HMAS Colac

HMAS Colac (J242/M05), named for the town of Colac, Victoria, was one of 60 Bathurst-class corvettes constructed during World War II, and one of 36 initially manned and commissioned solely by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).[1]

HMAS Colac in 1952
Namesake: Town of Colac, Victoria
Builder: Mort's Dock and Engineering Company
Laid down: 18 April 1941
Launched: 30 August 1941
Commissioned: 6 January 1942
Decommissioned: 27 November 1945
Recommissioned: 20 February 1951
Decommissioned: 30 January 1953
Out of service: 1983
  • Training ship (1951–1953)
  • Tank cleaning ship (1962–1983)
Honours and
Fate: Torpedoed by HMAS Ovens on 4 March 1987 in a weapons test
General characteristics
Class and type: Bathurst-class corvette
  • 650 tons standard
  • 1,025 tons full load
Length: 186 ft (57 m)
Beam: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Draught: 8.5 ft (2.6 m)
Propulsion: triple expansion engine, 2 shafts, 2,000 hp
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) at 1,750 hp
Complement: 85

Design and construction

In 1938, the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board (ACNB) identified the need for a general purpose 'local defence vessel' capable of both anti-submarine and mine-warfare duties, while easy to construct and operate.[2][3] The vessel was initially envisaged as having a displacement of approximately 500 tons, a speed of at least 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph), and a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km; 2,300 mi)[4] The opportunity to build a prototype in the place of a cancelled Bar-class boom defence vessel saw the proposed design increased to a 680-ton vessel, with a 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph) top speed, and a range of 2,850 nautical miles (5,280 km; 3,280 mi), armed with a 4-inch gun, equipped with asdic, and able to fitted with either depth charges or minesweeping equipment depending on the planned operations: although closer in size to a sloop than a local defence vessel, the resulting increased capabilities were accepted due to advantages over British-designed mine warfare and anti-submarine vessels.[2][5] Construction of the prototype HMAS Kangaroo did not go ahead, but the plans were retained.[6] The need for locally built 'all-rounder' vessels at the start of World War II saw the "Australian Minesweepers" (designated as such to hide their anti-submarine capability, but popularly referred to as "corvettes") approved in September 1939, with 60 constructed during the course of the war: 36 (including Colac) ordered by the RAN, 20 ordered by the British Admiralty but manned and commissioned as RAN vessels, and 4 for the Royal Indian Navy.[2][7][8][9][1]

Colac was laid down by Mort's Dock and Engineering Company at Balmain, New South Wales on 18 April 1941.[1] She was launched on 30 August 1941 by Miss M. Heady, senior lady on the staff of Morts Dock and Engineering, and commissioned into the RAN on 6 January 1942.[1] The ship was originally to be named HMAS Hamilton.[10]

Operational history

World War II

The "Colac" was built in a dry dock and launched by flooding the dock. This important event took place on Saturday August 30th, 1941. At 9.40 a.m. the Commodore and Party arrived by barge and a religious ceremony was conducted by Rev. A.G. Rix. Her first commander was Lieutenant Commander Dudley Charles Northam. Lt. Commander Northam was born in 1902 in Torquay, UK, and learned seamanship from his days on the Mount Stewart clipper when he was 15. He served in WWI and went on to command the Colac in WWII. A vast collection of his belongings is held by the National Maritime Museum, Sydney, including his uniform, photographs, several ships pennants, signed flags and his certificates of competence (Ingham-Broomfield, 2019)

After entering service, Colac was assigned as an anti-submarine patrol and convoy escort vessel, operating between Townsville and New Guinea.[1] This continued until December 1942, when Colac and sister ships Ballarat and Broome were ordered to support the Allied efforts to recapture Buna-Gona by embarking 762 Australian soldiers and delivering them as far into the Japanese-occupied Oro Province of Papua New Guinea as possible.[1] The first attempt, early on 14 December, saw 46 soldiers landed at Cape Sudest before the three corvettes were attacked by Japanese aircraft and forced to withdraw.[1] That night, under the cover of darkness, the remaining troops were landed nearby.[1] Throughout December, Colac was involved in three similar troop deployments, and later took part in Operation Lilliput; the reinforcement and supply of the captured area.[1]

