Duchess was launched on 9 April 1951 by the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, wife of Vice Admiral, the Earl Mountbatten, Fourth Sea Lord. She was commissioned on 23 October 1952 and joined the RN’s Home Fleet the following year. From September 1954 to July 1955, Duchess was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet, based at Malta. She was engaged in patrols off Cyprus and in operations off Port Said, Egypt during the Suez Crisis in late 1956. In the early 1960s, Duchess served in the Far East with the 24th Escort Squadron as part of Britain’s contribution to the Far East Strategic Reserve (FESR).
Four Darings were ordered for the RAN in the late 1940's though only three were built; HMA Ships Voyager (II), Vampire (II) and Vendetta (II). The fourth, to be named HMAS Waterhen, was cancelled. The Australian built Darings were similar to the eight vessels being built for the RN, but with modifications for Australian conditions, with good ventilation and air conditioning being a priority.
From an operational perspective, the loss of Voyager in February 1964 made it very difficult for Australia to meet its FESR and South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) Exercise commitments, particularly in 1964 and 1965. In response, the British Admiralty offered a choice of two Darings, HM Ships Defender or Duchess, on long term loan. Although badly in need of a refit; the latter ship was preferred because she was AC powered and partially air-conditioned. In addition, Duchess was currently serving in the Far East, whereas Defender was in Britain undergoing a major refit. Defender was DC-powered and not air-conditioned.
On 24 February 1964, just two weeks after the Voyager disaster, the Australian Government accepted the British
Duchess arrived at Singapore on 6 February relieving Vampire and joining HMAS Derwent for FESR duties. Her first patrol commenced on 11 February off Pulau Jarak in the Straits of Malacca, and in the Straits of Singapore before returning to Singapore on 24 February for a self maintenance period. Duchess returned to Sydney on 19 March and departed for Williamstown the next day for leave and further maintenance.
On 29 April 1965, the Australian Government announced its intention to commit an infantry battalion to the escalating conflict in Vietnam. The Navy’s fast troop transport, HMAS Sydney (III), embarked the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) on 27 May and departed Sydney escorted by Duchess. The duo were joined by HMA Ships Parramatta (III), Melbourne (II) and Vampire (II) and replenished by HMAS Supply enroute. On 8 June, shortly after reaching the operational area, Melbourne and Vampire detached, leaving Sydney, Duchess and Parramatta to continue on to Vung Tau. Once anchored, Sydney quickly commenced unloading operations with her escorts maintaining a protective screen. The three ships departed Vung Tau on 11 June, proceeding south to Singapore. Sydney and Duchess finally returned to Sydney on 5 July where Duchess entered a period of leave and maintenance.
Duchess put to sea on 11 August 1965 and proceeded northwards to Singapore for her second FESR deployment. Duchess was detached from patrol duties on 10 September and proceeded to Manus Island where she and Vendetta rendezvoused with Sydney and once again escorted the troop transport to Vung Tau. The trio anchored off Vung Tau on 28 September and, after Sydney had unloaded her army cargo, Duchess proceeded to Hong Kong for self maintenance. She departed Hong Kong on 26 October to return to FESR duties though was back in Hong Kong briefly over the Christmas/New Year period for further maintenance. Duchess departed again on 4 January 1966 to recommence patrols around Borneo and to act as Tawau Guard Ship.
Duchess arrived in Darwin on 2 March 1966 ending a seven-month deployment. She arrived back in her home-port of Sydney on 12 March and immediately began a refit at Garden Island Dockyard. She emerged again on 22 August and spent the remainder of the year exercising in East Australian waters.
On 4 January 1967, Duchess sailed from Sydney in company with Vampire for another FESR deployment. Both ships arrived in Singapore on 20 January to relieve HMA Ships Parramatta (III) and Yarra (III). This deployment was markedly different to Duchess’ previous FESR deployments as the Indonesian Confrontation had come to an end the previous year with the ratification of the Bangkok Accord.
Duchess’ deployment featured the usual mixture of periods at sea for exercises with other naval units, plus port visits which, in this case, included Telok Kekek, Pulau Langkawi, Pulau Song Song, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. Whilst alongside in Singapore, Duchess hoisted the new Australian White Ensign for the first time on 1 March 1967.
Duchess, in company with HMAS Stuart (II), returned to Sydney on 17 June, where she entered a major refit at Garden Island. On 12 October 1967, the Minister for the Navy, the Hon. Don Chipp MP, announced that the initial four-year loan of Duchess had been extended until April 1972.
Duchess eventually emerged from the dockyard on 3 June 1968 for post-refit trials and work-up. On 8 July 1968, Duchess departed Sydney for Exercise AUCKEX in New Zealand waters which involved units from the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), RN and RAN. Duchess visited Auckland and Dunedin during the deployment before returning to Sydney on 29 July.
