AWM78s: The voyage

16 April 2019 by

Rebecca Brenton and Siena Di Giovanni-Arundell

AWM78 series contains the Reports and Proceedings created by units of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) between 1939 and 1993. The series serves as an official record of both peacetime and wartime activities of the Royal Australian Navy, including the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In amongst the official reports and documents are photographs, drawings, and poems.

The series was selected for digitisation following frequent requests and to make it more accessible by publication online. Digitisation began in 2009, when the series comprised 166 boxes, 457 classes, and 1,605 files, with a final digitised image count of 187,409.

The series shows the regular daily operations of the RAN as well as moments of courage and compassion throughout important moments in Australia’s history.

Second World War

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, the RAN nearly doubled in size as people from all walks of life enlisted to serve at sea. The RAN was engaged in the Mediterranean, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, and was involved in major fleet operations, convoy escort work, evacuations, protection of Allied shipping from the enemy, amphibious operation support, and supply transport vital to the war effort. No matter what kind of vessel or task, every ship was under a range of threats, including from enemy ships, submarines, mines, air raids, and land-based attacks.

AWM78 352/1 Vendetta Report from Singapore, December 1941

AWM78 352/1 Vendetta Report from Singapore, December 1941. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420304?image=192

The series recorded pivotal moments during the Second World War. It includes a report from the commanding officer of HMAS Vendetta on the bombing of Singapore on 8 December 1941, after his ship narrowly avoided Japanese bombs targeting Keppel Harbour.

The Reports and Proceedings also capture a snapshot of what life was like for RAN crews on a daily basis. Among details of operations, signals and maintenance, there is evidence of small events that changed up the crew’s routine and provided bright spots in their lives. On this page from the HMAS Vendetta report for November 1944, the birth of a litter of kittens is documented alongside the landing of troops on New Britain, boiler cleaning, and various sports.

AWM78 352/2 Letter of Proceedings, November 1944

AWM78 352/2 Letter of Proceedings, November 1944. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420305?image=29

Several reports also contain items created by crew members and kept as a record of events on board the ships. One such item is this concert advertisement from HMAS Wagga.

AWM78 355/1 Concert Advertisement, 25 December 1944

AWM78 355/1 Concert Advertisement, 25 December 1944. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420496?image=74

Korean War

The naval component of Australia’s involvement in the Korean War was a vital element of the United Nations war effort. Over the course of the war the Australian government deployed four destroyers: HMAS Bataan, HMAS Warramunga, HMAS Tobruk, and HMAS Anzac. The RAN also had four frigates, HMAS Shoalhaven, HMAS Murchison, HMAS Condamine, and HMAS Culgoa, as well as the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney. With Korea surrounded by water on three sides, the United Nations sought to seize control of the Korean coastline. On 1 July 1950, HMAS Shoalhaven and HMAS Bataan joined the UN naval blockade of the country.

AWM78 58/4 Map of Haeju Estuary, 1952

AWM78 58/4 Map of Haeju Estuary, 1952. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420980?image=216

The coast of Korea included stretches of concealed mud flats and shallow waters that proved difficult to navigate. North Korean forces used mine warfare during the early stages of the war, which further exacerbated dangers given that tidal movements on the west coast caused moored mines to move.

In May 1952 HMAS Bataan bombarded the enemy on eight occasions, and by August had conducted its final patrol of the Korean War. The AWM78 series covers the accounts of these bombardments and outlines the collaboration between US Marine forces and the RAN during this period.

AWM78 58/4 Gunfire Target Sketch, 1952

AWM78 58/4 Gunfire Target Sketch, 1952. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420980?image=180

Vietnam War

Between 1965 and 1972 Australia undertook naval operations off the Vietnamese coast, and by the end of Australia’s involvement 13,500 members of the RAN had seen active service. The Reports and Proceedings record episodes of gunfire support provided by RAN ships, and document both the hardships experienced by the crew and some quirks of life at sea. Scattered among the daily reports are photographs and cartoons, indications of moments of pleasure during the war.

AWM78 141/6 PART 2 Buddha's Birthday Ceasefire, 1967

AWM78 141/6 PART 2 Buddha's Birthday Ceasefire, 1967. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1421987?image=149

The RAN participated in Operation Sea Dragon, a series of American-led naval operations that aimed to intercept and destroy military targets and supply routes belonging to the North Vietnamese. On the occasion of Buddha’s birthday, 23 March 1967, a ceasefire was called and Navy Admiral Mark William Woods took the opportunity to congratulate the troops on their hard work and perseverance during the operation.

Amid the fighting, this series shows there were beacons of hope and friendship – celebrations, cocktail parties, and dinners – with cartoons and ship newspapers providing humorous commentary on daily life in the RAN.

AWM78 329/11 The Independent

AWM78 329/11 The Independent. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420165?image=65

AWM78 329/11 Our Man in the Sydney

AWM78 329/11 Our Man in the Sydney. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420165?image=60

The RAN in the 1980s

During the 1980s the role of the RAN was largely a diplomatic one. RAN vessels were used to promote Australia’s national interests though joint exercises with other nations, maintaining a presence in Australian territorial waters, and assisting with humanitarian operations. The Reports and Proceedings from this period provide an insight into ship maintenance, routine patrols, exercises and drills, weather conditions, and morale, while detailing diplomatic ship tours and oceanographic research.

AWM78 89/3 Stubby Holder Experiment, Kermadec Trench

AWM78 89/3 Stubby Holder Experiment, Kermadec Trench. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420404?image=111

AWM78 89/8 Results of a Successful Dredge

AWM78 89/8 Results of a Successful Dredge. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2648636?image=42

HMAS Cook operated between 1980 and 1990 as a specialist oceanographic research vessel. Its Reports and Proceedings record daily duties in a level of detail that shows the jovial nature of the crew and scientists aboard, as well as physical and photographic evidence of the research conducted.

AWM78 89/8 Gravity Core Sample

AWM78 89/8 Gravity Core Sample. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2648636?image=45

Also captured are unusual events such as a visit from “King Neptune and his court” on 18 April 1985: a line-crossing ceremony as the ship crossed the equator.

AWM78 89/7 King Neptune Holds Court

AWM78 89/7 King Neptune Holds Court. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420404?image=48

From wartime to peacetime operations, the AWM78 Reports and Proceedings capture both significant historical events and small moments that made up day-to-day life for members of the RAN. These valuable documents are now preserved for the future, and may be viewed online here.