M1121, the Early Years
The Ton Class minesweeper/hunter, pennant number M1121 was built by Montrose Shipyard Ltd, Montrose, Angus, Scotland, launched on 20th. February 1953 and named HMS Chediston, later renamed HMS Montrose, renamed HMS Chediston, then sold to the Royal Australian Navy in 1961 and renamed HMAS Curlew
The Early Years
At the end of the Second World War it was generally accepted that the emphasis on explosive antiship mines had shifted from deeply laid moored mines to ground
mines laid in the shallow approaches to ports and harbours. The large steel built ocean minesweepers were, therefore, mostly unsuitable for sweeping sophisticated modern mines laid in coastal and inshore waters. As a result, a team was formed at Bath in the UK in 1947 to design a new generation of minesweepers.
This team produced sets of hull drawings in 1949 for the construction of future Coastal Mine Countermeasure Vessels (Coastal Minesweepers or CMS), each hull design being further subcategorized into two variants, namely a minesweeper and a minehunter. The design was based on the Wartime British Yard Minesweeper built in America under Lease Lend. Although no orders were initially placed, mainly owing to a lack of funding, the impending offensive in Korean waters and the cold war with all communist countries, Russia in particular, led to the acquisition programme being brought forward to September 1950. The first orders were placed on 9th. September, 1950. A construction programme for 118 units began and was partly funded by the US Government as part of the plan to modernise the European Navies after the Second World War. The Coastal Minehunter variant was, however, suspended in June 1952 and cancelled altogether in March 1953, because no suitable minehunting sonar had been developed.
"Ton Class" Minesweepers
The class was to be an "Insect Class" with names of insects - M1120 was to be HMS Golden Butterfly and M1121 was allocated HMS Red Centipede. Although the original names allocated to the Coastal Minesweepers (CMS) were those of insects, this was later changed to villages and hamlets in the UK with a name ending in "ton". Hence this minesweeper/minehunter class became officially known as the "Ton Class Minesweeper". Pennant M1121 was originally to be called "Red Centipede" but instead was named "Chediston" finally ending up being called "Curlew" a name she still has today.
HMS Coniston (M1101) was the first of the Ton Class (CMS) to be built, she was laid down in 1951, launched on 9th July 1952, and completed in 1953. However M1102 ( HMS Alcaston - HMAS Snipe) was the first Ton Class Minesweeper to Commission. If you look closely at M1101 you can see the similarity to the line drawing with a short funnel, lattice mast, open bridge and carley raft for lifesaving equipment. The Ton Class proved to be a very successful design with 118 units built in British yards between 1951 and 1960. Over thirty units were subsequently transferred to Commonwealth and foreign navies during the ensuing years, and the same basic design was also adopted by many Western navies for their own local construction programmes. (Canadian Bay Class Minesweeper - M161, and a group of NATO minesweepers - a Royal Belgium Navy built sweeper Shovel (M927), Royal Navy Minehunter, HMS Bossington (M1133), German Minehunter Konstanz (M1081) and Dutch Minesweeper Gernet (MSC 187). The NATO aquisition programme under which these ships were built was largely funded by the US Government.
British Construction Programme
John I. Thornycroft & Co Ltd, of Southampton, acted as parent firm to the group of fifteen smaller shipbuilders responsible for constructing these vessels, which were designed to sweep both moored and ground mines. With the exception of the double mahogany hull planking, almost the entire vessel was constructed from light aluminium alloy (which in later years became a huge problem because of corrosion) and phosphor bronze with the lowest possible magnetic field to achieve optimum safety when sweeping for magnetic mines. An eddy current compensator on the mast and internal degaussing coils adjusted the magnetic signature of the ship to zero when it rolled at sea, the rolling being minimised by active stabilizers. The Tons were protected from pressure mines by their low displacement, and the threat of moored mines was greatly reduced by their shallow draught. To prevent potential damage caused by marine parasites, they had a protective Cascover nylon sheathing on the outer shell below the waterline.
