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H.M.A.S. Voyager, loss of - Report of Royal Commissioner (Sir J. Spicer), dated 13 August 1964

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196 4


Royal Commissions Act 1902-1933






Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court




MELBOURNE: 13th August, 1964

Presented by Command, 26th August, 1964; ordered to be printed, Jrd September, 1964

[Cost of Paper:-Preparation, not given; 765 copies; approximate cost of printing and publisbina, £110]

Printed and Published for the GoVERNMENT of the COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA by A. J. ARTHUR , Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra (Printed in Australia. )

No. 68 [GROUP D & I].-F.11536/64.-P.RICB 5s.


• _ l .





To His Excellency William Philip, Viscount De L'Isle, upon whom has been conferred the Decoration of the Victoria Cross, a member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, Knight Grand Cross of Her Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Knight of the Venerable Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Governor­

General and Commander-in-Chief in and over the Commonwealth of Australia.


I have the hoqour to report to Your Excellency the result of my inquiries into the matters entrusted to me by Letters Patent dated the 14th day of February, 1964.


The Letters Patent appointed me to be a Commissioner to inquire into and report upon the following matters: "(a) the cause or causes of the collision that occurred on the tenth day of February, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four, between the ships of Our Australian Navy" Melbourne" and" Voyager", and the resulting loss

of " Voyager " and of the lives of persons on board " Voyager "; (b) the facts and circumstances leading up to, contributing to or otherwise relating to the collision and the loss, including, so far as relevant to the cause of the collision, the nature of the exercise in which the ships were engaged and the suitability and preparedness of the ships and of their equipment and crews for that exercise; and

(c) the facts and circumstances relating to the rescue and treatment of survivors."

The first public sitting of the Commission took place in Sydney on 25th February, 1964. On that day the following Counsel appeared before me: Mr. J. W. Smyth, Q.C., and Mr. I. F. Sheppard (instructed by Mr. H. E. Renfree, Crown Solicitor for the Common­ wealth) to assist the Commission.

Mr. Norman Jenkyn, Q.C., and Mr. H. J. H. Henchman (instructed by Mr. E. N . Neilson of the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, Brisbane) were authorised to appear for the Department of the Navy. Mr. L. W. Street, Q.C., and Mr. J. B. Sinclair (instructed by Messrs. Ebsworth and Ebsworth, Solicitors, Sydney) were authorised to appear to represent the interests of the late Captain D. H. Stevens, Royal Australian Navy, who

was the Captain of H.M.A.S. Voyager at the time of her loss.

On the 17th March, 1964, Mr. C. L. D. Meares, Q.C., and Mr. W. H. Gregory (instructed by Messrs. Aitken and Pluck, Solicitors, Sydney) were authorised to appear for the Widow of the late Lieutenant Price who at the time of the collision was the Officer of the Watch of Voyager.

In addition, it was indicated to Captain R. J. Robertson, who was the Captain of Melbourne at the time of the collision, that he would have the same opportunities as members of the Bar appearing for other officers to question witnesses and otherwise take part in the proceedings.

On the 1st April, 1964, Mr. D. S. Hicks, Q.C., and Mr. E. P. T. Raine (instructed by Messrs. Alfred Rofe and Son, Solicitors, Sydney) were authorised to appear for Captain Robertson.

The Commission sat in Sydney on fifty-five days, heard the sworn testimony of 156 witnesses and received in evidence some 207 exhibits. The latter included eight volumes of statements taken from officers and ratings from both vessels and fourteen volumes of questionnaires answered by officers and men of Melbourne. In the case of Voyager, there is a statement from every survivor.

In general the hearings were conducted in public, but security requirements made it necessary to take some evidence in camera and to prohibit the publication of material in certain exhibits which were tendered.

At the conclusion of the evidence I had the advantage of addresses from Counsel extending over eleven days. The submissions made by all Counsel have served to clarify the issues and greatly assisted me in the preparation of this report.

I propose to deal with the three matters referred to in the Letters Patent in the order in which they appear in that document. F.l1536/64.-2




Melbourne is an aircraft carrier, having an angled flight deck. It has a deep load displacement of 19,930 tons. Its over-all length is 710 1

6-f' and its extreme breadth is 1121 6". Its dratt is 251 10" forward

and 241 4" aft. It had an allowed complement of 67 officers but there were borne on this occasion 64 officers and one in training. The allowed complement is the which the Naval Board considers to be desirable for running a ship in time of peace and is usually a lesser number than the number carried in time of war. The allowed complement of men was 887 and the borne complement on the night in question was 816 and,-in addition, 90 in training.

Voyager was a Daring Class destroyer. It had a deep load displacement of 3,550 tons; its length over-all was 3901 and its beam 421 draft was 121 I-!" forward and 131 7flaft. Voyager's allowed complement was 16 officers but on this occasion she bore 15 officers plus six under training. The allowed number of men was 302 and on this occasion she had 291, a number of whom were under training.

There were also two dockyard employees on board. As a result of the collision 82 of those on board, comprising I 4 officers, 67 men and one dockyard employee, were lost and 232 survived. There were no casualties among the officers or men of Melbourne. I set out in Appendix 1 the names of those who lost their lives as a result of the collision.


The collision in relation to which I have been appointed to inquire occurred between Melbourne and Voyager on the night of the lOth February, I 964, at approximately 2056 hours Eastern Standard Time (all references in this report to time are to Eastern Standard Time), some 20 miles south-east of Jervis Bay. Melbourne struck Voyager more or less amidships and cut Voyager in two. It was a clear

but moonless night, visibility being approximately 20 miles. There was a short low south-easterly swell. Winds were light and variable.


Voyager was a total loss, her forward section sinking first very shortly after the collision, and the after section sometime later.

The bow of Melbourne was severely damaged but the damage was mainly forward extending back for about 36 feet from the bow at the keel. There were three zones of damage, viz.: 1. Forward of frame 9, No.4 deck was pushed vertically upwards hard up to No.3 deck, puncturing this deck on the starboard side.

2. The fore end of the ship from No. 4 deck down to the upper edge of B strake of plating (that is the second line of plates from the keel) forward of frame 14-! was crushed. 3. The lower part of the fore end of the ship from the upper edge of B strake of plating down to the keel was bent at approximately 180° to the centre line.

On No. 3 deck a Petty Officers' Mess, which was on the port side, and the cells on the starboard side were buckled.

The heads on No. 4 deck were crushed aft to frame 10. No. 5 deck was destroyed back to frame 13. There were score marks on the Flight Deck, probably caused by Voyager's mast, and a number of other marks down both sides of the vessel caused no doubt by sections of Voyager as they scraped along the hull. Melbourne's seaboat, at readiness on_ the starboard side, was holed when the after section scraped down that side.



Melbourne was under the command of Captain Ronald John Robertson who was also the officer in Tactical Command of the operations in which both Melbourne and Voyager were engaged. Captain Robertson has had a long and distinguished record of service in the Navy which he joined early in 1930 as a Cadet Midshipman. He is 47 years of age. He was appointed as Midshipman in 1934; Acting Sub­

Lieutenant in 1936; Sub-Lieutenant in January 1937; Lieutenant on 1st March, 1938; Acting Lieutenant-Commander on 1st November, 1944; Lieutenant-Commander on 1st March, 1946; Commander on 30th June, 1950; and he was promoted to Captain on 30th June, 1956. He rendered distinguished service during the war, having been mentioned three times in despatches, and he was



awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on 1st January, 1941. In his earlier days in the Navy he specialised in communications, starting at the end of 1938. He has been to the United Kingdom on various occasions and was at the Imperial Defence College for the whole of the year 1962. A perusal of the comments of officers under whom he has served as recorded in his " flimsies " indicates that he has almost consistently

received high commendation for his service. There appears to be only one blemish on an otherwise unbroken record of satisfactory service and that was an occasion in 1958 when it is recorded he incurred the displeasure of the Naval Board in relation to an incident in which Vendetta, under his command, was involved.

Captain Robertson took command of Melbourne in January 1964. He had not previously had command of an aircraft carrier and had not previously held tactical command in manoeuvres in which an aircraft carrier and a destroyer were operating together, but he had been in charge of smaller vessels and in tactical command of combined operations between such vessels. Prior to his taking command of

Melbourne he had not been at sea for a period of three years.

The Fleet Navigating Officer was Acting Commander James Maxwell Kelly. His age is 34 years. He joined the Navy as a Cadet at Flinders Naval College in 1943 and graduated at the end of 1946. He was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant in 1948; Lieutenant in 1951; and Lieutenant-Commander in February 1959. He was made an Acting Commander on 18th December, 1963 and took up his appointment as Fleet Navigating Officer and Navigating Officer of Melbourne on that date. In the course of his naval career he has served principally as a navigator. He was at one time in Melbourne as First Lieutenant, in which capacity he carried ' out mainly administrative functions· but on occasions kept watches. He had service in England with the Royal Navy for about 2! years from 1957, undergoing an advanced course in navigation, and spent about 18 months of that time in a Daring Class destroyer which frequently acted as escort to aircraft carriers. Commander Kelly occupied the position of

Navigating Officer in a destroyer on several occasions but he had no prior experience as navigator in a carrier. The comments of his commanding officers from time to time as recorded in his " flimsies " indicated an unbroken record of satisfactory service. He holds the Distinguished Service Cross.

The Officer of the Watch was Acting Sub-Lieutenant James Alexander Bate. He is 22 years of age. He joined the Navy on 27th January, 1958 and between that time and February 1964 he served as Cadet Midshipman at the Royal Australian Naval College H.M.A.S. Creswell until December 1960, and served as Cadet Midshipman under training on board H.M.A.S. Swan until May 1961. He then proceeded

to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, England until January 1962 where he continued his training. He graduated from Dartmouth Royal Naval College in September 1962; joined H.M.A.S. Gull for passage to Australia and arrived in December, 1962. He joined H.M.A.S. Melbourne on 7th January 1963, and thereafter joined H.M.A.S. Watson, a shore establishment, on 22nd September, 1963; H.M.A.S. Anzac for two weeks in December 1963; and rejoined H.M.A.S. Melbourne on 13th January,

1964. He has held a watchkeeping certificate since 1st September, 1963. He had on occasions prior to the night of the collision kept watch on Melbourne as First Officer of the Watch, but had not previously acted in that capacity while Melbourne was engaged in manoeuvres such as were being carried out that night.


The Captain of Voyager was Captain Duncan Herbert Stevens, 42 years of age, who had been in the Navy since January 1935. In January 1939 he was appointed Midshipman and thereafter was appointed Acting Sub-Lieutenant in September 1940; Sub-Lieutenant in January 1941; Lieutenant in February 1943; Lieutenant-Commander in December 1950; Commander June 1956; and Captain

December 1962. He was awarded a watchkeeping certificate in January 1943 and qualified for destroyer command in May 1952. He qualified at the Royal Navy Staff College in October 1960. Having completed that course he was attached to the staff of the Admiralty for two years until he came back to Australia to take command of Voyager in January 1963. A perusal of his " flimsies " indicates a long, satisfactory and indeed distinguished service in the various capacities in which he served from time to time. The

last of such commendations was from Rear Admiral McNicoll in relation to his service as Captain of Voyager from January 1963 to January 1964. It reads in part: "has conducted himself to my entire satisfaction. A keen and enthusiastic Captain of H.M.A.S. Voyager."

While he was serving in Voyager she engaged in manoeuvres in S.E.A.T.O. exercises and Captain Stevens was thoroughly familiar with the type of manoeuvre in which Voyager was engaged at the time of the collision. He was a very competent destroyer captain and had had considerable experience in manoeuvring with carriers.

Lieutenant Harry Dean Cook was the Navigating Officer. He was 28 years of age and entered the service of the RoyaL Australian Navy in 1949 and obtained his watchkeeping certificate in September 1957. He was promoted Lieutenant in that month and completed his Long Navigation Course in the United Kingdom in November 1961. He joined Voyager on 2nd January 1964. He was a competent and experienced navigating officer.


The First Officer of the Watch was Lieutenant David Hugh Massie Price, 27 years of age, who joined the Royal Navy in September 1952. He was promoted Lieutenant in August 1958 and obtained his watchkeeping certificate in September 1958. He was on exchange to the Royal Australian Navy from the Royal Navy for two years from June 1963. He joined Voyager on 2nd January, 1964. Prior to joining Voyager his principal service had been in mine-sweepers and smaller craft in which he had considerable experience of manoeuvres in which vessels turn together.


On the night of 10t11 February, 1964, Melbourne and Voyager were engaged in manoeuvres associated with night flying. The flying programme made provision at 2000 hours for three Gannets taking part in "touch-and-goes". The touch-and-go exercise is one in which the aircraft participating touch down on the flight deck of the carrier and fly off again immediately without being arrested. This exercise is carried out as a preliminary to other exercises later in the programme when the aircraft are taken on board the carrier for flying operations. It is designed to give the pilots practice in touching down at the right place on the carrier's flight deck so that when, at a later stage in their training, the arrester wires are in position they will land on the carrier efficiently. It was this type of exercise which the three Gannets were to commence at 2000 hours and the programme provided for similar exercises by two Venoms at 2030 hours,

by two Gannets at 2100 hours, and again by two Gannets at 2130 hours.

When this exercise takes place in daylight helicopters are used to rescue the personnel of any aircraft which may accidentally enter the sea. At night a destroyer is used as plane guard and it was the function of Voyager on this night to carry out the duties of plane guard.

There are a number of different plane guard stations but the station into which Voyager was ordered was known as plane guard station No. 1. This required her, while flying operations were being conducted, to take station at a distance of I ,000 to I ,500 yards from the carrier on a bearing of 200 degrees relative to her flight operations course. Once the carrier turns on to the flying course the destroyer is on the port quarter of the carrier, and she must maintain the relative bearing referred to and keep within the limits of the distances above stated while flying continues on that course. In the event of minor alterations in the flying course, the destroyer is required to adjust her position so that the relative bearing and distance are maintained.



Melbourne was darkened for night flying. She was showing dimmed bow lights at flight deck level, masthead obstruction lights and a number of lights in connection with the flying operations which were being conducted.

· The dimmed bow navigation lights consisted of a green light showing from right ahead to two points abaft the beam on the starboard side and a red light showing from right ahead to two points abaft the beam on the port side. The lights are situated about half-way between the island and the forward edge of the flight deck and are very slightly below the level of the flight deck itself. The lights are controlled from the bridge by means of a switch. If either light fails a small light beside the switch also goes out. These lights were burning at all material times and when dimmed were visible for about one mile.

The masthead obstruction lights are two red lights near the top of the mast, the purpose of which is to warn aircraft of the presence of the mast. They are not dimmed and were visible at the time of the collision.


Voyager was seen to be burning masthead obstruction lights and navigation lights, including an overtaking light. Many witnesses on Melbourne saw the masthead obstruction lights, the port light and the overtaking light in the period immediately preceding the collision.


The movements of the two vessels from I930 hours up to the moment of the collision are indicated in signals which passed between them as they are recorded by the Tactical Operator in the Communication Operator's Log on Melbourne.

There are three methods by which signals are sent. Two are appropriate for what may be described as manoeuvring signals, such as stationing signals or turning signals. These are the delayed executive method and the immediate execute method. The delayed executive method is a method whereby the signal



is sent prefaced by the words" EXECUTE TO FOLLOW". No action is required on its receipt. A further signal is then sent and on receipt of this signal the order is carried out. The further signal is in terms: "STAND BY-EXECUTE".

The immediate execute method involves the sending of only one signal which requires the order to be carried out immediately on receipt. A typical example of such signal is as follows: "IMMEDIATE EXECUTE TURN 020. I SAY AGAIN TURN 020-STAND BY-EXECUTE " .

The third method is used for sending what may be described as information signals. These are signals which, although so described, may require some action. For example, minor adjustments in the carrier's course are indicated by a signal such as the following: "MY COURSE IS 175°-TIME 0957 ".

On receipt of such a signal the destroyer, having been stationed as plane guard relative to a flying course of say 180°, is required to adjust station relative to a course of 175°.

The usual method of sending such a signal is to send it with a time at the end of it. The example given above indicates that the signal was sent at 0957 hours Greenwich Mean Time or 1957 hours Eastern Standard Time. Sometimes the time is omitted through oversight, but this does not affect the meaning of the signal.

Each of the three methods was used in the last hour and a half prior to the collision. The initial stationing signal and the turning signals, apart from the last two, were sent by the delayed executive method, the last two turning signals were sent by the immediate execute method, and all other signals, including the final flying course signal, were sent by the third method.

The times attributed to signals, as they appear in the log, are in Greenwich Mean Time. I express their equivalent in Eastern Standard Time. The times in the log do not in every instance correspond with the times attributed in Melbourne's Ship's Log to the execution by Melbourne of the relevant movements. I shall refer to this aspect of the matter again at a later stage. The signals were transmitted in what has been referred to as signalese but I transcribe them here in plain English. I commence with the signal sent


This was followed by a signal from Melbourne to Voyager at 1930 hours: "STAND BY-EXECUTE-OVER." which was acknowledged by Voyager at 1930 hours. At 1950 hours a signal went from Melbourne to Voyager:


This was acknowledged by Voyager at 1950 hours and was followed by a further signal from Melbourne: "STAND BY-EXECUTE." which was acknowledged by Voyager at 1950 hours. At 1956 hours a signal went from Melbourne to Voyager:

"AM READY TO OPERATE FIXED WING AIRCRAFT WHEN WIND CONDITIONS ARE SUITABLE. TIME 0956." and at 1957 hours Melbourne informed Voyager: "MY COURSE IS 175°--0957." This was acknowledged by Voyager. At 2005 hours Melbourne informed Voyager:

" MY SPEED IS 22 KNOTS." This was acknowledged by Voyager. At 2006 hours the signal from Melbourne to Voyager was : "AM OPERATING FIXED WING AIRCRAFT." This again was acknowledged. At 2030 hours Melbourne informed Voyager:

"MY COURSE IS 190°." Voyager again acknowledged. At 2039 hours Melbourne enquired : " WHAT SPEED DO YOU MAKE IT? "

and Voyager at 2040 hours replied: "I MAKE 21." At 2040 hours Melbourne informed Voyager: ''MY FLIGHT OPERATIONS HAVE BEEN DELAYED TEMPORARILY (ABOUT TEN MINUTES)."


The delay in flight operations took place because Melbourne was experiencing difficulty in finding a course on which there was a sufficient wind force along the flight deck to permit flying operations to be conducted.

In order to ascertain the direction of the most satisfactory wind force, it became necessary to " chase the wind". This induced the next message from Melbourne at 2041 hours: " EXECUTE TO FOLLOW-TURN TOGETHER TO THE COURSE 020, SHIPS TURNING TO STARBOARD."

A turn together is a manoeuvre in which both ships turn simultaneously, the plane guard maintaining true bearing and distance from the carrier.

The signal to Voyager was acknowledged at 2041 hours. 1t was followed by a further from Melbourne at 2042 hours: "STAND BY-EXECUTE" and this was immediately acknowledged by Voyager.

A turn together accordingly was undertaken which meant that the vessels which up to that time had been following a southerly course, would now proceed on a more or less northerly course.

Continued searching for wind induced the following immediate execute signal from Melbourne at 2047 hours in these terms: ·


This was immediately acknowledged by Voyager. At 2053 hours an immediate execute · signal from Melbourne was as follows: " IMMEDJA TE EXECUTE-TURN TOGETHER TO THE COURSE 020, SHIPS TURNING TO PORT; I SAY AGAIN TURN


This was acknowledged and was followed at 2054 hours .by a signal: "ESTIMATED COURSE FOR IMPENDING AIRCRAFT OPERATION IS 020 (SPEED 22 ·KNOTS). TIME 1054."

which was acknowledged by Voyager at 2054 hours and that acknowledgment was the last signal passed between the two vessels.

