HMAS Vendetta at Farm Cove 1939

Type V & W Class Destroyer
Laid down 25 November 1916
Launched 3 September 1917
Builder Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland
Commissioned 11 October 1933
Displacement 1,090 tons (standard) 1,470 tons (full load)
Length            312 feet 1 inch
Beam               29 feet 6 inches
Draught         9 feet 8 inches
Armament • Original
4 x 4-inch guns
1 x 2-pounder gun
1 x Vickers .303 gun
4 x Lewis .303 guns
6 x 21-inch torpedo tubes (triple mount)
50 depth charges
• Modified
2 x 4-inch guns
2 x 2-pounder guns
4 x Oerlikons
3 x Vickers .303 guns
4 x Lewis .303 guns
50 depth charges

Main Machinery Brown-Curtis turbines, twin screws
Horsepower 27,000
Speed 34 knots
Complement 130

Following commissioning on 17 October 1917, Vendetta (I) joined the 13th Destroyer Flotilla and shortly afterwards saw her first action when on patrol she engaged German minesweepers in the Kattegat.

On 17 November 1917, operating as a screening destroyer to the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron (HMS CALEDON, GALATEA, ROYALIST and INCONSTANT), she took part in the Heligoland Bight action against German cruiser forces. In 1918 Vendetta (I) was engaged as a patrolling destroyer and on fleet escort duties.

On 12 December 1918 in the Baltic she rescued 430 of the total crew of 470 of HMS CASSANDRA when that vessel struck a mine and sank. Later in the same month as one of the British naval units supporting the White Russian forces, Vendetta (I) engaged and drove ashore on Devil’s Rock near Reval, the Bolshevik destroyer SPARTAK. Early the following year, also off Reval, she assisted in the capture of the Bolshevik destroyer LENNUK.

In 1919 she was engaged towing surrendered German destroyers from Scapa Flow to Rosyth and the following year was present at Zeebrugge when her Commanding Officer, LCDR Nash, handed over HMS VINDICTIVE to the Belgians.

In April 1923 Vendetta (I) was again in the Baltic and was inspected by Marshal Pilsudski, President of Poland, at Gdynia. Here the crew met their old adversary SPARTAK, then a unit of the Estonian Navy and renamed NAMBOLA. In the same year she rescued the crew of the IMPERIAL PRINCE wrecked off Aberdeen.

In 1924 she served in the Mediterranean with the 5th Flotilla, and the Red Sea operating as a patrol vessel during the Jeddah war fought between Ali, King of Hedjaz, and Ibn Saud, Sultan of Nejd. In March 1925 she was one of the escort for the Royal Yacht VICTORIA AND ALBERT during the Mediterranean tour of His Majesty King George V and Queen Mary.

Vendetta (I) served in the Mediterranean with the 1st and 5th Flotillas from 1924 to 1933.

In 1933 the Admiralty agreed to loan the Flotilla Leader Stuart (I) and four ‘V’ and ‘W’ Class destroyers ( Vampire (I), Vendetta (I), Voyager (I) and Waterhen (I)) to the Royal Australian Navy as replacements for the ‘S’ Class destroyers ( Stalwart (I), Success, Swordsman, Tasmania and Tattoo) and the Flotilla Leader Anzac (I), then due for scrapping. Vendetta (I) and the other four ships commissioned in the Royal Australian Navy at Portsmouth on 11 October 1933 to form the Australian Destroyer Flotilla, later to become famous as the ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla’.

Vendetta (I) was commissioned under the command of LCDR Jack Donovan RAN.

The Flotilla departed Chatham, under the command of Captain A.C. Lilley RN (in Stuart (I)), on 17 October 1933 and, proceeding via Suez, reached Singapore on 28 November, Darwin on 7 December and Sydney on 21 December 1933. On 31 January 1934 Vendetta (I) paid off into Reserve.

On 10 October 1934 Vendetta (I) recommissioned at Sydney under the command of LCDR A.S. Rosenthal RAN, to replace Waterhen (I) in the Squadron Flotilla. For the next three years and nine months, until she again paid off
into Reserve on 1 June 1938, her service followed the normal pattern of the peace time destroyer of the Australian Squadron between the two World Wars.

On 16 October 1934 Vendetta (I) departed Sydney to join the escort of HMS SUSSEX with His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester on board. On 18 October the Australian Squadron comprising HMA Ships Australia (II), Canberra (I), Stuart (I), Voyager (I) and Vendetta (I); plus HM Ships DUNEDIN and DIOMEDE of the New Zealand Division, Royal Navy; and HMIS HINDUSTAN, escorted SUSSEX through Port Phillip Bay to Melbourne. The ships spent a week at Melbourne taking part in the Victorian Centenary Celebrations. Officers and men from the Squadron took part in a Naval Pageant and drill and land marching displays. Foreign warships taking part in the celebrations were the French sloop AMIRAL CHARNER and the Italian cruiser ARMANDO DIAZ, which was sunk by a British submarine in the Mediterranean during World War II.

Following the visit to Melbourne, Vendetta (I) returned to Sydney and remained in port until March 1935 when she
proceeded on a cruise to New Zealand ports. She returned to Sydney on 1 April 1935 to spend the next four months ‘swinging round the buoy’ at Farm Cove. On 12 August 1935 she sailed with the Squadron ( Canberra (I), SUSSEX, Stuart (I), Vendetta (I) and Voyager (I)) on the spring cruise, visiting Queensland ports, Darwin, Fremantle and Melbourne before returning to Sydney on 15 November, having circumnavigated the continent.

