Did you know that in 1991 HMAS Westralia deployed to the Arabian Gulf, included in its Ships Company were seven women this was the first time that females were deployed overseas on frontline Services?
HMAS Westralia served the Royal Australian Navy and supported allied Navies for 17 years from 1989 – 2006.
On 24 May 2022, HMAS Supply II hosted ex-HMAS Westralia crew onboard for a dedication to HMAS Westralia. Board Director Nathan Shingles attended this dedication as he was part of the HMAS Westralia crew, he participated in Operation Dirk and Stanhope as well as being a member of AFT Damage Control during the tragic fire in 1998. Also in attendance was Natalie Collis one of the first women to sail into combat to the Arabian Gulf in January 1991.
Nathan Said it was a wonderful day which also included a full ship tour of HMAS Supply II.
“Fantastic to have you part of A195! Faithful and Bold/Strengthen and Shield”
HMAS Supply II is the lead ship of the Supply class replenishment oilers and is named after the Royal Navy HMS Supply. The vessel was launched in November 2017 and commissioned on 10 April 2021.
History of HMAS Westralia
Originally built in 1976 in the United Kingdom as a Stat 32 Class petroleum products tanker, in 1979 she was acquired by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary for use as a support oiler and renamed RFA Appleleaf. From 2 April to 14 June 1982, she saw active service in the Falklands War.
In 1989, the Australian Government leased the RFA Appleleaf and after a refit in England, she was commissioned as HMAS Westralia, under the command of JS Moore, RAN. On 12 March 1990, the ship was officially renamed HMAS Westralia by Mrs. Delys Gration, wife of the Chief of the Defence Force.
HMAS Westralia arrived in Australia in December 1989 and began her 17 years of service with the Royal Australian Navy.
In March 1990, Westralia sailed from Fremantle on her first overseas deployment, visiting at least seven South-east Asian ports, participating in the 55th anniversary celebrations for the Royal Malaysian Navy, and was part of several training exercises. In late June, Westralia docked in Singapore, where she underwent a four-month refit. During this time, she was fitted to carry an RBS 70 missile system and two .50 calibre machine guns as defensive armament, and was fitted with a flight deck on the aft superstructure to facilitate vertical replenishment. The ship then returned to her home port of HMAS Stirling by late October.
Countdown to War
On 18 July 1990, following a build-up of diplomatic tension the then Prime Minister RJ Hawke announced his government’s intention to commit two FFGs and a supply ship to a Multinational Naval Force (MNF) then assembling to enforce sactions.
On 2 January 1991, Westralia departed HMAS Stirling for the Arabian Gulf, arriving in the Middle East on Australia Day 1991, nine days after the commencement of military action by multi-national forces against Iraq. Seven women were included in her ship’s company the first time Australian women had been deployed to a combat zone.
The ship remained in the Gulf until June, when she was replaced by HMAS Darwin. Westralia’s service was later recognised with the battle honour “Kuwait 1991”.
On 26 August, Westralia and HMAS Swan sailed for Luzon in the Philippines, to provide humanitarian aid following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. In 1994, the five-year lease of the ship concluded, and the Australian government purchased the ship from the British.
On 5 May 1998, fire broke out in the tanker’s main machinery space. The fire was serious and other RAN units in the area rushed to the assistance of the stricken vessel. Unfortunately, Midshipman Megan Pelly, Petty Officer Shaun Smith, Leading Seaman Bradley Meek, and Able Seaman Phillip Carroll each lost their lives. The tragedy was deeply felt throughout the fleet, and those who lost their lives are remembered each year through annual commemoration services held at HMAS Stirling.
Following Repairs and modifications made to the ship, she returned to operational service in 2000.
In January 2002, Westralia and the frigate HMAS Canberra were deployed to the Southern Ocean to capture illegal fishing vessels reported in the area. Two vessels were captured, with six people arrested for poaching A$2.5 million worth of fish, and 37 others deported.
In 2003, the Australian Defence Capability Review indicated the need to replace Westralia with a new, double-hulled vessel, HMAS Westralia was decommissioned on 16 September 2006 after 17 years of RAN service.