I shall examine in more detail at a later stage the final movements made by the vessels as the· result of these signals. I think one may fairly ,conclude on the evidence that the movements contemplated by all the signals prior to that attributed to 2053 hours were carried out by both vessels. It is, however, operi to question whether Voyager turned to 020° in accordance with the signal attributed to 2053 or whether she, for some reasqn, proceeded to turn to some other course. If she executed the turn to _ 020° further uncertainty arises as to what course she took and, indeed, what course she should have taken, following the last signal attributed to 2054 hours. It is quite apparent that if both vessels had followed .courses in accordance with these signals as understood on Melbourne the accident could not have occurred, unless Voyager had proceeded on receipt of the last signal to plane guard station by crossing the bow of

Melbourne. Such a movement was one not, in the circumstances, to be expected, particularly from a captain as experienced as Captain Stevens, without seeking the permission of Melbourne.

The difficulty of determining with any degree of certainty what happened on Voyager on receipt of the last two signals is attributable to the fact that no officer who was on the bridge of Voyager at the relevant time survived to tell the story as seen from that quarter; there are no re.cords and there is very little evidence from Voyager as to orders given or action taken which led her to the position shewas in at the time of the collision. ·

It may, I think, be fairly concluded that immediately prior to the last turning signal, Voyager was proceeding ahead of Melbourne in a position off her port bow. There is some evidence, to which .I shall refer later, that she was somewhat out of station. If she had proceeded to make the turn of 020° she would have reached a position if properly in station, at a distance of between 1,000 and 1,500 yards off the starboard bow of Melbourne on a true bearing of 030°.

It is of importance to determine, if possible, whether Voyager's final movement followed on the turning signal or the flying course signal. If the former, one might more conclude that

Voyager was following an intended course and not participating in an movement .An

intended course would suggest that some misunderstanding on Voyager of the turning signal led her-to engage in a much larger turn than the signal contemplated. ' ' ·

The operative effect of the last flying course signal is not wholly free from doubt.



There is no doubt that the signal passed to Voyager at 1929 required Voyager to take up station on a bearing relative to the carrier's flight operations course of 200° at 1,000 to 1,500 yards distance from the carrier.

Differing views have, however, been expressed as to the effect of the last flying course signal.

The view of the Naval Board and those who agree with it is that the initial signal required Voyager to take station relative to each new flying course immediately it was passed without the need for any further direction to take station.

The other view is that such a direction was necessary.

The evidence does not disclose which view was held by Captain Stevens or other officers in Voyager.


The extent of the error necessary to bring Voyager from a course of 060° to the point of collision is indicated by the angle of impact' considered in relation to Melbourne's course.

On the whole of the evidence I conclude that the angle of impact measured from the stern of Melbourne to the stern of Voyager was between 90° and 100°, that the heading of Melbourne was 020°, and that the heading of Voyager at the time of impact was between 280° and 290°. There is evidence that immediately before the collision "hard astarboard" was ordered on Voyager and that order

probably had some effect on Voyager's course. Prior to the order Voyager's heading may have been 270° or thereabouts. In Captain Robertson's final reconstruction of the course of the vessels, Voyager's head at 20 seconds prior to the collision is shown as being at 268° to 270°. (See Appendix 5).

If, therefore, she was just prior to impact on an intended course of, say, 270°, the signalled course of 020° must have been misunderstood by someone for a course of 270° or thereabouts. It is not easy to imagine how such a mistake was made and, although attention was drawn to Melbourne's call sign 07, no one was able to suggest any explanation for it. A less unlikely error woul<;i be 200° the reciprocal of 020° or 220° but she had not reached that course at the moment of impact.

One witness, Leading Seaman Patterson, who was in my view a helpful, honest witness, gave evidence of having heard somebody in the sea after the collision "yelling out 'Melbourne told us to turn to 270° and she did not'". Another witness, Able Seaman Matthews, who was near Patterson at the time, spoke of somebody calling out "Melbourne didn't turn, Melbourne didn't turn". He did not

hear any course mentioned. I admitted this evidence in the hope that the identity of the person making the alleged utterance might be established, in which event it may have proved of some significance if uttered by a person in a position to know what occurred on Voyager. I do not doubt that Patterson honestly believes he heard the utterance, but the identity of the person (if any) allegedly uttering the words not having been established, I cannot place any reliance upon this evidence as a basis for a finding. Patterson underwent a rigorous ordeal on the night in question, and his present recollections may well

be, quite honestly, astray.


I find on the evidence before me that prior to her · final turn to port, Voyager turned to starboard. This was a turn she might be expected to make if her movement were induced by the final flying course signal. As I have already indicated, Captain Robertson and other officers of high rank held the view that the flying course signal itself was an indication to Voyager that she should take up her plane guard station

relative to the course or, in other words, that she should move from her position ahead of Melbourne to a position on her port quarter at a distance of 1,000 to I ,500 yards. A safe and seamanlike manner in which to perform this manoeuvre was to turn sharply to starboard away from Melbourne, lose bearing and pass behind Melbourne's stern, thus coming round to a position on Melbourne's port quarter. By

this method Voyager would turn 360°. Another method of reaching the position is to commence with an initial turn to starboard of, say 90°. The method is known as fishtailing. It involves some reduction in speed while the carrier moves ahead and then a turn to port of anything up to 180° to come in astern of the carrier and thus take up position on the quarter. ·

A turn to starboard by Voyager is readily explicable upon the basis that it was the first movement in a manoeuvre to take up her position following upon the flying course signal, but there are other considerations which suggest this may not have been so .

. The first of these is the limited nature of the starboard turn which was much less than 90° and the subsequent pronounced and sustained turn to port while still ahead of Melbourne's beam.


On the other hand, if the movement were induced by the turning signal, why, one asks, the turn to starboard at all? One explanation advanced was that on the completion of the turns from 190° to 020° and then to 060° Voyager was out of station.

There is some evidence that Voyager was out of station at some stage, from Tactical Operator Evans, who was on the bridge of Voyager and who says he heard an officer he presumed to be the Officer of the Watch comment that Voyager seemed to be out of station a bit. "The Captain replied that it was possibly due to the size of the ships and the different turning diameters they had and everything and to get back

into station". Evans further says that shortly after the officer informed the Captain that "we were back in station". Evans' recollection was that this incident occurred upon completion of the first turn to 020°.

Evidence of Commander Jude, Lieutenant-Commander McPhee and Midshipman Prass of Melbourne lend some support to the view that at the completion of the turn to 060° Voyager was more or less dead ahead of Melbourne or only slightly on her port bow.

If this were so, the adjustment of her position would involve a turn to port not to starboard, but Mr. Street suggested that the correction was made without the movement being observed from Melbourne. He further suggested that after this turn to port, as Voyager was going back to starboard on to the course 060°, the final turning order from Melbourne was received on Voyager. Mr. Street contended that it

was this turn to starboard which was observed on Melbourne and that such a turn was not inconsistent with the view that Voyager's last movement was induced by the turning signal.

Difficulty in the way of accepting this explanation is provided by the evidence from Captain Robertson and others on the bridge of Melbourne as to the position of Voyager when she made her turn to starboard. As viewed from Melbourne, she appeared to be on the starboard bow on a true bearing of 040° instead of her correct bearing of 030°. Mr. Street met this by suggesting that such an observation

was possible if Melbourne commenced her final turn while Voyager was still on the course of 060°.

Voyager's turn to starboard induced a comment in relation to it by Captain Robertson to Commander Kelly which, in my opinion, was appropriate if the turn followed the turning signal but difficult to understand if it followed the flying course signal. The version of this comment which I accept is that given by Sub-Lieutenant Bate in a statement written out by him, without interrogation by anyone, on the day after the collision. In that statement he says that Captain Robertson asked Commander Kelly

" What is Voyager doing turning to starboard ".

It seems to me that Captain Robertson would not have made this remark if the turn to starboard had followed the flying course signal because his view was, and is, that upon receipt of that signal Voyager was obliged to proceed to her proper position and, as I have already explained, the more appropriate means of proceeding to that position involved an initial turn to starboard.


A further indication of the signal which prompted Voyager's final turn may be provided by a consideration of the time when the final signal was in fact transmitted.

There are, as I have already indicated, some variations in the times attributed to signals as recorded in the Communication Operator's Log and to the relevant movements of Melbourne as recorded in the Ship's Log. This is not surprising, having regard to the manner in which those responsible respectively recorded time. The Tactical Operator disregarded seconds attributing the relevant time to the minute currently transpiring. In other words, 2042 hours remained 2042 hours until the minute hand reached 2043 hours. The officer recording the relevant time in the Ship's Log had regard to the nearest minute. 2042 hours 29 seconds remained 2042 hours, while 2042 hours 31 seconds became 2043 hours.

One other element which may account for discrepancies in times is that the Tactical Operator's watch was probably up to 20 seconds fast, as compared with the ship's clock.

In an endeavour to determine when the flying course signal was despatched, it is useful to commence with the turn from 190° to 020°. Both the logs attribute this turn to 2042 hours. Without accepting that time, or indeed any of the other times with which I am here concerned, as strictly accurate, I take 2042 hours as a fair starting point.

It is possible to ascertain in given circumstances the time which such a turn will take. The evidence before me justifies, in my opinion, a finding of not less than five minutes 30 seconds for the turn from 190° to 020°.

The next problem is to determine whether Melbourne steadied on 020° on this first occasion. There is some conflict of evidence but my conclusion is that she did steady long enough to gauge the strength of the wind. I would allow one minute for this purpose. For the turn from 020° to 060° the evidence indicates a period of one minute 30 seconds.



Melbourne steadied on 060° for some time. The preponderance of the evidence indicates she remained on this course for about four minutes. Then the turn back to 020° took place and occupied about one minute 30 seconds. It would seem therefore that some 13 to 14 minutes expired between the commencement of the first turn to 020° and the time when Melbourne steadied, if she did, on the final course of 020°.

On the whole, I think a conclusion is justified that Melbourne was steady on the course of 020° shortly before the collision. Here again the fixation of exact time is not possible but I would conclude that she was steady on course for a minute-more or less. I also find that the flying course signal was transmitted to Voyager at or about the time when Melbourne was steadying on 020° for the last time. On

the basis of the times I have attributed to the various movements, this would be in the region of 2054 hours 30 seconds, a time consistent with that recorded in the Communication Operator's Log which on his method of recording time could be anything short of 2055 hours. The collision occurred at approximately 2056 hours.

After the collision a number of attempts were made by Captain Robertson to reconstruct the respective courses of the two vessels during the period of 4-i- minutes prior to the collision. I shall have occasion to refer ·again to these for other purposes. At the moment I am concerned to determine the time which necessarily expired while Voyager moved from an assumed course of 020° to the point of the collision. The Captain's diagrams indicate that it required some 2-i- to 3 minutes for Voyager to reach the point of collision from the time she finally put port wheel on. Other evidence supports this conclusion. It seems impossible to account for the collision upon the basis of a movement induced by the flying course signal if that signal was sent any later than 2053 hours. In my view the evidence indicates it was

later than that.

These considerations suggest that the final movement was not induced by the final signal. Evidence given by Tactical Operator Evans that he did not recall Voyager changing course after he had relayed the flying signal to the Officer of the Watch is consistent with this suggestion.

One other matter is that the revolutions of Voyager's engines for more than five minutes prior to the collision, were those appropriate for a speed of 21 knots.

Had her final manoeuvre been one by which she intended to take station relative to the new flying course she would have been expected to increase this speed, if she were intending to cross Melbourne's bow, or to reduce it, if she were going to fall astern. Mr. Meares, who appeared for the widow of Lieutenant Price, advanced an ingenious argument in favour of the view that Voyager's final movement was induced by the flying course signal. That signal, in signalese, commences with two words which when reversed are the opening words of a turning signal. Tactical Operator Evans was the tactical operator on duty on Voyager at the time of the collision and his evidence is the only direct evidence of the signals received by Voyager. His evidence justifies a conclusion

that he received and understood the signals in the sense attributed to them by Melbourne.

In a statement signed by him on 4th March, 1964, Evans set out details of the signals received, including the final turning signal to 020°. He then says in the statement: "After a small pause or delay in time I received another signal from Melbourne which I recall as follows ". He then sets out the message placing the opening words in the order appropriate for a turning signal. In the form in which he gives it, it would be a turning signal to 020° and would be but a repetition of the turning signal received before the" small pause or delay". Mr. Meares suggests, however, that it was understood by Evans as a turning signal and that he mistook or forgot the course, substituting" 220° or something that was not 020o ". Mr.

Meares adds to this the fact that Evans in an earlier statement made on 18th February, 1964 said" My impression of the cause of the accident is that Melbourne gave the final order to port and failed to turn herself".

In his earlier statement Evans gave details of the signals in plain English. He says that Melbourne ordered an alteration of course to port-" I think this course was again back to 020°. At this stage we should then have been travelling parallel. About a minute after the alteration to port signal, Melbourne signalled that flying course and speed for flying operations would be 020°, speed 22 I think".

I think it is quite clear on this evidence that Evans did not intend in his statement of 4th March to convey the impression that the final signal was a turning signal. That statement was taken from him in hospital, and, I think, in referring to the flying course signal without reference to the signal book, he mistakenly used the order of words appropriate for a turning signal.

It is of the essence of Mr. Meares argument that the final signal should have been, or should have been understood to be, a turning signal. I am quite satisfied it was not such a signal and further that it was not so understood on Voyager. I do not think the evidence justifies me in reaching a firm conclusion that Voyager's final turn to

starboard and her subsequent turn to port took place as a result of the final turning signal. I incline to the view that it did. F.l1536/ 64.-3



I have already indicated that 20 seconds or so before impact the order" hard astarboard " was given on Voyager and had some effect.

1 think the evidence justifies a conclusion that prior to that order Voyager was on a steady course for a minute more or less. There is some evidence the other way but the preponderance of evidence, in particular from those who were in Voyager, indicates a steady course for a short period.

This evidence is consistent with observations made by Captain Robertson at the time and by an airman, Lieutenant-Commander Dadswell, both of whom shortly afterward recorded their impressions in graphs.

Captain Robertson's first report in writing to the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet was made on 11th February, 1964. There is attached to it a graph which indicates Melbourne on a steady course for a distance of about eight cables and Voyager as having taken a slight turn to starboard followed by a sharp turn to port, and then on a more or less steady course for about 21 cables. A copy of this graph appears as Appendix 2. It is a preliminary sketch stated to be " not necessarily to scale "

but does, 1 think, illustrate the nature of the Captain's recollection at that stage.

Lieutenant-Commander Dadswell on the night of the collision piloted a Gannet aircraft which was due to take part in a touch-and-go exercise at 2100 hours. At the time of the collision he was over the area in which the vessels were and was about to undertake the touch-and-go exercise when he witnessed the collision.

He had observed the wakes of the vessels in the last few moments before the collision, and, on his return to base, drew a sketch of them for his superior officer. This sketch was not retained, but about one week later, he, at the request of an officer of the Crown Solicitor's Office, drew a diagram of the wakes as so observed by him. A copy of the diagram is appended to this report (Appendix 3).

It indicates that Melbourne's course at the time of the collision was 020° and that she had been on that course for but a short distance. The fixation of the course by Dadswell is based upon the fact that shortly prior to the collision he had a conversation with Lieutenant-Commander McPhee in Melbourne in which McPhee said "We think we have found your wind, Flying course will be 020 °, join". "Join"

meant that he was free to join the circuit preparatory to descent. This was when Dadswell had about 10 miles to go at about 200 knots.

The wakes shown in the diagram are not to scale. They are purely an impression. As to Voyager, Oadswell said in evidence "the wakes were close together and Voyager did something, but she definitely was on a hard turn and she straightened out". He had difficulty in indicating the distance for which she straightened but in answer to a question by me said " It was certainly well under a mile, it was less than a mile".

I attach considerable importance to this evidence of an independent observer as indicating the nature of the tracks of the two vessels immediately before the collision.


[ have now reached a stage at which it is possible to state my conclusions as to the primary cause of the collision. It can be said, I think, that the collision was caused by reason of Voyager making a turn beyond 020°. It is not possible to form any firm conclusion as to why Voyager did this. It was not due to any fault on the part of any person on Melbourne. Nor is it possible to identify the individual or individuals on Voyager who was or were responsible. It is not easy to understand how the collision could

have occurred if an effective look out were being maintained on Voyager, and appropriate evasive action had been taken as soon as any possibility of danger was observed.

It was not disputed before me by any of the Counsel who appeared that Melbourne had the right of way and that it was Voyager's obligation to keep clear of her. Furthermore, I unhesitatingly adopt the view that, if Voyager was engaged or thought she was engaged in an operation in which the vessels were turning together, then it was the duty of those in Voyager to keep a close watch on Melbourne. The obligations of the respective officers in this regard are defined in Regulations and Instructions for the Royal Australian Navy. Regulation 3531 provides:

"The Captain is responsible for the safe conduct of the ship." Regulation 3142 provides: " The Officer of the Watch, at sea and in harbour, is responsible for the safety of the ship in all its aspects, particularly her safety from collision and grounding, subject to any orders that he receives from the Captain.

" 2. In whatever way the Captain may distribute the responsibilities for directing weapons and the action information organization among officers on watch at any time, only one officer is to have the responsibility for the safety of the ship and he is to be known as the Officer of the Watch."

3 01


and in the same Regulation it is provided that after taking charge of the watch-.. the Officer of the Watch at sea is not, until properly relieved, to leave the primary conning position except where the Captain directs that he may carry out his duties at another position."

and " is to inform the Captain of all occurrences worthy of notice."

Regulation 3503 makes provision in regard to general navigating responsibilities. lt provides: "The Navigating Officer, under the direction of the Captain, is to have charge of the navigation of the ship. 2. He is to point out to the Captain every possible danger in or near the ship's course and the way to avoid it and if it is imminent he is to report it to the Officer of the Watch with a view to immediate action." '

It seems to me that on the proper construction of these regulations responsibility for the safety of the vessel must ultimately rest with the Captain.

Rear Admiral Gatacre in the course of his evidence was asked by me why he excluded the possibility of the turning message being misunderstood when it was received. His reply was: " Because the whole pattern of events would have been different. If Voyager is to go on turning around to 200° the Captain would have been \ooking at Melbourne. Everyone would. And it is quite obvious that there would not

have been a collision ".

l pointed out that for the first 40 degrees the vessels would have been going round together. With this the Rear Admiral agreed, that up to that stage it would seem to be all right, and then said: " What about the next 100 degrees or so ? I do not think it could possibly happen ".

Captain, now Rear Admiral, Peek in the course of his evidence was asked his view as to the possibility of the course of 020° being misunderstood on Voyager for 270° or 220° or something of that order. He was asked: " Do you think that is a possibility ? " and he said he did not. I then asked him to tell us why he said that. His answer was: " On the assumption the Captain of Voyager was a competent

Captain (and this I think is borne out by his record), I cannot believe that he would not watch Melbourne constantly during the turning together ". He also said at a later stage: " I cannot conceive the Captain of a plane guard destroyer or any other destroyer altering course together with a carrier without watching the carrier constantly himself".

On this night there were particular reasons why the Captain of Voyager might be expected to exercise the utmost care and maintain constant supervision. He had an Officer of the Watch whose experience of watchkeeping on a destroyer was very limited, particularly in relation to turns made with an aircraft carrier at night. His port look-out at the relevant time was Ordinary Seaman Sumpter, a youth of 18 who had joined the Navy in July 1963 and had had very little seagoing experience.

In fairness to those responsible for Voyager's movements it should, I think, be emphasised that the two vessels were engaged in a manoeuvre which, though comparatively elementary, was fraught with danger if there were any appreciable departure by either vessel from its proper course. The vessels were engaged in turning together at speeds exceeding 20 knots at a distance from one another of 1,000 to 1,500

yards, a distance which at that speed would be covered in less than three minutes.

If Voyager commenced its final turn on receipt of the last turning signal, the two vessels would be turning together from the course of 060° to 020° and thus for a period of some 90 seconds the movement would be in accordance with that ordered. If Melbourne then steadied on the 020° course and Voyager continued to turn in the belief that both vessels were turning to 270° or 220°, it is hardly to be expected

that this would be instantly perceived. The difficulty of determining range and the heading of the carrier at night are elements not to be overlooked in a dangerous situation which develops into one of inevitable disaster in the space of some 90 seconds.

On this night there is evidence that shortly before the collision, at the time when the last signal was received from Melbourne, Captain Stevens' attention was diverted by something which caused him to look at a chart or a signal book. Tactical Operator Evans refers to the Officer of the Watch acknowledging the flying course signal and then proceeds: " I then put my radio telephone down on the table, I had a look at the clock and logged the time that the message was received. I saw the Captain looking at

either a chart or a signal. He was down at the chart table ". He further said he had a clear recollection of having seen the Captain looking at papers.