Vendetta (I)’s service between 1936 and 1938 followed a similar pattern. Between 1 January 1936 and 1 June 1938, when she paid off, more than half of this period was spent in her home port of Sydney. The remainder was taken up by Squadron cruises, exercises and work as a seagoing training ship. Except for a visit to New Zealand in April 1937, the whole period was spent in Australian waters.

Following a brief period in Reserve, Vendetta (I) recommissioned on 29 September 1938 under the command of LCDR Glen Cant RAN. The months preceding the outbreak of World War II were spent mainly in harbour, interspersed with exercises in the waters off New South Wales.

On 14 October 1939 Stuart (I), Vendetta (I) and Waterhen (I) departed Sydney for Singapore, proceeding via Darwin and Lombok Strait. The same day ( Vampire (I) and Voyager (I) departed Fremantle to join company at Singapore. The Flotilla was under the command of CMDR H.M.L. Waller RAN (Commander (D)), in Stuart (I). It had been intended to base the destroyers at Singapore for a period of training but, whilst the Flotilla was still at sea, it was decided that after a brief stop at Singapore it should proceed to the Mediterranean. The two ships ex Fremantle arrived at Singapore on 21 October 1939 where they were joined on the 29th by Stuart (I), Waterhen (I) and Vendetta (I).

The Flotilla sailed from Singapore on 13 November 1939 but split up en route and consequently the ships did not all reach Malta at the same time. Vendetta (I) arrived on 14 December 1939. From 2 January 1940 the Flotilla formed the 19th Destroyer Division for service with the Mediterranean Fleet.

At this period of the war, British and French naval supremacy in the Mediterranean called for only routine escort and patrol duties, interspersed with fleet exercises. Nevertheless, the Australian destroyers were kept busy with their routine of escort and patrol work, singly and in pairs, which took them from end to end of the Mediterranean.

Vendetta (I) entered Alexandria for the first time on 12 January 1940 and until March 1940 her escort and patrol
duties took her to Marseilles, Malta, Gibraltar and Haifa.

In April Vendetta (I) spent thirteen days in Malta Grand Harbour, two or three days at Gibraltar and the remainder of the month patrolling at sea. On 28 April she departed Gibraltar escorting the battleship HMS MALAYA and HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN for Alexandria. In May 1940 she escorted HMS WARSPITE to Alexandria, HMS RESOURCE to Malta and HMT TALMA to Marseilles. At the close of May she began a refit at Malta where she remained throughout June.

On 27 May the 19th Destroyer Division ( Stuart (I), ( Vampire (I), Voyager (I), Vendetta (I) and Waterhen (I)) and the 20th Destroyer Division (HM Ships DAINTY, DIAMOND, DECOY and DEFENDER) combined to form the 10th Destroyer Flotilla under the command of CMDR Waller.

The entry of Italy into the war on 10 June 1940 and the collapse of French resistance on the 22 June completely changed the naval situation in the Mediterranean. Formerly, all coastlines were either Allied or neutral, and the Anglo-French fleets were in undisputed command of the seas. Now all coasts except those of Egypt, Palestine and Cyprus in the east, Malta in the centre, and Gibraltar in the west were closed to the Royal Navy. Moreover, the Allies had lost the support of the French fleet, which had provided seven capital ships and nineteen cruisers, and had acquired a new enemy in Italy with her menacing naval potential. Her fleet boasted five battleships, twenty-five cruisers, ninety destroyers and nearly one hundred submarines. It spelt the beginning of a long and bitter struggle for control of the Mediterranean, first against the Italian fleet and Air Force (neither of which proved the menace expected) and later against the much more formidable German Luftwaffe whose dive bombers took grievous toll of British warships before they were finally driven from the skies.

For more than a year the ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla’ took part in the struggle for possession of the ancient sea route linking east and west.

On 8 July 1940 Vendetta (I) completed her refit at Malta too late to take part in the Battle of Calabria on 9th July.   Her War Diary commented that Malta was bombed on nearly eighty occasions between 11 June and 8 July. The defeat of the Italian fleet at Calabria placed the initiative at sea in the Mediterranean firmly in the hands of Admiral Cunningham. Throughout the latter half of the month the fleet cruised at sea to cover convoys moving across the Aegean without provoking the enemy to retaliation.

On 13 July Vendetta (I) arrived at Alexandria as part of the escort of a convoy from Malta. She spent the following days in harbour and covering the battle fleet at sea. On 24 July she proceeded in company with ( Vampire (I), screening the cruiser HMS ORION for a diversionary demonstration off Castelorizo Island. The ships were not sighted from the air and no response came from the defence ashore. The two destroyers reached Port Said on 25 July and sailed the following day escorting the armed boarding vessels HM Ships CHAKLA and FIONA for a second demonstration. They met ORION on 27 July and that evening proceeded as if to effect a landing on Castelorizo. Again the Italians refused to be provoked.

The first half of August 1940 was spent escorting convoys between Alexandria and Port Said and Famagusta and Port Said. On 17 August Vendetta (I) sailed from Alexandria in company with of the battle fleet, HM Ships WARSPITE, MALAYA and RAMILLIES, for the bombardment of Bardia and Fort Capuzzo on the Libyan coast, Operation MB2. Firing lasted from 0658 to 0720 on 18 August, causing considerable damage to enemy installations, particularly at Fort Capuzzo. During the withdrawal air attacks on the fleet began at 1050 and lasted for half an hour without any hits being scored. Fighter cover provided by the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm resulted in the certain destruction of eleven Italian aircraft without loss to themselves. The fleet returned to Alexandria shortly before midnight on the same day, where Vendetta (I) remained for the next eleven days.

