Quo Fata Vocant (We Go Where Destiny Calls)
10th February 2011 is the 47th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS VOYAGER, with the loss of 82 crew. This was and still is the greatest peacetime disaster the RAN has ever suffered.
On the night of 10 February 1964 HMAS VOYAGER was in company with the Carrier HMAS MELBOURNE preparing to carry out night flying exercises approximately 20 miles off the coast from Jervis Bay NSW. VOYAGER’s task was to act as plane guard, in case an aircraft failed to make a landing on or take off from the carrier and had to ditch into the oggon. She had practiced this manoeuvre with the Carrier many times in the past including that day, so what happened and why it happened can never be fully explained.
At 2052 VOYAGER was tasked by MELBOURNE to change to a new course in an attempt to “find the wind” to allow flying operations to commence. As part of the manoeuvre she had to take up a new position on the port aft quarter of the Carrier. During the manoeuvre at 2055 something went terribly wrong and she came into collision with the MELBOURNE. The collision cut the ship in two just aft of the bridge. The bow section began to sink immediately due to the weight of the forward 4.5″gun mounts and went down in minutes. The stern section remained afloat and did not sink until after midnight. Of the 413 crew onboard that night 14 Officers and 67 sailors and a civilian dockyard worker died. Most of those who died were in the forward section and could not manage to escape through the ship’s escape hatches.
Many acts of courage were displayed that night, in particular that of CPO Jonathon “Buck” Rogers who, knowing that he could not escape because of his size, assisted other sailors out of the escape hatches and then toward the end, led the others with him who also could not escape in hymns as the bow section went down – (Survivors, swimming away from the ship reported sounds of singing from inside the bow section as it slipped below that waves). CPO Rogers was awarded the George Cross, posthumously for his action and courage. There were many other acts of selfless courage displayed that night by members of the VOYAGER crew.
It took two Royal Commissions to determine the cause of the accident and many years for the survivors and victims of this tragedy to obtain just compensation. The last claim was settled in July 2009, 45 years after the accident. Unfortunately the claimant had by then died in 2003.
Please take time on the 10th to remember the crew of HMAS VOYAGER and their families. Their loss and devotion to duty and the Royal Australian Navy should not go unmarked in history.
The Naval Ode.
They have no grave
But the cruel sea.
No flowers lay at their head.
A rusting hulk is their tombstone.
Afast on the ocean bed.
They shall not grow old
As we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning,
we will remember them.
Lest we forget