Early vessels had Mirlees V12 diesels (JVSS-12), then the more powerful Napier Deltic (18-7A with an overhaul life of 4000 hours) was fitted and eventually the original Tons were re-engined with Napier Deltics, an engine with wide spread usage including railway locomotives. The Foden generator used to power minesweeping evolutions was also linked to a separate Napier Deltic situated in the generator space. Early members of the class had an open bridge (some many years later were never converted) and the lead-ship, Coniston had no top to her funnel and a short lattice mast. Subsequent vessels had a double-finned funnel top and covered bridges were progressively introduced. The last major external change was to revert to a tripod mast with new radar (Type 975) being mounted atop the bridge. The ton class vessels were air conditioned so the port holes shown on the line drawing were never incorporated.
A 40/60 was mounted on the forecastle and a twin oerlikon was mounted aft of the funnel atop the engine room housing. Two 20 man inflatable life rafts replaced the carley floats for lifesaving equipment. The anchors were not changed from the original design however a thickening was fitted to the hull abeam of the break to absorb damage from deploying or recovering heavy acoustic sweep gear with the ship rolling. Not shown in the drawing is the variable pitch active stabilizers (seen just abaft the bilge rail) which were fitted to the hull and operated from the generator space (along with the air conditioning unit) which was sited below the funnel.
In 1964 Kirkliston was converted to a minehunter, with LL sweep gear removed and minehunting sonar (Type 193) installed, with the top of the dome in the forward seaman's mess and the console in the operations room aft of the wheelhouse. Active rudders were fitted to allow the ship to position herself precisely, and four divers and two inflatable boats were carried to permit detected mines to be blown up by explosive charges placed by the divers. In Shoulton (converted to minehunter in 1963) an auxiliary diesel-hydraulic pump-jet system was installed in 1967 to provide quieter propulsion. In the Royal Navy, another fourteen were modified to minehunters.
Six Tons (4 minesweepers and 2 non converted minehunters) were sold to the Royal Australian Navy in 1961 with another four to the Indian Navy, one to Ghana, eight to South Africa, six to Argentina in 1968, seven to Malaysia, two to New Zealand and three to the Republic of Ireland in 1971.
M1121 (Chediston - Montrose - Chediston - Curlew)
M1121 was built by Montrose Shipyard Ltd., owned by John Lewis and situated on Rossie Island, on the south bank of Montrose Harbour (The twin large sheds). There was then a tidal dock with a lock and non-tidal inner basin into which the ships were moored alongside for completion. Montrose Shipyard Ltd built 6 of the 118 Tons ordered by the Royal Navy, including M1121 (Chediston-Montrose-Curlew) and M1183 (Singleton - Ibis). Montrose Shipyard Ltd at Montrose and the John Lewis Shipyard at Torry, Aberdeen, were taken over by the John Wood Group in 1959, continued to build North Sea Trawlers before closing down. The old site, dock and basin at Montrose has been filled in and is now the site of an oil rig maintenance depot and oil terminal.
This photo is believed to be Mrs R.C. Kelman, wife of the financial director of Montrose Shipyard Limited, launching HMS Chediston.
Launched on 6th October 1953 - the beginning of a long career of service in the RN and the RAN.
M1121, was laid down in April 1953, launched on 6th October 1953 by Mrs R.C. Kelman, wife of the financial director of Montrose Shipyard Limited, as HMS Chediston (named after a small village in North Suffolk, England), then taken to the inner basin to be completed. The ship was officially finished on 28th. September 1954 and after completing sea trials and being accepted by the Royal Navy, HMS Chediston was renamed HMS Montrose and handed over to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Depot at Tay Division RNVR, Earl Grey Dock, on the Tay River, Dundee, Scotland. HMS Montrose on her maiden voyage crossed the North Sea and entered the Baltic, where she called briefly at Oskarshamn in Sweden. M1121 was the tender for Tay Division from 11th. August 1955 until October 1957.
Dundee is about 30 miles (45 Klms.) south of Montrose Harbour. Coincidently many of the RNR volunteers worked in the Montrose Shipyard or in businesses that provided services or manufactured equipment for the ship during construction. The Earl Grey Dock was on the north shore of the Tay river, furthest up stream and was a controlled basin, one lock gate out to a tidal basin and then an open cut south into the river. The Earl Grey Dock at Dundee formed part of the docks complex to the West of the North end of the present Tay Road Bridge. Access was gained from the river through the Tidal Harbour, which also gave access to the King William IV Dock. The dock no longer exists having been reclaimed and filled in for a bridge over the Tay River.