On 29 August reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet arrived at Gibraltar. They comprised the battleship HMS VALIANT, the new aircraft carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and the cruisers HMS CALCUTTA and HMS COVENTRY, named as Force F. To pass these additions to the fleet from west to east, a large scale operation, HATS, was prepared which planned cover as far as Sardinia by forces based at Gibraltar followed by junction with the Mediterranean Fleet south of Sicily.

On 30 August the fleet, including Vendetta (I), sailed from Alexandria to join Force F and to cover the passage of convoy MF2 from Alexandria to Malta, the Polish destroyer GARLAND for Gibraltar and a storeship convoy (AP2) to  Alexandria. Vendetta (I) spent six days screening the fleet during these operations. No surface attack developed though an enemy battle fleet of two battleships, seven cruisers and eight destroyers was sighted by aircraft from HMS EAGLE. In the air enemy reaction was mainly confined to attacks on Convoy MF2 during which one ship was hit. By 0700 on 5 September most of the fleet was back in Alexandria after the safe passage of large British forces through the Sicilian Channel for the first time since Italy had entered the war.

On 13 September the long expected Italian invasion of Egypt began, and on 16 September their forces occupied Sidi Barrani after a cautious advance from Sollum. As a result the fleet was involved in operations aimed at harassing the enemy advance in support of the Army of the Nile. In addition to these commitments the Navy was engaged in protecting the increased movement of convoys bringing supplies and reinforcements to the Middle East and Malta. During the course of part of these September operations, the passage of troops to Malta in the cruisers HMS LIVERPOOL and HMS GLOUCESTER, Operation MB5, Vendetta (I)’s flotilla leader Stuart (I) sank the Italian submarine GONDAR and took prisoner 47 of her crew.

Vendetta (I)’s duties at this time, however, were confined to local escort. On 12 September she sailed as escort to a two ship convoy to Haifa, then to Port Said where she joined a convoy bound for Alexandria arriving early on 16 September. The remainder of the month was spent in harbour, except for a day at sea exercising with HMS EAGLE.

October opened with Vendetta (I) at Alexandria preparing to join the battle fleet at sea on 2 October for Operation BMQ, a fleet sweep into the north west Mediterranean. This operation proved uneventful though both Vendetta (I) and Vampire (I) carried out a series of attacks without result on a confirmed submarine contact.

On 6 October the fleet returned to Alexandria, sailing again two days later to cover the passage of another troopship convoy to Malta, Operation MB6. On arrival at Malta on 11 October, Vendetta (I) detached with engine trouble and was therefore not present during the following operations when the Italian destroyers AIRONE, ARIEL and ARTIGLIERE were sunk.

On 28 October the Italian Army invaded Greece from Albania and it followed that reinforcement of Greece and Crete involved a further commitment for the Mediterranean Fleet, and in the first days of November while Vendetta (I) was completing her refit at Malta, steps were taken to support Greek resistance on land and at sea.

A fuelling base was established at Suda Bay in Crete and on 1 November the cruiser HMS AJAX landed troops and artillery. A convoy which arrived there on 31 October / 1 November consisted of the cruisers COVENTRY and CALCUTTA, the netlayer HMS PROTECTOR, minesweeper HMS FAREHAM, armed boarding vessels HMS FIONA and HMS CHAKLA, oilers BRAMBLELEAF and OLNA and the 10th Flotilla destroyers Waterhen (I), (Vampire (I), Voyager (I) and DEFENDER. By the evening of 1 November and despite enemy bombing, AJAX had disembarked her troops, FIONA and CHAKLA were alongside Suda pier unloading stores, PROTECTOR had laid her nets and gun sites and dumps were being established near Suda Point. This was the first of a series of convoys.

On 4 November convoys departed Port Said and Alexandria for Greece and Suda Bay (convoy AN6) and for Malta  (convoy MW3). On 5 November AJAX and HMAS Sydney (II) left Port Said with artillery and administrative troops for Suda Bay. The fleet was at sea to cover these and other convoy movements and to meet further Mediterranean reinforcements which comprised the battleship HMS BARHAM, the cruisers HMS BERWICK and HMS GLASGOW and three destroyers, HM Ships GALLANT, GREYHOUND and GRIFFIN.

Vendetta (I) completed her refit on 9 November and the following day sailed from Malta escorting the monitor HMS TERROR to Suda Bay and then the SS BRISBANE STAR to Alexandria. During this period, 10 – 14 November, the fleet carried out the successful attack on Taranto on the night of 11 November and a few hours later the 7th Cruiser Squadron (ORION, AJAX and Sydney (II)) raided the Straits of Otranto, destroying three ships of a four ship convoy off Valona.

On 15 November the military reinforcement of Greece commenced when a fast convoy of four merchant ships sailed from Alexandria for Piraeus, escorted by COVENTRY, ( Vampire (I) and Waterhen (I). On the same day Vendetta (I) proceeded as a unit on the screen of the 2nd Division battle fleet cruising to Suda Bay, and thence to Alexandria arriving in harbour on the 19 November.

The next operation of the battle fleet, Operation MB9, in which Vendetta (I) took part covered the passage of convoys to and from Malta, convoys MW4 and ME4, and of two MT ships to Malta and one to Alexandria. It included the first through Mediterranean convoy of merchant ships. An enemy attempt to cut off the east bound convoy south of Sardinia led to the brief engagement with the Italian fleet off Cape Spartivento. As a unit of the large British forces at sea during these operations, Vendetta (I) departed Alexandria on 23 November escorting MW4 (four ships) to Malta. The following day Italian torpedo aircraft attacked but only one succeeded in firing its torpedo which passed harmlessly 500 yards ahead of Vendetta (I). Malta was reached without further incident on 26 November. Later that day Vendetta (I) departed escorting ME4 for Alexandria and Port Said, arriving unmolested on the last day of November.