Two possibilities occur to me as reasons which might divert the Captain's attention at this time. In the absence of evidence there may of course be others. If, in fact, Voyager undertook her last turn upon receipt of the last turning signal in the belief that the signal required her to pass beyond the course 020°, it may be the Captain was puzzled by a signal indicating a flying course of 020° and that he was

engaged in making some sort of a check. The other alternative is that there was some difference of opinion on Voyager as to whether the flying course signal required her to take up her plane guard station relative to the new flying course and that the Captain was consulting the signal book to settle the matter.


I am unable to conclude that there could be no circumstances in which the Captain, even in a turning operation, might not be excused if, his attention being diverted by some matter of grave importance, he momentarily left the immediate navigation of the vessel in the hands of his Officer of the Watch and Navigating Officer.

I have already indicated that such a difference of opinion as to the effect of the signal is a possibility.

As far as the Officer of the Watch is concerned, it appears that immediately before the collision he was engaged in looking at Melbourne through his binoculars. The evidence is that of Ordinary Seaman Sumpter who was the port look-out on Voyagerat the relevant time. He says: " I watched her for a couple of minutes and I called ' Bridge ' and there was no answer from bridge. I looked around

and I saw the Officer of the Watch looking at Melbourne". Looking at Melbourne with what? with his naked eye ?-With binoculars. He gave the order 'Full ahead both engines '."

At a later stage in the proceedings the evidence continued: " And you saw the Officer of the Watch looking through binoculars in the direction in which Melbourne was?-Yes. As you turned, you turned a bit to your right did you, to look towards the Officer of the Watch?-Yes. And which way was he looking-ahead of you or behind you ?-Ahead of me.

A bit further forward than you were?-Yes. And you watched him while he looked through the binoculars?-Yes. What happened next ?-He dropped the binoculars. Are you able to indicate how long he was looking through them before he dropped them ?-No. He dropped them and after that what happened ?-He gave the order 'Full ahead both engines'. You do not know whether the binoculars fell to the deck or to the lanyard; all you know is that he dropped them?­ I think they were on a lanyard. You did not hear them hit the deck, did you ?-No."

While there is no evidence in relation to the Navigating Officer, this indicates that a close look out was being maintained by the Officer of the Watch a few moments before the collision. There is insufficient evidence to enable a firm conclusion to be drawn that a constant watch was maintained from the moment when the final turn was commenced.

One hesitates to draw conclusions against men who unfortunately are not available to give their version of the incidents which led to the disaster, and I hope I have stated fairly all I feel can be advanced to explain the absence of any action on Voyager's part to avoid the collision. Nevertheless, I am forced to the conclusion that this disaster could not have occurred if a constant and efficient watch had been

maintained on Voyager during her final movement and action had been taken on Voyager to divert her from the collision course which that watch must have disclosed in, I think, sufficient time to avoid a collision or lessen its effects. It is not possible to determine as between respective officers concerned who was actually responsible for what occurred, nor whether any other member or members of the ship's company by error or negligence contributed to the disaster.


Much evidence was led as to the condition of the short range radar set on Voyager and in particular as to the effectiveness of the bridge display at the time of the collision. The evidence of Petty Officer Moore, who was on the bridge until 2030 hours, is that although the display did not show the coast-line, it was effective to show ships at close range and that Melbourne's reflection was at all times during his watch visible on the display. ·

On the other hand, Leading Seaman Patterson who was on duty in the operations room immediately prior to the collision, says that about two minutes before the impact Lieutenant-Commander McGregor called down in an anxious voice and asked whether Patterson had Melbourne or Tabard (a submarine) on radar. Patterson said he had a quick look at the radar, he could not see them and he reported this to the bridge.

I do not think that the evidence is such as to justify me in concluding that the short range radar display on the bridge was not functioning immediately prior to the collision. In this regard I should say that 1 have taken into account other evidence given by the various radar plotters and the electrical staff as to whether the display in the operations room was working at the time. I have also borne in mind evidence in relation to the condition of the flexible wave guide, a replacement for which was being sought, and the very helpful technical evidence of Mr. Schilizzi.

If the radar display on the bridge was not functioning, this would l'Ot relieve the officers concerned from the obligation to follow Melbourne's movements by other means. Indeed the absence of the aid provided by radar would call for added vigilance.

I do not think the condition of the radar contributed to the collision.




Having determined that the primary cause of the collision was the action of Voyager, I now turn to a consideration of the question as to whether any blame is attachable to those responsible for the navig""tion of Melbourne.

I firstly consider the actions of Captain Robertson. It is fair, I think, to record his evidence in the course of his examination by his own counsel, Mr. Hicks, in relation to the final manoeuvre undertaken by Voyager. At page 2439 of the transcript the following appears: " MR. HICKS: When that flying course signal was made, can you tell us whether you heard that sent to Voyager?­

! heard Tactical Operator Everett repeat or transmit the message correctly into the microphone. At that stage what was Melbourne's course-what is your recollection of it ?-We were in the process of turning from 060 to 020. I would not like to say how far round we had got but it was more than half way. I place that time because having given the instruction for the flying course signal to be made and having listened to the tactical operator transmit

it, I then got up from my chair where I had been and took a bearing myself of Voyager from the pelorus in the centre of the bridge. Do you remember that bearing?-The bearing was 040 degrees and it was through the forward window of the bridge. Since then I have worked out the angles through which you can take bearings through the forward window of the

bridge and the fact it was through the window indicates Melbourne must have been at least 5 degrees from steadying on to 020 because when the ship's head gets round to 025 you cannot in fact take a bearing of 040 except through one of the bridge pillars. Then you took that bearing and of course you could see Voyager at that stage?-Yes.

Did you then remain on the pelorus platform ?-For a short period of time, yes. Were you watching Voyager?-Yes. What did you see her doing?-Very shortly after the flying course signal was made-! have a clear recollection of there being no delay in Voyager reacting to the instruction I sent-she altered course or started to alter course to starboard."

On page 2440 the evidence continued: " MR. HICKS: What did you observe about Voyager from which you say that she made a starboard turn ?-1 just saw her turning to starboard. HIS HONOUR: But which part of her did you see?

MR. HICKS: Was there any part of the ship you could see?-At this particular moment I could see the whole ship or the part of it that was visible to me, which at the time was the view from the port quarter and I watched her start to turn to starboard. Did you see the starboard side ?-At that stage, no. It depends how far you have gone in time but-­ Was there any time when you could see the starboard side?-Yes.

Where were you then?-This I would not be completely certain of but I certainly saw the starboard side either from inside the bridge or from out on the wing where I went next, I think probably from both positions but I would not be sure. HIS HONOUR: You went out on the wing?-That comes next.

MR. HICKS: I was just coming to that, Your Honour. You have told us you went out on the wing; at what stage did you go out there?-After Voyager started to turn to starboard I made some brief remark to Commander Kelly. I forget completely the words, what I said. HIS HONOUR: Could you indicate what the substance of it was?-The import of what we said was that I was confirming with Kelly that we both saw her turn to starboard and we thought in that case she had done the right

thing, she was coming round under the stern to take up her new bearing. You exchanged those ideas with one another?-Those ideas; the words I used I have no idea."

On pages 2441-2 the evidence proceeded: "MR. HICKS: When you got out there you were standing somewhere at the rails there?-Yes. What did you do then ?-I was standing there watching Voyager carry out the manoeuvre. HIS HONOUR: Can you indicate Voyager's position in relation to you when you got out there?-Similar to that.

I would not like to be certain of how far she had turned at that stage; she may even have steadied. The bearing would be what, about?-The bearing would have changed during this turn. This process of turning to starboard loses the Voyager bearing; in other words, her speed of advance along the course of 020 is slowed down by the cross movement and I estimated when I got out to the wing of the bridge that he bore about green 40 which is

060 true and at that stage I certainly could see his starboard side. MR. HICKS: Did you continue to watch Voyager?-Yes. Did you make any change of course?-Yes. What did she do?-She steadied approximately, on my recollection, it had an inclination of 10 degrees to the right­ the inclination, Your Honour, being the angle between the extension of the line of sight and Voyager's head, that

angle I am indicating there-at about 10, 15, 20 degrees, that sort of amount; she steadied and started to alter course back to port again. When you saw her do that did you change your mind about what you thought she was going to do, what manoeuvre?­ Yes.

What did you think she was going to do then ?-I was not exactly sure but I thought there are two possibilities; one, that he was coming back to the original course and slowing down so as to drop his bearing still further astern and then come under our stern to his new position which is on Melbourne's port quarter; the other was that he was also slowing


down and carrying out other minor alterations of course. You will notice how his bearing dropped from 040 to 060 with that one turn to starboard. It would drop a similar amount again with his next turn, and so on until he was sufficiently broad on Melbourne's starboard beam to be able to turn to port and under Melbourne's stern. Did you continue to watch her then?-Yes. Will you describe to us then what Voyager did as you observed it? HIS HONOUR: You were still ... ?-On the wing of the bridge. MR. HICKS: I think you remained on the wing of the bridge until you went in and ordered full astern both engines?­ Yes. HIS HONOUR: How long were you on the wing of the bridge?-This is a very difficult question to answer on recollection. Shortly after the collision I tried to estimate how long I had been out there and I found that I could not. Again, if I had to set a limit on it, I would say it is more than half a minute and less than three but I could not be more precise than that. I do know a bit more about it from reconstruction but I am leaving that out at the moment. HIS HONOUR: I want you to try and leave that out. MR. HICKS: Would you describe to us then what Voyager did, or what she appeared to you to do?-He turned to port .

HIS HONOUR: What about you? What was your position?-Me, personally? No, the ship ?-Melbourne was steady on 020. One of the things I did before I went out on the wing of the bridge was to glance at the gyro repeat and at the same time the Officer of the Watch was giving the necessary wheel orders to steady Melbourne on 020, and I am quite certain Melbourne remained steady on 020 throughout the next 2 or

3 minutes. ·

MR. HICKS : Do you have any recollection of hearing the Officer of the Watch give the course 020 ?-1 would not like to be as precise as that. He was certainly giving the necessary orders to steady the ship on 020. I may have heard him say "Steer 020 " . I may have heard him as far as saying midships or starboard 15 to steady the ship. I certainly stayed there long enough to satisfy myself that the ship was steadying on 020. Corning back to the point where you saw Voyager start to turn to port, what did you observe about her from then on ?-She continued to turn to port quite slowly until she was about in that position. HIS HONOUR: Can you describe that position ?-That is still the same bearing of green 40, having come back to a similar course to us and a little bit beyond it, perhaps 10, 15 degrees, that sort of amount. Beyond yours?-Towards us. In other words, his exact heading was somewhere round about north, or perhaps 5 degrees to the west of north. MR. HICKS: What did you observe from then on?-There then seemed a period of-again I cannot estimate the time-but she was just sitting there in that position and I thought to myself, well, she must be doing these minor alterations of course. Sometimes called, I think, a double fishtail ?-Double fishtail is the name we have dubbed it with since the collision. HIS HONOUR: Did you really think she was doing a fishtail ?- Not a fishtail as such because she had not turned far enough to starboard to do a fishtail proper. But, for lack of a better word, a double fishtail or treble fishtail, a series of minor alterations of course with reduction of speed to lose bearing. She was sitting there, to my recollection, for some appreciable length of time-again I cannot estimate-it might be

20 seconds, it might be 30, it might be only 10. I just warched her sitting there. The range, to my recollection again, was round about as I have got it there, which is 5i", 6 cables. I would not pretend to be able to estimate ranges at night time any more accurately than that, and somewhere between 5 and 7 cables is all I care to say. MR. HICKS: That is difficult to do, is it ?-It is very difficult to do at night, and this is one of the uses of radar, in that you do not when you have to know a range rely on your estimation, you have a very quick and accurate range finder to take it for you. Go on? Would you tell us what you observed then ?-Quite suddenly, at the end of this period of sitting out there on

green 40, she was not in that position at all, but she was the same inclination the other side of 90 coming towards us like that. HIS HONOUR: I do not quite follow this. Would you repeat that for me again ?-Having watched her like that . That is on the . . . ?-On the course of say 355, 350, and having said to myself he has altered course towards and now he is altering course away again, quite suddenly I realised that this was not so and his heading was right around there. Which is ?-Round about, on the model, 300 degrees. That is his heading?-His heading. His range . Did you sec him make that movement around ?-No. It was a sudden realisation in fact that he was right round that way, whereas up to that moment I had him in my assessment going away, or at least turning away at that time. MR. HICKS: Is it difficult to assess inclination at night?-Very difficult. HIS HONOUR: The last thing you had he was not turning away, he had turned a bit to port ?-He had turned to port and stayed there, which is the sort of view one gets if he has turned a bit to port and is in the process of turning away again. You can probably see it yourself from there, Your Honour. The view of Voyager as she is to you now is very similar to the view you get when you are like that. It is easy to see looking down on the plan, but you get a different .

You were not looking down, you were looking across, like I am ?-Looking across. MR. HICKS : What happened then ?-Seeing Voyager in that position, my immediate assessment was that a collision is almost inevitable. When was that? Can you give me any idea of that ?-None at all, I am afraid. It was in this period of time, but I am unable to extract any sort of intervals in my recollection, although I could give you intervals from the reconstruction that I have done since. We de not want that. I would rather like to have your recollection, if you could give me outside limits ?-Outside limits-prior to the collision, you mean? Ye ;?-From that position, it would not have been less than 30 seconds before the collision and not more than-here again I am guessing-but about a minute, I would say, at the very outside.



HIS HONOUR: And the distance?-! had the distance at the time at round about 5 cables-that is 1,000 yards. It might have been less, it might have been more, but round about that sort of range. MR. HICKS: What did you do then ?-I turned from where I was standing, went into the bridge rapidly, and as I was entering the bridge through the door from the top of the ladder down to the Admiral's bridge I heard a voice saying

" Half astern both engines ". I ordered full astern both engines. I then moved . Was that order passed to the engineroom, or to the wheelhouse?-Yes, it was repeated by the officer who was giving the half astern. Who was that ?-I would not be certain from recollection. I understand it was Commander Kelly himself. I then moved

further forward on the inside of the bridge so as to get a view out through the windows. HIS HONOUR: That would be . . . ?-Up near the pelorus. Ahead of your chair or ahead of the pelorus ?-No, on the starboard side. As you come into the starboard side of the bridge the view out is blocked by a solid screen of metal there and one has to move forward 6 or 8 feet to look out

the windows. Your chair is on the port side?-Yes. Looking through the windows there, taking a further glance at Voyager, it seemed to me at that time that a collision was inevitable. Voyager was much closer than I thought she was when I was out­ may I come round?

Yes, certainly-Voyager was quite a bit closer than she had been when I had been looking at her a few seconds before outside the wing of the bridge. Her bearing had gone slightly forward. It might have been green 30, green 35 that sort of bearing, as I remember it. And she had altered course further round to port, in a position approximately like that, with her head as I have indicated on the model, at about 280, 290 perhaps. That sort of position; she might have been closer, but there again . .

HIS HONOUR: What are your outside limits of that distance: you are showing her there now at what?-I have her placed at the moment at four cables. I would not like to be more accurate than that on assessing it. About four cables ?-About four cables which, to my mind, from that quick glance, could well have been as little as three or less, or as much as five-not much more than four in actual fact; probably less than four, if anything.

Can you give me any idea how long before the collision that was ?-Not really. In terms of seconds ?-I tried very hard after the collision to get this interval in my mind, and I could not. What was the best you got ?-Between half a minute and a minute. I would not like to be more precise than that. MR. HICKS: What was the next thing you did ?-Just to perhaps go back a second, as I gave the full astern both engines I considered the question whether to put Melbourne's wheel over one way or the other. I do not suppose I spent

more than a second or two considering this question, but it seemed to me in that position-and I think on these sort of occasions one reacts by instinct rather than by going through all the pros and cons-that it was not possible to decide that it was the right thing to go one way or the other way. In any case, I realized that in the time left before the collision it would make very little difference to Melbourne's position whether the wheel went on or not and so I left the wheel

as it was; in other words, the ship was steering 020, and I confined my orders to full speed astern. The next thing, having had the view of Voyager out the window, and having decided that there was a collision of some sort imminent, I could not, of course, tell at that stage whether the collision would occur as it did or whether Voyager would hit us amidships somewhere, or how it would occur. It was just obvious, seeing the ship there, that something

was going to happen."

In his final report dated 5th March, 1964, Captain Robertson described in detail his observation of Voyager in the minutes preceeding the collision. He describes the turn to starboard and the fact that he thought that this indicated that Voyager would make a 360° turn in order to take up her plane guard station. He says that he " watched her turn to starboard to a course which just made her starboard side visible to me ". He then continues as follows:

"She steadied on this course and, about 10 to 15 seconds later, started to swing back to port. I then re-appreciated the situation because my previous assessment of her intention to continue her turn to starboard was obviously incorrect. I came to the conclusion that she had decided to carry out a " fishtail " manoeuvre until clear astern of MELBOURNE and then move across to her new station. This is a normal method of changing station in the circumstances but I made

a mental note that she had not altered sufficiently to starboard to carry out this manoeuvre with a single " fishtail " and concluded that she would carry out a series of small alterations of course to lose the necessary bearing, probably with a reduction of speed."

Captain Robertson says that, at this time, he estimated that Voyager had reduced her speed to about 15 knots and thinks that this may have been due to the opinion he had formed that she was going to carry out a series of minor alterations of course which would require a reduction in speed to execute the manoeuvre expeditiously.

He then says that in the following paragraphs of his report he attempts to record the assessment that passed through his mind from the moment that Voyager was on a parallel course to Melbourne until he decided to take action. He says that reference to the diagram accompanying the report (Appendix 4) may assist in appreciating the relevant position of the two ships at the appropriate times. He says that

the diagram has been constructed on the best evidence available to him at the time of writing the report and the times, bearings, ranges and headings of Voyager are based on the diagram. He says that his own mental assessmant of Voyager's intentions were made from personal observations and were based on his estimations of her bearing and range from Melbourne and of her heading and speed at the time. All

times are given as minus from the time of impact.

The paragraphs to which Captain Robertson refers are as follows: " 29. VOYAGER continued to alter course slowly to port towards MELBOURNE. When I assessed her observed heading to be about 010° I would have appreciated that she was in fact continuing to alter that way: I thought " Fishtailing towards MELBOURNE from that position is not the best practice but is safe so long as she does not alter

too far ". The time must have been about minus 2' oo• her bearing about Green 4ZO and distance 1380 yards.


30. VOYAGER continued her slow alteration of course to port. After she had altered a further 20° I thought " She should not alter course much further". The time would then have been about minus 1' 40", VOYAGER bearing green 41 o distance 1320 yards.

31. VOYAGER continued to carry out what I had assessed as a "fishtail" manoeuvre towards MELBOURNE. As I estimated that her observed inclination approached 90° Left it would have been extremely difficult to judge her heading within about 10° to 15° and almost impossible to observe the moment when she steadied and reversed her course for the next leg of her manoeuvre. I thought "She must be steadying now and reversing her course". This thought would have been in my mind for some appreciable length of time probably from minus 1' 20" until about minus 1'; if she had in fact reversed her wheel so as to be starting to alter course to starboard by minus 1' when she

bore green 36° distance 1020 yards she would have continued her •• fishtail" to starboard and not approached closer than about 600 yards from MELBOURNE. 32. But she had not steadied; she continued to alter slowly to port. As it became apparent to me that she was in fact still altering course towards MELBOURNE I started to have doubts that all was well in VOYAGER. She seemed to be altering further than was prudent and so far as I could judge continuing to alter to port. I then carne to the conclusion that something was wrong and she had altered too far. 33. I am unable to define the precise moment when I came to the conclusion that VOYAGER had altered too far. I observed that she had become, in a very few seconds, in a dangerous position and so ran into the bridge and ordered " Full astern both engines ". I remember hearing someone say " Half astern both engines " as I entered the bridge. This was the order given by my Navigating Officer. Our two orders were thus given within a few seconds of each other . . ."

