Fremantle submarine base

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The submarine tender USS Holland with five American submarines at Fremantle in 1942

Fremantle submarine base was the utilisation of Fremantle Harbour as a submarine base in World War II.[1]


Knowledge of its existence was very carefully guarded as a wartime secret.[2][3][4] However, in August 1945, newspaper reports openly acknowledged the impact of the forces' activity.[5][6]

Response to Japanese Scare of March 1942[edit]

The establishment of the base was directly related to what was known as the Japanese Scare of March 1942, the most significant event for Western Australia being the attack on Broome.[7][8]

The base later became a major US Navy facility, with submarines based there attacking Japanese shipping throughout South East Asia. It involved mainly submarines from the US navy, but also included submarines from other forces.[9][10]

The continued presence of the base in 1944 was important in considerations of logistics for the Western Australian emergency of March 1944.


When it was fully active the base saw 160 Dutch,[11] American and British submarines pass through the harbour.[12]

The base was tied in with the Indian Ocean campaign of 1942–45.[13][14] Military historians looking at the strategy in the South East Asian Theatre look upon the command of the Commander Submarines, South West Pacific (COMSUBSOWESPAC), and the facility of the Fremantle base as integral to successes in 1943 onwards.[15][16]


Pulleys that were part of the harbour defenses, left in place on the south mole

Various buildings and properties in Fremantle were requisitioned as part of the support of the base, and remained so until late 1945.[17][18] Other facilities further from the coast were also utilised for support, such as the Byford armament depot, which stored torpedoes and mines.[19] Also anti-aircraft gun installations were set up near the base.[20][21] 4000 tons of ammunition including torpedoes was stored at US Navy 137 – 7 Naval Ammunition Depot (7NAD) at Springhill, near Northam[22]

Coastal defences for the seaward approaches to Fremantle, included batteries on Rottnest Island (2), the suburban beaches between Swanbourne and Point Peron at the lower end of Cockburn Sound (3), Garden Island (4), as well as at the mouth of the harbour (2).[23]

Heavy anti-aircraft gun stations were concentrated mostly along the coast around Cockburn Sound. The northernmost was at Cottesloe, and the southernmost was at South Rockingham.[24] Light anti-aircraft gun sites were much more confined to the Fremantle Harbour area (8) and Swan River, Melville Water area (6).[25] Also there were 20 anti-aircraft searchlight stations as back-up to the gun stations.[26]

Effect on community[edit]

In 2014, the work by Deborah Gare and Madison Lloyd-Jones When war came to Fremantle 1899–1945 gives a pictorial and textual understanding of the impact of the allied servicement associated with the submarine base.[27] Also collections of oral history in Battye Library include numbers of people remembering from their childhood the impact of the base, and of American servicemen living in Perth in the 1940s.[28]

Submarine tenders and assisting ships[edit]

Refits and repairs[edit]

Submarines known to have been repaired or refitted at Fremantle include:


The numbers of submarines lost that had utilised the Fremantle submarine base included:[30]

Lost in 1943

Lost in 1944

Lost in 1945

Dismantling base and facilities[edit]

In September 1945 at the end of the war, the dismantling of the submarine base included the USS Anthedon (AS-24) being involved with removing submarine repair facilities.[32]