Short History of Tay Division, Royal Naval Reserve.
The Royal Naval Reserve first formed in Dundee in 1861. It rapidly gained in strength, given a Drill Ship, the frigate HMS Brilliant, in 1862, and by 1866 Dundee ranked 5th in the United Kingdom, with a strength of 1014. Further expansion of this force within Scotland resulted in the arrival of the 46 gun frigate HMS Unicorn in 1873, and the departure of Brilliant for Inverness. The personal drive and influence of the Duke of Montrose, resulted in the formation, in 1903, of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), with Divisions in London, Bristol, the Mersey and the Clyde. Three years later, in 1906, the Dundee Company, of Clyde Division was formed, and took over HMS Unicorn. In 1914, on the outbreak of the Great War (WW1), despite its members having volunteered and trained for service at sea, the RNVR was mobilised and marched off to the trenches as the Royal Naval Division. The RNVR reformed after the Great War, and, in 1926, Dundee took command of the East Scottish Division RNVR with units in Leith and Edinburgh.
In 1946, Tay Division RNVR was reformed and used the centre pier and shed, Earl Grey Dock, as a training establishment, and in the same year the first of a series of minesweepers was attached to the Division, as its Sea Tender. This first ship, Motor Minesweeper FY233, was renamed HMS Montrose in honour of the Duke of Montrose, who had played such a great part in the formation of the RNVR. The RNVR had achieved immense seagoing credibility during World War II, and in 1946 the first of many training periods entirely manned and commanded by the RNVR was organised by Tay Division in HMS Montrose (YF233). HMS Chediston, M1121 having been accepted by the RN, was handed to the RNR, Tay Division, renamed HMS Montrose in June 1955 and in July that year, M1121 as HMS Montrose set a precedent when she escorted Britain's new queen, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, in HM Yacht Britannia, up the River Tay, and this example was later repeated by other Divisions.
M1121 as HMS Montrose escorting the new Queen Elizabeth II in the Royal Yacht, H.M.Yacht Britannia, saluting their Queen in traditional Navy fashion by giving three cheers with caps held aloft. (Officers will say "hurrah" sailors will shout "hooray"!) M1121 had the new design funnel but retained the open bridge and lattice mast. Tay Division trained weekends with an annual cruise for two weeks, usually July - August, joining with other RNR Division Training Ships, for fleet minesweeping and ship handling exercises in the North Sea. "Goodwill calls" usually followed to ports in Europe such as Christiansand, Norway, Hamburg, Germany, Elsinore, Denmark and ports in France. Short training cruises from Dundee were also held for university cadets to Aberdeen and Hull. M1121 was the training vessel for Tay Division from June 1954 until October 1957 and was then renamed Chediston in 1958.
This picture is reported to be of M1121 inboard of M1126 in Earl Grey Dock sometime in late 1957 or early 1958, when the then HMS Montrose (M1121) was renamed Chediston and was replaced as the training ship by HMS Dalswinton (M1126) which was itself renamed HMS Montrose. Dalswinton was later replaced by HMS Stubbington (M1204) as Montrose.
There was a gap in the location of M1121 at this point (1958 - 1961) however the ship was placed in "storage" in 1958 (the RAN equivalent of "reserve") and a major storage for the Ton Class Minesweepers was called the "Northern Storage Yard" at the village port of Hythe, on Southampton Water, in Hamshire. HMS Diligence, a shore establishment at Hythe (ex RAF Hythe), with the "trots of cocooned and arked" Coastal Minesweepers, Inshore Minesweepers and Motor Torpedo Boats in Southampton Water, was the "Coastal Forces Maintenance Base" where staff looked after the maintenance of the Minesweepers and Coastal Forces MTBs.
The ships were in a state of preservation, being cocooned and arked. HMS Diligence ran from 1953 until 1960 as a Royal Navy establishment and was then operated by civilian contractors for the next few years. Preparation for storage (mothballing) was done by White's Shipyard or Camper & Nicholson Ltd. M1139, M1152, M1183 and M1185 were immediately placed in storage following acceptance by the RN while M1102 was arked in 1957 and M1121 in 1958, along with many other Tons awaiting the mine blockade by the Russians that caused them to be built in the first place, but never eventuated!