It therefore appears from the Captain's own story, that he had Voyager under almost continuous observation from the time she took her starboard turn until the collision. If the starboard turn was the result of the turning signal, the period of time during which the Captain had Voyager under observation would be in the vicinity of three minutes, but on this assumption, during about 90 seconds both ships would be turning together towards the 020° course so that there would be nothing to suggest that anything was wrong until after Voyager had passed beyond the course 020°. In other words, the period during which some cause for alarm could develop would be about one and one half minutes. If, on the other hand, Voyager at the time she made her final turn was on a course of 020° as Captain Robertson believes she was, there was a period of approximately 90 seconds in which she was engaged in a somewhat unusual and unexpected manoeuvre. The Captain himself says be believed she was engaged in the operation of proceeding to her plane guard station. If this were so, it appears to me that Captain Robertson should have become aware that Voyager was engaged in an unusual manoeuvre when she turned to port forward of Melbourne's beam.

In considering the responsibility of Captain Robertson in this set of circumstances, it is of some importance to bear in mind that he was not only the Captain of his own vessel, but was the Officer in Tactical Command of the operation or, as he is referred to in the Regulations, "The Flag or Senior Officer at Sea ". Regulation 2704 provides in relation to that Officer as follows:

" The Flag or Senior Officer is responsible for the safe conduct of the fleet, squadron, ships or ship present with him and acting in concert under his orders, the senior officers in charge of divisions or columns being responsible for the ships under their immediate orders. 2. The Flag or Senior Officer is to be particularly attentive to observing that the ship which carries his flag, broad pennant or pennant, and all the ships under his orders preserve correctly their station in whatever formation the fleet may be; and when any evolution is being performed he is to be attentive to the manner in which the ships under his orders carry it out, always correcting immediately every apparent want of activity and exertion and every mistake or appearance of neglect."

I have already indicated that Melbourne was the vessel which had the right of way. In the circumstances which arose immediately before the collision, Rule 21 of the International Regulations for Prevention of Collision at Sea (see "The Navigation (Collision) Regulations" Statutory Rule No. 41 of 1953) was applicable by reason of the express provisions of the orders under which the vessels were operating.

Rule 21 provides: " Where by any of these Rules one of the two vessels is to keep out of the way, the other shall keep her course and speed. When, from any cause, the latter vessel finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the giving-way vessel alone, she also shall take such action as will best aid to avert collision."

Rule 27 provides: " In obeying and construing these Rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision, and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the craft involved, which may render a departure from the above Rules necessary in order to avoid immediate danger."

Rule 28 (a) and (b) of the same Rule is of some significance. It provides: "(a) When vessels are in sight of one another, a power-driven vessel under way, in taking any course authorised or required by these Rules, shall indicate that course by the following signals on her whistle, narnely:­ One short blast to mean' I AM ALTERING MY COURSE TO STARBOARD'.

Two short blasts to mean' I AM ALTERING MY COURSE TO PORT'. Three short blasts to mean ' MY ENGINES ARE GOING ASTERN '. (b) Whenever a power-driven vessel which, under these Rules, is to keep her course and speed, is in sight of another vessel and is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other vessel to avert collision, she may indicate

such doubt by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on the whistle. The giving of such a signal shall not relieve a vessel of her obligations under Rules 27 and 29 or any other Rule, or of her duty to indicate any action taken under these Rules by giving the appropriate sound signals laid down in this Rule." ·



Rule 29 provides: " Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel or owner, master or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to carry lights or signals, or of any neglect to keep a proper look-out, or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case."

So far as his own vessel is concerned, Captain Robertson took, 1 think, appropriate action in giving the order " Full astern both engines ". This was not accompanied by " three short blasts ". (Rule 28(a).) It may be questioned whether this order was given as soon as it should have been. It had been preceded very shortly before by an order from the Navigating Officer" Half astern both engines". It is easy in the course of a long investigation extending beyond three months into occurrences which took place in the course of as many minutes, to reach conclusions that some action which was taken should not have been

taken, or that some action which was not taken should have been taken. In reaching a judgment on such a matter one has to endeavour to put oneself in the place of the responsible officer who, faced with an almost incredible situation, has to make up his mind from moment to moment as to what is happening and as to what he should do.

In Halsbury's Law of England, Vol. 35, 3rd Edition, at page 651, the following paragraph appears in relation to the duty of a stand-on vessel to act when collision is imminent: " When from any cause the stand-on vessel finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she also must take such action as will best aid to avert collision. It has been said in reference

to this duty that the rule relating to the duty of a stand-on vessel is the most difficult of all the regulations to understand and obey. It must always be a matter of some difficulty for the officer in charge of a stand-on vessel to determine when the time has arrived for him to take action and some little latitude has to be allowed to him. It is quite impossible to determine mathematically the point at which the stand-on vessel must act; the rules have to be construed so that men

may act reasonably upon them. Where good seamanship would assume that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, the case falls within the exception, even though in fact the give-way vessel could by her own action have averted collision. The burden of taking action and departing from the general rule which requires a stand-on vessel to keep her course and sp<>ed cannot be pressed very severely in any case. If the officer in charge is found to have been watching the other vessel and doing his best to make up his mind when to act, he ought not to

be held to blame for waiting a moment too long before acting or acting too soon. In determining the duty to act there are always many ingredients, such as the light, the clearness of atmosphere, the speed and course of the other vessel, from which an estimate must be formed as to where the courses will meet, and the difficulty of detecting at night the moment when the give-way vessel may be altering her course. The obligation to act is more imperative and immediate

in daytime, when it can be seen what the vessel is and how she is manoeuvring, than at night, when the only information as to her position or movement is derived from the lights exhibited. A vessel which acts under the duty of a stand-on vessel when a collision is imminent, but neglects to signal her manoeuvre, does not take such action as best aids to avert collision."

In s.s Kitano Maru v. s.s. Otranto 1931 A.C. 194 at page 201, Lord Buckmaster, with reference to Rule 21 said: " It is beyond all doubt of the utmost consequence that it should be obeyed. The ship that is bound to keep her course is not entitled to alter it at a moment when there is ample time for the ship that is bound to give way to discharge hu

duty, for that ship is entitled to rely upon obedience to the rule by the ship that has to keep her course. But, acknowledging to the full the vital consequence of strict obedience, there still remains the fact that these rules were made for the guidance of mariners and not of mathematicians, and that it is not right, by an elaborate process of

calculation after the event, to decide that the ship that was bound to keep her course acted a little before the moment that in fact she need have done. When two ships are travelling at 16 and 13 knots an hour, the moment when safety has passed and peril has arrived cannot be determined to a hair's breadth. The rule was designed to secure that the stand-on vessel shall maintain her course until the last safe moment. What that safe moment is must depend primarily upon the judgment of a competent sailor, forming his opinion with knowledge of the necessity of obedience to the rule and ·in face of all the existing facts. Subsequent examination may show that his judgment could not properly have

been formed, in which case the rule has been broken without excuse, but the ultimate decision is not to be settled merely by exact calculations made after the event, but by considering these facts as they presented themselves to a skilled man at the time. This is in close accordance with the view expressed by Lord Herschell in The Tasmania 15 App. Cas. 223 at 226, where he says:' As soon then as it was, or ought to a master of reasonable skill and prudence

to have been, obvious that to keep his comse would involve immediate danger, it was no longer the duty of the master of the Tasmania to adhere to the 22nd (now the 21st) Rule. He was not only justified in departing from it, but bound to do so, and to exercise his best judgment to avoid the danger which threatened', and again with Vaughan Williams L.J. in The Hawke 1913 P. 214 at 245, where he says: 'I am inclined to think that in a case where good seamanship would assume that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the giving-way vessel alone, the case falls within

the exception '-namely, the exception to the rule to keep course and speed-' even though in fact the giving-way vessel could by her own action have averted collision'."

I think the law thus stated is applicable, with perhaps some qualification, to the circumstances which existed on the night in question. One element which cannot be disregarded is that the two vessels were not strangers to one another. Voyager's expected movements were known to Melbourne and flowed from a common command. It seems to me that these considerations may throw a heavier responsibility

on the Captain of the Melbourne than he would owe in a similar situation to a strange vessel.

Taking into consideration all the elements which appear to me to be relevant and pertinent, I am not disposed to reach a conclusion adverse to Captain Robertson in relation to the timing of his order " Full astern both engines". It was the appropriate order to give (s.s. Kitano Maru v. s.s. Otranto (supra) at F.ll536/ 64.-4


p. 203). In my opinion it should have been indicated by three short blasts (Rule 28 (a) ), but the failure to give that signal did not, in my opinion, contribute to the disaster save to the extent that even the first blast at an appropriate stage may have served as a warning and been sufficient to alert Voyager to a danger of which those in control of her may not have been aware.

Whether Captain Robertson should have taken steps to alert Voyager either by blasts-" at least five short and rapid blasts " (Rule 28 (b)) being appropriate-or by radio communication is a matter l now proceed to consider.

I have examined very carefully all the evidence Captain Robertson gave in relation to this matter, and his reports, with a view to determining whether any criticism should be directed against him in relation to the events of that night.

On his own view of the matter, Voyager was engaged in an unusual operation. The turn to starboard indicated to him a movement designed to take up the plane guard station. The moment Voyager turned to port forward of the beam her action should, as it seems to me, have created some doubt at least in Captain Robertson's mind as to what her intentions were, and the moment the movement to port passed beyond such as would have brought her back on course, it seems to me that Captain Robertson should have made some enquiry or passed some signal, whether by whistle or otherwise, to Voyager. Whether action of this kind would have avoided the collision I am unable to say, but I feel that the chances of a collision occurring might have been lessened if some such action as I have indicated had been taken by Captain Robertson.

[cannot but feel that some such action would have been taken by a more experienced officer in tactical command and it may be that his inexperience, coupled with his knowledge of the experience and capacity of Captain Stevens, Jed to some hesitation in interfering on this particular occasion.

Rear Admiral Becher gave evidence in relation to this matter at pages 105, 110 and 112 of the Transcript. At p. 105 the following appears: "CAPTAIN ROBERTSON: Yes, this is changing station from 20 degrees on the port bow to 20 degrees on the opposite quarter, range being 1,500 yards. This is by what could be referred to as a double fishtail combined with a reduction in

speed. That is, Voyager turns outwards away from Melbourne, reduces speed and then turns inwards, still reducing speed, and then outwards again by which time she would probably drop to about abreast of Melbourne and could turn under the beam, increase speed and get into the correct station. This is a slow way of doing it and on my calculations it would take seven minutes compared with four or five minutes for the other two manoeuvres, but it is a possibility particularly if there are other ships stationed in the area which may have prevented Voyager doing a complete turn or fishtail. This may in fact have been the only way left open to change stations. HIS HONOUR: What do you say about that Admiral ?-I would regard it as a method that could but should not be used because it is unseamanlike. It is an unseamanlike method in that he is turning towards the carrier while he is still in fact forward of the beam, physically forward of the beam. Therefore he is going to get unnecessarily close to the carrier and could put into the head of the captain or the commander of the carrier a great deal of doubt about in fact what he was up to. I would not like it at all, although it is one of the many ways this new station could be taken up.

I would not like it and if he did it while I was there he would know all about it."

At page 110 the evidence continues as follows: " MR. SMYTH: Might I ask you this: Supposing you felt a little worried as to whether one of the ships under your command was performing in a seamanlike manner in the circumstances, what would you do ?-I would immediately challenge him and his movements."

At page 112 there appears the following: " MR. SMYTH: I will ask you this: If you were in doubt yourself as to just precisely what a ship in your formation was doing, or about to do, what would you do? You need not say your exact words, but what would be the effect of them?-1 am an old lag at this game and I am not quite prepared to say that the action I would take now, which would probably

be-remembering that as-do you see me in a position of captain of Melbourne or in a position of the admiral on board? We will have you as the admiral on board ?-1 have to be pretty careful, because I must not give direct orders to the captain of Melbourne which affects the safety of his ship. In other words, it is his responsibility, the safety of his own ship, not mine. Supposing you have taken over the ship ?-If I were captain, I would say by the time I had become an old lag, which was after two years in command, I would undoubtedly have attempted to sound the siren, or possibly to come on voice and make a signal saying" Wake up" or some words similar to that, so that he would understand me quickly."

I then asked him the question: " You mean you would have in the circumstances of this case as you understand them ?-I think towards the end of my time, after some experience as a Captain I would. I would not like on oath to say that I would have done it in the first month or so of my command, particularly if I were working with an officer of similar rank although junior to me,

who is very experienced in his command."

I now turn to a consideration of the conduct of the Officer of the Watch, Sub-Lieutenant Bate and the Navigating Officer, Commander Kelly.

I have at an earlier stage in this report set out the terms of the regulations which govern their respective responsibilities.



Sub-lieutenant Bate in his evidence at page 396 referred to the fact that he heard the Captain and the Navigating Officer discuss the fact that Voyager was turning to starboard. He did not observe the turn himself. His statement given on 14th February, 1964, to which I have previously referred, is then mentioned. In the statement he had said:

" Standing at the pelorus I could only see her overtaking light. The Captain moved out to the starboard wing of the compass platform."

Mr. Smyth then asked: "You saw him do that, did you?" and his answer was: "Yes".

The following questions and answers then appear: " MR. SMYTH: Then in the meantime you did not bother any more about Voyager ; is that correct?-That is correct. Do you not think that as Officer of the Watch when ships are manoeuvring in company it would be your duty to keep your eye on the other vessel?-There are a lot of other factors to take into consideration.

Do you think it is your duty to do that ?-It is one of the duties, yes. And in fact you did not see her again until the collision was imminent, did you ?-Until my attention was drawn. And if your attention had not been drawn, it may well be you would not have known anything about it until the collision ?-No. I was in the process at that stage of checking on merchant shipping in the area.

HIS HONOUR: Checking the merchant shipping?-Yes. How long would that take you ?-1 was on the port side at the time glancing around the horizon looking for lights and such and so inevitably I would have come across to the starboard side and looked round that side. MR. SMYTH: So you were not looking at the pelorus ?-Not at this point, no.

You were looking round for merchant vessels on the port side?-From the port side to starboard. And you would know from your radar that the closest one was at about eight miles, would you not ?-From the report, yes. From the radar screen. Yet you had Voyager on your starboard side very close to Melbourne and you did not look?­

Yes. And the fleet navigation officer had his attention directed to the anemometer, did he not?-He was standing on the starboard side of the bridge. Was he looking at the anemometer, Commander Kelly?-1 would not like to say what he was looking at.

You do not know whether he was looking at Voyager either?-No."

At pages 404-406 his evidence is as follows: "MR. SMYTH: At night, I am talking about first of all. It is quite all right in your view for no officer on the bridge to be looking where you are going?-Yes. And in your experience that is accepted practice, is it ?-In my experience one can only do one thing at a time.

HIS HONOUR: How many officers are on the bridge, normally?-Two. MR. SMYTH: Who are they ?-If the captain and fleet navigation officer are not there, invariably if we are coasting or if the captain and fleet navigator are not there on the bridge or the compass platform, there is only the officer of the watch and the second officer of the watch.

What about when the captain is there?-That makes three. You did not know, did you, on this occasion whether anybody was watching Voyager?-! have not the faintest idea. You do not expect the port or starboard lookout to have any experience in these things, do you ?- That is what they are there for.

But they are very inexperienced ratings, are they not?-There is only one way to train them-to put them on the job. But you do not expect them to be able to judge distances, courses and speeds, do you ?-No; I do not expect them to. They are only there to tell you if anything strange is about?-Yes. And they would not report the Voyager was there, would they ?-No.

They would get a blast from the bridge, would they not?-Not necessarily. HIS HONOUR: During this exercise would you have expected them to tell you the Voyager was there?-No. MR. SMYTH: So for all you know, there might have been no competent person watching Voyager at all-for all you knew-that is so?-That is correct.

HIS HONOUR: Tell me: with the captain there what was the respective responsibility? You were in charge?-! am in control of the ship. You were in control of the ship?-Yes. Well, while you are in control, can the captain interfere in any way?-Could you repeat that?

You are subject to his orders. Are you in control, subject to his orders while he is on the bridge?-Yes but the ship is my responsibility unless the captain takes over. Yes, I follow. Well now, if you wanted an officer to watch the other vessel while you were doing something else, you would direct him to do so, would you?-Yes.

MR. SMYTH: You see this (Exhibit 21) sets out or contains duties of the officer of the watch and it is headed' Safety of the Ship'. It is paragraph 3142, 'General Responsibilities: Safety of the Ship'.-' The officer of the watch at sea and in harbour is responsible for the safety of the ship in all its aspects, particularly her safety from collision and grounding, subject to any orders that he receives from the captain.' That is so, is it not?-Yes. You are familiar with that?-Yes.

So it was your duty to see to it there was no collision?-Yes.


And there is only one way to be sure of that-that is to keep your eyes glued on the ship that might collide-that is the only way ?-It depends on the circumstances. Well, it is the only safe way, is it not? If your obligation is to avoid collision, amongst other things, there is only one way in which you can avoid it and that is by looking out yourself or deputing someone else to keep their eye on it­ is not that right?-That is only one ship. There is a 360 degrees arc around a ship and it is also my responsibility for others.

MR. SMYTH: But you know they are miles away ?- Do I? I thought you said the nearest was eight miles away. Did you not say that?-Yes. This is only yards-hundreds of yards away-it would take you a long time to collide with a ship eight miles away?­ Is this the only one there? Does not your radar show?-Not necessarily. HIS HONOUR: You mean it might not show?-Yes.

MR. SMYTH: You would have no report from your lookout there was any ship in the vicinity-and that is his duty?­ Yes. You had no such report?-No. Your immediate concern was Voyager, was it not?- My immediate concern was the ship. And Voyager?-And Voyager, and any other ship in the area."

Evidence of Sub-Lieutenant Bate in cross examination by Mr. Jenkyn at p. 414 is as follows: " MR. JENKYN : It was at the stage when you had conned the ship aronnd to 020 and had seen that it was steady on its course, that you turned your attention for a while to the port side?-Yes. In your experience was there any reason as you saw it at this stage why you should not look to the port side and

around the horizon generally to assess the situation and what shipping was there?-This is customary when altering course. First of all you check to see if there is any shipping, you alter course and once on the new course you establish yourself, relatively speaking, to the merchant ships or other ships in the area. So what you were doing on that night you regarded as being nothing unusual but in accordance with what you had learned to do often in your training as ordinary practice?-Yes. And at this stage you knew that you had on the compass platform with you the captain of the ship?-Yes. And you also had the fleet navigating officer?-Yes. It was suggested to you that you should not have done such a thing as to look over the port side with the captain and with the fleet navigating officer on the bridge with you, but you should have kept your eyes glued on Voyager. Did you feel there was any necessity to do that at that stage ?-No sir, and I still don't. The situation from then, as I understand you, was that while you were doing what you regarded as ordinary practice in looking on the port side, you heard this somewhat dramatic exclamation from Lieutenant Commander Kelly?-Yes. And that, you said in your statement, was about half a minute before the collision?-Yes. "

Commander Kelly in his evidence said at pages 515-7: " MR. SMYTH: I suppose you appreciated that your first officer of the watch was at le z. st comparatively inexperienced?­ Yes. You were aware of that, so I suppose you would feel it your duty to keep a watchful eye on him?-Yes.

So that you would be concerned in those circumstances to keep a close eye on how Voyager was manoeuvring?­ ! would say that it is impossible with my other duties to keep a close eye at all times. I watched her sufficiently to be quite satisfied that during all these manoeuvres she was carrying out manoeuvres correctly and was in fact in very reasonable station. You were more concerned with finding wind for the aircraft?-Yes. When the flying course was ordered what were you doing then?-This is the new flying course? HIS HONOUR: You mean the final flying course? MR. SMYTH: Yes, 020?-As far as I remember, I was watching the anemometer; or wind gauge, on the port side, or just slightly to the port side of the centre line of the compass platform. You would be to some extent turned away from where you expected Voyager to be?-To a certain extent, yes. HIS HONOUR: Where is the anemometer ?-It is displaced about two feet to the port side of the centre line-looking straight out forward, on the port side of the centre line of the compass platform. HIS HONOUR : If you were looking out, straight out, you would be looking out a bit to port?-Slightly to port.

