HMAS Cairns (I)
Bathurst Class
Australian Minesweeper
Walkers Ltd, Maryborough
Laid Down
31 March 1941
7 October 1941
Launched by
Mrs Weber, wife of Works Manager, Walkers Ltd
11 May 1942
17 January 1946
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 186 feet
Beam 31 feet
Draught 8 feet 6 inches
Speed 15 knots
Crew 85
Machinery Triple expansion, 2 shafts
Horsepower 2000
  • 1 x 12-pounder gun
  • 1 x Bofors (later)
  • Machine guns
Other Armament
  • 3 x Oerlikons (later 4)
  • Depth charge chutes and throwers
Battle Honours

HMAS Cairns was one of sixty Australian Minesweepers (commonly known as corvettes) built during World War II in Australian shipyards as part of the Commonwealth Government's wartime shipbuilding programme. Twenty (including Cairns) were built on Admiralty order but manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty six were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

HMAS Cairns was laid down at Walkers Ltd, Maryborough, Queensland on 31 March 1941. She was launched on 7 October 1941 by Mrs Weber, wife of Works Manager, Walkers Ltd and was the first RAN warship to carry the name of the city on the east coast of Far North Queensland. Cairns is a popular tourist destination because of its tropical climate and access to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Cairns commissioned at Maryborough on 11 May 1942 under the command of Lieutenant Edward MacMillan RANR(S).

HMAS Cairns was launched on 7 October 1941 by Mrs RD Weber, wife of the Works Manager, Walkers Ltd.
HMAS Cairns was launched on 7 October 1941 by Mrs RD Weber, wife of the Works Manager, Walkers Ltd.
Cairns takes to the water for the first time.
HMAS Cairns takes to the water for the first time.
Cairns afloat and ready for the process of fitting out.
HMAS Cairns afloat and ready for the process of fitting out.

Until 16 October 1942, when she departed Fremantle to join the Eastern Fleet, Cairns was engaged in escort, anti-submarine and minesweeping duties in Australian waters.

On 14 November 1942 Cairns arrived at the fleet base at Kilindini, Kenya, to begin a period of Indian Ocean patrol and escort duties. In mid-1943 she was transferred temporarily to the Mediterranean. While serving in that theatre, Cairns and her sister ships, HMA Ships Cessnock, Geraldton and Wollongong, were at Sicily on 13 July, three days after the start of the Allied invasion. They had gone to the island as part escort of a convoy from Alexandria. They spent the day carrying out an endless chain patrol of the beach and saw an American Liberty Ship blown up in an air raid. Cairns returned to the Indian Ocean in September 1943.

The ship's work in the Indian Ocean was mainly uneventful convoy escort duties, but on 11 February 1944 she was a unit of the escort of a convoy which was attacked by the Japanese submarine RO-110. After one ship, Asphalion, had been torpedoed, a concerted attack by Cairns' sister ships, HMA Ships Launceston and Ipswich, and the Indian sloop HMIS Jumna, destroyed the submarine.

A depth charge exploding in the ship's wake
A depth charge exploding in the ship's wake.

Members of the crew of Cairns, circa 1944. (Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)

Following a refit at Adelaide from May 1944, Cairns rejoined the Eastern Fleet in July 1944 and, based on Colombo, resumed escort duties, mainly between Indian ports and Aden at the entrance to the Red Sea.

In January 1945 Cairns returned to Australia to begin operations with the British Pacific Fleet. After a brief period in home waters she reached the New Guinea theatre in late March to begin escort duties between Manus and Leyte in the Philippines. During March to May she was one of the Australian units operating with the British Pacific Fleet for the invasion of the island of Okinawa (Operation ICEBERG). At the end of these operations Cairns proceeded to Fremantle for refit.

In October 1945 the ship proceeded to the Far East where, as a unit of the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla, she took part in sweeping operations in Chinese waters. She returned to Australia in December 1945 for paying off and at Brisbane on 17 January 1946 she was transferred to the Royal Netherlands Navy and was renamed Ambon. She was transferred to the Indonesian Navy on 6 April 1950 and renamed Banteng. She was broken up in April 1968.

HMAS Cairns
HMAS Cairns was based in Fremantle and operated as a convoy escort, anti-submarine patroller, and minesweeper.

Note: This video is hosted on YouTube. Department of Defence users will not be able to view this video on the Defence Protected Network.

This cine film has been placed online as part of the Sea Power Centre - Australia's ongoing archival digitisation program.

Further reading

  • 'Notable Service to the Empire: Australian Corvettes and the British Pacific Fleet, 1944-45' by Hugh Campbell - published by Naval Historical Society of Australia Inc, Garden Island, 1995.
  • 'The Corvettes: Forgotten Ships of the Royal Australian Navy' by Iris Nesdale - published by the author, October, 1982.
  • 'Corvettes - Little Ships for Big Men' by Frank B Walker - published by Kingfisher Press, NSW, 1996.
  • 'The Australian Centenary History of Defence Volume III, The Royal Australian Navy' edited by David Stevens, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2001.