HMAS Cairns marks 50 years

HMAS Cairns marks 50 years

 HMAS Cairns recently marked its 50th birthday. The celebrations were attended by the Commander Australian Fleet Rear Admiral Chris Smith AM, CSM.


HMAS Cairns is named after an Australian World War II Bathurst Class Corvette of the same name which began its sea service in 1942, serving in the Indian Ocean, Eastern Africa, the Mediterranean and in Australian waters.

Left: World War II Bathurst Class Corvette HMAS Cairns (AWM AWM045083) Right: HMAS Cairns before redevelopment in 2008-2009.

The Royal Australian Navy has been a regular visitor to the port of Cairns for many decades stretching well back before World War II. Many ships, both military and merchant, made Cairns their principal port of call when travelling up the east coast of Australia during World War II for resupply and refit prior to heading to New Guinea, Java, the Solomon Islands and many other destinations throughout the Pacific.

HMAS Cairns now sits on the site of a former Navy ship repair facility originally built by the Navy at the outbreak of World War II.

Attack class patrol boat, 97 HMAS Barbette, Cairns 1972

A permanent Navy presence in Cairns did not begin however, until the new Patrol Boat Facility opened up at Grafton Street on 29 January 1971, under the Command of Lieutenant HP Shaw RAN. Starting with a complement of only one officer and 15 sailors, the facility was to provide general repair and maintenance facilities for the newly formed Second Australian Patrol Boat Squadron.

From mid-1971 the first Patrol Boats commenced refitting in Cairns with the work being carried out by private contractors.

On 1 February 1974, the Grafton Street Establishment was given the title HMAS Cairns and commissioned under the command of Commander JM Yates RAN. By then the complement had grown to four officers and 30 sailors.

At this time HMAS Cairns also became the home port for three Attack Class Patrol Boats HMA Ships BarbetteBarricade and Bayonet as well as a single Hydrographic Survey Ship HMAS Flinders.

Left: HMAS Barbette. Right: HMAS Barricade.

Left: HMAS Bayonet. Right: HMAS Flinders.

Reconstruction of the new establishment began in 1979 and the base was relocated and formally recommissioned here at Draper Street on 28 May 1982 under the command of Commander AH Brecht RAN, along with an expanded complement of 13 officers and 100 sailors. The base expanded until a major redevelopment was undertaken in 2008-2009 which transformed it into the modern complex that exists today.

The base celebrated the 50th birthday with a time-honoured tradition of cake cutting by the Commanding Officer and the youngest member of the ship’s company.

Cutting the HMAS Cairns 50th anniversary cake are Australian fleet commander Rear Admiral Christopher Smith, with seaman general experience sailor Sophie Evans and Commander Alfonso Santos. Picture: Defence

Anniversary celebrations included a formal parade ceremony known as divisions, reviewed by the commander of the Australian fleet, Rear Admiral Christopher Smith.

HMAS Cairns hosts about 800 navy and civilian personnel and is the home port for six naval vessels. The base provides maintenance, logistic and administrative support for Cairns-based fleet units and its responsibility extends from Rockhampton to Thursday Island.

HMAS Cairns also provides refit and training support for neighbouring Pacific island nations (Pacific Class Patrol Boats).


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