In December 1962, HMAS Waterhen became an Australian Royal Naval Base in Sydney.
In December 2012, Waterhen celebrated 50 years of service for the RAN.
But, Waterhens story goes back much further than this, so in tribute to the Base the 16th Minesweeping Squadron called Home, we take a look back at the Base and her history and celebrate this remarkable base’s History
The story of HMAS Waterhen begins much earlier than its inception as a Naval Base. The land was originally granted to Edward Wollenstonecraft and later his business partner, Alexander Barry in 1832.
The area around it is called Waverton and Wollstonecraft is just up the road.
In the late 1930s, The RAN chose a site for a new graving dock at Garden Island and made the decision to quarry sand stone from the nearby area of Balls Head and transport it down Harbour to the construction site. Garden Island really was just an Island, but by building a land bridge, it became an outcrop into the harbour and no longer an Island.
This quarrying left the RAN with a sheer rock face and a man-made base at sea level, ideal for what was then to be a storage area rather than a Naval Base.
During the middle of the Second World War, a need for safe secure storage made this man made site ideal for the boom nets that would be positioned across Sydney Harbour to prevent enemy infiltration into the city by waterborne craft or submarine.
Unfortunately, for Sydney, the boom net security was not fully installed and operational by the night of May 31st, 1942.
When the attack came, it was by a small posse of Japanese Midget Submarines attempted to and one got round the perimeter nets strung across the harbour entrance. One managed to fire a torpedo at the USS Chicago that was moored in the harbour. It missed, but a second bounced off the harbour wall and rebounded into the HMAS Kuttabul, and sink her with a loss of 21 lives. The Kuttabul was requisitioned to serve as an accommodation ship, hence the huge loss of life for such a small vessel.
Failure to fully implement the boom nets and electric detection loops left the harbour wide open to enemy attack.
It could be argued that the attack on the USS Chicago and sinking of the HMAS Kuttabul so far inshore immediately changed the status of all Sydney Harbour small bases into something that over the decades to follow would provide the country with security and a world class Navy.
After the war, the site reverted to storage but the 1962 the site was commissioned as a base for the RAN Minesweepers and Clearance Diving Teams under the banner of Australian Mine Countermeasures Forces. The base also became home to the Freemantle Class Patrol boats and last but not least, The Minesweepers. When the Minesweepers arrived from England, they were based at Waterhen and given the names of other birds, Snipe, Teal, Curlew, Ibis and Hawk. Waterhen became the mother bird, the base the small squadron would return to and call home until the end of their service
During World War 2, the site was hastily built with ‘fibro’ buildings for durability and speed. Those buildings remained until a complete refurbishment during the 1990s. The original site buildings had been temporary for over 60 years!
HMAS Waterhen was substantially refurbished during the 1990s and today is home to the most sophisticated and advanced mine counter measure equipment available.