On 2 December Vendetta (I) sailed from Port Said with Voyager (I) in company, escorting convoy AN8 bound for Athens, thence to Alexandria. On the day Vendetta (I) returned to Alexandria, 9 December, the British Army under
General Wavell began its offensive in the Western Desert. The immediate object of the operations ashore was  the destruction of enemy forces contained in the Nibeiwa / Tummae area followed by a northward drive to Sidi Barrani on the coast, thus isolating Maktila Camp which represented the Italian Army’s most advanced camp in Egypt. The naval role during the first stage of the operations was to provide harassing fire at Maktila and Sidi Barrani, and this was begun by the monitor TERROR and the gunboats HMS APHIS and HMS LADYBIRD, supported by the destroyers HM Ships JERVIS, JANUS and NUBIAN during the night of 8/9 December.

On 10 December Vendetta (I) sailed from Alexandria screening the battle fleet (BARHAM, VALIANT, YORK and ILLUSTRIOUS) for the bombardment of Bardia, but were prevented from shelling the Italian positions by low visibility. Bad weather also stopped a projected attack on El Adem airfield by aircraft from ILLUSTRIOUS.   On 13 December the fleet returned to Alexandria. On 14 December Vendetta (I) joined the Inshore Squadron screening TERROR on 15 and 16 December while the monitor bombarded Bardia. On both days the Australian destroyer was straddled by shells from the Italian shore batteries. On the 17th she returned to Alexandria to refuel.

Ashore the British military operations proved a complete success. Sollum and Fort Capuzzo were captured on 16 December and when Vendetta (I) rejoined the Inshore Squadron off Sollum on 18 December the Italians appeared to be rapidly losing their cohesion as a fighting force. With the capture of Sollum the first phase ended and the role of the Navy turned temporarily from offensive action to supply.

During the remainder of December the work of the D10 destroyers ( Vendetta (I), Voyager (I), Waterhen (I), ( Vampire (I) (Captain D10), DIAMOND and WRYNECK) supporting the campaign in the Western Desert was confined to patrol and escort duty. On 26 December Waterhen (I) captured the enemy schooner TIREREMO DIRITTO trying to enter Bardia and on 29 December Voyager (I) intercepted the schooner ZINGARELLA engaged in transporting British prisoners of war from Bardia to Tobruk. DAINTY also captured two schooners on the night of 21 December. On 27 December Vendetta (I) returned to Alexandria where she remained boiler cleaning until the close of the year.

On 31 December 1940 plans for the assault on Bardia by the 6th Australian Division were completed. The naval contribution to the attack called for harassing fire by TERROR and the inshore gunboats all day on 2 January 1941,  followed by a heavy bombardment by the fleet on 3 January with further harassing fire from TERROR and the gunboats from dawn to 1600 hours. At this time five destroyers of the 10th Flotilla ( Stuart (I), ( Vampire (I), Waterhen (I), DECOY and DEFENDER) were non operational. This left half of the flotilla available ( Voyager (I), Vendetta (I), DAINTY, DIAMOND and WRYNECK) for the assault on Bardia. Vendetta (I) sailed from Alexandria with the battle fleet on the evening of 2 January with DIAMOND and WRYNECK in company. Voyager (I) (Captain D10) and DAINTY joined the screen off Sidi Barrani at 0700 the following morning after supporting TERROR in the shelling of Sollum.

The bombardment was commenced at 0810 on 3 January by WARSPITE, VALIANT and BARHAM with destroyers screening and engaging shore batteries on the cliffs on either side of the harbour entrance, while the carrier  ILLUSTRIOUS screened by the 3rd Cruiser Squadron provided fighter protection. The bombardment which ended at 1600 and the simultaneous land assault were a complete success.

The following day the Australians entered Bardia and on 5 January the enemy troops defending the encircled south eastern sector surrendered. 45,000 prisoners, 462 guns and 129 tanks were captured. The capture of Bardia ended naval offensive action in the Western Desert Campaign until the attack on Tobruk on 21 January, the Navy reverting to the protection of supplies.

Vendetta (I) now joined the Inshore Squadron which besides the destroyers of the 10th Flotilla, minesweepers and local patrol craft comprised TERROR and the gunboats APHIS, LADYBIRD and GNAT. Between 4th-10th she was engaged on Libyan patrol excepting a brief visit to Alexandria when she landed 111 Italian prisoners. On the other side of the Mediterranean the Italians were faring little better in their attempt to occupy Greece. Thus at this stage the feeble efforts of Italian arms on land and at sea provoked the Germans to intervene in an effort to bolster the Axis position. This they sought to accomplish by the only means open at short notice – the transfer of aircraft to the Mediterranean theatre. The arrival of the Luftwaffe, particularly its dive bombers to reinforce the Italian squadrons operating from Sicilian airfields, was a serious set back to the Mediterranean Fleet, weakening its hitherto almost undisputed control of the Central Mediterranean and curtailing its freedom of movement.

The infusion of German pilots and aircraft soon made itself felt and in the first encounter during the passage of Greece bound and Malta convoys the Mediterranean Fleet lost the cruiser SOUTHAMPTON and suffered severe damage to the carrier ILLUSTRIOUS and lesser damage to the cruiser GLOUCESTER. This operation, EXCESS, had as its objective the passage of a convoy from Gibraltar through the Mediterranean to Greece and Malta, and the simultaneous cover of fast convoys from Alexandria to Malta, and Malta to Alexandria, with a fourth slow convoy from Malta to Port Said and Alexandria. In all it comprised the passage of fourteen ships and its protection employed almost the entire British naval strength in the Mediterranean, namely Force H from Gibraltar under Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville and the bulk of the Mediterranean Fleet from Alexandria under Admiral Cunningham.

