The Naval Association of Australia
Member of the Alliance of Defence Service Organisations
Russell Pettis was elected National President of The Naval Association of Australia at the Triennial National Conference in Rockingham, WA in July, 2011.
Contact Russell by email at NationalPresident@NavalAssoc.org.au
or by telephoning 03 9747 8404 or Mobile 0419 898 427
AN UNUSUAL JOURNEY WITH THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY
By - Russell Pettis, Lieutenant RANR Rtd, National President & Victoria Section President
This story provides a brief insight into the journey of Russell and his unusual 30 year voyage with the Royal Australian Navy.
1. The Beginning of a Long Association with the RAN
The journey begins in 1972, when I graduated from Swinburne Institute of Technology in Victoria with a Bachelors Degree in Applied Science and chose to begin my career with the Department of Supply (later Defence) as a Materials Scientist. I immediately joined a Research Team developing next generation anti-fouling coatings for RAN ships. This meant many journeys to both Williamstown and Garden Island Naval Dockyards to conduct trials and experiment with new coating systems, which would prolong the time between dry dockings for operational vessels. One particularly interesting development was to trial an elastomeric (rubber) material applied to the hull of a RAN vessel and study its anti-fouling performance over a two year period. This project created several challenges. These were:
Both tasks were accomplished, but the trial proved the concept too difficult logistically. Back to the drawing board and more conventional anti-fouling paint systems were pursued for improvement.
With the decision to establish HMAS STIRLING in Western Australia, it was time to establish the marine conditions in Garden Island, WA, and to undertake material evaluations in Cockburn Sound. A short, but memorable period was spent at HMAS LEEUWIN and daily visits to the fledgling Naval facilities at Garden Island (WA). My introduction to the RAN, at the operational level, was with a colorful character – Commander Jack Markham RAN. He was a wonderful man and great advisor to me in my work establishing the trials area at Garden Island ,WA.
returning to Melbourne, my Team realized that to truly develop
Materials worthy of best performance for the operational needs of
the RAN, we needed to understand the variability in the marine
conditions surrounding the largest island continent in the world.
published an article in the Navy
Quarterly – Autumn 1975, “ Marine Science and the Navy”. The
article covered the work of Scientists of the Defence Science and
Technology Organization (DSTO) and the efforts of my team
(at Defence Standards Laboratories,
Maribyrnong, Victoria), to
understand the performance of materials in the Marine environment
The paper described the work which I was leading. It involved the measurement of trace concentrations of heavy metals in the marine environment. These metals are normally present in seawater in trace amounts measured in parts per million. Metallic pigment leaching from ship antifouling systems have the potential to exacerbate metal levels in coastal waters and the seabed adjacent to our coastline. This program was undertaken as a baseline study to assist future RAN decisions regarding facility location and environmental impact.
The study program required a range of trials adjacent to existing RAN facilities, but also to understand baseline levels around the Australian coastline and into the oceans of our region. This work gave me a real opportunity to experience life at sea with the RAN. Over the period – 1975 to 1980, I regularly undertook sea going voyages with the Hydrographic Ships – HMAS KIMBLA and HMAS DIAMANTINA. These voyages spanned the Pacific Ocean, The Indian Ocean, the Tasman Sea and the Southern Ocean. Figure 1 illustrates the surveys which we undertook aboard the oceanographic ships and Table 1 summarises the voyages.
Figure 1 – Oceanographic Survey Voyages undertaken during 1975 – 1978.
Table 1 – Oceanographic Survey Summary
For Materials Research Laboratories Trial Cruises ( 1975 – 1978)
The cruises were normally of 2 week duration and generally emanated from and returned to an Australian Port. The work was divided by geographic location for the available survey vessels. All West coast work was done on HMAS DIAMANTINA, with East coast work done with HMAS KIMBLA.
Figure 2 - HMAS KIMBLA alongside during a survey trial port visit.
A very noteworthy voyage was aboard the HMAS DIAMANTINA in July 1975. The wet laboratory area of HMAS DIAMANTINA ( Figure 3 ).
Figure 3 – Wet Laboratory Space – HMAS DIAMANTINA set up for MRL trial.