On 23 September 1968, the major naval and amphibious Exercise CORAL SANDS commenced involving more than 50 ships and 18,000 personnel from Australia, Britain, New Zealand and the United States in an area ranging from the Solomon Sea to the east coast of Australia. Duchess was just one of 26 RAN units in the exercise which was at that time the largest exercise of its type led by Australian forces.
Duchess next sailed to Hong Kong for a two-day stopover, before continuing passage north, in company with HMAS Derwent, visiting the South Korean ports of Inchon and Chinhae, and the Japanese ports of Nagasaki and Kure. On 13 December 1968, Duchess and Derwent set passage southwards arriving in Hong Kong three days later for Christmas and New Year.
Duchess departed Hong Kong on 4 January 1969, followed the next day by Derwent, for a brief stop in Singapore before both ships continued west to Pakistan, India and Ceylon. The voyage included several days of exercises with RN units. Duchess and Derwent departed Trincomalee in Ceylon on 23 January 1969, to participate in Exercise FOTEX 69 in Malaysian waters. Following a maintenance period alongside in Singapore, Duchess visited Palau Tioman, Bangkok and Hong Kong before arriving back in Singapore on 25 March for a brief period of exercises. Duchess and Derwent set a course for home on 2 April and arrived in Sydney on 18 April after a 6-month deployment.
Duchess settled into a program of exercises and maintenance until 16 November 1969 when she departed Sydney for another long FESR deployment. After once again escorting Sydney to Vung Tau, Duchess proceeded to Singapore, where she arrived on 30 November for a brief maintenance period. The ship’s next ports of call were Subic Bay in the Philippines, and Hong Kong where she spent her second consecutive Christmas.
Duchess arrived back in Singapore on 12 January for Exercise JANEX which commenced on 19 January with Duchess, HMNZS Waikato and numerous RN frigates participating. Upon the completion of JANEX, Duchess made operational visits to Port Swettenham, Kota Kinabalu (during which the ship’s company donated 45 pints of blood to the local Blood Bank), Manila, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Osaka for Expo 70, Kobe, Subic Bay and Singapore. Between 23 March and 9 April 1970, Duchess participated in the SEATO Exercise, SEA ROVER in the South China Sea involving around 40 ships from Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Duchess departed Singapore for the last time on 25 May and arrived back in Sydney on 5 June 1970 where she was taken in hand by Garden Island Dockyard for a major refit.
Duchess emerged from her refit on 8 February 1971 for trials and work-up before departing on 18 March for another deployment to Asian waters. Having caught up with Parramatta, the two ships arrived in Singapore on 1 April. Duchess’ first task was to again escort Sydney to Vung Tau following which she made port visits to Hong Kong, Osaka, Okinawa, Subic Bay and back to Singapore on 7 May for maintenance. She departed Singapore on 17 May, in company with Parramatta, again escorting Sydney to Vung Tau before proceeding to Hong Kong for a final visit. On 8 June she set course for Australia, via Guam and Manus, and arrived back in Sydney on 25 June where she entered her mid-cycle docking at Garden Island Dockyard. Duchess proceeded to sea on 13 November 1971 and spent the remainder of the year exercising in the East Australian Exercise Area.
Upon completion of SEA HAWK, the RAN task group proceeded to Hong Kong and then on to Singapore for Exercise GENESIS. The remainder of the deployment included visits to Port Klang and Surabaya before Duchess returned to Australia, in company with Melbourne and Supply, arriving in Fremantle on 14 April and proceeded east via Adelaide to Sydney.
Duchess remained alongside at Garden Island undergoing leave and maintenance before undertaking a regular exercise program in the East Australia Exercise Area in July 1972. On 25 July, Duchess was at sea carrying out surface and anti-aircraft firings before joining Melbourne on rescue destroyer duties. At 12:35, during a surface firing run, a 4.5-inch round from ‘B’ turret hit the right-hand barrel of ‘A’ turret, which had ‘run away’ to maximum elevation, and holed the barrel. Fortunately, there were no injuries and the ship was able to complete the exercise before heading back to Sydney for repairs and a Board of Enquiry.
Duchess was purchased outright in August 1972 at a cost of £150,000 Sterling and she was scheduled to undergo a refit at Williamstown from early 1973 for conversion into a training ship. The ship had in fact, already commenced work in her new role, undertaking a Midshipman's’ training cruise to Port Moresby following the completion of repairs to her damaged turret at the end of August. She returned to Sydney on 8 September and continued with a busy exercise and training program until the end of November.