Most of the destroyers of the 10th Flotilla (excepting DIAMOND and DAINTY) did not take part in the operations covering the convoys, but on 11 January Stuart (I), Voyager (I), Vendetta (I), ( Vampire (I) and WRYNECK sailed from Alexandria escorting EAGLE and BARHAM for Operation MC6. It was intended that BARHAM and EAGLE (Admiral Rawlings) should join the fleet on 12 January to begin attacks on the Italian shipping routes while the convoys were at sea. The disabling of the carrier ILLUSTRIOUS by German air attack put an end to this plan and Admiral Rawlings’ group was eventually frustrated by bad weather.

On 18 January Vendetta (I) returned to Alexandria on the screen of BARHAM and EAGLE from Suda Bay. Two days later she sailed escorting convoy AN13 for Piraeus, returning on 27 January as part of the escort for the fifteen ships of AS13. On 1 February she was again at sea with the battle fleet prior to taking up escort duties of a south bound convoy from Crete two days later. On 7 February she was back in Alexandria where she remained refitting until 10 March.

Meanwhile, with the German threat to the Balkans beginning to take shape (Bulgaria joined the Axis on 1 March), Britain decided to send military aid to Greece, a decision which imposed a further heavy commitment on the Mediterranean Fleet.

The transport of the troops and equipment began on 5 March with the first flight of ‘Lustre Force’ as it was known and continued until 24 April when 58,000 troops, with all their stores and fighting equipment, had been transported from Egypt to Greece. The passage to the Piraeus, virtually the only port available for disembarkation, led past enemy bases in the Dodecanese, from which he was able to launch his attack against the British line of communication. In spite of his advantageous strategic position, however, he failed to halt the steady flow of men and material and excepting a few bomb splinter casualties in one ship all arrived safely. The losses sustained, six ships, were all vessels proceeding in the convoys but not part of the ‘Lustre’ movement or vessels returning empty to Egypt.

All the Australian destroyers and HMAS Perth (I) were involved in this operation. On 11 March Vendetta (I) departed Alexandria escort AN20, returning on 21 March with AS21. The following day she was at sea again with AN22 which arrived safely in spite of a series of attacks from torpedo aircraft on 24 March. At this stage of the movement, there appeared a number of indications that the Italians intended some form of attack to provide a counterpart to the efforts of the Luftwaffe in the Eastern Mediterranean.

On 26 March Admiral Cunningham, coming to the conclusion that the projected enemy attack would take the form of a large scale air attack on the convoys or a surface sortie into the Aegean, decided to clear the area of convoys while at the same time taking measures to inflict maximum damage to any enemy forces at sea. The following day, 27 March, Vendetta (I) joined the Vice Admiral Light Forces (Vice Admiral H.D. Pridham-Wippell) commanding a force which comprised ORION (Flag), AJAX, Perth (I), GLOUCESTER and the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, under orders to join the battle fleet of WARSPITE, BARHAM, VALIANT, FORMIDABLE and nine destroyers including the 10th Flotilla under CAPT H.M.L. Waller RAN), south of Crete late on the following day if no developments occurred. Thus was the stage set for the Battle of Matapan.

At 0800 on 28 March ORION sighted two 8-inch and two 6-inch Italian cruisers screened by three destroyers, some 70 miles south of Gavdo Island. At 0814 the enemy opened fire at about 26,000 yards and for the next three quarters of an hour Admiral Wippell’s force was engaged in a running fight, neither side suffering any damage. At 0859, however, the Italian ships turned to port on a course of 300 degrees and headed for home at maximum speed. The British ships conformed and a chase developed.

At 0930 Vendetta (I), unable to maintain the pace, was ordered to detach and join the battle fleet which she sighted shortly after noon. An hour after joining, engine trouble made it necessary to proceed to Alexandria, and she took no part in the subsequent operations leading to a great tactical success and the destruction of three of the Italian 8-inch cruisers and two of her largest and fastest destroyers. As Admiral Cunningham commented, ‘we were able off Matapan to teach them a lesson which kept them out of the ring for the rest of the year.’

The refit of Vendetta (I)’s engines was completed on 4 April and on the same day she proceeded with Waterhen (I) to join the Inshore Squadron at Tobruk, which had been captured by the British forces on 22 January.

Operations on patrol off the Libyan coast and escort duties between Alexandria and Tobruk, which was suffering steadily mounting attacks from the air, kept Vendetta (I) busy until 17 April. On that day at sea with HMS GREYHOUND she sank an enemy schooner attempting to run the blockade, before proceeding to a rendezvous with an Alexandria bound convoy.

On 21 April she resumed escort duties to the ‘Lustre’ convoys joining AN29, the last one to leave Alexandria. It reached Suda Bay in Crete on 24 April where it had been diverted owing to the chaotic conditions at the Piraeus and the decision made that day to withdraw British forces from Greece. Operation DEMON, the evacuation of Greece, began on the night of 24/25 April in the face of a rapidly deteriorating military position ashore, culminating in the German entry into Athens three days later.

The rescue of British troops involved the use of all the light forces of the Mediterranean Fleet except the cruiser GLOUCESTER and four J Class destroyers of the Malta Force. They included six cruisers, nineteen destroyers, three escort vessels and corvettes and lighters. Three ‘Glen’ ships with their specially equipped landing craft and eight transports were also used.

