Mystery Photo No. 47 Answer

Mystery Photo No. 46 was kindly provided by Ron Marsh/Kim Dunstan.  It shows HMAS Melbourne with another ship in close company. 

The Webmaster wanted to know:

  • What was the name of the ship in company?
  • What was the event, and when?
  • What was the device circled in yellow on Melbourne, and what was it specifically used for?

This was a big family day on Port Phillip Bay on 09 November 1959 for HMA Ships Melbourne and Voyager.  Melbourne’s ROP reported some 700 guests were aboard, plus press representatives. The exercise took place in Port Phillip Bay, near Melbourne.

The device circled in yellow is a Sea Venom nose (complete with radar) on the rear of the island just below the big radar aerial. It was there to perform as an SCA (Ship Controlled Approach) radar for the returning Venoms and Gannets.

The radar had a general scanning mode +/- 60 degrees and (maybe) +/- 15 – 20 degrees up/down with a range (in the air) of out to about 40nm on aircraft and land to about 60nm. There was a “lock on” mode which was reasonably effective on targets out to 20nm in to as close as 150 yards or less.  At some point the display was then transferred to the pilot via a collimator and to his gun sight, enabling him to aim his guns.

Venom aircrew normally vectored themselves to the target from all angles (by night without any lights) down to the target at 12 o’clock and slightly high at 150 yards, so they could see the glow of the jet pipe. What made all this a bit hard was that the display had its base line (zero range) expanded to a straight line, not an arc, distorting all targets.  A  target at minimum range could be left or right and it was very difficult to decide which.

On board ship, the lock-on and the general search modes were not stabilised, so the pitch and roll of the ship made the adoption of a glide slope very difficult.

The device only appears in photographs between 1959 and 1963 or thereabouts, and may therefore have been installed during Melbourne’s August 1959 refit at Garden Island.

Just five years after this photograph was taken, Melbourne and Voyager collided in Jervis Bay during night flying operations with a heavy loss of life aboard the destroyer.  You can see the story here.

For those interested in Melbourne’s history, her ROP is available on line and provides a wealth of detail about life and times on the carrier throughout her career.  For example, earlier in the 1959, during exercises out of Singapore, two badly injured sailors from a USN escort were transferred to Melbourne for medical attention. One sailor who had his hand blown off needed hospital attention in Singapore. As it happened a RAF Sunderland aircraft was participating in the exercise and was asked to transport the sailor to Singapore. Apparently the sea was a bit choppy and the pilot was reluctant to alight on the water, but Melbourne made a slick on the water a la ‘Walrus-style’ and the Sunderland was able to land and collect the sailor. Good to see those old Navy tricks can come in handy.

Our thanks go to Max Speedy, who provided some of the technical detail above. 

You can see other Mystery Photos and their answers here: Mystery Photos