MR. SMYTH : So that Voyager would not be within your range of vision ?-Not at that time. I suppose the critical period would be when the ships were turning? HIS HONOUR: Critical period for what? MR. SMYTH: It would be most important for someone to be watching closely ?-1 do not agree that it is most important for someone to watch closely. I think that someone is watching and glancing and seeing that in fact the escort destroyer does turn at the same time as we do. HIS HONOUR: Whose function would that be, in your view?-Normally the officer of the watch or myself, one of us would be glancing, looking. MR. SMYTH: You were not looking, were you?-1 was not . At the time of this turn to 020 you were not looking? The second turn, the last turn to 020, you were not looking, were you ?-I am not sure whether I was looking during the turn. I was when . You have no recollection of having looked ?-I am sure at some time I had a glance at Voyager. Have you any independent recollection that you ever looked during the final turn to 020?-Yes, I did. You did, did you ?-I remember now. At what stage did you look ?-I remember looking up at some stage as Voyager relatively in fact crossed our bows.



Crossed your bows from where to where?-When we were on 060 Voyager was relatively on our port bow. Then when we altered course to 020 relatively she crossed ahead of us. So that she is on your starboard bow?-Yes. So you looked then ?-I remember glancing up as she passed across our bow relatively. She only crossed relatively?-Yes. It was the swinging of your ship that made her appear to be crossing?-Yes. But you realised with your experience that in fact that was not happening, she was not crossing your bow ?-No. I said relatively. That is all you saw, by the inclination of your ship Voyager was transferred from the port bow to the starboard bow?­ To the starboard bow. But did you actually see Voyager making any turn ?-I do not remember consciously watching her making the turn.

MR. SMYTH: You have no independent recollection of watching her make the turn ?-No. HIS HONOUR: You are still on the final 020? MR. SMYTH: Final 020. You do not know whether the officer of the watch was looking, do you?-No, I am not certain of that.

I suppose you would agree that one or other of you should have been?-Yes. Do not you think that, so far as you were concerned, knowing the comparative inexperience of Sub-Lieutenant Bate, that that was the time you should have either seen to it that he was watching or that you were watching yourself? MR. JENKYN: At what time?

MR. SMYTH: The witness knows. On this final turn ?-Not for a perfectly simple manoeuvre like this. I thought you agreed with me a little while ago that it is important for the officer of the watch, when ships are manoeuvring in company, for him to see that the manoeuvre is executed correctly?-Yes. However simple?-Yes. So you will agree that perhaps you should have seen to it that the officer of the watch or yourself was looking? And you were more concerned with the anemometer?-Yes. For all you know, he might have been looking out to port, the officer of the watch, for all you know?-Yes, he could."

The conclusion I reach is that the watch which was maintained on the bridge of Melbourne by the Officer of the Watch and the Navigating Officer was in the circumstances inadequate.

It appears that from the time when Voyager was seen to take a turn to starboard until she was within about 700 yards of Melbourne her passage was unobserved by either of them.

It was of course proper for the Officer of the Watch to be concerned with the movement of ships other than Voyager, but the radar indicated that there was no immediate cause for anxiety in that regard. It seems to me somewhat inexplicable that he should have devoted his attention to observations on the port side, where a ship appeared to be eight miles distant, without satisfying himself that Voyager, within

1,500 yards on the starboard side, presented no danger. In truth he appears to have taken little interest in Voyager at this stage. He said he did not appreciate she was turning to starboard. When asked by me whether she appeared to be turning to starboard he said "I was not interested" and then explained that he was interested in the fact that she was going to starboard but not concerned about it.

He then devoted his attention to the port side until he heard an exclamation of the Navigating Officer "Christ, what the hell is Voyager doing" when Voyager was about 700 yards away. During that period he did not know whether the Navigating Officer was looking at Voyager and, although he had seen Captain Robertson go out to the starboard wing of the bridge, he was unaware of what he was doing.

In these circumstances I think he failed to exercise sufficient care as officer of the watch to protect his own vessel from collision.

He did not himself maintain sufficient watch over Voyager at a time when he was unaware whether any other watch was being maintained on the bridge.

As in the case of Captain Robertson, I think when he became aware of the dangerous situation, prudence dictated the desirability of some warning to Voyager. It is, I think, regrettable that none was given, but in the case of this young officer of limited experience, faced with an incredible situation, he may be excused on this score when neither the Captain nor the Navigating Officer took or advised action in

this direction.

As I have earlier indicated Commander Kelly was a navigating officer of considerable experience. He had with him an officer of the watch of limited experience, a circumstance which called, I think, for special vigilance on the part of the navigating officer. He was unaware of the watch being maintained by the Captain, and was unaware whether the Officer of the Watch had Voyager under observation.

Prior to the moment of his exclamation he himself does not appear to have had Voyager in view since she relatively crossed the bow of Melbourne during the course of the turn from 060° to 020°, except when the Captain directed his attention to the starboard turn.

I think in all the circumstances Commander Kelly should himself have paid more regard to Voyager's movements than he did.


Having regard to the evidence of the three officers primarily concerned on the bridge I am unable to comprehend why no warning was given to Voyager. Ready means of communication were available and so:ne warning, even at a late would se:!m to have been a wise course to have taken.

The absence of any such warning suggests undue readiness to rely solely on Melbourne's undoubted right to maintain her course and speed in the belief that Voyager, whatever her course might be, would, as in duty bound, in fact keep out of the way.


Captain Robertson prepared three reconstructions of the events leading up to the collision.

In each one he commences with the point of impact and works back. He ignores times in the sense that he takes the point of impact as zero time and works back from that point. He takes the angle of impact as something of the order of 90° and accepts the fact that hard astarboard was applied by Voyager about twenty seconds prior to the impact. He also accepts as fact evidence which would lead to a conclusion that Voyager, immediately prior to the application of hard astarboard, was in a continuous turn to port

with 10° of port wheel on, and that before the turn to port she engaged in a turn to starboard using !5° of wheel.

The first reconstruction was the diagram annexed to his report of 5th March, 1964 (Appendix 4). The second was a diagram tendered in the course of his evidence in chief at page 24 77 (Appendix 5); and the third (Appendix 6) was a diagram tendered when Captain Robertson was recalled after a naval architect, Mr. Herd, had given evidence.

Appendix 5 was prepared after Captain Robertson had obtained from three different Naval sources diagrams illustrating opinions of Voyager's turning circles assuming 10° of wheel at revolutions for 21 knots. These three turning circles were translated on to one diagram and Captain Robertson averaged the three results which he had been given.

Mr. Herd in his evidence considered that the turning circles used by Captain Robertson in Appendix 5 were not tight enough. He was cross examined by Mr. Hicks who referred to the three turning circles abovementioned. Mr. Herd considered that the tightest turning circle was nearest to being correct. Even then it was considered by Mr. Herd to be 40 yards greater than the turning circle would have been.

Appendix 6 was prepared after this evidence was given. At page 3378 Captain Robertson said that it had been drawn using the tightest turning circle. The substantial difference between Appendices 5 and 6 is that the turns on the latter are tighter turns than those on the former. On Appendix 5 the final turn to port commences between minus 3! minutes and minus 3 minutes, while on Appendix 6 it commences at a

point slightly earlier than minus 2-2- minutes.

Appendix 6 was prepared on the basis of turning circles substantially in accordance with the views of Mr. Herd and is, I think, the most accurate reconstruction if one accepts the basic assumptions on which it was prepared. Three of these, namely 15° of starboard wheel, 10° of port wheel and a continuous turn to port until hard astarboard took effect, originated from Captain Robertson's understanding of a

statement taken from Ordinary Seaman Degenhardt on Melbourne the day after the collision.

At the time of the collision Degenhardt was manning the port telegraph in Voyager's wheelhouse and was the only survivor from that part of the ship. He had been in the Navy for a little less than seven months and was 17 years old. The statement, omitting, for security reasons, certain engine revolutions, was as follows:-

" Telegraphman in the Wheelhouse, with L. S. Sharkey (Q.M.) A. B. Hale other tel. and 0.0. W. Lt. Price. Approximately 2045, A. B. Hale had the wheel, kept altering course and revolutions every minute. Approximately 2050 15 starboard ordered almost immediately 10 port ordered. Nothing for 2 or 3 minutes. About 10 seconds before the collision the 0.0. W. Lt. Price screamed out, 'Full ahead both engines' almost immediately afterwards collision occurred. Lights went out, the compartment flooded. I escaped through destroyed bulkhead or door.

Been in the ship nearly four months, never exercised a collision. Exercised fire in VOYAGER. Not sure of drill for emergency stations. Alfa Gyro was perfect-in use. Bravo and sperry minor not more than 3 degrees low. The rudder indicators did not quite coincide. Steering gear to the best of my knowledge was all right. All orders were given by Lt. Price (O.O.W.)."

When Degenhardt gave evidence he said that the orders 15° of starboard wheel and 10° of _port wheel were given, but added that after this last order the order " wheel amidships " was received followed by a course to steer. He was unable to remember the course.

Both Mr. Jenkyn and Mr. Hicks criticized his evidence on the basis that it was inconsistent with the statement he had given the day after the collision. In my opinion there is no inconsistency. The statement is obviously not Degenhardt's own composition. He says that he was still in a state of shock when it was taken, and it seems to me that the statement is equivocal as to whether the 10° of port wheel remained on or not. J do not think the statement be said to be in any way in conflict with the evidence which he



later gave. His evidence is consistent with other evidence which leads me to believe, quite independently, that Voyager did steady for a short time on a course after the turn to port. I see no reason to reject Degenhardt's evidence in this respect. His is the only evidence of I 5o of starboard and I 0° of port wheel, two of Captain Robertson's assumptions already referred to.

Further criticism of Degenhardt's evidence was made because of the very short periods of time for which he said the starboard and port turns operated. Degenhardt's recollection is faulty in this respect, but this does not lead me to reject his other evidence.

I have found that Voyager steadied on a course for a short time prior to the collision. Captain Robertson's assumption of a continuous turn to port is inconsistent with this, and for that reason alone I do not think his reconstruction indicates correctly what took place.

One other matter which should be mentioned is that Appendix 5 is a reconstruction which indicates that the flying course signal was sent 3 minutes 50 seconds before the collision. If the collision occurred at 2056 hours or thereabouts as I have found it did, this would mean that the signal was sent at about 2052 hours 10 seconds. On Appendix 6 the time of the flying course signal is not stated, but on Appendix 5 the time attributed to it, minus 3 minutes 50 seconds, indicates it was sent just prior to the application of starboard wheel. The corresponding point on Appendix 6 is about minus 3 minutes 15 seconds which would mean that the flying course signal was sent at approximately 2052 hours 45 seconds.

For reasons already given I am satisfied that the flying course signal was sent at a point of time later than this. For this reason also I do not find it possible to accept Captain Robertson's reconstructions.


In view of the absence of any certain explanation for the collision, a number of theories were advanced which deserve consideration.

Captain Robertson himself suggested two possibilities, the second of which he preferred to the first. He assumed in both cases that the signals had been correctly received and correctly reported to the officers on Voyager. Captain Robertson suggested that Voyager, having received the final signal informing Voyager on the flying course, turned immediately to starboard as a first reaction to get round to

Melbourne's port quarter. He further suggested that due to some discussion on the bridge arising from, perhaps, some doubt or disagreement as to whether Voyager was required to take up plane guard station on that signal, there was some argument as to what the signal meant. So she reversed her wheel 15° to starboard, back to 1 oo of port, intending to go back to the same course and same speed as Melbourne while the matter was more fully investigated. This, Captain Robertson suggested, would fit in with the evidence about Captain Stevens and the Yoeman looking at something at the chart table. Then he

suggested, due to some error, rather than steadying on 020°, the 10° of port wheel was inadvertently left on and the ship continued to alter course to port until the collision took place. Captain Robertson said he did not personally favour this theory. He said that although it would be quite appropriate for Captain Stevens to put his head down on the chart table if his ship were on the same course and speed as Melbourne, he thought the amount of heel in a destroyer at 20 knots with 10° of wheel on would be sufficient to alert him to the situation " particularly if he had his head on the chart table which is athwart ships and he could feel the movement". I find it difficult to accept this theory for the reason stated by Captain Robertson,

to which I would add that it seems difficult to believe that other officers on the bridge would not also have become aware of the movement by reason of the amount of heel in the destroyer.

Captain Robertson's second theory was that the flying course signal was passed to Voyager while the course was being altered to port from 060° to 020°. At some stage in this operation Voyager would be almost, if not directly ahead of Melbourne on a similar course, both ships at the time probably heading about the direction of Voyager's bearing 0400, which is half way on the turn. On receipt of the flying course signal, Voyager may have thought that she was on 020°, but directly ahead of Melbourne,

and if she were it would have been safe to proceed to the plane guard station by turning either way. The first reaction may have been to alter to starboard when, perhaps, it was suggested by someone there was no point in going to starboard, but that Voyager could quite clearly go to port. The Captain suggested that upon this basis a decision was made to go to port and the wheel was put on port 1 oo in place of

starboard 15°. Captain Robertson thought that port 10° in these circumstances would be an odd sort of wheel order to carry out the manoeuvre. He would have expected 15° or more. On the other hand, he said, the station which Voyager had to take up was 20° out on Melbourne's port quarter, and a quite usual and seamanlike way of getting from right ahead to that station on the port quarter would be to put on port

10° during the first 180° of the turn. Captain Robertson conceded that this theory had to allow for an error of observation by Voyager in thinking that she was on the port bow of Melbourne as she was turning, when in fact she was on the starboard bow. He further suggested that this might explain why the officer of the watch was veering intently through glasses at Melbourne, possibly trying to assess for himself

whether he was on the port or starboard bow, but thinking all the time he was on the port bow. Captain Robertson said that the second theory was the one he personally favoured. It is difficult to believe that a


Captain of the experience of Captain Stevens made the error suggested, and it seems to me to involve the proposition that he proceeded to undertake the movement to take up his plane guard position before he had completed the turn he was directed to make by the final turning signal. It further assumes that the wheel was kept on port I 0°, and is inconsistent with the view that Voyager had steadied prior to the collision. If, in fact, Voyager had been more or less ahead of Melbourne at the time the turn was made, she should have carried out the manoeuvre successfully. The theory involves a margin of error on the bridge of Voyager as to her actual course which is difficult to conceive.

Other theories were advanced by Rear Admiral Gatacre. His first theory is based upon the conception that having received the flying course signal and turned to starboard, the Captain of Voyager decided that he should not move but wait for another signal, that he then tried to come back to the course 020° but for one of several -reasons he did not settle on that course. He suggested possibilities as to how this might occur. The first was that the Quartermaster chased the lubber's line. He said: " If you look at a strip repeater you will find that it covers 30 figures with a lubber's line in the middle. That is the course. You no longer have the compass and to an inexperienced quartermaster those 30 figures in a box are not a very good indication of heading. All the quartermaster sees is some numbers. He does not know whether the wheel he has on is pulling the ship away, in other words he becomes mesmerised. As a navigator I have seen it happen. I have seen a ship go 50 degrees off her course with the quartermaster."

I suggested that to reach the point of collision in this manner would involve chasing the lubber's line a long way, and the Admiral conceded that it was stretching the imagination a bit and added, " but this collision happened and there must be an explanation for it."

I find it difficult to believe that an inadvertent application of the wheel, if it occurred to the extent envisaged, would not have been noticed by some, if not all, of the officers on the bridge.

Another theory advanced by Rear Admiral Gatacre was that the officer of the watch told the quartermaster to steer 020° and the quartermaster replied ' 200° ' without the officer of the watch noticing it. Here again the theory involves the application of the wheel for a considerable time beyond that intended without the movement being noticed by anyone on the bridge.

Another theory was advanced by Captain (now Rear Admiral) Peek. He assumes that the officer of the watch on receipt of the flying course signal thought he had to move, ordered starboard wheel to move to the new station and was told by the Captain in substance: "Nonsense. Port 10°" (the Captain meaning to go back to 020°). The rule is that once the captain gives a wheel order he then has the ship so that the officer of the watch would not again interfere until ordered to do so. He suggested in this set of circumstances port 10° may have been inadvertently left on, but concedes that this explanation is inconsistent with the view that Voyager straightened on her course before the collision.

Another theory also advanced by Captain Peek, is that the Officer of the Watch on Voyager, having been told to go back to 020° by the Captain after the starboard turn, omitted to apply his reverse wheel and ordered" steady". He said:" In other words, she was swinging to port with port 10 on and he merely said 'amidships'. It is difficult to believe but it is a possibility. The ship would then swing a little bit further to port, steady herself up and keep going straight." Here again I find it difficult to believe that the movement of Voyager was not noticed by any of the officers on the bridge. Captain Peek himself conceded that this theory was hard to believe.

A further theory, ;tlso advanced by Captain Peek, assumes the flying course having been received or understood as 220° and not 020°. He said: "The requirement would be, on my interpretation of the signal books, that Voyager would have to lose 30° of bearing. She would have to drop 30° off Melbourne's bow to be in station on a flying course of 220°." The theory then assumes that having lost bearing, she intended to come back to a course of 020° and assumed that Melbourne was doing the same thing. Inadvertently port wheel was left on so that she continued to turn beyond that course. Here again the theory involves a failure of any officer on Voyager to appreciate the situation.


At one stage of the proceedings a good deal of attention was given to an examination of the note book of the officer of the watch of Melbourne. It does appear that some pages which originally formed part of the book are not now there.

The book is one in which rough entries of fixes and courses are made. Fixes appear on one page and courses and other navigational data on another.

There are entries of this type in relation to the night of the collision up to 1957 hours, that is up to the time when Sub-Lieutenant Jefferies took over as Second Officer of the Watch.

The greater portion of the page following those entries is missing and there are no entries of that night's courses by Jefferies in the book. He said he had made such entries directly into the deck log as he was entitled to do. I am umble to say whether the missing portion of the page was there on the night of the

3 1 5


collision nor when and why and by whom it was removed. I am satisfied from other evidence, including the evidence of Tactical Operator Evans of Voyager, that the courses were correctly recorded by Jefferies in the deck log and that no sinister significance should be attached to the absence of the greater part of the page.

The fact that the page was not wholly extracted seems scarcely consistent with any interference with the book for reasons other than innocent ones.

At a time when it was necessary to ascertain with certainty the actual courses followed by Melbourne, it was essential to probe this matter, but later developments in the Inquiry enable me to negative any suspicion in relation to it.

VISIT TO H.M.A.S. MELBOURNE AT SEA On the evening of 19th May, 1964, I was afforded the opportunity of observing touch-and-go exercises being carried out on H.M.A.S. Melbourne, H.M.A.S. Vendetta was acting as plane guard. The carrier was some miles off Jervis Bay and I was taken on board by helicopter from Mascot aerodrome. I was accompanied by the Secretary to the Commission, by Captain Peek (as he then was) and the two Counsel assisting me. Another helicopter carried one of the counsel for each of the persons represented before the

Commission, together with Mr. Neilson of the Commonwealth Attorney General's Department.

We arrived on board Melbourne at approximately 1800 hours and, after a short briefing, were taken to the bridge, operations room, and certain other parts of the ship. Both Sea Venoms and Gannets were observed touching their wheels on the flight deck and taking off again. Different flying courses were used and this involved the carrier and the destroyer executing turns together.

After the flying operations were completed, the destroyer was ordered to take station on Melbourne's port quarter from a position on the starboard bow, a manoeuvre she carried out, making a complete turn to starboard and passing under the carrier's stern.

The weather and sea on the night of the visit were not unlike those on the night in question, except that there was a considerable amount of moonlight and little swell. Wind conditions were much the same in that the winds were light and variable, although I gather that they were somewhat stronger than on the night of the collision.

I record my appreciation of the opportunity of witnessing the exercises. My visit has given me a better appreciation of the evidence and of the events which took place immediately prior to the collision.


The two ships involved in the collision were carrying out a manoeuvre which was, in the circumstances that prevailed, incidental to an exercise included in a general work-up programme in which both ships were participating.

The final movements which ended in the collision were not scheduled to take place that night, but became necessary having regard to the force and direction of the wind if the scheduled aircraft programme were to be carried out. Had a sufficient and steady wind prevailed the movements involved in chasing the wind, and the particular movement which culminated in the collision, would not have been necessary.