In the entire operation, in which Perth (I) and all the Australian destroyers took part, 50,672 troops were evacuated, being about 80 per cent of the original forces landed. All but about 500 lost in the transport SLAMAT were safely landed in Suda Bay. But the operation was not accomplished without loss; DIAMOND and WRYNECK of the 10th Flotilla were sunk as were the transports ULSTER PRINCE and PENNLAND. Several ships were also damaged.

Vendetta (I)’s part in the evacuation began on 25 April when at 1315 she sailed from Suda Bay in company with Waterhen (I). Both ships arrived off the beach at Megara at 2200 where they joined COVENTRY, WRYNECK, DIAMOND, GRIFFIN and the transport THURLAND CASTLE. The evacuation which was completed without interference from the enemy was completed about 0430, DECOY, HASTY and HAVOCK assisting in place of the transport PENNLAND which was sunk en route. About 5,700 troops were embarked, Vendetta (I) taking on board 350 by whaler and skiff. Suda Bay was reached without loss in spite of air attacks at 0730, 1110 (12 Stukas) and 1155 (three Junkers 88).

On the night of 26/27 April, 21,400 troops were embarked in 27 ships, warships and transports. Vendetta (I) took no part in this lift but at 0450 on 27 April she sailed from Suda Bay in company with Waterhen (I) and WRYNECK to escort the main convoy proceeding direct to Alexandria. The following three days were spent at sea screening the battle fleet and five days repairing at Alexandria, ferrying reinforcements to Tobruk and transferring 340 wounded to Mersa Matruh.

Meanwhile, the effort to reinforce and supply the troops in Crete was proceeding in spite of German control in the air, and on 11 May Vendetta (I) sailed to escort AP31 for Suda Bay, returning to Alexandria on 16 May. On 20 May the Germans launched the invasion of Crete by parachute and glider. In the face of absolute enemy superiority in the air, the Navy did all it could in spite of grievous losses to save the island from German occupation and when defence became no longer possible it managed to extricate some 17,000 troops from the island. Between 20 May and 1 June, when the evacuation of Crete ended, the Mediterranean Fleet lost the cruisers GLOUCESTER, CALCUTTA, YORK and FIJI; the destroyers JUNO, GREYHOUND, KELLY, KASHMIR, IMPERIAL and HEREWARD; one minesweeper and 29 smaller craft. BARHAM, WARSPITE, VALIANT and several cruisers were damaged. Vendetta (I) spent some of this disastrous period screening the battle fleet south of Crete between 21 and 26 May.

On 26 May her crew witnessed a mass attack of German aircraft on FORMIDABLE some 150 miles south of Kaso Strait. FORMIDABLE was severely damaged and NUBIAN, one of the screening destroyers, had her stern blown off. The following day Vendetta (I) returned to Alexandria escorting the damaged carrier. At this time the effort to supply beleaguered Tobruk was becoming increasingly difficult, and in the face of mounting losses in the harbour from air attack, it was decided to discontinue the use of merchant ships. The task of supplying the garrison and evacuating the wounded was thus entrusted from the beginning of June 1941 onwards mainly to the destroyers of the 10th Flotilla and some sloops, aided later by the fast minelayers ABDIEL and LATONA.

As a member of the ‘Tobruk Ferry Service’, HMAS Vendetta conducting troop transport operations commencing on 29 May when she sailed from Alexandria with 150 troops and 25 tons of stores, and ending on 2 August, when she entered Tobruk for the last time, Vendetta (I) was constantly at work ferrying men and material. In that time she embarked for passage 4,263 troops, 220 prisoners of war and carried 616 tons of stores and ammunition into Tobruk. She made eleven runs from Alexandria, besides operating between Tobruk and Mersa Matruh. In all she sailed out of Tobruk Harbour nineteen times. It was arduous and dangerous work and several ships suffered damage and casualties.

On 24 June AUCKLAND was sunk when attacked by 48 Junkers aircraft. HMAS Parramatta (II) by skillful handling escaped damage, shot down three aircraft and rescued 162 of AUCKLAND’s crew. On 29 June Waterhen (I) was so severely damaged that she capsized while under tow the following day. On 9 July DECOY was damaged by a near miss. On 11 July Vendetta (I) and DEFENDER en route from Tobruk to Alexandria were attacked by moonlight by bombers. DEFENDER suffered a direct hit which broke her back and she too was lost in spite of Vendetta (I)’s attempts to tow her to safety.

Vendetta (I) spent the first few days of August 1941 at Alexandria. On 10 August she proceeded to Haifa where she spent sixteen days in refit, returning to Alexandria at the close of the month. In September, after a period as emergency destroyer at Alexandria, she resumed convoy escort duty operating mainly from Port Said to Famagusta and Haifa. Except for four days at Alexandria, she continued this work until 13 October when she arrived at Alexandria for boiler cleaning in preparation for her impending departure from the Mediterranean.

On 20 October Vendetta (I) sailed from Alexandria for the last time after almost two years continuous Mediterranean service. The old destroyer was now in dire need of a major refit. The operations on the Tobruk run, when she had been compelled to operate at maximum speeds, had taken its toll of her engines and she was in little better shape than her sister ship ( Vampire (I), which had been forced to withdraw at the close of May. On 25 October she arrived at Aden and proceeding the next day reached Bombay on 1 November and Singapore on 12 November, where she passed into dockyard hands for refit.

When war broke out in the Pacific her Commanding Officer, LEUT W.G. Whitting RANR, was faced with the problem of making the best use of an immobilised ship and her crew. The Japanese bombed Singapore in the early hours of 8 December 1941 and at 0420 one stick of bombs fell between Vendetta (I) and Ghost Island, a distance of about 200 yards away.

