Auxiliary Minesweeper
J.L. Thompson & Sons, Sunderland
20 May 1918
25 February 1919
Sold and scuttled
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 762 tons
Length 225 feet
Beam 30 feet
Draught 13 feet 5 inches
Speed 12 knots
Guns 1 x 4.7 inch gun, 2 x 12 pounder guns

HMAS Coogee was a 762-ton armed patrol vessel/minesweeper operated by the RAN during the later stages of World War I. She was built by JL Thompson and Sons of Sunderland, England, as the SS Lancaster Witch for the Isle of Man Steam Navigation Company that operated between Liverpool and the Isle of Man. This company became bankrupt in 1888 and the vessel was purchased by Huddart, Parker and Co Pty Ltd of Victoria, renamed Coogee and sailed to Melbourne. She was then employed on the passenger and cargo ferry run from Melbourne to Launceston. Throughout her career she suffered a number of collisions, and near misses, and during the early part of World War I was laid up in Melbourne.

Coogee was requisitioned by the Royal Australian Navy in late April 1918 and commissioned on 20 May 1918, at Melbourne, under the command of Lieutenant Commander George Douglas Warren RANR(S). HMAS Coogee was armed with a single 4.7-inch gun and two 12 pounder quick firing guns, and fitted with wireless telegraphy equipment. With her mixed crew of RAN and RAN Reserve personnel she operated as a minesweeper in Bass Strait and also as an armed patrol vessel along the Australian east coast.

The operations of the German raider SMS Wolf in Australian waters during late 1917, including laying mines in Bass Strait, had prompted the RAN to take more proactive measures to patrol this waterway and keep the vital port of Melbourne open to shipping. Additionally Wolf’s capture of the steamer Matunga while sailing from Sydney to Rabaul in late 1917 prompted an increase in patrols along the Australian east coast. Coogee alternated between patrol work and minesweeping, and it was unknown how many minefields Wolf may have laid.

On the evening of 11 December 1918, Coogee was alongside in Brisbane when one of her sailors ran amok with a rifle and fixed bayonet, and then jumped overboard into the fast flowing river. Able Seaman Robert Harold Henry Howells jumped overboard and, despite struggling intensely with the crazed sailor, managed to rescue him. Howells was subsequently award the United Kingdom Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal for bravery for rescuing this deranged sailor. Howells had seen three years of war service on board HMAS Sydney during 1914-17 including the action with the Emden on 9 November 1914.

Even after the war had finished the search for mines continued and Coogee, accompanied by the tug James Paterson, conducted a sweep off Cape Everard during 1-26 January 1919 but no mines were found. A month later, however, a drifting mine was sighted six miles off Cape Everard by the steamer Aeon and destroyed by rifle fire. In June 1919 another mine washed ashore and exploded on Clinton Rocks and a third mine was found floating off Cape Everard in October 1919.

Coogee was decommissioned on 25 February 1919 and subsequently returned to her owners. SS Coogee was once again laid up in ‘Rotten Row’ in Port Melbourne although she was chartered by the Post Master General’s Department in 1921 to work as a sea bed cable repair ship in Bass Strait.

She was sold for scrap in 1927 and her engines removed before she was scuttled outside Port Phillip Bay on 27 February 1928. Her wreck lies in 35 metres of water, about four kilometres offshore between Point Lonsdale and Barwon Heads, and is a popular dive site.