Both ships had recently undergone extensive refits. Melbourne had undergone hers at Garden Island between 16th September, 1963 and 6th January, 1964. Voyager was at Williamstown from 12th August, 1963 until 16th January, 1964.

Shortly prior to the completion of the refit of each vessel, there was a considerable change in complement. In particular, substantial changes took place in the identity of a number of the officers on each ship.

In the case of Melbourne, Captain Robertson was appointed to her command on 6th January, 1964. Commander Kelly had joined her on the 18th December, 1963. Captain Stevens had been Captain of Voyaget throughout 1963; but Lieutenant Commander McGregor, her Executive Officer, and Lieutenant Cook, her Navigating Officer, were both appointed to the ship on 2nd January, 1964. Lieutenant Price, the Officer of the Watch on duty at the time of the collision had joined on 2nd December, 1963.

While it may be said, in the main, that each officer was experienced from an individual point of view, it will be seen that by the time each ship was ready for sea it was officered by men who had not previously worked with one another, except that Captain Robertson and Commander Kelly had been together on H.M.A.S. Swan, a frigate, some eight years previously.


Moreover, the two ships, as then officered and manned, had not previously worked together in manoeuvres. In these circumstances it seems to me that some prior consultation between the principal officers of both vessels, and more particularly between the two Captains, might have been undertaken with advantage. It does not appear that any such consultation preceded the commencement of the work-up


A work-up programme involves a number of exercises which as Rear Admiral Becher said are designed "to turn a lot of individuals into one company". The programme in this case was drafted initially by Captain Peek, as he then was. It was completed by Captain Robertson and approved by Rear Admiral Becher, the Flag Officer commanding the fleet. It seems to have followed the pattern of similar

work-up programmes of the past.

Before Melbourne went in for refit, her aircraft were flown off and stationed at the Naval Air Station at Nowra. When she was ready for sea again the aircraft had not had the experience of landing on her flight deck for some five months, and the touch-and-go exercise in these circumstances was designed to give pilots practice at touching down, before their aircraft were actually arrested and taken on board. In other words, the touch-and-go exercises were in the nature of a refresher course. These exercises are carried out firstly by day, and then by night, with a view to the carrier taking the aircraft on board at a later stage. It was contemplated that the aircraft would be taken on board on 12th February, 1964, that is two days after the collision.

I have already indicated that operations of this kind, being conducted at night, require the presence of a plane guard destroyer whose sole task is to be at readiness to pick up the crew of any aircraft which is forced to land in the water. In other words, the presence of a destroyer was essential for this purpose whether or not that destroyer was otherwise engaged in the work-up programme.

In the case of Voyager, however, two ends were served at one and the same time. She filled the role of plane guard while her officers and crew derived such advantages as accrued from her participation in the work-up programme.

The ships sailed from Sydney on the 6th February, 1964. Each had done certain post refit trials and Voyager had come up from Port Phillip to Sydney beforehand. Apart from this, however, the vessels, as then officered and manned, had not previously been to sea.

The work-up programme was tendered, but is the subject of security classification so that I do not propose to refer to it in detail even in respect of the period up to the lOth February. It may be said, however, that it involved, up to that time, the ships carrying out some exercises individually and some in company. When operating together the ships did so under the command of Captain Robertson as Officer in Tactical Command.

The exercises that the two ships carried out together involved in the main: (a) Replenishments; (b) Early warning exercises; (c) Radio sea trials.

The replenishment involves a heaving line transfer from one ship to the other for the purpose of transferring mail, or something of that kind, or for re-fuelling purposes. It required the ships to travel on the same course at very close range. It was done at speeds up to 12 knots, and obviously called for some precision and nicety of judgment, especially on the part of Voyager, which had to come alongside

Melbourne. The replenishment exercises were carried out in daylight.

The early warning exercises were exercises concerned with the radar equipment on each vessel.

The radio sea trials involved a number of turns together of 360° for the purpose of calibrating certain radio direction finding equipment on Melbourne. These trials were carried out with the ships four or five miles apart.

In addition, Melbourne and Voyager were engaged together during 8th and 9th February, 1964, in recovering a battle practice target which had broken adrift. At one stage Voyager was stationed 1 ,000 yards astern of Melbourne.

It will be seen that up to the night of the collision Voyager had not previously been required to act as plane guard, nor had turns together at a range closer than four miles been conducted. Such turns had not been carried out at speeds greater than 10 knots. Despite this, the two ships, travelling at 20 knots and 22 knots respectively, executed turns together of 180° at 1750 hours and 190° at 2042 hours on the

night of the collision, in what appears to have been an efficient manner.

It is tl'te destroyer's obligation to keep station on the carrier during such a turn. Captain Stevens had not, ex'cept for the turns done during the radio sea trials, carried out a turn of this kind since the previous August but up to that time he had been continuously at sea since the beginning of 1963 and



would have performed the exercise many times during the year. Moreover, his Navigating Officer, Lieutenant Cook, had come from the position of Navigating Officer on H.M.S. Caesar, a Royal Navy Daring Class destroyer, which had been operating in Far Eastern waters and would have frequently carried out this type of manoeuvre.

While the experience of Lieutenant Price, the Officer of the Watch, may have been limited, it does that Voyager's Captain and Navigating Officer were amply qualified to participate with Melbourne

in turns together, even though they may not have performed one at close range for some few months. Rear Admiral Becher and Captain Robertson confirmed that this was so. The fact that they were still participating in the early stages of the work-up programme and had not been together for long was a circumstance demanding vigilant supervision on the part of the more experienced officers, but not one

which should have prejudiced their capacity to carry out the manoeuvre successfully.

It is true the turns together undertaken on that night were the only ones in which the vessels had participated together at the range and speed required.

lt is also true that the turns themselves were incidental to but were not themselves specified in the scheduled programme. They were not anticipated from the start, but were necessitated by the weather conditions if aircraft and ships were to adhere to the scheduled programme. They were manoeuvres which experienced officers must have contemplated as possible in the conditions which prevailed.

The fact that such conditions may be encountered, perhaps unexpectedly, at night in the initial stages of a work-up programme suggests that some similar exercise by the vessels in daytime might, with advantage, precede an initial touch-and-go exercise at night.

One other factor which may be of some significance in relation to the collision is the nature and length of the programme which preceded the touch-and-go exercises. Melbourne and Voyager were in Jervis Bay from midday on Sunday 9th February until the early morning of Monday lOth February. Voyager left at 0700 hours and Melbourne at 0730 hours. Voyager had bombardment exercises from 0830 hours untill030 hours. She was working with one of the submarines from 1300 hours until l800 hours

carrying out anti-submarine exercises, with the submarine submerged.

Melbourne was engaged for the greater part of the day in carrying out touch-and-go exercises. The flying programme for these started at 0930 hours and continued until 1530 hours, with a break of one hour. The log shows that these exercises were followed by radar trials with a Gannet aircraft and that between 1600 hours and 1700 hours Melbourne was engaged in launching and recovering a helicopter and in

launching a Gannet aircraft.

At 1800 hours Voyager joined Melbourne and between 1830 and 1930 hours she took part with Melbourne in some radio sea trials. This, in itself, seems a somewhat lengthy programme involving a good deal of concentration and responsibility for those in charge. In these circumstances it was perhaps unfortunate that the nature of the wind was such as to necessitate the degree of turning together which

in the result the touch-and-go exercise involved.

There can be no question but that the two ships were suitable for the task in which they were engaged. Indeed they were the very vessels required for touch-and-go exercises at night.

As to the preparedness of the ships and their equipment, the following appears from the evidence: (a) The main engines of each vessel were operating efficiently . (b) The steering engines were in order. (c) The gyros were functioning properly.

(d) With the exeption of a possible defect in the short range radar on Voyager to which 1 have earlier referred, the radar equipment on both vessels was in order. (e) The tactical primary net over which all material signals were sent was working properly.

(f) The appropriate lights on each vessel were burning. (g) There is some evidence in relation to Voyager that she was carrying port wheel, and that the self­ centering equipment in relation to the wheel was not working. Neither of these factors, however, had any bearing on the collision.

(h) There were some deficiencies, not relevant to the navigation of the vessels, but to rescue operations, which I refer to under the last term of reference.

T conclude therefore that the ships and their equipment were in a proper state of preparedness for the exercise. With regard to the preparedness of the crews, I propose to consider the position in relation to officers and men respectively. In dealing with the first term of reference T have already set out in some detail the

experience of the Captain, the Navigating Officer and the Officer of the Watch in each vessel. These v.:ere the officers who had charge of the navigation of the vessels, Captain Robertson having the over all tacttcal command of them both.


I have already referred to the fact that Captain Robertson had not been to sea for three years, and that he had not prior to his then appointment commanded an aircraft carrier, nor been officer in tactical command of a carrier and another vessel.

While his lack of practical experience in that regard may account in some degree for the hesitation he, in my view, displayed during the last minute or so, it must be remembered that the primary cause of the collision was the final course followed by Voyager. Captain Stevens who was in command of her had been at sea during most of 1963. During that year he had on many occasions carried out the very type of exercise which was being undertaken on the night of the collision. From the point of view of recent sea-going experience he was therefore the most experienced officer engaged in the operation. No

possible criticism can be- directed against his appointment as Captain of Voyager.

Both Navigating Officers appear to have been well qualified and experienced. Commander Kelly had not been to sea for some twelve months. Prior to that, however, he had been on board Melbourne as its First Lieutenant, and would doubtless have kept watches on her on many occasions.

The Officers of the Watch each had limited experience. Sub-Lieutenant Bate had held a watchkeeping certificate only since 1st September, 1963. Taking into account the fact that Melbourne went in for refit on 16th September, 1963, he could not have been First Officer of the Watch on many occasions. He conceded in his evidence that he was relatively inexperienced.

Lieutenant Price, the Officer of the Watch on Voyager, had held a watchkeeping certificate for many years, but had worked almost continuously in mine-sweepers. The fact that he had many times engaged in turns together with other mine-sweepers would not necessarily have equipped him, from a practical point of view, for what was required of him on the night of the collision. His vessel was required to turn with a carrier, a vessel having vastly different characteristics from his own.

The following passage from the evidence of Tactical Operator Evans, to which I have already referred in another connection, is not unrevealing: " Whilst you were turning to starboard, to 020, did you hear any conversation between the officer of the watch and the captain?-Yes.

What did you hear?-1 heard the officer of the watch, or I presume it was the officer of the watch comment that we, meaning Voyager, seemed to be out of station a bit, and the captain replied that it was possibly due to the size of the ships and the different turning diameters they had and everything, and to get back into station as soon as possible. Did you hear anything after that with regard to getting into station ?-Yes; shortly after that the same person informed the captain that we were back in station."

It seems unlikely that Captain Stevens would have made this explanation to an officer he knew to be fully versed in the characteristics of the carrier.

Despite the limited experience of both officers of the Watch, I do not think that any criticism can properly be directed against their respective appointments. The inexperienced must gain experience. In their case it seems appropriate that they should do so in the course of a work-up programme under the supervision and with the benefit of advice from other experienced officers.

With regard to the crews, it appears from the evidence that 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the ratings on Melbourne and approximately 20 per cent. of the ratings on Voyager had little or no sea-going experience. This circumstance of itself, however, does not appear to have any relevance to the cause or causes of the collision.

Ratings who had important duties to perform on the night of the collision were the Chief Communications Yeomen and the Tactical Operators on each vessel. These were Chief Communications Yeomen Barker on Melbourne, and Cuilen on Voyager; and Leading Tactical Operator Everett on Melbourne and Tactical Operator Evans on Voyager.

The duties of the Chief Communications Yeomen were to advise the Captain of each vessel of all matters relating to signals and to supervise the passing and the receipt of signals by the Tactical Operators. The Tactical Operators were the ratings actually concerned with the passing and receiving of signals. There is nothing in the evidence to suggest that Chief Communications Yeomen or Tactical Operators did not properly carry out the duties assigned to them on the night of the collision.

Other ratings who had significant duties to perform were in the wheelhouse of each vessel. At the wheel of Melbourne was Leading Seaman Luke, while Voyager's wheel was manned by Able Seaman Hale. Leading Seaman Luke was a qualified Quartermaster, and Able Seaman Hale in Voyager, "a very senior Able Seaman ", was operating the wheel in the presence of Leading Seaman Sharkey, also a qualified Quartermaster. Those in the wheelhouse of each vessel were, in my view, properly fitted to perform their duties.

I find also that the personnel in each engine room were properly trained, competent and well fitted to carry out the tasks allotted to them.



Ordinary Seaman Russell was the starboard lookout in Melbourne and Ordinary Seaman Sumpter the port lookout in Voyager.

Ordinary Seaman Russell had just turned 17; he had joined the Navy on the 7th January, 1963 and Melbourne on 13th January, 1964. He had had one hour's prior experience as a lookout at night, but not while manoeuvres of the type being carried out on the lOth February, 1964 were being performed. He had been on duty only six minutes when the collision occurred .

. Ordinary Seaman Sumpter was 18 years of age and had joined the Navy on the 29th July, 1963. His only sea-going experience prior to joining Voyager when it left Port Phillip in January, 1964 was one day in H.M.A.S. Derwent.

Captain Peek, as he then was, was questioned about this matter and said: " I think I could say it was the normal thing to use the young and inexperienced ratings as lookouts. They are trained what to do as lookouts. They are under a certain amount of observation, in the sense that if they do not report something they are picked up for it, and if they do see something before the officer of the watch they are congratulated

on it. It builds up their status in their own mind. It is the most suitable position for a young rating when he first comes to sea. It is not a job requiring skill. It requires them to use their eyes and to report in accordance with a method they have been·taught. Lookout is not a substitute for looking out from the bridge itself?-In no sense. It is a fact that with experience you can see much better, particularly at night, than even the best eyesight."

The evidence was that their task was not to report the position of another ship in company with their own ship, but to report new objects as they appeared.

Despite this and the evidence of Captain Peek, Sumpter just prior to the collision called out" Bridge ". It may well be that a more experienced look-out on the night in question would have drawn the attention of Voyager's bridge to the dangerous situation that was developing, at an earlier stage. In saying this I am not making any criticism whatever of Sumpter. Lieutenant Perrett and Engine Room Artificer White

who were standing on the deck of Voyager but who were not on duty, appear to have been well aware of the seriousness of the situation for at least a minute before the impact.


At 2100 hours Melbourne sent the following message to the Naval Air Station, Nowra: "SEND TWO WESSEX IMMEDIATELY AND ALL OTHER WESSEX AT READINESS. 2.-SEND ALL S.A.R. (Search and Rescue Vessels) TO ME. POSITION 292 PP (Point Perpendicular) 20." At 2105 hours Melbourne sent the following message to the Flag Officer in Charge, East Australia Area:


The position 292° Point Perpendicular 20 was not correct because it indicated Melbourne's position as being West of Point Perpendicular instead of East. At best it indicated a position on a bearing of 112° the reciprocal of 292°. The message was corrected at 2140 hours by a signal which stated that the bearing was, in fact, 112°. It will be seen, however, that this bearing is different from that contained in the signal to the Flag Officer in Charge, East Australia Area, which is 120°.

Melbourne's Ship's Log records the position at 2059 hours as Point Perpendicular light 313 ° Cape St. George (19 . 2 miles). This indicates the position more accurately than the mesasges, placing Melbourne at the time at a point 133° Point Perpendicular.

In the result no confusion was caused by the first signal. Those at the Naval Air Station were well aware of Melbourne's position, more particularly because they were despatching aircraft to Melbourne at the time of the collision. Neither the search and rescue vessels nor the helicopters had any difficulty in finding Melbourne when they went to rescue survivors.

Melbourne struck Voyager at the after end of ber bridge. Captain Robertson had just prior to the collision passed the order " full astern both engines ", but the order had not appreciably affected Melbourne's movement through the water. Melbourne's bows heeled Voyager over on to her starboard side to an angle of about 50 degrees. A flash appeared to come from Voyager's " A " boiler, and she emitted high pressure steam and black smoke. Debris, including the revolution table from Voyager's

bridge and a pair of binoculars, was thrown up on to Melbourne's flight deck. The de: troyer was pushed bodily through the water for a few seconds and then broke in half. Her bow section passed down the port side of Melbourne and her stern section down Melbourne's starboard side. Melbourne was stopped very shortly after the collision, and her danbuoy marker with cariey float attached was slipped to mark the datum. Melbourne drifted away to a range of about 1000 yards and then subsequently, at about 2310 hours, came back towards the stern sectic•n of Voyager. Melbourne had to use her engines to avoid a

second contact.



Immediately after the bow section of Voyager broke away it turned on to its starboard side, remained there for a short time, and then turned completely upside down. According to an exhibit prepared by Captains Peek and Stevenson, there would appear to have been in the bow section or on its deck, including the bridge, approximately 225 men. Of these 144 survived and 81 (including one dockyard employee) were lost. It is not known whether Midshipman Marien, who lost his life when trying to save others, was in the bow or the stern section at the time of the collision. He brings the number lost to 82 . Of the 81 who were lost (excluding Midshipman Marien), there appear to have been nine on the compass

platform and eight on deck as seaboat crew or duty watch.

Of the 144 survivors, 3 were from the compass platform and 13 were on seaboat or duty watch. This would leave 128 men who escaped from inside the bow section. A few of these went through holes made in the ward room and other parts of the ship, but the means of escape available for the majority of the men were through the escape hatches in the various compartments or messes of the bow section .

Because Voyager turned on to her starboard side none of the escape hatches on the starboard side was available for use. Six escape hatches were available on the port side, but one of these could not be opened.

The compartments were as follows: No. I Mess was compartment 2C. The forward cafeteria was compartment 2D. No. 3 Mess was compartment 3CZ.

No. 4 Mess was compartment 3DA. No. 5 Mess, Petty Officer (Mechanical Engineers) Sleeping Space, was compartment 3DZ. Petty Officers Recreation Space was compartment 3E.

No difficulty was experienced in opening the escape hatch in compartment 2C. [t appears that those in this compartment at the time of the collision, about 21 in number, escaped through the hatch into the water. It was used subsequently by others who had come into the compartment from other parts of the ship, and about 55 men in all appear to have escaped through this hatch. ·

There were about 60 men in compartment 2D, the forward cafeteria, where a game of tombola was being played at the time of the collision. The collision caused a considerable amount of turmoil and confusion in this compartment arising from the movement of tables, lockers and other pieces of furniture which had become detached as a result of the impact. When the bow section heeled sharply to starboard

the furniture, and probably many of the men, were thrown to the starboard side of the ship. In the turmoil, no doubt, many were injured, stunned and possibly pinned down by the wreckage. The evidence indicates that a number of men in the compartment were either killed or badly injured as a direct result of the collision.

It appears that either because of damage to the compartment itself, or because a hatchway door was open, there was a sudden inrush of water about 3 or 4 minutes after the collision which practically filled the compartment. An attempt was made to shut the hatchway, but the surge of water was too great to enable this to be done. It appears that a number of the men in the compartment were drowned when the

water surged in.

At this time the hatch on the starboard side was under water. An attempt was made to open the escape hatch on the port side of the compartment. The wheel, which is turned to open the hatch, could not be moved by hand, nor with the aid of a piece of pipe, there being no wheel spanner immediately available. A stoker eventually produced a wheel spanner, but the hatch still could not be opened with it.

This hatch may have buckled in the collision. After this attempt failed the men began to seek other means of escape. Some escaped through the hatch in compartment 2C, but the water soon rose to the level of the hatch and commenced to pour into the compartment leaving about 12 to 15 men trapped inside. Others escaped through the hatch in No. 5 Mess. They were assisted through the hatch in an orderly fashion by Leading Seaman Rich.

The remainder of the men were trapped inside compartment 2D. After the attempt to shut the hatchway door leading into that compartment had failed the men started singing "Waltzing Matilda " and Chief Petty Officer Rogers, who it appears had realised by reason of his size that he had little chance of getting through an escape hatch himself, concentrated on keeping the men calm and organizing their escape. He led them in a prayer and a hymn. It is quite apparent from the evidence of the men who escaped from this compartme11t that Chief Petty Officer Rogers displayed the highest degree of self-sacrifice

and courage in aiding his companions without hope for himself.