Accompanied by Gunner (T) Mr J. Lace RAN, LEUT Whitting proceeded to the naval base and reported to the Senior Naval Officer on the disposition of the ship’s company with regard to the defence of the Singapore Harbour Board, as this important establishment had no defence of any kind against aerial attack. With the assistance of the Singapore Harbour Board, the 12-pounder gun was mounted on the wharf astern of Vendetta (I), four machine gun posts were built in the vicinity of King’s Dock, and all available Lewis guns were mounted. The ship’s company was divided into two watches for anti-aircraft defence and continued to man their anti-aircraft defences night and day continuously up until the day of departure. LEUT Whitting became the Officer of Quarters for the 12-pounder for day defence while the Gunner Lace became the Officer of Quarters for the Lewis gun posts by day. At night they took turns as the Officer of Quarters for the 12-pounder. The Engineer officer was in charge of the Stoker Fire Party.

At 2330 on New Year’s Eve they had their first real taste of Japanese air attack. A squadron of 54 planes bombed the city. Vendetta (I)’s anti-aircraft gun went into action immediately and her bark, which was to become well known in the future, was heard for the first time in the Far East. From then on they were subjected to constant air attack by day and night.

Singapore experienced its worst blitz on 21 January 1942 when it was attacked by 125 bombers. When a squadron of 27 planes flying low over Keppel Harbour suddenly appeared astern of Vendetta (I), the 12-pounder immediately went into action. One 12-pounder HE shell hit one of the bombers in the bomb rack and she instantly blew up, damaging the planes on either side with the flying debris.

Throughout the remainder of January 1942, while under constant air attack and with the battle for Singapore rapidly approaching its climax, Vendetta (I)’s crew worked hard to prepare her for sea and salvaged all the equipment and stores possible. On 2 February 1942 she was taken in tow by HMT ST JUST and proceeded to rendezvous with HMS STRONGHOLD. When some seven miles out of Keppel Harbour, 54 bombers passed overhead on their way to bomb Singapore, where they severely damaged the King’s Dock including the wharf which Vendetta (I) had vacated just two hours before. Later that day STRONGHOLD temporarily took over tow.


The following day Vendetta (I) was attacked at frequent intervals throughout the day, LEUT Whitting commenting
‘Our 12-pounder HA was continuously in action.’ Although she was near missed again and again and damaged by splinters, she was not hit.   The next day she arrived safely at Palembang in Sumatra.

On 8 February she was taken in tow by HMAS Yarra (II) and taken to Batavia, arriving on 10 February and where she remained until 17 February when PING WO began the long haul to Australia, Yarra (II) escorting until relieved by HMAS Adelaide on 24 February. Fremantle was reached on 3 March. Vendetta (I) left Fremantle on 4 March and at King George Sound on 24 March, the tow was transferred from PING WO to SS ISLANDER for the remainder of the voyage to Melbourne. On 15 April Vendetta (I) she reached Port Phillip Bay after a nightmare voyage across the Great Australian Bight in heavy seas. She was at sea under tow for forty days, the total journey having taken 72 days and the tow having parted five times. There was no power in the ship, no sanitary arrangements and due to the absence of refrigeration only tinned food was available to sustain her crew. For his part in bringing Vendetta (I) safely to port LEUT Whitting was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
From April to September 1942, Vendetta (I) was refitting at Melbourne. On 29 September Vendetta (I) recommissioned at Melbourne under the command of LCDR C.J. Stephenson RAN. She proceeded to Sydney on 14 October where she resumed her refit at Garden Island, work being completed in mid December.

Vendetta (I) spent January 1943 in Queensland waters exercising and on convoy escort duty. On 10 February she proceeded to Darwin escorting RFA BISHOPDALE, arriving on 17 February. The following day she sailed to search for a crashed Allied bomber, and sighting a flare some 60 miles off the Timor coast, rescued four survivors. At the close of the month she returned to Townsville escorting BISHOPDALE.

In March she continued escort duties, screening TAROONA on three voyages between New Guinea and Townsville. On 31 March LEUT D. Logan assumed temporary command. In April she made four voyages to Port Moresby and Milne Bay escorting transports. There were no incidents though at this period Japanese submarines of the 3rd Squadron were operating along Australia’s eastern seaboard. On 11 April they sank the RECINA, on 24 April the KOWARRA, on 26 April the LIMERICK, on 27 April LYDIA M. CHILDS and on 29 April the WOLLONGBAR. In all a total of 25,000 tons of valuable shipping with the loss of 87 lives.

In May 1943 Vendetta (I) transferred to coastal escort duty, escorting some of the bi-weekly convoys running between Brisbane and Townsville. On 18 May LCDR J. Plunkett-Cole RAN assumed command from LEUT Logan. In June she returned to Special Ship escort duty on the Queensland coast.

The three months ending September 1943 were all spent in Queensland and New South Wales, mainly escorting Special Ships and on anti-submarine exercises. It was an uneventful period of routine work with little to relieve the monotony of long days at sea, for though Vendetta (I) was at this time far from the operational areas she was nevertheless constantly at work, steaming more than 18,000 miles in the quarter ending September 1943.   Vendetta (I) spent the period of October to December 1943 based at Brisbane on escort duty in Queensland waters. She steamed 13,477 miles and spent ten days in dockyard hands. On 9 December LCDR J.S. Mesley RAN assumed command.

In January 1944 Vendetta (I) escorted USS COPAHEE from Brisbane to Sydney, where she remained in refit until 11 February when she proceeded to Milne Bay. She remained in New Guinea waters on local escort to Milne Bay until 02 March when condenser tube trouble forced her to return to Sydney. On 13 April Vendetta (I) returned to New Guinea waters and for the remainder of the month was engaged in transporting troops and stores to Madang.

