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Rob's Shed

Spectacle Island Support Craft

Some History

Boats and lighters have always been necessary for the working of Spectacle Island, although little is known of the craft that serviced the colonial or Royal Navy depots. During the latter days of the Royal Navy presence contract towage and lighterage was used. On 31 October 1906 the Gunner-in-charge of the Naval Ordnance Depot, James Creber, wrote to the Captain-in-charge, Naval Establishments, concerning the auxiliary requirements of tugs and lighters in time of war:

"I beg to report that two steam launches, and four lighters, with a total carrying capacity of 240 tons, and fitted with suitable covered hatches for the stowage of ammunition, would be needed. ... The Central Wharf Stevedoring Company, who at present hold the contract for towage and lighterage for this Depot, could supply the necessary plant if required."

Two lighters were built at Cockatoo Island Dockyard for Spectacle Island during World War 1. The first of these, described as a Naval Ordnance Lighter, was laid down on 30 March 1915, launched 30 June 1915 and completed on 27 July 1915. The second, described as an Ammunition Barge, was laid down on 12 November 1917, launched on 17 January 1918 and completed on 5 February 1918. A motor launch was also constructed in 1919. It was laid down on 26 February, launched on 3 June and completed on 29 September (R. G. Parker Cockatoo Island - A History, Nelson, 1977)

The lighter fleet steadily increased in the inter-war years. In the year ending 30 June 1929 a new 30-ton lighter was received from Garden Island making a total of four, of 100, 50, 30 and 10 tons capacity. By 1932 this fleet was inadequate:

Photo of support craft on Sydney Harbour 1982

Sydney Harbour 1982 - HMAS Torrens Serves as a Rounding Mark Whilst Attended by Two Concrete Ammunition Lighters, the RANAD "Dunny Barge" (amenities lighter) and a RANAD Workboat.

"Ammunition lighters at the Depot's disposal are not of sufficient tonnage to enable an 8-inch Cruiser's outfit of ammunition to be handled in one operation. As the cruisers invariably ask for lighters sufficient to ammunition or de-ammunition the ship in one day, it is the practice, when the necessity arises, to borrow without charge, the additional lighters required from the State Explosives Department ... Requirements could be met by the provision of an additional 100-ton lighter and the occasional use of the 41-ton (Garden Island) Central Storekeeping lighter ..."

In June 1936 two additional 50-ton lighters were under construction at Garden Island, and in June 1938 a 75-ton lighter was approaching completion making a total of seven lighters in the fleet.

World War 2 saw a huge expansion in the lighter fleet and associated workboats to service the needs of the RAN and US Navy. In the latter stages of the war declining US Navy needs were replaced by those of the British Pacific Fleet. During the war, concrete ammunition lighters were introduced for the first time (earlier lighters having been of iron, steel or wood) and despite their early unpopularity, these survived the post-war dispersal of surplus and unsuitable craft to become the backbone of the post-war lighter fleet.

Photo of ammunition lighter CAL501

Concrete Ammunition Lighter 50-ton CAL 501 in Sydney Harbour

The concrete ammunition lighters were constructed during 1943-1945 by the Timms Bridge Construction Co., Tasmania and towed to Sydney by various means, including on one occasion by HMAS Bombo. For towing, the lighters were fitted with timbers to support the hatch covers and special ventilation covers and fairleads. The intended disposition (Navy Office letter 24156 of 1 April 1943) was:

At least one of these lighters, a 50-tonner, was sent to Milne Bay around April 1944.

On 14 February 1946, the Superintending Armament Supply Officer reported the composition of the lighter fleet to the Captain of the Dockyard:

"Detailed Statement of Return of Ammunition Lighters is attached and a summary of types is as follows:

TONNAGE
1 10-ton wooden lighter 10 Tons
5 Iron lighters 300 "
8 Converted flat top wooden lighters 400 "
15 Concrete lighters 2200 "
11 Phillipine type steel lighters 1700 "
2 M.W.T. type steel lighters 100 "
1 Iron lock up lighters 40 "
12 Steel 29 ton lighters with mast and derrick and power hoist 348 "
3 Wooden self-propelled lighters 9 "
5307 Tons
2. Of the total tonnage, 1,000 tons is to be transferred to Hong Kong. Eight of the 29-ton steel lighters in the S.B. series representing 232 tons are surplus to requirements and are being landed leaving approximately 4,000 tons ...

3. In addition to the lighters shewn on the list No. 5 of 50-tons and No. 8 of 120 tons capacity were forwarded to operational areas early in the war. ..."