The survey was conducted around the Tasmanian Island, the extended continental shelf and traveled down to 45o58.5’ South in a water depth of 2000m. As you can imagine, the seas were mountainous and the temperature freezing. The work involved a program of seawater sampling at all hours of the day and night, and subsequent testing and preservation of seawater samples for later laboratory analysis. “ Watch on Stop on “ was the order of the day throughout the voyage. Sea conditions were so bad that the ships company were banned from going on the upper deck for almost the entire voyage. As HMAS DIAMANTINA was a Fremantle based ship and HMAS LEEUWIN was the Junior Recruit Training Establishment at the time, this voyage was the first opportunity for some young lads to get their sea legs and it was a challenge.
Other voyages included passages to New Caledonia, New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef, to continue the study of the marine conditions around the Australian Continent. Figure 4 illustrates the procedure for water column
water sampling from the ship’s side.
Figure 4 – Water Column Seawater Sampling – HMAS KIMBLA
The author is shown preparing to recover a water sample bottle from the winch wire. Depths sampled ranged from 100 metres to 2000 metres off the continental shelf, around the Asia – Oceania region.
Throughout this time, my team developed a strong bond with both the Officers and Ship’s Companies of both DIAMANTINA and KIMBLA. So much so, that the Secretary of the HMAS KIMBLA Association referred to my joining the Association in the Newsletter in 1994 as “ We have acquired a number of new members in the last 12 months and we take this opportunity to say “welcome.” One in particular needs special mention –he is not a former crew member, but one who probably did more sea time through the 1970’s as any one of us had done , spanning an average two year stint. Russ Pettis was a “ Boffin “ with the Department of Defence – Materials Research Laboratories (MRL) and they did runs from Townsville, Cairns and Noumea , just to name a few. He formed close friendships with many crew members over a long period. Welcome aboard Russ. “ A.J ( Ben ) Davies – Secretary, HMAS KIMBLA Association.
3. Transition to Become a RANR Serving Member
Unfortunately, in 1980 my job role changed and I was transferred to the Explosives Research Division of MRL. At the same time the opportunity for RAN sea time was removed. As one’s life changes, I decided it was time for me to move on in my employment, but hopefully still maintain my involvement with the Department of Defence. I took a position as the Chief Chemist at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at the beginning of the planning for the local production of the FA/18A Hornet fighter for the RAAF.
Local production of the fighter aircraft meant significant numbers of Technical people, myself included, being sent to the USA, to be trained in the elements of the production of the aircraft. My training involved extensive periods of technical training at Northrop Corporation – Los Angeles, General Electric – Boston and McDonnell Douglas – St. Louis. We were charged with bringing the production know how back to Australia to locally produce and assemble the RAAF FA/18A Hornet fighter. Between 1980 and 1988, Australia produced approximately 100 aircraft at Fishermens Bend - Melbourne, Bankstown - Sydney and final assembly in Avalon - Victoria. We are all proud to say that the aircraft has had a fabulous record of service and is still Australia’s frontline fighter.
Whilst pre-occupied with this work, I was missing both the RAN and my sea time. I decided to join the Royal Australian Navy Reserve. My request was that I become a seagoing sailor and not a desk bound boffin. The only way this could be achieved at the time was for me to join as a Seaman. I was quite happy to concur and in May 1979, I joined the RANR as a SMN QMG. I was assured of significant sea time in Attack Class Patrol Boats and the various Auxiliary vessels of the time.
Over the next 16 years I was both fortunate and proud to serve in a range of vessels across Australia, with a wide cross section of Permanent and Reserve Naval Personnel, including Attack Class Patrol Boats – ATTACK, BOMBARD, ARDENT, BAYONET ( Figure 5 ) , Fremantle Class – WARRNAMBOOL and occasionally on the Auxiliary Minesweper – BROLGA.
Figure 5 – Ships Company – HMAS BAYONET – (Author, Rear Row Right Extreme ).
In 1987 I was commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant (Executive Branch RLEX) and continued my career with the Navy ( Figure 6 ).
Figure 6 & Figure 7 – Commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant (6) and Receiving the 1990 Prince of Wales Award for Reserve Junior Officers (7).