Australian Navy to buy Minesweepers
The Australian Government decided to purchase 6 Ton Class Minesweepers in 1961 and crews were sent to standby the ships in England in April of that year. M1121 (Chediston - Montrose - Chediston - Curlew) and M1102 ( Alcaston - Snipe) both non converted minehunters but configured as minesweepers, were refitted at Blyth in Northumberland and Australian Navy crews were billeted in local hotels while standing by the ships. M1139 (Somerlyton - Gamston - Hawk) and M1185 (Swanston - Gull) were refitted by Richards Iron Works, Lowestoft in Suffolk, while M1183 (Singleton - Ibis) and M1152 (Jackton - Teal) were refitted by Brookes Marine at Poole Harbour in Dorset.
(There is a misconception that the Australian Minesweepers were "Bird Class" because thay were named after aquatic birds species however they were built as "Ton Class" and remained as such. The "Bird Class" Minesweeper was a naval trawler built to British Admiralty specifications during WW11, so it could function as a minesweeper - forty-five were built by Henry Robb Ltd, Leith, Scotland. USN "Lapwing Class" Minesweepers were often referred to as "Bird Class" Minesweepers, but the Aussie ships were "Ton Class" until the day the bridge rang down "Finished with main engines!")
In 1961, M1121 was placed into dockyard hands at the port of Blyth on the mouth of the River Blyth in Northumberland where "The Blyth Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company" was located. The Blyth Harbour and Dock Company was formed in 1853, the shipyard had five dry-docks, four building slipways and was one of the largest shipbuilding yards on the North East coast. During World War I, the Blyth shipyards built numerous ships for the Admiralty, including the Royal Navy's first purpose-built aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal built in 1914. Naval shipbuilding continued during World War II. The shipyard was closed in 1967.
Fleet Oiler for the RAN
A "Tide Class" Fleet Oiler, A195 was laid down by Harland and Wolff Limited at Belfast in Northern Ireland on 5th. August 1952 and launched on 1st. September 1955. Although originally built for the RAN she was loaned to the Royal Fleet Auxilary Service as RFA Tide Austral and saw service in the Far East as late as 1961. In 1962 at Portsmouth, England, the ship was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Tide Austral then renamed HMAS Supply. She would then escort and supply the minesweepers during the voyage from Portsmouth home to Australia - just like a mother duck with her 6 little ducklings.
M1121 was renamed HMAS Curlew on 21st. August 1962 and commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy.
Curlew, the unlucky duckling!
(The following compiled from the ship's ROPs.)
Curlew was provisionally accepted from the Royal Navy's Commodore Superintendent, Contract Built Ships on 20th August 1962 at 1300 - form S237 was signed but with a large list of exceptions. The ship was commissioned into the RAN the next day at 1130 and the ship placed under operational command of Flag Officer Scotland. The commisioning ceremony was covered by Blyth and Newcastle newspapers. On 22nd. Curlew carried out final acceptance sea trials and the acceptance certificate signed with the excepted items attached to the Form S237. It was noted that the vessel was not in good order!
The Curse of the Curlew begins
The first voyage of the HMAS Curlew was to Firth of Forth to embark minesweeping stores, calibrate minesweeping equipment and exercise minesweeping - however over the first weekend the ship's company painted the ships side as it was in an unsatisfactory state as received from Blythe Shipbuilding and Dry Docks Company. The ship returned to Blythe to complete installation of an emergency generator and for minor repairs. Most were not completed and the ship sailed on 31st. August for Portsmouth, with only one generator serviceable. Distance steamed for August - 435nm.