Duchess departed Sydney on 3 January 1973 and arrived at Williamstown Dockyard two days later where she decommissioned on 26 January in preparation for her change-of-life refit. She was finally recommissioned on 14 August 1974 and replaced HMAS Anzac (II), which had decommissioned just three days before, as the Fleet Training Ship. Her new role saw her conducting training cruises of approximately 11-weeks duration providing Midshipmen and Cadet Midshipmen with basic seamanship, navigation and marine engineering training.
The refit markedly altered Duchess’ appearance, with the ship’s tall, thin after-funnel replaced by a modern streamlined one. ‘X’ turret had been removed, replaced by a new superstructure containing an air-conditioned 35-seat classroom, offices and additional accommodation. Down below, the former ‘X’ turret gunbay was converted to a study area, library and cafeteria for the Junior Officers under training. The forward superstructure was also modified slightly with a semi-enclosed chart house built on the Gun Direction Platform to provide navigational working space for the trainees.
Following acceptance trials in Bass Strait, Duchess departed Williamstown on 14 November and arrived back in Sydney two days later. She spent the Christmas/New Year Period alongside at Garden Island for long leave and maintenance.
Duchess sailed for her first training cruise on 20 January 1975, with 12 Midshipmen embarked, during which she visited Auckland, Wellington, Hobart where she acted as the Flagship for the 1975 Hobart Regatta, and Melbourne. A busy training schedule was maintained for the rest of the year, mainly off the coast of New South Wales but also included visits to Cairns, Darwin, Ambon in Indonesia, Townsville, Cid Harbour in the Whitsunday Islands, Suva in Fiji, Apia in Western Samoa, Mackay and Brisbane. On 13 October, she entered a brief refit at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, from which she emerged on 23 December 1975.
Duchess returned to New Zealand in January 1976 with 21 Midshipmen embarked, and accompanied by HMA Ships, Snipe and Ibis, visiting the ports of Lyttelton and Nelson. Duchess returned to Sydney on 20 February via Hobart where she once again acted as the Flagship for the Hobart Regatta as well as conducting basic navigation and pilotage training in the Derwent River and d’Entrecastreaux Channel areas.
Duchess once more took passage to New Zealand on 11 March with a new group of 21 Midshipmen visiting Auckland, Wellington and Nelson, and conducting basic pilotage training in Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sound. She returned to Sydney on 22 April before departing for another training cruise on 10 May, this time visiting Suva, and Port Vila. She arrived back in Sydney on 18 June and moved to Cockatoo Island for a refit on 5 July. Amongst other defects, the refit would attempt to combat corrosion in her side framing, as well as general deterioration in her hull and superstructure.
Duchess completed her refit in early October 1976 and, on 28 October, departed Sydney for her final training cruise of the year, which saw her visiting Suva, Viti Levu, Cairns, Mackay and Townsville. She returned to her home port on 10 December for Christmas leave.
On 16 January 1977, it was announced that the RAN intended to purchase the merchant vessel, MV Australian Trader, to replace Duchess as a basic navigation and seamanship training ship. In spite of this, Duchess’ training commitments continued as she departed Sydney the day after the announcement visiting Jervis Bay, Melbourne and Hobart where she acted as the Hobart Regatta Flagship for the third year in succession. Following pilotage training in the D’Entrecastreux Channel, Duchess once again proceeded across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand where she visited the port of Nelson before returning to Sydney on 25 February.
Duchess departed Sydney on 14 March once again bound for New Zealand where she visited Wellington, Nelson, and Auckland, before returning to Sydney on 22 April for an Assisted Maintenance Period.
On 9 May, Duchess sailed from Sydney for her penultimate training cruise, during which she visited Apia where she represented Australia at the 15th anniversary of Samoan independence. On 1 June, Duchess formed part of a 21-gun salute and members of the ship’s company participated in a parade in celebration of the event. An official reception was held on board the next day with a guest list which included the Samoan Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister, the King of Tonga, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Ambassadors and/or High Commissioners from Fiji, India, Belgium, Israel, Canada, the Netherlands, Nauru, Cook Islands, United States, United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany, China and Papua New Guinea. She departed Apia on 4 June and visited Vila and Suva before arriving back in Sydney on 17 June.
Duchess departed Sydney on 15 August for her final training cruise with 30 trainees embarked and proceeded north to Brisbane, Mackay and Townsville before taking passage to Fijian waters and a visit to Suva. Duchess returned to Sydney on 23 September 1977 and handed over her training duties to her successor, the former MV Australian Trader, which had commissioned as HMAS Jervis Bay on 25 August. Duchess was decommissioned on 23 October 1977, one day after the 25th anniversary of her original Royal Navy commissioning.
For a number of years Duchess languished at Bradley's Dolphins until she was sold on 7 May 1980 and towed from Sydney Harbour on 9 July bound for Taiwan. There she was broken up by the Tung Ho Steel Enterprise Corporation.