HMAS Latrobe
Bathurst Class
Australian Minesweeper
J234, M234
Sidus Adsit Amicum - Let a Friendly Star Attend Me
Mort's Dock & Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney
Laid Down
27 January 1942
19 June 1942
Launched by
Blessed by the Reverend AG Rix
6 November 1942
13 March 1953
Sold on 18 May 1956 to Hong Kong Rolling Mills to be broken up
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 650 tons
Length 180 feet 10 inches
Beam 31 feet 2 inches
Draught 8 feet 6 inches
Speed 15.5 knots
Crew 85
Machinery Triple expansion, 2 shafts
Horsepower 2000
Guns 1 x 4-inch gun
Other Armament 3 x Oerlikons
Battle Honours

HMAS Latrobe 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 were built on Admiralty order but manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy. Thirty six (including Latrobe) were built for the Royal Australian Navy and four for the Royal Indian Navy.

HMAS Latrobe was laid down at Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney, on 27 January 1942. The vessel was not traditionally launched but floated in the dry dock in which she was built. This occasion was marked with a low key ceremony comprising a blessing by the Reverand AG Rix on 19 June 1942.

Latrobe commissioned at Sydney on 6 November 1942 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Basil T Brewster DSC RN.

Informal group portrait of men on deck of Latrobe, shortly after her commissioning in the first quarter of 1943. This was her first voyage into tropical waters and most of this group, mainly stokers, have shaved heads, partly to counteract the heat of the engine room. L-R: Back row: all unidentified. Third row: Seaman Les Bates, unidentified, Stoker L Ward, Stoker EC Van Bael, unidentified. Second row: Stoker K Akers, Stoker TB McGuinness, unidentified, unidentified, Stoker GJ Furey. Front row: Stoker JR Newton, Stoker D Peers, Stoker Bishop, unidentified, Leading Telegraphist Stan Nalder, Stoker N Ulrich, Stoker Don Morgan. (AWM P02493.005)

Latrobe commenced her wartime career in January 1943 escorting convoys to New Guinea. After several trips she passed to the operational control of the Darwin Command on 25 February and arrived there to begin duty escorting a convoy from Thursday Island on 10 March 1943. She remained in northern Australian waters shepherding convoys between Darwin and Thursday Island until June 1944 when she proceeded to New Guinea waters.

It was a period of routine escort duty, though on many occasions her crew were reminded of the enemy's presence. On 12 February she unsuccessfully attacked a Japanese submarine. In July en route to Darwin her convoy was twice attacked by enemy aircraft. Again in December 1943 she was attacked by a single Japanese bomber. Raids were also experienced in Darwin Harbour.

Latrobe and her sister corvettes perfomed a broad range of tasks during their wartime service, earning them a reputation as 'Maids of all Work'.

On 17 June 1944 Latrobe arrived at Port Moresby to begin operating in the New Guinea area. The following seven months were spent escorting convoys to Madang, Hollandia, Morotai, Biak, Noemfoor and Mios Woendi. Considerable periods were spent on anti-submarine patrol mainly in the Morotai and Biak areas.

Returning to the mainland in January 1945, Latrobe spent seven weeks in refit in Adelaide, proceeding to Sydney at the end of March 1945. On 23 April she arrived at Langemak to begin a second tour of duty in the New Guinea area. In May she spent nine days operating as an anti-submarine unit off Tarakan, Borneo, followed by similar duties at Morotai. In July and August she returned to Borneo for a period as the duty minesweeper off Balikpapan, carrying out a bombardment of the Japanese held village of Separtim on 3 August. When hostilities ended on 15 August she was anchored at Morotai.

Left: Three Australian sailors from Latrobe, L-R: Engine Room Artificer Eric Smith, unidentified, Stoker JG Willis, on a road at a local market in Sandakan, circa October 1945. (AWM P02493.001). Right: Able Seaman Brian Kane with Latrobe's unofficial mascot 'George', a crocodile carved by Torres Strait Islanders.

In September 1945 Latrobe operated between Morotai and the Celebes, evacuating Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees. In October she transported occupation forces to Menado and Sandakan, returning to Sydney in December from Labuan, Borneo, with two small craft in tow. On 19 December 1945 she reached Melbourne having steamed 92,819 miles and spent some 10,000 hours underway since commissioning.

Left: Latrobe fitted with her A286 Air/Surface warning radar aerial and A272 Surface Warning Radar. (Allan C Green, State Library of Victoria). Right: Studio portrait of B3391 Signalman Thomas E Davies, circa 1942. Davies served on Latrobe from 1942 to 1946. (AWM P02493.004)

In January 1946 she visited her town of Latrobe in Tasmania and shortly afterwards assumed the role of training ship attached to Flinders Naval Depot, a duty which kept her occupied until the close of 1952.

Latrobe was assigned two pennant numbers during her commission - J234 (left) and M234 (right). (Allan C Green, State Library of Victoria)

Latrobe paid off on 13 March 1953 and was transferred into the control of Williamstown Dockyard, passing into the Reserve Fleet on 17 September 1953. In her ten years of seagoing service Latrobe steamed 155,293 miles and spent more than 17,000 hours underway. She was sold on 18 May 1956 to Hong Kong Rolling Mills to be broken up.

Further reading

  • 'HMAS Latrobe: The story of an Australian Corvette, 1942-1946, by Windas Smith, circa 1987.
  • '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.