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Air Sea Rescue Vessels


Twenty one air/sea rescue vessels were built in the USA and Canada between 1943 and 1945, and transferred to the RAN under the Lend-Lease Agreement.  These vessels were originally designed as anti-submarine craft but their high speed and manoeuvrability made them ideal as search and rescue vessels. In this role, their hulls were painted black and their upper decks and superstructure painted bright yellow.  They weighed 24 tons, were 63 long, 15 ft (4.57m0 across the beam, had a draught  of 3 ft 4 in (1.01m).  Their propulsion was delivered from twin Hall-Scott petrol engines, producing 1,200 bhp allowing them to travel at up to 28 knots. Most were armed with 2 x twin Lewis guns and thay had a complement either seven or eight crew members.

Air Sprite
HMAS Air Sprite
HMAS Air Sprite was the odd one out. She was built in Australia after the war, in 1958, and was built by Lars Halvorsen & Sons at Ryde on the Parramatta River. She had a different style of mast, and no guns. 

She was commissioned on 15 June 1960 and predominantly based at the Marine Section, HMAS Creswell, at Jervis Bay, as a search and rescue vessel for the naval aircraft operating from HMAS Albatross at nearby Nowra though she did, on occasion, operate in other areas off the Australian east coast.

Between August and October 1963 she visited Queensland where she assisted in trials of the Ikara missile system involving HMA Ships Kimbla and Stuart (II). However, engine defects forced her return to Sydney for repairs in September, under tow by Kimbla, She returned to Queensland waters later in the month to continue the trials. Air Sprite conducted survey operations near Fraser Island in October and acted as flagship for the Bundaberg Motorboat Club Regatta on 13 October.

On 19 October, Air Sprite joined the search for a missing whaler crewed by a Naval Reserve Sub Lieutenant and four Midshipmen from HMAS Sydney (III). The crew was undertaking expedition training which required them to sail their vessel around Hook Island and back to Sydney at anchor in Cid Harbour. They were last seen in the evening of 17 October. Air Sprite participated in the search around the Whitsunday Passage as far north as Cape Upstart and also transported shore-based search parties around the islands. The whaler was found by HMAS Anzac (II), swamped and dismasted, on 21 October with the bodies of two of her crew on board. The search for the three missing officers continued but was finally abandoned on 30 October. Air Sprite arrived back in Jervis Bay on 7 November.

On the night of Monday, 10th February 1964, the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II) collided with the destroyer HMAS Voyager (II) while engaged in night flying exercises off the New South Wales coast. The impact pushed Voyager bodily through the water for a few seconds before breaking her in two. Her forward section passed down Melbourne's port side, and the stern section down the starboard side. The forward section sank soon afterwards and the after section about three hours later. The disaster resulted in the loss of 82 lives (14 officers, including the Commanding Officer, 67 sailors and one civilian dockyard employee). There were 232 survivors. Melbourne was damaged but sustained no casualties.

HMAS Air Bird was commissioned on 28 March 1945 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant Douglas Farquhar, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Madang. Her first few weeks of commission were spent at Garden Island in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials. She departed Sydney on 14 July bound for Madang, New Guinea, where she arrived on 31 August.

Following the Japanese surrender on 15 August, Air Bird remained on standby for search and rescue duties in New Guinea waters. She suffered some minor damage in inclement weather at Aitape in September, and in November embarked a RAAF investigation team which was endeavouring to discover the fate of missing RAAF aircrew. On five occasions in November and December, operating primarily in the Wewak area, she went to the assistance of overturned sailing vessels.

She returned to the Madang area in February 1946. That May Air Bird suffered from engine defects which resulted in a marked loss of power and fumes escaping into the engine room. The decision was made to return the boat to Australia where she decommissioned at Brisbane on 30 September 1946. She was transferred to the RAAF in 1949.

HMAS Air Clan was commissioned on 11 December 1944 in Sydney under the command of Lieutenant Osmonde May, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Madang. She remained alongside in Rushcutter’s Bay immediately after commissioning awaiting the installation of additional radio equipment. Following trials and inspection of underwater fittings, she finally put to sea on 27 February 1945 to support exercises at the RAN Torpedo Range in Broken Bay.

She conducted search and rescue duties for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in Jervis Bay in March before proceeding north to New Guinea at the end of the month. She arrived in Port Moresby in company with her sister ships, HMA Ships Air Host and Air Rest, on 10 April before continuing on to Mios Weondi, spending part of the passage under tow from HMAS Bathurst (I), where she conducted an anti-aircraft shoot in conjunction with Bathurst. She sailed for Morotai in early May, again spending part of the passage under tow this time from HMAS Bundaberg (I), to take up ASR duties in support of the RAAF.

She proceeded on to Borneo in June where she struck a floating log necessitating the replacement of her starboard screw and shaft. Whilst alongside she experienced an air raid by a lone Japanese aircraft. The aircraft was shot down after dropping just one bomb with no damage or casualties incurred.

She conducted no less than five search and rescue operations in July and August with RAAF personnel being recovered off Labuan Island, Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) and Mukah. She also acted as a mobile headquarters for Service Reconnaissance Department parties conducting reconnaissance operations in the area.

