Motor Launch
J Williams & Sons, Bayview NSW
30 December 1941
12 November 1944
Dimensions & Displacement
Length 69 feet
Beam 14 feet 5 inches
Speed 10 knots
Guns 2 x .303 inch Vickers machine gun
Other Armament 6 x Mk VII depth charges

The motor yacht (MY) Marlean was built by J Williams and Sons of Bayview, Sydney, in 1938 and was launched in 1939. She was constructed of spotted gum and Huon pine, and was powered by two, 105hp, six cylinder Gray marine engines. She was requisitioned for Naval service on 17 September 1941. At that time, her owner was listed as Kyalla Investment Co Ltd, for Mr WJ Stuart, the proprietor of the Stuart Brothers construction company.

Marlean was commissioned in the RAN as HMAS Marlean on 30 December 1941 as a tender to HMAS Platypus (then based in Darwin) under the command of Warrant Officer Louis Smith, RANR(S). He was followed in quick succession by Acting Sub Lieutenant John Coupe, RANR(S), on 8 January 1942, and then by Commissioned Officer from Warrant Rank Eric Macpherson, RANR(S), on 20 February 1942. She was armed with .303 Vickers machine guns fore and aft and depth charges at the stern. A fairly typical arrangement for channel patrol boats.

Marlean, however, never made the trip north to join Platypus and by mid-1942 had been redesignated as a tender to HMAS Penguin in Sydney. She served chiefly in waters off the east coast of Australia conducting patrol duties around Sydney, Newcastle and Port Kembla.

Marlean was in Sydney Harbour on the night of the Japanese midget submarine attack on 31 May 1942. She, along with five other channel patrol boats, was off duty and moored at Farm Cove when the attack commenced. The commotion on the harbour soon roused their curiosity and, without waiting for orders, she and HMAS Toomaree slipped their moorings to investigate. Marlean remained on patrol into the early hours of 1 June and, like many other vessels on the harbour that night, fired at various potential, unconfirmed submarine sightings.

The Navy purchased Marlean outright in June 1942 and the following month she escorted SS Allara, into Newcastle after being severely damaged by a torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine while steaming between Cairns and Sydney.

In the evening of 23 February 1943 Marlean reported sighting a periscope while on patrol off Botany Bay, pressing home an attack and releasing a single depth charge. The following morning, while patrolling in the same area, members of the ship’s company observed bubbles and a small oil patch in the water. Two more depth charges were dropped but nothing further was seen. Subsequent anti-submarine sweeps by FS Le Triomphant and ML 813 were negative, and the presence of a submarine could not be confirmed.

On 14 April 1944 Marlean was transferred to the Naval Auxiliary Patrol (NAP). Her crew was transferred ashore and replaced with an NAP crew under the command of Skipper Hayden Arnott.

HMAS Marlean was present in Sydney Harbour on the night of the Japanese midget submarine attack on 31 May 1942, and fired at various potential, unconfirmed submarine sightings.
HMAS Marlean was present in Sydney Harbour on the night of the Japanese midget submarine attack on 31 May 1942, and fired at various potential, unconfirmed submarine sightings.

Marlean departed the NAP base in Rushcutters Bay on 12 November 1944 to conduct a patrol temporarily skippered by Sub Lieutenant Colin Munro, RANVR, as Arnott was on sick leave. Sub Lieutenant Munro had only transferred to the regular Navy from the NAP less than two weeks earlier.

She arrived in her designated patrol area in Obelisk Bay when, late in the afternoon, one of the crew lit a kerosene-burning stove to make coffee while another began to heat water to wash-up. The stove, which had caused problems in the past, suddenly exploded starting a fire and forcing the two sailors from the galley. In spite of the crew’s best efforts to extinguish the fire Marlean was soon engulfed in flames and Sub Lieutenant Munro ordered abandon ship.

The smoke from the fire was seen by the crew of HDML 1358 from her nearby anchorage and her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Norman Swarbrick, RANVR, ordered her to close on the burning vessel at full speed. He later reported:

Hoses were rigged and pumps started and the firefighting equipment mustered on deck. It was noticed on the way across the harbour that depth charges were still in “20’s” [Marlean’s pennant number] racks and that the crew had abandoned her. We intended at first to go alongside and release the charges but when we were 50 yds off the flames were already burning strongly around the port forward charge.

The pilot steamer Captain Cook also saw the flames as she was returning to port. She also made ready firefighting equipment and began to close on Marlean when HDML 1358 ordered her, and another private launch away, due to the danger posed by the depth charges and exploding .303 inch ammunition. The master of Captain Cook, Captain T Simmonds, instead ordered the steamer’s motor dinghy into the water to rescue Marlean’s six-man crew who, by this stage, had paddled about 100 yards [90 metres] but were finding the going tough as the wind and the tide pushed them back towards the burning vessel. “They were in a very tight spot,” Captain Simmonds later recalled. Captain Cook stood off from the burning vessel about 500 yards [460 metres] while the motor dinghy conducted a successful rescue.

Lieutenant Swarbrick, meanwhile, ordered HDML 1358 to withdraw to approximately 150 yards [140 metres] before opening fire with the ship’s 20mm Oerlikon gun along Marlean’s waterline in an effort to sink her. The little patrol boat proved a stubborn target, however, and in spite of being hit by about 20 rounds, refused to sink.

At 17:23, the fire reached the depth charges. The subsequent explosion destroyed the patrol boat and shook houses for miles around, shattering windows and loosening plaster from walls and ceilings. Debris was reportedly blown "thousands of yards away” starting a scrub fire in George’s Heights which, at one point, threatened lives and property but was brought under control within an hour.

Homes were reportedly damaged in Watsons Bay and Balmoral, and the Sydney Morning Herald reported the following day that “the force of the blast knocked the bungs out of beer kegs in an Army canteen in Middle Head.” Thankfully no one was injured. People whose homes or property was damaged by the blast were compensated by the Commonwealth.

Marlean’s official decommissioning date is recorded as 12 November 1944.