Air Speed

Air/Sea Search and Rescue Vessel
Air-Sea Rescue Launch
Fellows & Stewart Inc, USA
28 February 1945
30 July 1946
Struck from RAN, 1963
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 24 tons
Length 63ft (19.2m)
Beam 15 ft (4.57m)
Draught 3 ft 4 in (1.01m)
Speed Up to 28 knots
Crew 7-8 including 2 RAAF telegraphists
Machinery Twin Hall-Scott petrol engines
Horsepower 1,200 bhp
Guns 2 x twin Lewis guns

HMAS Air Speed was one of 21 air/sea rescue vessels originally built in the USA and Canada between 1943 and 1945, and transferred to the RAN under the Lend-Lease Agreement. These vessels were originally designed as anti-submarine craft but their high speed and manoeuvrability made them ideal as search and rescue vessels. In this role, their hulls were painted black and their upper decks and superstructure painted bright yellow. One vessel, HMAS Air Sprite, was built locally in 1960 to an almost identical design.

Air Speed was commissioned on 28 February 1945 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant Jack Williams, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Madang. Her first few weeks in commission were spent alongside in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials. On 24 March, in company with HMAS Air Sense, she acted as an escort for their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester on the occasion of the opening of the Captain Cook Graving Dock.

Air Speed operated in Jervis Bay between 12 and 19 April performing ASR duties with the ships of the British Pacific Fleet  before proceeding northwards for Madang, New Guinea, on 23 April in company with her sister ships, HMA Ships Air Hope and Air Mercy. On 15 June, en route from Port Moresby to Milne Bay, Air Speed struck an uncharted coral reef necessitating the replacement of both screws and a shaft at Milne Bay. She departed Milne Bay on 8 July and arrived at Madang four days later.

She remained in Madang until December conducting ASR duties and providing transportation services in the area. On 20 August she took the popular entertainer Gracie Fields and the Naval Officer in Charge, New Guinea, on a tour of the harbour. Fields, the top box-office draw and the highest paid actress in Britain in the 1930s, was touring the South Pacific performing for Allied troops.

Air Speed departed Madang for Jacquinot Bay on 1 December where she performed harbour duties before returning to Australia in early 1946. She arrived in Sydney on 22 March 1946 and decommissioned on 30 July.

HMAS Air Mercy, Air Trail and Air Speed operating in close company
HMAS Air Mercy, Air Trail and Air Speed operating in close company.

She recommissioned on 7 March 1951 as a search and rescue vessel operating primarily between Sydney and Jervis Bay. She decommissioned and recommissioned twice more during the 1950s and remained listed as a search and rescue vessel until 1963.

A general arrangement plan of the Air class search & rescue vessels
A general arrangement plan of the Air-class search and rescue vessels.