Voyage to Australia
The offical grand plan for the voyage to Australia was that after clearing Portsmouth the minesweepers would loosly form up on HMAS Supply and then sail to Australia as a task force. So on 1st. October the 16th. Minesweeping Squadron formed up in line ahead (in column) and steamed out of Portsmouth, immediately encountering the teeth of a force 8 gale! Station keeping was almost impossible for the ducklings made of wood, so the task force became wide spread. At 1400 on the 2nd. the port engine in Curlew was urgently shut down and locked because of extremely high thrust block temperatures. A refuelling was attempted from HMAS Supply but had to be aborted because of sea conditions and only having one engine. Curlew was left behind to make independent passage to Gibraltar, where repairs were attempted. After 5 days alongside it was decided to dry dock the ship to realign the port engine and shaft. After sea trials Curlew sailed independently for Malta, but soon had to shut down and lock the port shaft. Two days out from Malta she was joined by Supply which meant the task force was now well scattered. Curlew berthed in Malta for more repairs and it was found that repairs in Gibraltar had worsened the state of the shaft - the real cause - a collapsed engine mount was found and replaced. After 7 days Curlew sailed with shaft revolutions restricted to 300rpm per shaft giving 13 knots on both engines. The remainder of the Squadron had already traversed the Suez Canel. Curlew had refuelled from Supply in Malta and the fuel was found to be contaminated with water - so a large quantity was dumped at sea.
On the 28th. the port engine shut down due to more contaminated fuel however refused to restart. On two successful firings the engine raced out of control to peak revs. and had to be shut down. A faulty governor with a sheared quill shaft was found to be the problem, there was no spare. The ship traversed the Suez on 31st October on one engine. Distance steamed for October - 3611nm.
Curlew obtained a new governor from spares held on Supply in the Red Sea and was running on both engines soon after on the same day. On arrival at Aden she berthed on HMS Redoubt (an appropriate name as it turns out!) for replacement of a generator and a top overhaul of the other - Redoubt refused the requests for these major repairs and all other minor repairs. After 5 days Curlew sailed and refuelled at sea from Supply - unfortunately contaminated fuel was again received - and a substantial quantity had to be dumped at sea!
More Bad Luck
Curlew berthed in Colombo on 13th November, and sailed the same night for Singapore. On 17th. Curlew hit a submerged object which bent the Chernikeaf log and it could not be raised. Off Sumatra and before entering Johore Strait the ship replenished from Supply with another load of water contaminated fuel! By now the engine room staff were proficient at allowing embarked fuel to settle then draining off the water into the bilges for later pumping out. In Singapore, ship's divers using borrowed gear cut the log off however the main body could still not be raised. Maintenance staff on Mull carried out all major and minor repairs and the ship sailed a day later than the Squadron, in good order plus having "acquired" so far unobtainable spare parts (through out it's life crews of Curlew were expert at "acquiring stores"). The squadron berthed in Darwin on 27th. November for an overnight stay and proceeded east the next day for the Torres Strait with all other ships on one engine, however Curlew had to use both, because of revolution restrictions - trialling 400 rpm. produced increased thrush block temperatures so the limit was set at 350rpm. Distance steamed for November - 7689nm.
Supply replenished the squadron on the 2nd December then detached for Sydney to berth on 6th. December. The 6 ships felt at home rounding the Fairway Buoy, with the squadron arriving in Sydney, shrouded in light rain, fog and mist (Scotch mist), and berthed in the outer flooded dry dock at Garden Island on 7th. December 1962. On arrival Curlew transferred to the operational command of Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Australia (FOCEA). Three days later Curlew dry docked for inspection of the impact to the timber hull and repairs to the log - and was then humiliatingly towed by tugs to Waterhen where the first job was to paint the ships side in good old Aussie Ships Side Grey!! Distance steamed for December - 1792nm.
|Bay of Biscay 2nd. October 1962 - thanks to Brian Simpson.||December 1962, four of the new CMSs in GID - Curlew astern of Gull (M1185) with Melbourne on the FOW|
So the early years of M1121 give an outline of the history of the ship, from being built in Montrose, a port on the west coast of Scotland, named after the small village of Chediston in North Suffolk, England, far removed from Montrose, refitted for the Royal Australian Navy at Blythe, Northumberland, England, before sailing via the Suez Canal to the other side of the world (down under) to serve in the RAN. After returning from the Indonesian Confrontation in 1966 she was converted to a mine-hunter during the period 1966 - 1968 and did not decommission until April, 1990. M1121, Curlew was still afloat in 2011 at Hobart, Tasmania, after a remarkable career spanning 37 years.