Royal Australian Navy’s “borrowed” aircraft carrier

There was a period in Royal Australian Navy history when the service operated two aircraft carriers simultaneously, Sgt Dave Morley explains as he outlines the history of HMAS Vengeance.

The Navy’s intended second light fleet aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne II, suffered delays in England in the early 1950s, while undergoing an upgrade, consequently the carrier HMS Vengeance VII was loaned to Australia from 1952-55.

The Royal Australian Navy’s first light fleet aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney III, laid down as HMS Terrible, had previously been accepted into service in February 1949.

Vengeance was one of a group of 16 light fleet carriers of the colossus and majestic classes, laid down in British shipyards from 1942-43.

She commissioned as HMS Vengeance VII in January 1945, and completed her workup in the Mediterranean in March 1945, before joining the East Indies Fleet and then the British Pacific Fleet, visiting Sydney in July 1945.

After the war, Vengeance served with the Home Fleet, including a period conducting endurance trials in the Arctic in early 1949.

She began a refit for her Australian service in September 1952.

Vengeance commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Vengeance, at Devonport, England, on November 13, 1952, under the temporary command of Commander Clive Hudson, with a steaming party of 550 officers and men.

Captain Henry Burrell assumed command on 2 December 1952.

The carrier steamed from England in January 1953, arriving in Sydney in March, via Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, the Suez Canal, and Colombo.

After a three-month refit in Sydney, Vengeance commenced seagoing service in June 1953, working up in preparation for a deployment to Korea.

In late July, Navy announced Sydney III, would deploy to Korea instead, so Vengeance remained in Australian waters until April 1954.

Between February and April Vengeance was one of several Australian warships tasked with royal escort duty during the visit to Australia of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip.

She escorted the SS Gothic with the Royal party embarked, to the Cocos Islands, in company with HMA Ships Anzac II and Bataan, handing over escort duties to HM Ships Colombo and Newfoundland on April 5, 1954.

Later that day Bataan, a tribal-class destroyer, was damaged in a collision with Vengeance during replenishment operations near the Cocos Islands.

Vengeance went on to visit Darwin, Manus Island and Rabaul before returning to Sydney in May 1954.

The ship assumed the role of a fleet training ship in July, which included instruction of 18-year-old National Service trainees completing their 176-day commitment.

In October 1954, Vengeance left Sydney for Yokosuka in Japan to embark aircraft, men and equipment of No.77 Squadron RAAF, returning them to Sydney in early December.

After a three-month refit in February 1955, Vengeance resumed training duties until late April 1955.

In June, 1955, Vengeance departed Sydney for the return voyage to England carrying almost 1000 officers and sailors who were to commission HMAS Melbourne II.

Vengeance arrived in Devonport, via Singapore, Colombo, Aden, Suez, Port Said and Malta, in August 1955, at which time administrative control was assumed by the Senior Officer Reserve Fleet, Plymouth.

Her commission in the RAN ended on October 25, 1955 and Melbourne II commissioned three days later.

Vengeance was sold to Brazil in December 1956, and after extensive reconstruction and modernisation in Rotterdam, was commissioned by the Brazilian Navy as Minas Gerais in December 1960.

Minas Gerais decommissioned in 2001 at which time she was the oldest active aircraft carrier in the world.

In 2004, the ship was towed to the ship breaking yards at Alang, India for dismantling.