The battery operated emergency lighting in compartment 2D did not function. This could have been due to damage caused by the collision, for the emergency lighting functioned adequately in some other compartments of the ship.



Number 3 Mess was on lower deck No. 3 and it had one hatch, fortunately, on the port side. It was opened readily by hand without the need of a wheel spanner. The emergency lighting came on. It has been estimated that 10 to 12 men were in this compartment and they all escaped through the hatch.

No. 4 Mess was on lower deck No. 3 and like No. 3 Mess had one escape hatch on the port side. Considerable difficulty was encountered in opening the hatch. Four men tried to turn the wheel by hand, then a spanner (of a different type to the wheel spanners) was applied without success. Finally, after about five minutes, it was opened with a steel bar inserted through the spokes of the wheel and used as a lever.

The difficulty encountered in opening this hatch could have been due to an incident described by one witness, Leading Seaman Low, who said that on the Thursday prior to the collision, when the ship was in Sydney Harbour, it was being loaded with ammunition from a lighter. The lighter was underneath the hatch and as the ammunition was taken off, so the lighter rose until it jammed against the hatch.

Leading Seaman Low thought this incident caused the hatch to become buckled.

The emergency lighting in No. 4 Mess did not come on, possibly because of damage caused by the collision, but a light was obtained from the Stores Department and brought into the mess. Prior to this the mess was pitch black, and it was only because the light was produced that it was possible to find the steel bar used to open the hatch.

lt seems certain that everyone in the mess, estimated at between 9 and 11 men, was able to escape. Leading Seaman Graham held the light so that the others could see to get out. When only he and two others remained in the compartment the hatch door was washed closed by the sea. One of the three then climbed through the hatchway and held the cover open until the other two escaped. By this time the water

was coming through the hatch in a continuous stream. Before Leading Seaman Graham went through the hatch he called out to ascertain whether anyone was left inside. There was no reply.

ln No. 5 Mess there was also one escape hatch on the port side. It was opened without any trouble shortly after the collision. There were about six men in the mess and they all appear to have escaped. It is not clear whether it was necessary to use a wheel spanner to open this hatch, nor whether the emergency lighting functioned. It is probable that the hatch was opened by hand.

The Petty Officers' Recreation Space, compartment 3E, had one escape hatch on the port side and difficulty was experienced with it. It was eventually opened with a mop handle put through the wheel and used as a lever. The evidence discloses that there was no wheel spanner attached to the nearby chain as there should have been. There is evidence that spanners were at times detached from their chains and

used for turning valves and other purposes. There is also evidence that a spanner was near this escape hatch a fortnight before the collision, but, perhaps, not attached to its chain. There were about 14 men in the compartment and they were all able to make their escape. The emergency lighting functioned.

The matters to which I have referred may be summarised as follows: 1. Hatches in Messes 1, 3 and 5 opened easily and probably without the need to use wheel spanners.

2. The hatch in compartment 3E opened after some difficulty had been experienced. No spanner was available either because it was not in its proper position attached to the chain, or because it had fallen away on impact and could not be found. The difficulty encountered in opening the hatch did not, however, cause any loss of life because all the men in the compartment appear to

have escaped in good time. 3. The delay in opening the hatch in No. 4 Mess could have been tragic, but in fact no loss of life was occasioned thereby. Leading Seaman Graham and his two companions did not escape until water was actually entering the hatch. lf the bar which was used to open the hatch had not been

found with the aid of the light brought from the Stores Department, all or some of these men may have been lost. 4. It is difficult to draw firm conclusions about the failure to open the hatch in the forward cafeteria. It is possible that had it been opened a number of men in that compartment might have escaped.

1t may be that the hatch was covered with water at the time the attempt to open it was being made. The position of the men in the cafeteria was made worse because of water which entered through a hatchway door. It may well be that if the escape hatch could have been opened without difficulty there would have been time for some to escape. 5. The evidence indicates that in the case of three hatches which men sought to open, spanners were

not available. ln truth, on the night of the collision it appears that 11 hatches were without spanners. A muster carried out on the preceding Friday revealed their absence. A requisition for further spanners had been made but not met at the time of the collision.

On this aspect it is perhaps sufficient to say that the circumstances of this collision emphasise for wheel spanners to be readily available at all times, and that hatches should themselves be mamtamed in such a condition that they can be readily opened in case of emergency. There does not appear to have been any Joss of life due to the absence of wheel spanners.



The after section kept afloat until OOI7 hours on II th February, I964. At the time of the collision most of the men were below deck and after the collision they began to emerge on to the deck. They were warned by Leading Seaman Riseley, who was on Melbourne, to keep on the starboard side because Melbourne's aerials were lying outboard, and he feared that the men might have been injured by the aerials as Voyager scraped down Melbourne's starboard side.

An inspection of the damage to the after section was made in an endeavour to ascertain whether it could be salvaged. An emergency bulkhead between the forward boiler room and forward engine room was shut, all necessary precautions were taken in the engine room to minimize the risk of explosion and further damage, and an auxiliary diesel lighting plant was started.

A few of the men were badly injured by the collision and were taken to the sick bay. About half an hour after the collision, a decision was made to abandon ship when the bulkhead immediately forward of the after boiler room collapsed causing the head of the section to plunge downwards into the water and the stern to rise in the air. The section then settled down at an angle of about 30 degrees to the surface of the water. It was thought by some that the section would sink in about five minutes. Most of the life rafts had already been thrown into the water and inflated and had been left attached to the ship's rail in readiness fo r the abandonment. The injured were lowered into the rafts and on the order to abandon ship the others jumped into the water. Some climbed aboard the rafts which were then broken adrift from the ship, and

others remained for a time in the water and swam the rafts away.

The evidence as to the after section justifies the following conclusions: I. Although certain men were injured there was no loss of life, apart from: (i) those killed on impact in the torpedo tube space and A Boiler Room; (ii) Midshipman Marien, if he were in the after section. This is by no means certain, although

he was seen swimming near a raft from the after section when it was still alongside the ship. 2. All those still alive after the impact got into life rafts and were rescued.

These conclusions in themselves say much for the efficiency with which the operations were conducted and for the commendable absence of panic among the men.


Within 30 to 40 minutes after the collision, Melbourne's sea boat and motor boat had picked up about 50 men from the water. Those were men who had nothing, or nothing substantial, to support them, and comprised those who were either thrown into the sea on impact, or who came through holes or escape hatches shortly thereafter.

Those who were not taken straight from the water into boats made their way to life rafts or other substantial objects from which they were later taken by search and rescue vessels or by Melbourne's boats. In some cases the rafts themselves were towed by boats to Melbourne's side, and the men clambered up scrambling nets on to the ship.

The men from the after section had an adequate number of rafts for their needs. There was no suggestion, so far as they were concerned, that any overcrowding occurred, or that, when by misadventure some of the rafts were punctured, the men were placed in difficulty, for they were able to find adequate space on the other rafts in the vicinity.

The survivors from the after section took the precaution of tying the rafts together so that they could assist one another.

There were two rafts which carried out an important role in the rescue of the men from the forward section. They were the rafts under the control of Petty Officer Moore and Leading Seaman Rich.

Great tribute was paid to Petty Officer Moore by the men in his raft for his courage and resourcefulness in keeping the men together, without which assistance it is reasonable to assume that some men might well have lost their lives.

At one stage as the evidence shows, there were between 40 and 50 men either inside or around that raft, a raft designed to accommodate only 20 men. There were more men around the raft than the hand lines could accommodate, and it was necessary for some to take it in turns to swim whilst others rested by holding on to these lines. Cramp overcame some of the men and they then joined others, including

the injured, in the raft.

The position was relieved when Melbourne's motor boat took some of the men from the raft, but this still left between 30 and 40 men. Their rescue was not effected until they were taken aboard one of the search and rescue craft.



With regard to the other raft, Leading Seaman Rich described how, after escaping from the forward section, he organised the men who were swimming in the water near him into a group so that they could help each other. A life raft was discovered and the men, about 19 in all, got into it. Leading Seaman Rich took control of the raft and, with a torch, searched the area to see whether anyone was still in the water. He saw a man a short distance away who appeared to be sinking. He dived into the water and dragged him to the raft by his overalls. The men were in the life raft for approximately two hours before they were picked up and taken aboard Melbourne.

Melbourne's carley float had been ordered away very shortly after the collision. It was an aircrew emergency raft kept on the port quarter of Melbourne together with the danbuoy. The carley raft will support a number of men in the water. The danbuoy marked the datum for the search as the prevailing set carried the swimmers, the ships and the debris in a southerly direction. The danbuoy supported about six men.

A number of inflatable life rafts were released from Melbourne, scrambling nets were prepared, gangways rigged forthwith, and preparations were made to receive survivors.


According to Melbourne's Jog, "Away all boats" was piped at 2057 hours, that is within a minute after the collision.

Melbourne normally carried the following boats as part of her equipment: 3 Motor cutters 2 Motor boats 1 Admiral's barge

1 Whaler 2 Sailing dinghies.

Each of the motor cutters was capable of holding 31 men. A motor boat accommodates 32 men; the Admiral's barge and the whaler 40 and 15 respectively.

The evidence indicates that one motor cutter was completely unserviceable having been damaged in the previous week on the buoys at Kirribilli in Sydney Harbour. It was not in a condition to be used during any part of the night of lOth February.

Of the two remaining motor cutters, one was serviceable and manned as the ship's sea boat at the time of the collision, but unbeknown to its crew it had been damaged by the impact. It had to be repaired, but repairs were not effected until ·after it was launched and had rescued some 30 to 40 survivors in the fhst half hour or so after the collision.

The third motor cutter was serviceable so far as its hull was concerned, but certain parts of its engine had been dismantled and it was not in condition to be used immediately after the collision. Repairs were carried out to the engine and the boat was put into the water about half an hour after the collisiou.

Of the motor boats, one was not on board at all because it was undergoing a major refit at Garden Island. The other one was serviceable and it was used throughout the night.

The Admiral's barge was serviceable and it was also used.

The whaler was serviceable but difficulties were encountered in launching it, and it subsequently sank.

The sailing dinghies were serviceable, but were unsuitable for the task at hand.

It seems quite clear that the only boats suitable for use in the open sea were the motor cutters. It was said that the motor boat and the Admiral's barge were for use in harbour or calm waters only, and that the whaler and the sailing dinghies were for recreational purposes in calm waters.

The coxswain of the motor cutter ready for duty at the time of the collision was Leading Seaman Riseley. He supervised the first and third trips in this boat. He approached to within 20 yards of the bow section of Voyager and he heard cries from within this section as it was sinking. He was the first on the scene and concentrated on picking up individual survivors who had little or no support in the water. He was aided by an aldis lamp which was operated from the bow of the boat. It seems clear that a number

of men who were unfortunate enough not to have anything to support them in the water were rescued as a result of the efficiency and perseverance displayed by Leading Seaman Riseley. His conduct is the more commendable having regard to the fact that his boat had been holed in the collision. He picked up almost 40 survivors, the first one 15 or 20 minutes after the collision.


The coxswain on the second trip of this motor cutter was Leading Seaman Blaxter. Between the first and the second trip the cutter was hoisted, drained, and the damage repaired. He searched for survivors in the water and finding none proceeded to two life rafts which had survivors on them. He started to tow them back to the ship, but this made the motor cutter difficult to manoeuvre. At this time a search and rescue vessel arrived and took the survivors from both life rafts on board. The motor cutter then rescued survivors from two other life rafts and returned with them to Melbourne.

The coxswain of the remaining motor cutter was Petty Officer Johnson. This boat was put into the water at about 2120 hours and the survivors picked up by it were mainly from rafts. Johnson made three trips, the last finishing at 0045 hours.

The Adminil's barge was in the charge of Sub-Lieutenant Hiron and was in the water 15 to 20 minutes after the collision. Hiron picked up the bodies of Lieutenant Cook and Able Seaman Parker. The barge towed rafts to Melbourne, and about 30 men were taken by the barge itself. Attempts to hoist the barge on to Melbourne were unsuccessful and it was ultimately towed to Jervis Bay.

The coxswain on the first trip of the motor boat was Leading Seaman Kelly who, like Riseley, concentrated on picking up survivors in the water who had little or nothing to support them. The trip took about 30 minutes and he rescued about 15 men.

Petty Officer Wainwright took the boat on its second trip. The boat returned to the rescue area and picked up about lO men from a raft which was deflating. Others were rescued from the danbuoy, carley flo at and several life buoys tied together. This boat then came upon the raft of which Petty Officer Moore was in charge. Wainwright took on board the injured and as many other men from this raft as the boat would hold, and then returned to Melbourne.

Petty Officer True made another trip in the boat and picked up about 30 ratings and returned them to Melbourne. The boat then conducted a search of the area and returned at 0100 hours. Petty Officer Quinton was the coxswain of the whaler which was lowered after some difficulty at about 2120 hours. Over the last five or six feet it fell and on hitting the water shipped about three inches of water. This occurrence probably opened up the seams causing the boat to take more water. Those in charge endeavoured to tow rafts for a time but the whaler filled with water, and the crew were taken on to

rafts or on to one of Melbourne's boats. An attempt to lower one of the sailing dinghies proved a failure and the dinghy fell to the water from about 15 feet up. It floated just below the surface upside down. It was attached to a line from Melbourne but later it was necessary to cut it adrift. The dinghies could hardly have played an effective part in the rescue, and those in charge of the operations from Melbourne probably did not intend that they should

be used. When the three inflatable life rafts from Melbourne were put into the water, Petty Officer McGregor, Leading Cook Mancer, Leading Mechanical Engineer Thompson and Able Seaman Chad boarded them, and with oars paddled them near the stern section of Voyager which was about 200 yards astern of

Melbourne at the time. The whaler towed them for part of the distance. These rafts then drifted near to Voyager's rafts, one of which had 16 survivors in it and was collapsed. The men were transferred into one of Melbourne's rafts and the rafts were then all tied together. The motor boat arrived on the scene, picked up some of the men and the remainder were transferred to a motor cutter.

The position may be summarised by saying that Melbourne had one motor cutter in the water almost immediately after the collision and a motor boat and the Admiral's barge a short time thereafter. A second motor cutter was in the water some time later. Although the whaler was launched it did not, through misadventure, play any useful part in the rescue operations. It follows that with one motor cutter unserviceable, one motor boat not on board and the whaler out of action, only four of Melbourne's boats were used in the rescue operations.

I conclude that although all Melbourne's boats were not available, there is no ground for criticising those in charge of Melbourne in that regard. The boats that engaged in the rescue operations entered expeditiously upon the task and were handled with much skill. There seems little doubt that, but for the presence on the scene of the first motor cutter and the motor boat so soon after the collision, the loss of life would have been much greater.


The search and rescue vessels were Air Sprite and Air Nymph. These vessels are specially designed for search and rescue purposes. They are 73 feet in length and have a speed of up to 28 knots although they usually cruise at 23 knots. They were moored at the Marine Section of H.M.A.S. Creswell, Jervis Bay, for the purpose of carrying out any rescue operations connected with aircraft operating from the Naval Air Station at Nowra, H.M.A.S. Albatross. They were at readiness at the time of the collision.

The siren alerting the vessels was sounded at 2105 hours and Air Nymph left Jervis Bay two minutes later. She arrived on the scene at about 2215 hours, Air Sprite arriving five minutes later.



Lieutenant Stephen commanded Air Nymph. As soon as she reached Melbourne she passed around her stern at a slow speed. She had lights shining on the water on either side searching, but no men could be seen. She then proceeded towards the general direction of Voyager and came upon a motor cutter with two life rafts alongside. A doctor on board Air Nymph jumped into the motor cutter to help the injured, and the survivors were transferred to the rescue craft. She then proceeded to Melbourne and attempted on two occasions to come alongside, but, because of the heavy swell, this was impracticable. She returned to Jervis Bay with 34 survivors and arrived there at approximately 0100 hours on 11th


After the survivors had been taken off the vessel, she refuelled and returned to the scene, reaching there at about 0300 hours. Because the set had taken the datum further to the south, the return involved a journey of 1-i hours. Air Nymph took part in the search which was then under the supervision of H.M.A.S. Stuart. A search plan had been drawn up and Stuart instructed Air Nymph to cover the south eastern sector of the plan. On searching this sector Air Nymph recovered articles from Voyager, but

did not find any further survivors. The search continued until approximately 0800 hours when Air Nymph's shortage of fuel necessitated her return to Jervis Bay.

Under the command of Lieutenant Paul, Air Nymph again left Jervis Bay at 1135 hours, arriving in the search area at about 1430 hours. She continued to search until 1800 hours without result and was then ordered to return to base.

Air Sprite was under the command of Sub-Lieutenant Vodic. On hearing the siren he hurried to the Marine Section of H.M.A.S. Creswell and took command of the vessel which was the stand-by rescue craft. He proceeded to the scene of the collision at 23 knots arriving there at 2220 hours. Some time after, Air Sprite approached the life raft of which Petty Officer Moore had taken charge, and recovered the survivors who numbered 36. She approached Melbourne, reported the number of survivors and was then

ordered to return to Jervis Bay. After the survivors had been taken ashore, and Air Sprite refuelled, she slipped from the jetty at 0215 hours and proceeded back to the search area. On arrival at approximately 0400 hours she was ordered by Stuart to search in the north eastern sector. The search continued in this sector until approximately 0530 hours when Air Sprite was instructed to investigate life rafts and recover

any survivors. No survivors were sighted. Air Sprite returned to Jervis Bay, arriving there at 1040 hours. A fresh crew took over and the craft left at 1135 hours under the command of Lieutenant Mentz.

Air Sprite arrived at the datum at approximately 1400 hours. Stuart instructed her along with Air Nymph to carry out a search around the datum at a 10 miles radius, Air Sprite taking the southern half and Air Nymph taking the northern half. Air Sprite made one complete box search of its area without result. The search was discontinued at 1800 hours when Air Sprite returned to Jervis bay, arriving there at approximately 2240 hours.


Helicopters were stationed at the Naval Air Station at Nowra.

There is always one helicopter on stand-by when flying operations are being conducted, as was the case on lOth February. Lieutenant Lea said that the alerting siren sounded at 2105 hours and he scrambled at 2107 hours, arriving at the scene of the collision at about 2121 hours.

The second helicopter arrived at 2135 hours. The main part played by the helicopters was to assist in pin-pointing the whereabouts of survivors either in the water or on rafts. This was done by hovering and sweeping their powerful landing lights over the sea. One of the helicopters did rescue one officer, Lieutenant Face, who with Petty Officer Curtis and Ordinary Seaman Sumpter were in the water supported by a cane fender. The helicopter hovered overhead and dropped a strop. Lieutenant Face attempted to induce Sumpter and then Curtis to take the strop

but they would not do so. He then swam to the strop and was rescued by the helicopter. The strop was lowered again, but the two men declined to be rescued in this manner.

Although eight helicopters were used during the night, it was not considered advisable to have more than two operating over the actual scene at any one time, and the remainder were kept at readiness either on Melbourne, hovering near the scene, or at Nowra. It appears that attempts made by helicopters to rescue men from the water caused them to be confused by the. unusual circumstances of the rotor down draught and spray. Tt was therefore decided that

unless a serious existed it was not practicable, due to the blinding effect of lights, spray and the unfamiliarity of survivors with winching techniques, to attempt any further rescues with helicopters.

Helicopters took part in the search conducted on 11th and 12th February. They covered the areas adequately and thoroughly, and the evidence establishes that they did not detect any The crews made a final search down the coast to the limits of their endurance, and the range of thetr craft, close to the surface of the water. They played a most efficient and effective part in the search.



Gannets, which are anti-submarine aircraft, were brought into the search after first light on Tuesday, 11th February, and their search extended throughout the whole of that day under the control of Stuart. They searched throughout an area of up to ten miles of the datum, while Wessex and Sycamore helicopters concentrated in the immediate area of the wreckage.

The Gannets were assisted from about 1245 hours by Neptune aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force.

Four Gannets on 12th February also searched very thoroughly without finding any survivors.

On 13th, two Gannets continued the search which ended in a similar way and finally on the 14th, a Dakota aircraft which had a much longer endurance and greater range than the Gannets, covered the relevant area. The Gannets also participated by searching along the coast for bodies or wreckage that may have been washed ashore.