In March 1943, Colac and Ballarat were reassigned to convoy escort duty along the east coast of Australia.[1] On 26 April, a five-ship convoy escorted by the two corvettes was attacked by Japanese submarine I-177 off Cape Byron.[1] The MV Limerick was torpedoed and sunk, with all but two of the crew rescued by Colac. I-177 escaped unharmed.[1] In July, Colac was instructed to begin escorting convoys between Australia and New Guinea, before returning to east coast convoys at the start of 1944, then undergoing a refit.[1]

In April 1944, Colac was assigned to escort and patrol duties in New Guinea waters, which continued until April 1945, when the corvette was one of four RAN ships providing gunfire support for operations in the Wewak area.[1] In mid-May, Colac was assigned to harass Japanese bases in the Solomon Islands area. On 26 May, the ship suffered her first casualties of the war, two hits from Japanese shore batteries killed two sailers, wounded two others, and holed Colac at the waterline.[1] The corvette jettisoned stores, her depth charge payload, and replaceable pieces of equipment to avoid sinking and escape, and later limped to the Treasury Islands under tow for repairs.[1] Temporary repairs were made to allow Colac to sail to New Guinea and then to Sydney, where she arrived on 18 June and entered dock for repairs.[1] Colac was still under repair when World War II ended, and she was paid off into reserve on 27 November 1945.[1]

The corvette was awarded two battle honours for her wartime service: "Pacific 1942–45" and "New Guinea 1942–44".[11][12]

Training ship

On 20 February 1951, Colac was recommissioned for use as a training ship for National Service trainees.[1]

Decommissioning and fate

Colac was returned to reserve on 30 January 1953.[1] In 1962, the ship was converted into a tank cleaning vessel, and served in this role until 30 September 1983.[1] Colac was not recommissioned during this time.

On 4 March 1987, Colac was sunk by a Mark 48 torpedo fired by the submarine HMAS Ovens in a weapons test.[1] The corvette sank at 34°49.2′S 151°32′E.[1]


  1. "HMAS Colac". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  2. Stevens, The Australian Corvettes, p. 1
  3. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 103
  4. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, pp. 103–4
  5. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, pp. 103–5
  6. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, p. 104
  7. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability, pp. 105, 148
  8. Donohue, From Empire Defence to the Long Haul, p. 29
  9. Stevens et al., The Royal Australian Navy, p. 108
  10. Straczek, Joe (Winter 2003). "What's in a name: a chronological list – part 2". Australian Sea Heritage. Australian Heritage Fleet (75): 13. ISSN 0813-0523.
  11. "Navy Marks 109th Birthday With Historic Changes To Battle Honours". Royal Australian Navy. 1 March 2010. Archived from the original on 13 June 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  12. "Royal Australian Navy Ship/Unit Battle Honours" (PDF). Royal Australian Navy. 1 March 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2012.


  • Donohue, Hector (October 1996). From Empire Defence to the Long Haul: post-war defence policy and its impact on naval force structure planning 1945–1955. Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs. No. 1. Canberra: Sea Power Centre. ISBN 0-642-25907-0. ISSN 1327-5658. OCLC 36817771.
  • Stevens, David (2005). A Critical Vulnerability: the impact of the submarine threat on Australia's maritime defense 1915–1954. Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs. No. 15. Canberra: Sea Power Centre Australia. ISBN 0-642-29625-1. ISSN 1327-5658. OCLC 62548623.
  • Stevens, David; Sears, Jason; Goldrick, James; Cooper, Alastair; Jones, Peter; Spurling, Kathryn, (2001). Stevens, David (ed.). The Royal Australian Navy. The Australian Centenary History of Defence (vol III). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-554116-2. OCLC 50418095.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
Journal and news articles
  • Stevens, David (May 2010). "The Australian Corvettes" (PDF). Hindsight (Semaphore). Sea Power Centre – Australia. 2010 (05). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2010.

Personal Information Ingham-Broomfield, Becky. Private collection of memorabilia from my grandfather/mother's stepfather, Lt Commander Dudley Charles Northam.

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