Fremantle-class patrol boat

The Fremantle-class patrol boats were coastal patrol vessels operated by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) from 1979 to 2007. Designed by British shipbuilder Brooke Marine and constructed in Australia by North Queensland Engineers and Agents, the Fremantle class were larger, more powerful, and more capable than the preceding Attack class, and the two primary patrol boat bases required infrastructure upgrades to support them. Although up to 30 vessels were planned, fifteen were ordered and constructed, with an unexercised option for five more.

Fremantle class
Class overview
Name: Fremantle-class patrol boat
Operators:  Royal Australian Navy
Preceded by: Attack-class patrol boat
Succeeded by: Armidale-class patrol boat
Built: 1977–1984
In commission: 1979–2007
Completed: 15
Cancelled: 5
Retired: 15
Scrapped: 13
Preserved: 2 (to be converted into museum ships)
General characteristics
Type: Patrol boat
Displacement: 220 tons
Length: 137.6 ft (41.9 m)
Beam: 25.25 ft (7.70 m)
Draught: 5.75 ft (1.75 m)
Propulsion: 2 MTU series 538 diesel engines, 3,200 shp (2,400 kW), 2 propellers
Speed: 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph)
Range: 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph)
Complement: 22
  • One general purpose 40/60 mm Bofors gun
  • Two 12.7 mm machine guns
  • One 81 mm mortar (removed later)

Their retirement was announced in 2001 and a decommissioning schedule published in 2004. From May 2005 they were replaced by the Armidale-class patrol boats with the last two Fremantles decommissioning in May 2007. Most of the class were scrapped, with two marked for preservation as museum ships. The Fremantle class has also appeared in two drama television series based on the Royal Australian Navy.

Planning and development

The concept for the Fremantle class began somewhere between 1967 and 1969, as the Attack-class patrol boats entered service, and areas for improvement were observed.[1] In September 1970, the RAN announced the intention to construct ten new patrol boats, which would operate in tandem with the Attack class and replace two general purpose vessels.[1] These new vessels were intended to enter service between 1976 and 1980.[1] The number of vessels to be built fluctuated, peaking at thirty vessels (16 RAN, 4 Royal Australian Naval Reserve, and 10 for the military of Papua New Guinea),[1] and settling at fifteen.[2]

Plans of acquisition were announced in April 1975, with eleven shipbuilders submitting tenders, of which two were shortlisted in 1976; Brooke Marine of the United Kingdom and Lürssen Werft of Germany.[2] Brooke Marine won the contract to design and produce the lead ship, with North Queensland Engineers and Agents contracted to build the other fourteen vessels.[2] An option for an additional five vessels existed, but they were placed on indefinite hold in 1982.[2][3] There was a separate acquisition plan for six missile-armed variants, but this was suspended due to the lack of available funding, and the belief that such ships could be constructed on short notice if required.[3]

Design and construction

The design of the Fremantle class called for ships with improved seakeeping, and newer equipment and weapons than those fitted to the Attack class.[1] The Fremantles had a full load displacement of 220 tonnes (220 long tons; 240 short tons), were 137.6 feet (41.9 m) long overall, had a beam of 24.25 feet (7.39 m), and a maximum draught of 5.75 feet (1.75 m).[4] The Fremantles were 28% longer and 50% heavier than their predecessors.[5] During sea trials, NUSHIP Fremantle was revealed to be 20 tons over the contracted limit.[6] Main propulsion machinery consisted of two MTU series 538 diesel engines, which supplied 3,200 shaft horsepower (2,400 kW) to the two propeller shafts.[4] Exhaust was not expelled through a funnel, like most ships, but through vents below the waterline.[7] The patrol boat could reach a maximum speed of 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph), and had a maximum range of 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph).[4] The ship's company consisted of 22 personnel.[4] Each patrol boat was armed with a single, bow-mounted 40 mm L/60 Bofors gun as main armament, supplemented by two .50 cal Browning machineguns and an 81-mm mortar,[4][8] although the mortar was removed from all ships sometime in the late 1990s. The main weapon was originally to be two 30-mm guns on a twin-mount, but the reconditioned Bofors were selected to keep costs down; provision was made to install an updated weapon later in the class' service life, but this did not eventuate.[3][7]

Early on in the construction program, it was realised that the two main patrol boat bases, HMAS Cairns in Cairns, Queensland and HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin, Northern Territory, were not capable of supporting ships of this size on a permanent basis.[5] This resulted in a $10 million infrastructure upgrade for the two bases, which was completed in 1981 and 1982, respectively.[7] This included modern maintenance, logistic, and administrative facilities at both bases, and the installation of a synchro-lift at Coonawarra.[5]

Construction of Fremantle began in October 1977.[6] She was launched on 16 February 1979, and commissioned on 17 March 1980.[6] During sea trials, Fremantle received distinction for locating and rescuing a British sailor thrown from a commercial trawler following its collision with an oil tender.[6] Construction of the first Australian-built vessel, HMAS Warrnambool, began in September 1978, with Warrnambool launched on 25 October 1980 and commissioned on 14 March 1981.[9] The final ship of the class, HMAS Bunbury, was commissioned on 15 December 1984.[9] The Australian-built vessels were built through an assembly-line method.[7] Hulls were built upside-down from the keel to the second-uppermost deck, then rolled over and built to the top of the hull.[7] After this, the superstructure, which had been fabricated at the same time, was welded onto the hull.[7] Construction of the class (including the two naval base upgrades) cost $150 million.[7] All fifteen vessels were named after Bathurst-class corvettes.[3]

