HMS Nairana (1917)
Nairana in dazzle camouflage
|Builder:||William Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton, Scotland|
|Launched:||21 June 1915|
|Fate:||Requisitioned by Royal Navy, 27 February 1917|
|Career (United Kingdom)|
|Acquired:||27 February 1917|
|Commissioned:||25 August 1917|
|Fate:||Returned to owner, January 1921|
|Fate:||Transferred to Tasmanian Steamers, January 1922|
|Out of service:||February 1948|
|Fate:||Wrecked 18 February 1951 and scrapped 1953–54|
|Displacement:||3,070 long tons (3,120 t)|
|Length:||352 ft (107.3 m)|
|Beam:||45 ft 6 in (13.9 m)|
|Draught:||13 ft 2 in (4.0 m) (mean)|
|Installed power:||6,700 shp (5,000 kW)
6 × boilers
|Propulsion:||2 × shafts, 2 × geared Steam turbines|
|Speed:||19 kn (35 km/h; 22 mph)|
|Range:||1,060 nmi (1,960 km; 1,220 mi) at 19.5 kn (36.1 km/h; 22.4 mph)|
|Armament:||4 × QF 12-pounder (3 in (76 mm)) 12 cwt guns|
|Aviation facilities:||1 × flying-off deck forward|
HMS Nairana was a aircraft carrier/seaplane carrier requisitioned by the Royal Navy (RN) in 1917. She was laid down in 1914 as SS Nairana for the Australian firm Huddart Parker, but construction was suspended after the outbreak of World War I. The ship was converted to operate a mix of wheeled aircraft from her forward flying-off deck and floatplanes that were lowered into the water. She saw service during with the war with the Grand Fleet and in 1918 supported the British North Russia Intervention during the Russian Civil War.
Nairana was returned to her original owners in 1921, reconverted to her original configuration, and spent the next several decades ferrying passengers and cargo between Tasmania and Melbourne. She was twice struck by rogue waves in the Bass Strait, nearly capsizing her on both occasions. Nairana was not requisitioned for military service during World War II. The ship was laid up in 1948 and wrecked in a storm three years later; she was subsequently scrapped in place.
Construction and description
Ordered in January 1914 for Huddart Parker, and laid down by William Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton, Scotland, SS Nairana (Aboriginal for "Golden Eagle" or "Eagle of the Sun") was launched 21 June 1915. The launch had been delayed nine months, after the British Government ordered that all construction workers be pulled from non-military vessels, and work had only been resumed so as to make her slipway available for warships. She remained at anchorage, incomplete, for the next year and a half. The Royal Navy requisitioned her on 27 February 1917 for completion as a combined landplane and seaplane carrier.
HMS Nairana had a tonnage of 3,547 gross register tons (GRT) and displaced 3,070 long tons (3,120 t) in RN service. The ship was 352 feet (107.3 m) long overall, had a beam of 45 feet 6 inches (13.9 m), and a mean draught of 13 feet 2 inches (4.01 m). The ship was powered by two sets of Parsons geared steam turbines designed to produce a total of 6,700 shaft horsepower (5,000 kW), each driving one propeller shaft. They were powered by steam provided by four Babcock & Wilcox boilers that gave her a designed speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). On sea trials, Nairana made 7,003 shp (5,222 kW) and reached 20.32 knots (37.63 km/h; 23.38 mph). She carried 448 long tons (455 t) of coal which meant that she could steam for 1,060 nautical miles (1,960 km; 1,220 mi) at a speed of 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h; 22.4 mph). Her crew numbered 278, including 90 aviation personnel.
The ship's main armament consisted of four 40-calibre, 3-inch (76 mm) 12-pounder 12 cwt[Note 1] quick-firing guns on single mounts. Two of these were mounted on the forecastle as low-angle guns, but the other two were mounted on the rear hangar roof as anti-aircraft guns. They fired 12.9-pound (5.9 kg) projectiles at a muzzle velocity of 2,235 ft/s (681 m/s); this gave a maximum range of 11,750 yd (10,740 m) against surface targets and an anti-aircraft range of 19,000 feet (5,791 m). They had a rate of fire of 15 rounds per minute.
Nairana was fitted with a 95-foot (29.0 m) flying-off deck forward, intended for aircraft with wheeled undercarriages, and a prominent hangar aft. A massive latticework gantry crane protruded aft from the hangar roof and a twin-boom derrick forward to handle her aircraft. The smaller forward hangar was built under the ship's bridge and the aircraft were raised to the flight deck overhead by one of the first lifts in the Royal Navy. The forward hangar could fit four single-seat fighters and the rear hangar had a capacity of four floatplanes. The ship could lower them into the water while steaming at 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph) and recover the floatplanes at 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph). She carried 1,200 imperial gallons (5,500 l; 1,400 US gal) of petrol for her aircraft.