I have no doubt that the aircraft conducted a most careful thorough and systematic search of all relevant areas. In the case of the Gannets the sorties were maintained even to the point where command was in doubt as to the ability of the crews to continue because of fatigue.


H.M.A.S. Stuart, a frigate, was under the command of Commander Maloney. She was exercising with the submarine H.M.S. Tabard at the time of the collision. She was directed to go to the area by a signal from the Flag Officer in Charge East Australia Area, Rear Admiral Gatacre, received at 2220 hours, that is about I hour 20 minutes after the collision. Stuart was then about 20 miles to the north. She arrived at the datum at 2345 hours and proceeded to circle slowly round the wreck of Voyager. An inspection of the life rafts was made to see whether any survivors remained on them. Melbourne handed over the search and rescue operations to Stuart at about 0230 hours on the 11th February and the search

was continued until 1800 hours on that day. Commander Maloney indicated that his search covered a wide area, had been intensive and that no survivors or bodies were recovered. Commander Maloney said that it was probably fair to say that the ship covered the area around the danbuoy laid by Melbourne to an extent of about 10 miles in diameter, and well to the south-south and west of the danbuoy, in case survivors had drifted with the southerly set.

Stuart was assisted by five mine-sweepers, H.M.A.S. Hawk, Ibis, Curlew, Snipe and Teal; the submarine H.M.S. Tabard; and the two search and rescue vessels, Air Sprite and Air Nymph. In addition, as already mentioned, there were the helicopters, Gannets and Neptune aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force. Hawk, Ibis and Curlew had been alerted on the evening of the collision at 2150 hours when they were at anchor in Jervis Bay. They were informed of the collision and instructed to attend the scene by a message sent by a work boat after attempts by Commander Richards, Executive Officer, H.M.A.S. Creswell, to signal them by motor car lights had failed. The absence of other means to convey the message would of course be strange if H.M.A.S. Creswell were a Naval Base and not a Naval College. As a Naval College it is not intended nor equipped for active operations and at that time of night was closed down. In the circumstances Commander Richards is to be commended for his activity.

They left at about 2200 hours on lOth February, arriving at about 2240 or 2245 hours.

H.M.A.S. Snipe and Teal were on passage to Jervis Bay from Sydney and arrived at the search area at 0330 hours on II th February. Teal was forced to returu to Sydney with engine trouble but rejoined the search in the forenoon of 11th February. Hawk, Ibis and Curlew commenced their search under the command of Melbourne and continued under H.M.A.S. Stuart when she took charge of the operations.

Hawk recovered the body of Captain Stevens at about 0130 hours on the 11th, after the body had been located in the water by one of the helicopters. .

H.M.A.S. Stuart did not herself take part in any further search after 1800 hours on lith February. The five mine-sweepers however, although they had returned to Jervis Bay on II th February, commenced a further search at first light on 12th February and continued throughout that day and the following day.

I trust that this somewhat lengthy and discursive account of the activities of those who took part in the rescue operations will serve to emphasize the thoroughness with which the task of rescuing survivors was undertaken. I am satisfied that everything was done which could be done to ensure that all survivors of the collision were rescued. Great credit is, I think, due to those members of the Royal Australian Navy who, faced with a sudden incredible emergency, undertook their various tasks promptly, efficiently and with perserverance and courage to the very limit of their resources.




Immediate steps were taken after the collision to light the area with Melbourne's flight deck lights and other lights in various sections of the ship, and preparations were made to receive survivors. The ward-room area of the ship and C. hangar were quickly prepared, and were ready to receive survivors within 30 minutes of the collision. The sick bay and operating theatre were available for casualties. The first survivors were received on board within 45 minutes. By 0130 hours most of the reception of survivors

was complete. Some 12 to 14 of the survivors were seriously injured.

Additional medical officers were flown from Nowra and they arrived on board at about 2330 hours.

While survivors were being brought on board other members of the ship's company, not actively engaged in rescue operations, assisted survivors to wash and remove oil and by supplying them with warm clothing and otherwise attending to their needs. Continuous rounds of all the survivors were carried out throughout the night.

All survivors in C hangar and the ward-room area on awakening the following morning, were re-assessed for 'injury by a medical officer and those requiring further treatment were assembled in A hangar. There were about 20 of these men , but none of them had serious injuries. The six most serious cases were transferred to Balmoral Naval Hospital by helicopter in the late forenoon and early afternoon. This was accomplished in two trips and a medical officer accompanied each trip.

The remaining seriously injured survivors were transferred to Balmoral by ambulance when Melbourne arrived in Sydney on Wednesday, 12th February. The other survivors ou her were taken to H.M.A.S. Watson. Some were again medically examined and then all survivors fit to travel were given leave.

The treatment received on Melbourne was highly praised by all survivors concerned and I am satisfied it was of a high order indeed.


Upon receipt of news of the collision it was realised at H.M.A.S . Creswell that survivors were likely to arrive, and some preparations for their reception were immediately put in train.

The ship's company was alerted to assist and the sick bay and spare ward room cabins were made ready to provide for casualties.

At approximately 0100 hours Air Nymph arrived with 34 survivors . Their names and particulars were taken and the uninjured were put straight into a bus which was standing by and taken to the ship's company quarters.

The injured survivors were transported by ambulance to the sick bay where a civilian doctor, Dr. Kingston of Nowra and Dr. Edna Beverley Edwards, the wife of Surgeon Lieutenant Edwards, were standing by to attend to them.

Air Sprite arrived about half an hour later with a further 36 survivors. They were similarly treated.

There were 12 injured from both craft.

At 0800 hours survivors were transported by bus to H.M.A.S. Penguin in Sydney. Two officers and eight ratings voluntarily stayed behind, to identify two bodies which were being returned to Jervis Bay in the Admiral's barge.

Pressmen from Sydney arrived at Jervis Bay in the early hours of 11th February. They were permitted to speak to any of the survivors who were awake and who were willing to speak to them.

Those of the injured who were not fit to travel were kept in the sick bay, and were subsequently conveyed to Sydney in the afternoon of the 11th February by bus, or by ambulance to Nowra and then by helicopter to Balmoral.

The survivors unaminously agreed that the treatment they received left nothing to be desired. 1t will be apparent that much praise is to be extended to those who took part.


In the main survivors who had long distances to travel to their homes were permitted to travel by air, and others travelled by train. There were but few complaints from survivors in this regard, and I do not think any criticism can justly be directed against those responsible for the arrangements.



A question was raised at one stage by Counsel assisting the Commission as to whether Captain Robertson was negligent in not sending out a general S.O.S. signal. Captain Robertson in his evidence says that the matter was one which was considered and discussed on the bridge and he decided against it. [ do not think it can properly be said that he was at fault in so deciding.

Melbourne herself was capable of rendering immediate assistance, and, in addition, the collision occurred in an area which was readily accessible to considerable expert search and rescue facilities, not only in the sea, but also in the air. That assistance was immediately sought, and the presence of merchant vessels in the area might have introduced some complications. Considerations of this kind properly weighed with Captain Robertson in making a judgment on this matter and I do not think his judgment was wrong. The closest vessel " Baralga " would not have reached the scene earlier than the search and rescue vessels from Jervis Bay. ln the event, as I hope I have already demonstrated, the search and rescue operations were effici ently carried out and I do not think any lives were lost by any deficiency in their execution.


There is a body of evidence which indicates that a number of men from Voyager encountered difficulty in remaining afloat once they had entered the water. These were men who were either washed into the sea on impact, or escaped through holes torn in the ship's side, or escape hatches, and found themselves in the water with little or nothing to support them. It must be said at once that the very suddenness of the impact, the difficulty that some men had in making their escape, the presence of injuries,

however minor, the darkness of the night, the swell and thick patches of oil on the water must have combined to create a situation in which even strong swimmers might have found difficulty in remaining afloat for very long. It may be, therefore, that many who by their cries or actions indicated an inability to swim were unable

to do so only by reason of the very conditions in which they found themselves. Steps are taken by the Navy to ensure that men can look after themselves in the water at least to some extent. Regulation 0846 of the Regulations and Instructions prescribes two tests of ability to swim, namely : ·

" Provisional test. To be carried out in a swimming pool or suitable shallow water. Standard test. To be carried out in the open sea or in any suitable enclosed deep water area. The provisional test is always to be carried out before the standard test is attempted. For each test the man is to be clothed, and is to swim 50 yards, after which he is to be able to keep himself afloat for three minutes. Qualifications in each test are to be awarded as follows:

' Fair ' Meaning that the man only just managed to pass, and should be given more instruction. ' Good' An average swimmer.

' Very Good' A strong swimmer."

It seems that on entering the Navy recruits are required to undergo the provisional swimming test. The evidence discloses that 285 ratings on Voyager had passed that test, but the standard at which each man passed is not indicated. It is significant that Able Seaman Glennie, who is not shown to have passed the test, escaped from the vessel but did not survive. On the other hand, Able Seaman Parker and Ordinary Seaman Bermingham, who also escaped but did not survive, are shown as having passed the provisional test.

Only two ratings were shown to have passed the standard test. It appears that this test had not been administered to the bulk of the ratings on board Voyager. The provisional test seems hardly sufficient to prepare a man to meet the hazards he may encounter in the open sea, particularly without the aid of life jackets. It does seem desirable that earlier training should be given in the open sea.

Having regard to the number of men obviously killed on impact or trapped inside the vessel, it seems unlikely that very many men were lost once they had escaped from the ship. Only four can be identified, namely the three already mentioned and Midshipsman Marien who was observed swimming in the water near one of the rafts from the after section .


On the lst May, 1964, there was carried out at Garden Island for the benefit of myself and Counsel engaged in the Commission a demonstration of the way in which the " 20-man Inflatable Life Rafts " are operated. A raft in packed condition was inspected. It was secured by a line and thrown into the water. The line was pulled and the life raft inflated. It was then swum by frogmen over to a pontoon where 1 examined the raft and the equipment it contained. All this served to emphasise the usefulness of a practical demonstration.



Also moored at Garden Island was the search and rescue vessel " Air Nymph" which had been used in the rescue operations. I made an inspection of this craft.

I should like to say that the demonstration and inspection have been of great help to me in appreciating some of the evidence in regard to the rescue of the survivors from Voyager.


On Voyager life jackets for the officers and men were stored, as on other naval vessels, in a store selected by the supply officer. The store may well have been in that part of the vessel which was hit by Melbourne.

In any event, it seems clear that, in the circumstances which prevailed that night, no life jackets were available for use by the men or were used by them.

The storing of life jackets in a particular store on naval vessels is in accord with a Naval Board directive which has operated in the Australian Navy. The position in the British Navy is the same.

In war time it is the practice to issue an inflatable life jacket to each officer and member of the crew. Each man carries his life jacket with him and it remains at all times in his possession.

At one time it was not the practice in peace time to have on the vessel life jackets for all on board. The directive to which I have already referred accompanied a change in policy under which inflatable life jackets were provided for every member of the ships company, together with a further 10% of that number for spares.

The circumstances of this collision serve to show that under existing storage arrangements life jackets, although on board, may be of no more use for life saving purposes than if they had been stored ashore.

The Royal Australian Life Saving Equipment Committee is alive to this problem and has already expressed views to the Naval Board in relation to it.

The most practical solution of the problem is not altogether easy to discover.

There are difficulties in the way of a personal issue in peace time. It would impede the individual in the performance of his duties and subject the jackets themselves to unnecessary deterioration due to exposure to heat, oil and like products, and to contact with machinery and other objects on the ship. There is also a further factor not to be disregarded, namely unfavorable human reaction by the men to a somewhat burdensome requirement which in peace time might well be regarded as unnecessary and

indeed silly. The difficulty of enforcing a requirement that a life jacket should always accompany each man would, I have no doubt, be much greater in peace time than in war.

The ideal solution is perhaps to be found in the storage of the life jackets in a variety of places such as main passageways and other areas through which members of the ships company are likely to pass in an emergency. I understand that the Committee to which I have referred has given consideration to the feasibility of this kind of solution.


[ should not, 1 think, conclude this report without recording some particularly outstanding incidents of leadership, bravery and self-sacrifice which accompanied this appalling disaster. In dealing with the rescue operations I have referred, in passing, to some of these incidents, but even at the risk of some repetition, it is appropriate I think than an account of some acts of outstanding merit should be rewarded in the language of men who participated.

I am indebted to Mr. Henchman, who appeared with Mr. Jenkyn, for reminding me of a number of such incidents which are to be found scattered throughout the mass of evidence which was presented to me, and the following references to such evidence are in the main a repetition of material he placed before me in the course of the final addresses.

Midshipman Marien, whom I have mentioned previously, is referred to by Mechanical Engineer Davis (page 2941). Davis says: " . . . someone came swimming up to me and said ' Do you need any help?' and I noticed that it was Midshipman Marien. I said no, that I did not need any help, and he said, ' I think there is someone up forward in the water. I will

go up there and see if they need a hand '."

Midshipman Marien did not survive and it would seem that although he had the chance of safety on the raft to which Davis was holding, he preferred to attempt to help someone else in need. Probably in so doing he lost his own life.


Reference has been made to Chief Petty Officer Rogers who made every endeavour to open the escape hatch in the cafeteria. In the words of Radar Plotter Low (page 2114): " He was telling everyone not to panic and we would all get out if they came through one at a time. He seemed very calm. I think he was more intent on getting the younger chaps out first before going out himself. I think perhaps he

might have known that he would never have got out, because he was really a large man, and I know I had some difficulty in getting through the escape hatch, and I do not think he would have. " • ..

He was the senior rating present. Leading Mechanical Engineer Ryan describes Chief Petty Officer Rogers' attempts to open the escape hatch, and says (page 3347): " The last thing that I can remember Coxswain Rogers saying was, 'Well, the waters beat us'. I did not see him again after this."

A ble Seaman Matthews says (page 3353): " I could hear the coxswain CPO Rogers, in the forward cafe, organising the escape of all the young fellows on the ship. I could hear him telling them not to panic, and he led them in a prayer and a hymn. Later on I heard him say to Leading Seaman Rich, ' I can't get out. You get all the young fellows out of the hatch'. He was a big man and could

not have got through the escape hatch, and I think that he helped to save many of the young fellows who were in the cafe."

As Mr. Henchman submitted, Chief Petty Officer Rogers maintained the naval tradition for calm courage and self-sacrifice in an emergency.

Petty Officer Moore, who survived, on the evidence of many witnesses, did a first class job. He assisted in opening the hatchway, assisted men out of the hatch, and finding an uninflated life raft inflated it and organised a number of men to swim to that raft. There is general agreement that Petty Officer Moore took complete charge of the raft, and in the words of Able Seaman Matthews (page 3354):

" Took charge of the life raft that I got to and he did a wonderful job in organising the injured into the life rafts and swam around the raft himself helping injured into the raft. He did a wonderful job." ·

He goes on: "If Petty Officer Moore had not taken over command of the raft I feel quite sure that it would have gone under." There are many tributes to Petty Officer Moore and a good deal can be gathered from reading between the lines of his own evidence (commencing at page 3140). It would seem he took his turn in the water, that he organised people to come to and hold on to the raft, that he took great care of the injured on board the raft, and that generally speaking he succeeded in keeping the men cheerful and confident while they were waiting for rescue. He deserves high commendation.

Of Leading Seaman Rich, Ordinary Seaman Brown says (page 3207): " About 20 yards from the ship's side one of the leading seamen was treading water and we used him as a rallying point. Everybody grouped around him. His name is Leading Seaman Rich."

Ordinary Seaman Brown joined this group; he heard a young lad cry out for help, saying that he could not swim, and he went over and held his head out of the water and between himself, Leading Seaman Rich and Ordinary Seaman Stephenson they saved this boy's life.

Leading Seaman Rich was said by Leading Mechanical Engineer Ryan to have helped Engine Room Artificer Steeden towards and into the raft. Steeden had taken a lot of oil and would not have made it without Rich.

It is also clear that Leading Seaman Rich supported Leading Seaman Patterson for some time. He got his men into a life raft, and got them singing. He set an excellent example.

Leading Seaman Ellis kept Able Seaman Glennie afloat as long as he could and finally was unable to save him (page 3271).

Perhaps one of the most remarkable examples of courage was that of Writer Grundy, who in total darkness in an upturned ship on his way to the escape hatch was pinned beneath furniture or a locker, and was unable to get out. When the men behind him asked him to go on he said, "I've had it." He said that for some reason or other the people behind him could not shift the locker. The next thing he remembered was saying " I will lift it up while you crawl underneath it." He then said, " I did a body press and raised the locker enough for them to crawl under ". ·

He said that Bell and Leading Seaman Rich got under the press and managed to get it off him. Grundy and the three of them got out of the hatch.

Writer Grundy also refers to Leading Seaman Rich pulling him up through the hatch opening when be was unable to hold on to an oily surface, and was about to fall back into the interior of the ship. He said that Leading Seaman Rich reached a raft, got on board it, and pulled the other people on board. He took complete charge of the raft.



Ordinary Seaman A. Stevenson, the once weight amateur champion of Victoria, said he found a drowning man and to use his own words, he said: " He was in such a state of panic that I gave him a punch · across the face which steadied him down considerably and I then got him in a life saving hold and I held on to him for between half an hour and three quarters of an hour. We

were both later taken on board one of the motor cutters."

Stevenson had a badly injured leg at the time of this incident.

Petty Officer Mechanical Engineer McDermott was in charge ofB boiler room of Voyager (page 2034). After the collision he assessed the damage, closed the hatches and air locks, and he remained in the boiler room for ten minutes, shutting down the high pressure boilers, at considerable risk to his personal safety, in order to ensure that the boiler did not explode, which would have caused disaster to those on the


Leading Sick Berth Attendant Wilson showed great courage when, although badly injured himself, he insisted on trying to carry on with his medical work until he was put into a raft.

There were many others, such as Petty Officer Worth, who appears to have saved Cook Rowe's life and who showed excellent discipline and courage throughout the incident. Of course, there were many examples of heroism of which the details will never be known. Men leaped into the water from the search and rescue craft and Melbourne's boats to save their comrades on many occasions.

When Melbourne launched her rafts from the stern Acting Petty Officer Cook Mancer jumped overboard from Melbourne and swam to the nearest raft and took it towards the position of Voyager.

Lieutenant Perrett speaks of the behaviour of the senior ratings as exemplary, but all speak of the absence of panic and quiet courage shown by all in an entirely unexpected emergency, even the most junior ratings, many of whom were only between 17 and 20 years of age.

Captain Robertson's report concerning the men on both ships is well justified. He said: " The actions required of Melbourne's ships company called for individual initiative 'at all levels, and calm resolve to an extent that is not often required in peace time. A large proportion of this ship's company had only recently joined the ship, and some 25 per cent. were ordinary

seamen, barely accustomed to wearing naval uniform. Their actions and behaviour left nothing to be desired. I am proud of them. I am also proud to record that Voyager's officers and men displayed the same high standards of individual behaviour. The Royal Australian Navy does not lack quality in its men."


Before concluding I wish to record my appreciation of much valuable assistance I have received during the long hearing and in the preparation of this report.

Great credit is due to officers of the Deputy Crown Solicitor's Office, Sydney for the thoroughness with which material was expeditiously prepared and statements obtained from numerous witnesses prior to the commencement of the proceedings. This enabled the hearing to proceed as intended without interruption or delay.

I was fortunate to have before me Senior and Junior Counsel of considerable competence all of whom devoted themselves unsparingly to the task in hand, and in particular I have to thank Mr. Smyth, Q.C. and Mr. Sheppard for their diligent efforts to ascertain all the facts and circumstances relevant to the reaching of sound conclusions.

In the preparation of this report I have indeed been fortunate to have the assistance of Mr. Sheppard and of Mr. J. O'Connor, the Secretary to the Commission. I express to them very deep appreciation of the aid they have rendered me.

In addition I would like to include a well deserved word of praise for the excellent work of members of the Commonwealth Reporting Branch in producing expeditiously a daily transcript of remarkable accuracy.

Melbourne, August, 1964.

I have the honour to be,


Your Excellency's most obedient servant,

J. A. SPICER, Commissioner.
























































































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