During the 1970s further construction of concrete lighters was undertaken. By 1988 the fleet comprised seven 50-ton, eight 100-ton, seven 200-ton and three 300-ton for a total tonnage of 3,450 tons.

There were also three workboats and one tow boat.

Photo of 45-foot tow boat TB9 on Sydney Harbour

45-foot Tow Boat TB9 at Birkenhead Point, Sydney Harbour; Concrete Ammunition Lighter Alongside


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The Craft

This is a listing of some of the support craft associated with Spectacle Island during its life as an armament depot. It was compiled in January 1988 by Robert Curran and John (Jack) Hampson (fondly known as the "Little Admiral"), the then Master of TB9 Sardius, the 45 foot tow boat used at the Island and the pride of its support craft fleet).

Tugboat TB9 (Sardius)

Cartoons of TB9 are shown on this page courtesy of the artist, Mark Mobley. They were drawn in 1979-80 when Mark, a Constable in the Naval Police was stationed at Spectacle Island.

Further information and photographs of some of the craft mentioned on this page are contained in: Ross Gillett Australian & New Zealand Warships 1914 - 1945 Doubleday, 1983

Skiffs and Dinghies

A1
Skiff 12ft used at Newington wharf. In service 6/46. Condemned 10/52.

255
"Ditty Box" Motor dinghy 16ft. Acquired 1950. In service 1/64.
(Ditty Box - a small wooden box which was issued to seamen as a receptacle for their small personal effects.)

282
Dinghy. Acquired 1957.

205
Dinghy 10ft. In service 5/53. Returned 1957.

295
"Ditty Box" Motor skiff 16ft. In service 6/48. Returned 7/50. Engine CLAE one cylinder petrol; used for recreation by resident officer, Spectacle Island.

524
Skiff 16ft. In service 6/48. Used to service lighters.

884
"Tweenie" ("Tweeny") Motor skiff 16ft. In service 6/48, 3/56. Engine (1950) Chapman 1 cylinder petrol engine 4" bore 4 1/2HP.

1115
Dinghy 9ft. In service 6/48. Tender to TB9.

1298
Sailing dinghy 12ft Acquired 1950.

Boom Working Boat 17ft 4ins.

257
In service 1/64.

Dories

2
Acquired 3/58. Returned 5/59.

10
Acquired 5/59. Returned 9/59.

DR653
Motor dory 26ft. Acquired 9/59. In service 1/64.

Spectacle Island cartoon

Tow Boat 45ft

TB9
"Sardius" 45ft tow boat. constructed by Brooks Robinson and completed 10/45. In service 6/46, 12/87. Standard displacement 30 tons. L.45.8' B.15.2' D.6.0'. Engine (original) Hercules DNX6 270HP diesel. Speed 8 knots. Range 500 miles.

Motor Boats and Launches

Steam-Launch "Sea Breeze"
In service at Goat Island 1876
Master Samuel Small, Engine Driver Thomas Crowley

191
"Ruby" Motor boat cargo carrying with derrick 45ft. Constructed about 1940. In service 3/56. Returned 10/58. Engine (1946) Gardner 5L2 diesel. L.46'5" B.6'9" D.4'9 1/2"

195
"Telopea" Acquired 1956 from REVY. Returned 1957.

308
"Garnet" Passenger launch full cabin 39ft. Constructed about 1914. Returned 10/53 (towed from Spectacle Island to Rydalmere Depot by MB Amethyst on 1/10/53 and laid to rest in preparation for sale.) Engine (1946) Thornycroft RD4 petrol 40HP. L.39' B.7'4" D.3'3" Used for VIPs and senior staff.

601
"Onyx" Motor boat. Constructed about 1921. In service 2/46. L.45' B.10'6" D.4'6" Engine (1946) Ailsa Craig diesel 4 cyl.

2601
Fibreglass workboat 25'. Acquired 6/65. Returned 8/71. Constructed in UK.

317
"Jasper" Fast motor boat 25ft. Constructed about 1940. Engine (I946) St Lawrence Ford V8. L.25' B.6'9" D.1'11 1/2"(aft). Returned 4/64.

373
"Beryl" Cargo carrying launch with derrick 46ft. Constructed by Holmes yard Lavender Bay; acquired 7/43. Returned 2/59. Engine (1946) Gray diesel 3 cyl. L.46'5" B.10'9" D.4'9 1/2".

Australian Work Boats 40ft.

Constructed during WW2; L.40' B.12.5' D.4.6'

AWB404
"Topaz" In service 3/56, 12/87.

AWB416
"Onyx" In service 12/87.

AWB4I9
Returned 1956 (ex loan from REVY).