Upon commissioning on 25 August 1917, Nairana was assigned to the Battle Cruiser Force of the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, carrying four Short Type 184 floatplanes and four Beardmore W.B. III aircraft. She saw little operational use as she was employed for pilot training and ferrying aircraft to ships equipped with flying-off decks. In 1918, she participated in the North Russia Campaign in support of the British intervention in the Russian Civil War. On 1 August, she took part in what was probably the first fully combined air, sea, and land military operation in history, when she and her Campania seaplanes joined Allied ground forces and other ships in driving Bolsheviks out of their fortifications on Modyugski Island at the mouth of the Northern Dvina River in Russia, Nairana using her own guns on the Bolshevik batteries. She and her aircraft then scouted ahead of the Allied force as it proceeded up the channel to Arkhangelsk. The appearance of one of her Campanias over Arkhangelsk caused the Bolshevik troops there to panic and abandon the city. Nairana sustained no damage during the assault on the city. In October, the ship was carrying five Campanias and two Sopwith Babys, although these last two aircraft were replaced by Sopwith Camels in 1919. In June 1919, Nairana ferried a flight of Fairey IIIC floatplanes to Arkhangelsk for use by the Royal Air Force.
The British Government released Nairana to William Denny and Brothers after the war to be rebuilt to her original plans. The ship was handed over to Huddart Parker in January 1921. Nairana arrived in Melbourne in March, after a two-month voyage from Plymouth, and commenced her first trans-Tasman crossing on 18 April 1921. Transferred to Tasmanian Steamers in January 1922, she operated the Bass Strait run from Launceston, Devonport, and Burnie to Melbourne for the next 26 years. She accommodated 250 passengers in first class and 140 in second, and generally cruised at 18 knots. She was withdrawn from service for overhaul at Sydney's Cockatoo Island in October 1922, and again in September–October 1923. In January 1925, Nairana was chartered by the Federal Government and crewed by non-union labour, following a strike by shipping workers. She was taken out of service for a major overhaul at Cockatoo Island from May to October 1927. On the night of 24 January 1928, she was struck by a rogue wave in heavy seas, and almost capsized; one woman, already ill when she boarded in Launceston, died.
As well as passengers, Nairana regularly carried cargo, including gold bullion, and live animals such as horses and cattle between Tasmania and the mainland. A Tasmanian Devil being transported to Melbourne Zoo in a wooden crate placed in one of the ship's four horse stalls escaped by chewing a hole through its box, and was never seen again. Nairana was withdrawn from service in December 1935 as a result of a ship workers' strike, returning to the Bass Strait run in the new year. As she neared Port Phillip Bay on 12 April 1936, on a clear day with apparently calm seas, she was again struck by a rogue wave and rolled onto her port side before swinging back over to starboard and eventually righting. The impact injured most of her 88 passengers and killed four, including a family of three who disappeared after being swept overboard. Despite this, she proceeded to her berth in the Yarra River, having sustained only minor damage.
After war was declared in September 1939, Nairana began carrying military personnel as well as commercial passengers. Her hull, previously black, was painted grey, and she was fitted with paravanes to defend against mines, a BL (breech-loading) 4-inch Mk VIII anti-submarine gun on the aft promenade deck, and a 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun on her deckhouse. She also carried a supply of .303 rifles for shooting at mines. As a coal burner that emitted tell-tale black smoke visible for miles, Nairana was not considered for war service, unlike some other Bass Strait ferries. She maintained a heavy schedule through the war years, and underwent repairs at Williamstown after running aground in the Tamar River in 1943. Nairana had her final overhaul at Cockatoo Island between February and April 1944. She made her last crossing from Tasmania to the mainland on 13–14 February 1948, after which she was retired and laid up in Melbourne. Sold for scrap to Wm Mussell Pty Ltd, Williamstown, on 18 February 1951 Nairana broke her moorings during a gale and was driven ashore off Port Melbourne. Unrecoverable, she was broken up in place for scrap during 1953–54.
Throughout her career as a Bass Strait ferry, Nairana had displayed a commemorative plaque and a photograph from her days as a carrier, presented by the British Admiralty in recognition of her service in World War I, and especially her part in the fall of Arkhangelsk. After she was retired, the plaque went on display at the Wellington Harbour Maritime Museum, New Zealand, and the photograph at the Launceston Maritime Museum.
- "Cwt" is the abbreviation for hundredweight, 12 cwt referring to the weight of the gun.
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