Operational history

The first ship of the class, HMAS Fremantle, arrived in Australia on 27 August 1980, after an 82-day voyage covering 14,509 nautical miles (26,871 km; 16,697 mi).[10] North Queensland Engineers and Agents completed three patrol boats in both 1981 and 1982, and four in both 1983 and 1984.[9] By the end of 1984, four Fremantles were located at HMAS Coonawarra, HMAS Cairns, and Fleet Base East, two at HMAS Stirling, and one at HMAS Cerberus.[11] Also by 1984, all of the Attack class had left active service, with many transferring to the RAN Reserve or the Indonesian Navy.[11]

On 31 May 1985, Wollongong grounded on rocks at Gabo Island, causing extensive damage to the vessel.[7] She was repaired by the builder, and returned to service in late 1986.[7]

From May 2005 onwards, the Fremantles were replaced in service by the fourteen Armidale-class patrol boats. During late 2006, the decommissioned Wollongong remained laid up alongside Waterhen in Waverton, Sydney for use as the alongside set for the drama series Sea Patrol. The last two ships, Townsville and Ipswich, decommissioned in a joint ceremony on 11 May 2007.[12]

During 2006 and 2007, most of the Fremantles were broken up for scrap in Darwin, at a cost of between $400,000 and $450,000 each to the Australian government.[13] The exceptions were Wollongong (which was instead scrapped in Port Macquarie), Townsville (gifted to the Townsville Maritime Historical Society for preservation as a museum ship), and Gladstone (gifted to the Gladstone Maritime Museum for preservation).[13][14]

Fremantle class in fiction

The fictional HMAS Defiance, portrayed by HMA Ships Launceston, Townsville, Warrnambool, Whyalla, and Wollongong featured in the second season of the ABC TV series Patrol Boat.[15]

The fictional HMAS Hammersley is the setting of the first season of Channel Nine's 2007 drama series Sea Patrol. This vessel was portrayed by HMA Ships Wollongong and Ipswich.[16] A second patrol boat, HMAS Kingston, also appears in the series. From the second season onwards, an Armidale-class boat is used.


No.NameLaid Down[17]Launched[17]Commissioned[17]Decommissioning
FCPB 203Fremantle11 November 197715 February 197917 March 198011 August 2006
FCPB 204Warrnambool30 September 197825 October 198014 March 198129 November 2005
FCPB 205Townsville5 March 197916 May 198118 July 198111 May 2007
FCPB 206Wollongong23 July 197917 October 198128 November 198111 February 2006
FCPB 207Launceston29 March 198023 January 19821 March 19828 September 2006
FCPB 208Whyalla13 July 198022 May 19823 July 19822 September 2005
FCPB 209Ipswich29 October 198025 September 198213 November 198211 May 2007
FCPB 210Cessnock9 March 198115 January 19835 March 198323 June 2005
FCPB 211Bendigo21 September 19819 April 198328 May 19839 September 2006
FCPB 212Gawler18 January 19829 July 198327 August 19838 July 2006
FCPB 213Geraldton3 May 198222 October 198310 December 19837 October 2006
FCPB 214Dubbo9 August 198221 January 198410 March 19842 February 2007
FCPB 215Geelong15 November 198214 April 19842 June 19848 July 2006
FCPB 216Gladstone7 March 198328 July 19848 September 198413 March 2007
FCPB 217Bunbury13 June 19833 November 198415 December 198411 February 2006


  1. Semaphore 17, 2005, para. 2
  2. Semaphore 17, 2005, para. 3
  3. Jones, in Stevens, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 222
  4. Gillett, Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946, p. 89
  5. Semaphore 17, 2005, para. 4
  6. Semaphore 17, 2005, para. 5
  7. Gillett, Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946, p. 88
  8. Patrol Boats (Royal Australian Navy)
  9. Semaphore 17, 2005, para. 7
  10. Semaphore 17, 2005, para. 6
  11. Semaphore 17, 2005, para. 8
  12. Navy League of Australia, Last of the Fremantles bow out
  13. Australian National Audit Office (5 February 2015), Management of the Disposal of Specialist Military Equipment (Report), Government of Australia, pp. 62–3, retrieved 24 April 2015
  14. ABC, Fed Govt hands over HMAS Townsville to museum
  15. Semaphore 17, 2005, para. 13
  16. Rollings, 2006
  17. Moore 1985, p. 26.


  • Gillett, Ross (1988). Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946. Brookvale, NSW: Child & Associates. ISBN 0-86777-219-0. OCLC 23470364.
  • Jones, Peter (2001). "Towards Self Reliance". In Stevens, David (ed.). The Royal Australian Navy. The Australian Centenary History of Defence (vol III). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-555542-2. OCLC 50418095.
  • Moore, John, ed. (1985). Jane's Fighting Ships 1985–86. London: Jane's Yearbooks. ISBN 0-7106-0814-4.
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