In May she continued her role of destroyer transport, landing 501 troops and 53 tons of stores at Madang between 1 and 6 May, before once more returning to the mainland for repairs which kept her in dockyard hands for most of the remainder of the month.

On 2 June Vendetta (I) returned to Milne Bay where she remained for a few days exercising. On 8 June she arrived at Langemak to await the formation of a convoy for Hollandia. Comprising fourteen ships it sailed on 10 June and represented Vendetta (I)’s first duty as escort to a large New Guinea convoy proceeding to the newly won Allied base at Hollandia. On 14 June she sailed with HMAS Strahan and US Ships EICHENBERGER, CRAIG and LOVELACE, escorting an empty south bound convoy of seven ships for Langemak.

On 23 June at Langemak, Vendetta (I) embarked three Special Unit (Allied Intelligence Bureau) personnel for passage to Waterfall Bay in New Britain, eighty miles from Japanese occupied Rabaul. The landing was carried out without mishap and using her motorboat towing the whaler, embarked three AIB officers and fifty-three native guerillas for Langemak.

At the close of June 1944 she escorted another large convoy of eighteen ships from Langemak to Humboldt Bay.

In July Vendetta (I) continued escort and general transport duties in New Guinea waters. At this time the operational area for Australian escort vessels did not extend beyond Wakde Island, but on 23 July Vendetta (I) and HMAS Geelong (I) were ordered to escort an urgent convoy of three ships to Bosnik. After seeing the convoy safely to its destination, Vendetta (I) investigated Sorido Lagoon at Biak and the anchorage at Mios Woendi before returning to Hollandia. On 27 July she fired her first hostile shots in the Pacific War when she sank a small boat containing two Japanese who escaped to shore.

In August Vendetta (I) continued operating with the New Guinea escort group until mid month when she proceeded to Brisbane for refit, which kept her in dockyard hands throughout September. On 26 September 1944 LEUT W.F. Cook RAN assumed command.

Vendetta (I) returned to New Guinea waters on 14 October, spending most of the month on gunnery and anti- submarine exercises. On 2 November she sailed in company with HMA Ships Swan (II) and Barcoo, escorting the American transport CAPE ALEXANDER, which was carrying 1,100 AIF troops for the landing at Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. The landing was unopposed and after seeing the troops safely ashore, the Australian units spent a day bombarding the Japanese positions at Wide Bay. Following this welcome diversion, Vendetta (I) resumed convoy escort duties, operating as far as Morotai. LEUT G.S. Gordon RAN assumed command on 9 November.

December followed the usual pattern for Vendetta (I), operating between Mios Woendi and Morotai, although relieving the monotony there was a voyage to Palau escorting USS ACONTIAS and seventeen PT Boats. At Palau Vendetta (I) anchored alongside the American battleships CALIFORNIA, PENNSYLVANIA, NEW MEXICO and MISSISSIPPI, fresh from their victorious action in the Surigao Strait against Vice Admiral Nishimura’s forces.

Vendetta (I) returned to Mios Woendi on Christmas Day. At the close of the year she had steamed 106,000 miles
since recommissioning on 29th September 1942.

On 9 January 1945 Vendetta (I) bombarded the Anumb River area in New Guinea, firing 206 rounds of 4-inch ammunition at three specified targets. Between 11 and 13 January she escorted was escorting the submarine USS STINGRAY. On 14 January she arrived at Biak to escort a slow convoy to Morotai, thereafter operating on the anti-submarine patrol off the harbour entrance. On 20 January she sailed for Morotai escorting a tanker and two Liberty Ships. On 28 January she arrived at Noemfoor Island to transport troops and stores to Morotai.

Vendetta (I)’s duties in February 1945 followed a similar pattern with most of the month spent in the Biak and Morotai areas.

On 1 March she arrived at Hollandia where she relieved HMAS Katoomba (I) on the anti-submarine patrol until 6 March. After three days in harbour she resumed the anti-submarine patrol until 13 March when she proceeded to Brisbane for refit, arriving on 20 March and bringing her war service to a close.

LEUT W.K. Tapp RAN assumed command of Vendetta (I) on 31 May 1945 whilst she was still in dockyard hands at Brisbane. The refit was completed on 18 August. After trials Vendetta (I) proceeded to Langemak and then to Madang, arriving on 27 August.

On 2 September 1945 she embarked BRIG G.I. Sheehan and his staff, and the Naval Officer-in-Charge, New Guinea, and his staff. She proceeded to Rabaul to meet envoys from General Imamura to arrange details of the formal surrender of the Japanese South East Area Forces, due to take place on board HMS GLORY on 6 September.

Vendetta (I) remained in New Britain waters until 11 September when she proceeded for New Guinea, arriving in Madang early on 12 September. On 26 September she departed for Brisbane and then Sydney, where she arrived flying her paying off pendant on 3 October.

On 5 October Vendetta (I) moved under her own power for the last time when she slipped from her moorings and secured to Cruiser Wharf, Garden Island. She had steamed 120,639 miles during her Pacific War service.  Vendetta (I) paid off for disposal on 27 November 1945. On 20 March 1946 she was sold to Penguin Pty Ltd, Sydney. Her hull was scuttled off Sydney Heads on 2 July 1948.

Further Reading

1. Scrap Iron Destroyers: The Story of HMA Ships Stuart, Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager and Waterhen by L. J. Lind and A. Payne – published by the Naval Historical Society of Australia, Garden Island 1976.