HMAS Armidale (I)
HMAS Armidale (I) was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers (commonly known as Corvettes) built during World War II in Australian shipyards as part of the Commonwealth Government’s wartime shipbuilding programme. Twenty were built on Admiralty order but manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty-six (including Armidale (I)) were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.
Armidale (I) commissioned at Sydney on 11 June 1942 under the command of LCDR David H. Richards RANR(S).
Following a workup period Armidale (I) was brought into operational service as an escort vessel protecting Australian coastal and mainland – New Guinea convoys. This service ended in October 1942 when she was ordered to join the 24th Minesweeping Flotilla at Darwin.
Armidale (I) arrived at Darwin on 7 November 1942. On 29 November 1942 she was ordered to proceed to Betano (Timor) in company of her sister ship HMAS Castlemaine. The purpose of this mission was the reinforcement of guerrilla forces operating in Timor and evacuation of Dutch troops and Portuguese women and children. Armidale (I) carried three AIF soldiers, two Dutch officers and 61 Indonesian troops of the Netherlands East Indies Army.
Armidale (I) and Castlemaine arrived off Betano in the early hours of 1 December. En route they had been attacked three times by Japanese aircraft, but without sustaining any damage or casualties. Failing to make contact with forces ashore, the ships retired so as to clear the coast before daylight.
Later the same day, contact was made with the patrol vessel HMAS Kuru, Darwin bound with 70 evacuees. Following transfer of Kuru's passengers to Castlemaine, Armidale (I) and Kuro proceeded to Timor independently.
At 3:15 pm on 1 December Armidale (I) was attacked by nine bombers, three fighters and a float plane. The ship was hit twice by torpedoes and sank within five minutes in position 10°S, 126°30´E.
The survivors of the attack abandoned ship in two boats (a motor boat and a whaler), a Carley float and a raft. They remained together until midday on 2 December, when the Commanding Officer (LCDR Richards), 16 of the ship's company and some Dutch service personnel set out in the motor boat in the hope of being sighted.
This group was rescued by another sister ship of Armidale (I), HMAS Kalgoorlie, on 6 December, following sighting by aircraft.
On 5 December, the whaler parted company from the raft with 26 RAN and the three AIF personnel on board. On 7 December, the raft was sighted by searching aircraft and on the following day both whaler and raft were observed. HMAS Kalgoorlie located and rescued the occupants of the whaler. Continued search failed to again locate the raft.
Out of a total of 83 naval personnel, comprising five officers and 78 ratings, 40 (two officers and 38 ratings) lost their lives. Losses of Netherlands East Indies personnel were two officers and 58 soldiers.