AWB420
"Amethyst" In service 3/56, 12/87. Original no. AM1635 fitted with Cadillac V8 petrol engine

AWB444
"Garnet" Acquired 7/58. Returned 12/62.

Further information about Australian Work Boats can be found at the The Register of Australian and New Zealand Ships and Boats.

Pre-World War 2 Ammunition Lighters

RAN ammunition lighter

Sydney, NSW. 1940-05. A workman gives instructions to the crane driver on lifting 8" gun shells from the wharf to load into a lighter for transfer to an RAN cruiser. From the collection of the Australian War Memorial.(http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/001644)

1
Lighter steel ammunition 100 ton. In service 6/46, 6/29. Sold 1959. L.90' B.19' D.9'. This is probably one of the lighters constructed at Cockatoo Island during WW1.

2
Lighter steel ammunition 50 ton. Probably constructed prior to 6/29. Returned 2/58. L.55' B.16' D.7'

3
Lighter steel ammunition 30 ton. Probably constructed prior to 6/29 by GID. Returned 5/72. L.45' B.14'6" D.6'

4
Lighter wood ammunition 10 ton. Constructed about 1927. Returned 1/47. L.36' B.9'9" D. 3'10 1/2"

5
Lighter type unknown 50 ton. Probably this is one of two lighters constructed at GID about 1936. Forwarded to operational area early in WW2

6
Lighter steel ammunition 50 ton. Probably this is one of two lighters constructed at GID about 1936. Acquired 10/36. Sold 1959. L.55' B.16' D.7'2"

7
Lighter steel ammunition 75 ton. Acquired ex construction GID. Sold 1959. L.66' B.17' D.7'8"

Steel Ammunition Lighters WW2 construction

8
Lighter type unknown 120 ton. Forwarded to operational area early in WW2.

Wooden ammunition Lighter 50 ton.

9
Acquired 6/42 ex GID. Returned 11/53. L.59' B.25' D.7'6"

10
Acquired 7/42 ex Holmes yard. Returned 3/59. L.58' B.22' D.7'

11
Acquired 7/42 ex Pritchard's yard. Sold 3/59. L.59'6" B.23' D.6'10"

12
Acquired 7/42 ex Adam's yard. Sold 3/59. L.59' B.22'6" D.7'

13
Acquired 7/42 ex W.Ford yard. Sold 3/59. L.59'8" B.22' D.7'

14
Acquired 7/42 ex Hayes yard. Sold 3/59. L.59'2" B.23' D.7'

15
Acquired 8/42 ex Woodley's yard. Broken up and burnt 1953. L.59' B.22'7" D.7'5"

16
Acquired 9/42 ex Adam's yard. sold 3/59
L.59' B.23' D.7'

Photo of concrete ammunition lighter

This photo, from the Navy's historical archives, identifies the lighter as CAL No. 1. It may show the original configuration of the WW2 concrete ammunition lighters, before the addition of external steel fendering. The designation "No. 1" corresponds with the builder's numbering system; the "CAL" prefix was added post-delivery and in accordance with Navy Office letter 032218 of 3 July 1944.

Concrete Ammunition Lighters 50 ton (World War 2 Construction)

(Length overall hull 69' 0"; beam hull 18' 0"; depth 7' 6"; loaded displacement 150 tons; lightship weight 100 tons; carrying capacity 50 tons; Navy Office plan 120D/273)

CAL501
Acquired 1/43 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co. Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL503
Acquired 3/43 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co. Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL504
Acquired 1/43 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co. Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL508
Acquired 6/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co. Tasmania. In service 12/87.

Concrete Ammunition Lighters 100 ton (World War 2 Construction)

(Length overall hull 90' 0"; beam hull 21' 0"; depth 8' 6"; loaded displacement 252 tons; lightship weight 152 tons; carrying capacity 100 tons; Navy Office plan 120D/257)

CAL101
Acquired 11/43 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87

CAL102
Acquired 3/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87.

Concrete Ammunition Lighters 200 ton (World War 2 Construction)

(Length overall hull 107' 0"; beam hull 24' 6"; depth 9' 6"; loaded displacement 430 tons; lightship weight 230 tons; carrying capacity 200 tons; Navy Office plan 120D/391)

CAL201
Acquired 12/43 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL202
Acquired 1/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL203
Acquired 4/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL204
Acquired 5/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL 205
Acquired 8/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL206
Acquired 8/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. Returned for disposal 1/71.

CAL207
Acquired 10/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. Transferred to Diving section Rushcutters Bay 12/54. The used as a base for divers undergoing training.

