo room you make your way through a really small hatch into the rest of the submarine.

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - HMAS Onslow Hatch
Not designed for large people

Along the corridor, which as I said also doubles as a bunk house, are a number of rooms, including the kitchen, the captains cabin, and a couple of officer’s rooms. Comms (communications) and ops (operations) is located in the middle of the sub, beneath the conning tower. Mind you, the curators had a sense of humour as one of the rooms had a game of ‘Hunt for the Red October’, another ‘Battleships’ and the periscope (the one used to site targets) was pointed directly at the Sydney Tower.

You then come out at the rear of the sub, which is where engineering is located. Anyway here are the photos of the captain’s cabin:

Here are some photos from Engineering:

This is the kitchen (which probably cooks for everybody, since there is nowhere near enough room for more than one kitchen):

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - HMAS Onslow Kitchen

This is the helm (or operations) – as I mentioned above the Helm is where the steering wheel is located:

And these are some of the bunks:

Writing about these boats reminds me of Star Trek, but then that isn’t surprising since most of the nautical terms for boats will no doubt become common to space flight (I suspect they also use them now). In fact wandering through these ships gives me some idea as to what it would be like if we were on a military spaceship – it would be tight, cramped, crowded, and many of us would be sleeping where-ever there is room. Okay, maybe the idealised Star Trek ship is a possibility, but I suspect that in the end they will be much more utilitarian.

HMAS Advance

The last ship I explored was the Advance. It’s actually a patrol boat, and not only that it is also a television star – it was the boat that they used in the TV series Patrol Boat. Anyway these boats are mostly used to patrol the waters of Northern Australia, namely to intercept drug and people smugglers. Actually, this seems to be what the Navy is used for these days, even though Australia has its own customs (or as it is now known – the Border Force). Okay, they also hunt down pirates, particularly since they swarm around this area.

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - Title

Anyway tours of the boat where only open in the morning, and I managed to slip in for the second to last one. You wait on the wharf and are then divided into a small number to go and look around on it. Mind you it is a pretty small ship, but then again it is a patrol boat. They don’t have a sophisticated comms room, or helm, all of that is located in the bridge – though it does have two, one in the open and an enclosed one just below it (just in case it gets really wet).

The tour didn’t take all that long, namely because there wasn’t all that much of the boat to see. Mind you we didn’t go below decks where the cabins and the mess hall in located (and it wasn’t all that easy to get a heap of photos due to the number of people crammed into the tour. However one interesting thing they pointed out were the guns (and there is something cool about guns on boats, even though I happen to be a pacifist). Sure the front gun was there, however on the back there was a heavy machine gun, which has since been removed due to the fear that somebody might steal it and use it (which suggests it works, though the cannon at the front hasn’t gone anywhere).

(pic - Story) Maritime Museum - HMAS Advance Forward Gun

Creative Commons License

Submarines & Destroyers – Australian Maritime Museum by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

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