The Defence White Paper of 1987(1) identified a capable Mine Countermeasures Force as a high priority to keep Australian Ports open. The RAN established an innovative Australian concept for acoustic and magnetic sweeps and acquired trial Craft of Opportunity (COOP), such as fishing boats. These vessels were to be manned by members of the Naval Reserve.
A core team of RANR sea going personnel was established at HMAS LONSDALE to assist in trialing COOP procedures and in-shore route surveillance methods. This team worked closely with the RAN Project Team to prove our concepts. My role was to become the second in charge of this group under the leadership of Lieutenant Commander Richard Rowan RANR.
In 1990, I nominated for evaluation for the Prince of Wales Award (POWA). This award is presented annually, to recognize individual excellence of Defence Force Reservists, both within the service and civilian employment environments. Recipients undertake attachments to the UK, USA or Canada. In my case, I was successful in gaining an award in 1990 as a Sub Lieutenant in the Mine Warfare area of interest (Figure 7 above).
As I was employed in the Aviation manufacturing sector in Australia, I sought a civilian attachment with Rolls Royce Aero Engines manufacturing facility in Derby, UK. My naval assignment was a Mine warfare Junior Officers acquaint course in HMS NELSON at Portsmouth. Following the course and a short day running Mine Sweeping course from the HM Naval Dockyard, Rosyth, Scotland, I then sailed across the North Sea and through the Baltic Sea to Helsinki, Finland. I sailed aboard the Hunt Class Minesweeper – HMS BICESTER. This voyage occurred in late October, 1990 and the crossing of the North Sea really made me understand the efforts of the North Atlantic convoys of World War 2.
(1) – The Defence White Paper – “ The Defence of Australia “ – Department of Defence, Australia, 1987.
the outside temperature was very cold, constant rain and very rough seas made me appreciate how lucky we are to live in the warmer Southern Hemisphere (Figure 8).
Figure 8 – Royal Navy Hunt Class Minehunters alongside in Helsinki Harbour, Finland, 1990.
The voyage, in company, with another Hunt Class Minesweeper was both excellent from a ship handling training view point, but also gave me the opportunity to serve with the Royal Navy at sea. The voyage had its lighter moments regularly.
There was a daily quiz between Midshipmen serving on both ships utilizing signaling lantern and morse code. Unfortunately my ship was not doing well and the Captain was looking for a competitive edge. He cast his net around the ship to find somebody who could find the question without an answer. I offered the Captain what I believed to be a very difficult question to solve – “Who was the author of the poem - The Man from Snowy River?”
The ever active flashing light went silent and it appeared that we had beaten them. After about 30 minutes, back came the tell tale letters - Bravo Alpha November – as I read the letters, I apologized to the Captain and said they had got it right. Later at a reception at the British Embassy in Helsinki , I was approached by a Petty Officer Stoker from the other vessel, and he told me that he cracked the question. He explained his name was Patterson and another RAN sailor, on exchange with the RN, had nicknamed him “ Banjo” some years before. He said we had really stumped the other ship, but the Captain had sent a pipe throughout the ship to try and find the answer. Banjo provided the answer. Life at sea is never dull as we all know.
Upon return to Australia, I used some of the skills I gained in my short time with the RN in our MCM role with our team at Minewarfare Group 54 (Melbourne). Major exercises were held in Australia’s Northern waters over the next couple of years, with the greater RAN MCM community. My service continued until 1995, when I transferred to the Inactive Reserve Officers List.
5. Joining the Naval Association of Australia
My association with the Naval Association of Australia came through a good friend and now President of the Footscray Sub section – Jock Liddle. He has been a member of the NAA for almost 50 years and he would see me at the Melton RSL in Victoria. He always said that I should join the Naval Association. I finally agreed in 1998 and became a member of the Footscray Sub Section. Since then I have served as Secretary and President at Footscray, and Delegate to State Council, Vice President and now President of the Victoria Section.
My long and unusual journey with the RAN as a Defence Scientist working with Navy, RANR Sailor and later Commissioned Officer, Short posting to the Royal Navy and now as an active member of the Naval Association of Australia has been extremely rewarding both personally and professionally. To use an old cliché – “ I would not have missed it for the world.”
ONCE NAVY - ALWAYS NAVY
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