CAL208
Acquired 11/44 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87.

CAL209
Acquired 1/45 ex Timms Bridge Construction Co, Tasmania. In service 12/87.


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Wooden Ammunition Lighters 30ft

(Constructed during WW2 for use in forward areas; cutter design with small hold - self-propelled. (Ford Prefect 4. cylinder engine)

WAL302
"Silver Water". Received 1/46 ex HMAS Birchgrove Park. Returned 8/56.

WAL303
"Silver Bullet". Received 1/46 ex HMAS Birchgrove Park. Returned 8/56.

WAL304
"Silver Spear". Received 1/46 ex HMAS Birchgrove Park. Returned 8/56.

Steel Lighter 50 ton MWT Type

(L.63' B.18'6" D.5')

MWT B1
Acquired 9/45 ex RN Pool. Returned 1/79.

MWT B2
Acquired 9/45 ex RN Pool. Returned 8/79.

Lock-Up Lighter Steel 40 ton

LUL501
Acquired 5/53 ex REVY. Returned 8/79

LUL502
Returned 2/58.

LUL507
Acquired 10/45 ex GI. Returned 8/79. L.26' B.14' D.6'3".

Steel Sectional Lighter 100 ton

(Constructed during WW2. L.36'6" B.18' D.4'6")

SSL560
Acquired 8/45 ex MA GI. In service 3/59.

SSL562
Acquired 7/45 ex MA GI. Transferred to Swan Island 1950.

Steel Barge Ship-shaped 30 ton

(Constructed during WW2 - non-self propelled derrick lighters L.35'3" B.1384". D.3')

SB170
Received 6/45 ex Rydalmere. Returned 11/50. Engine Ronaldson Teppets 1 cyl. petrol 3 HP.

SB375
Received 6/45 ex Rydalmere. Condemned 1953. Engine as SB170.

SB525
Received 6/45 ex Rydalmere. In service 6/46. Engine as SB170.

SB530
Received 7/45 ex RN Pool Blackwattle Bay. In service 6/46. Engine Rosebery 1 cyl. petrol 3 HP.

SB551
Received 6/45 ex Rydalmere. In service 6/46. Engine Moffat Virtue 1 cyl. petrol 3 HP.

SB592
In service 6/46. Returned 5/60. Engine as SB170.

SB579
Received 6/45 ex Rydalmere. In service 6/46.
Engine as SB551.

SB596
Received 7/45 ex RN Pool Blackwattle Bay. In service 6/46. Engine as SB530.

SB602
Received 7/45 ex RN Pool Blackwattle Bay. Returned 11/53.Engine as SB530.

SB686
Received 7/45 ex RN Pool Blackwattle Bay. In service 6/46. Engine as SB530.

SB693
Received 7/45 ex RN Pool Blackwattle Bay. Returned 5/60. Engine as SB530.

SB768
Received 6/45 ex Rydalmere. Returned 11/50. Engine as SB170.

Lighter Steel Philippine 100 ton

(Constructed during WW2. L.39'6" B.23'6" D.4'9")

1297
In service 6/46 (being handed over to RN). Returned 9/46.

1300
In service 6/46 (being handed over to RN). Returned 9/46.

AB1302
Received 2/45. Returned 4/72.

1303
In service 6/46. Returned 3/49 (for transfer to Swan Is.)

Lighter Steel Philippine 300 ton

(Constructed during WW2. L.80' B.23'9" D.7'9")

AB1283
Received 2/45. In service 12/87.

AB2262
Received 8/46 (on loan from RN pool. In service 12/87.

AB2263
Received 8/46 (on loan from RN pool). In service 12/87.

Concrete Ammunition Lighters 50 ton

(All constructed by E.M. Moore of Newport at a site in
Blackwattle Bay)

CAL5010
Received 5/73. In service 12/87.

CAL5011
Received 9/73. In service 12/87.

CAL5012
Received 11/73. In service 12/87.

Concrete Ammunition Lighters 100 ton

(All constructed by E.M. Moore of Newport at a site in
Blackwattle Bay)

CAL10010
Received 8/73. In service 12/87.

CAL10011
Received 9/73.In service 12/87.

CAL10012
Received 10/73. In service 12/87.

CAL10013
Received 12/73. In service 12/87.

CAL10014
Received 1/74. In service 12/87.

CAL10015
Received 3/74. In service 12/87.

(Information compiled in January 1988 by R. Curran and J. Hampson)

Material on this page may be copied for personal use. If you intend to republish any substantial part of the page in any manner, please acknowledge the source and provide the URL of the page.

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au