The most significant memorial to lost submariners who had been based in Fremantle is the periscope project on Memorial Hill, Fremantle.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Creed, David; Naval Historical Society of Australia (2002), Operations of the Fremantle submarine base : 1942–1945, Naval Historical Society of Australia, retrieved 7 February 2016
  2. ^ Cairns, Lynne; Western Australian Maritime Museum (2010), Secret fleets : Fremantle's World War II submarine base, Western Australian Maritime Museum, ISBN 978-1-920843-52-6
  3. ^ "FREMANTLE WAS BIG SUBMARINE BASE". Army News. Darwin, NT. 25 August 1945. p. 3. Retrieved 8 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ "CORRESPONDENCE". The West Australian. Perth. 24 September 1949. p. 26. Retrieved 8 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. anecdotal correspondence 4 years after 1945 correlating the "secrecy" of the base
  5. ^ "SUBMARINE BASE". Kalgoorlie Miner. WA. 17 August 1945. p. 1. Retrieved 8 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ "FREMANTLE BASE". The West Australian (Special ed.). Perth. 16 August 1945. p. 2. Retrieved 8 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "Australia bombed, strafed and shelled". Australia Under Attack 1942–1943. Archived from the original on 15 July 2005. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  8. ^ McKenzie-Smith, G (2009), Defending Fremantle, Albany and Bunbury, 1939 to 1945, Grimwade Publications, ISBN 978-0-9806291-0-1
  9. ^ Sturma, Michael (2015), Fremantle's Submarines How Allied Submariners and Western Australians Helped Win the War in the Pacific, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 978-1-61251-861-9
  10. ^ Cairns, Lynne; Western Australian Maritime Museum (1995), Fremantle's secret fleets : allied submarines based in Western Australia during World War II, Western Australian Maritime Museum, ISBN 978-0-7309-6432-2
  11. ^ Velden, D. H. van (2000), Fremantle's forgotten fleet : a social history of the Royal Netherlands Navy in Western Australia, 1942–1945, retrieved 16 February 2016
  12. ^ Submarine Collection, Museum Metadata Exchange, 1995, retrieved 8 February 2016 in the summary text of the collection: "Fremantle played as an allied submarine base during World War II when come 160 Dutch, American and British submarines undertook patrols from there. Between 1942 and 1945, on average, one allied submarine departed Fremantle for a patrol every three days. Some 11 submarines were lost after departing Fremantle, representing the loss of some 800 submariners' lives".
  13. ^ "Fremantle Was Big Submarine Base". Daily Examiner. Grafton, NSW. 22 August 1945. p. 4. Retrieved 8 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ "HUGE TOLL OF SHIPPING". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 August 1945. p. 3. Retrieved 8 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ Submarine Matters: Fremantle
  16. ^ Clay Blair (2001), Silent Victory The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 978-1-55750-217-9
  17. ^ "US Naval Base At Fremantle Closes". The Daily News (First ed.). Perth. 20 October 1945. p. 18. Retrieved 8 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ Chadwick, Claire (1995) Details of base operated during World War 11 in Port weekly, 2 Oct. 1995, p.11.
  19. ^ The Byford Armament Depot, W.A., RAN newsletters, 1948, retrieved 18 March 2016
  20. ^
  21. ^ McKenzie-Smith, G (2009), Defending Fremantle, Albany and Bunbury, 1939 to 1945, Grimwade Publications, ISBN 978-0-9806291-0-1
  22. ^ Base Facilities Report, Commander US 7th Fleet dated 15 September 1944 page 32.
  23. ^ Map on page 6 of Mckenzie-Smith's Defending FremantleMap 1 – Coastal Defences of Fremantle, separating into Rottnest (on Signal Ridge near the central lighthouse), Mainland (at Fremantle Artillery Barracks, now the Army Museum) and Cockburn Sound (Southern Fire Command mid Island north of current marine base) – relating to the 3 names of the command posts for the batteries
  24. ^ McKenzie-Smith identifies over 15 stations, with the North and East Fremantle ovals and Buckland Hill (Mosman Park) with the heaviest allocation of troops on the guns – see page 14, Map 2 'Heavy Anti-Aircraft Gun Stations' of Mackenzie Smith Defending Fremantle
  25. ^ page 17, Map 3, Mackenzie Smith Defending Fremantle
  26. ^ page 21, Map 4, Mackenzie Smith Defending Fremantle
  27. ^ Gare, Deborah; Lloyd-Jones, Madison, (author.) (2014), When war came to Fremantle, 1899 to 1945, Fremantle, Western Australia Fremantle Press, ISBN 978-1-925161-29-8CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) specific reference to the allied servicemen and the submarine base pp.106–115
  28. ^ Edmondson, Bernard, 1924– [Interview with Bernard Edmondson] [sound recording] / [interviewed by John Roberts].1994 [1] and [Interview with Mr and Mrs Wilson, Shirley and Homer White, Mrs H.G. Barnesby and Mrs Burrows] [sound recording] / [interviewed by K. Bostock].1976.[2]
  29. ^ Ship's History
  30. ^ see also for more success stories against the losses
  31. ^ The article on Cisco makes no identification of the use of Fremantle
  32. ^ "Sailing Postponed". The Daily News. LXIII (21, 990). Western Australia. 29 September 1945. p. 18 (LATE CITY). Retrieved 17 May 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  33. ^ Kerr, G. A. (Gilbert Armstrong), 1911– (1992), Project periscope : an account of the periscope memorial on Monument Hill, Fremantle, retrieved 16 February 2016CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading[edit]