That September, Air Clan formed part of the Kuching Relief Force, which also included the corvette HMAS Kapunda, the motor torpedo boat tender USS Willoughby, and six USN patrol torpedo (PT) boats, which was to accept the surrender of Japanese forces in the Kuching area and secure the release of some 2000 prisoners of war and internees. The Commanding Officer of the Japanese forces in the area, Major General Hiyou Yamamura, had been due to embark in Kapunda at Pending at 14:00 on 11 September to sign the surrender document but, after failing to arrive, Air Clan was dispatched to retrieve him. She returned with the General’s Chief of Staff who informed the commander of the Kuching Relief Force, Brigadier (later Sir) Thomas Eastick, CMG, DSO, ED, that Major General Yamamura was indisposed. Air Clan was ordered to return ashore with the Chief of Staff and bring off Major General Yamamura forthwith. A guard from Air Clan escorted the Chief of Staff back ashore and the General was found with his aide de camp in the wireless transmitting station at Pending Wharf. All of the Japanese officers were searched and the General’s aide was found to be carrying a loaded revolver. Major General Yamamura was embarked in Air Clan at 14:30 and the surrender proceedings began aboard Kapunda at 14:37.

HMAS Air Cloud was commissioned on 20 October 1944 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant Maxwell Hines, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Melville. She remained alongside in Rushcutter’s Bay immediately after commissioning awaiting the installation of additional radio equipment and preparing for sea. Following trials and inspection of underwater fittings, she finally put to sea on 13 March 1945 and proceeded to Jervis Bay for exercises.

She departed Sydney, in company with her sister ship HMAS Air Sailor, in the early hours of 24 March bound for Darwin and arrived in Coffs Harbour in heavy weather later that day. The two boats remained weatherbound at Coffs Harbour for nearly two weeks. They departed on 5 April only to be forced to return to Coffs Harbour due to a broken spindle drive shaft in Air Sailor’s water pump. They continued their northerly passage on 7 April.

Air Cloud and Air Sailor departed Brisbane on 22 April, joined by HMAS Air Trail, their passage north continuing to be hampered by poor weather. Air Cloud arrived at Darwin on 22 May. She remained in northern Australian waters conducting ASR duties until December 1946. In addition to her ASR duties, she did, on occasion, offer assistance to other boats experiencing difficulties, provided medical assistance to civilians and assisted in the RAAF drawdown in northern Australia following the cessation of hostilities.

She experienced engine problems common to this class of vessel and had new engines installed in May 1946. She was in Darwin for the visit of the Governor-General, His Royal Highness, Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, on 18 August and accompanied HMAS Air Master, with the royal party embarked in Air Master, on a circuit of Darwin Harbour.

HMAS Air Faith was commissioned on 8 February 1945 in Sydney under the command of Lieutenant William Brown, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Madang. Her first few weeks of commission were spent at Garden Island in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials before proceeding north bound for Madang, New Guinea, where she arrived on 11 September.

Air Faith remained on standby for search and rescue duties in New Guinea waters and on occasion came to the assistance of other boats and small water craft in distress. On 3 April 1946 she began passage back to Australia departing Langemak under tow from HMAS Wilcannia in tandem with HMAS Air Guide, though part of the passage between Langemak and Port Moresby was conducted under her own power as foul weather made continuing the tow untenable. She arrived in Sydney in May and decommissioned on 29 August 1946. She was transferred to the RAAF in 1949. She was returned to the RAN in 1965 though did not recommission, and was sold on 3 July 1968.

HMAS Air Hope was commissioned on 13 February 1945 in Sydney under the command of Lieutenant Ronald Dunn, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Madang. Her first few weeks of commission were spent at Garden Island in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials before proceeding northwards for Madang, New Guinea, on 23 April in company with her sister ships, HMA Ships Air Mercy and Air Speed.

Progress northwards was slow due to a combination of mechanical defects and, in north Queensland waters, poor weather. On 19 July, while en route to Milne Bay, Air Hope was instructed to return to Port Moresby where she would be based for ASR duties. She remained on standby for ASR duties until her return to Australia in mid-1946 but was not required for rescue operations in that time. Instead, she conducted a mine search off Port Moresby in November. In December, her coxswain was returned to Australia on compassionate leave and in January 1946 her two RAAF wireless operators were demobilised leaving her with a crew of just four. She decommissioned on 20 July 1946 and was transferred to the RAAF in 1949.

HMAS Air Rest was commissioned on 20 September 1944 in Sydney under the command of Skipper (later Sub Lieutenant, RANVR) Ronald Stringer and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Madang. She remained alongside in Rushcutter's Bay preparing for sea until 28 February 1945 after which she conducted ASR duties from Watson's Bay. Further ASR duties were performed in Jervis Bay between 7 and 13 March. Air Rest departed Sydney on 17 March in company with HMAS Air Clan bound ultimately for Tarakan. They were joined en route by HMAS Air Host in Townsville.

Air Rest arrived at Madang on 17 April and shortly afterwards underwent an engineering check at Alexishafen. From there, she and Air Clan were taken in tow by HMAS Bathurst (I) on 24 April, bound for Morotai. During the transit the tow was taken over by HMAS Bundaberg (I). At Morotai, Air Rest underwent further maintenance during which she had a radio compass installed and new propellers and shaft fitted, she commenced the final leg of her journey on 19 May under tow by HMAS Latrobe in tandem with HMAS Air Guide. They arrived at Tarakan on 22 May where they commenced ASR duties.

A new airstrip was built at Tarakan in June and Air Guide was constantly required to provide ASR coverage for aviation operations. She was also, on occasion, required to transport small numbers of Japanese prisoners of war from nearby locations to the base at Tarakan.

Air Rest completed two rescues of Allied airmen during July; one within Tarakan harbour, and the second south-east of Sibetek Island. In September she was called upon to rescue four Army personnel who had been reported missing in a small fishing boat.

On 31 October Air Rest left Tarakan for Balikpapan where she continued ASR duties throughout November and December. She began the voyage back home to Australia on 28 December when she departed Balikpapan under tow from HMAS Cessnock. After briefly operating as a tender to HMAS Moreton in Brisbane, she arrived back in Sydney on 24 May 1946 where she decommissioned. Air Rest continued ASR duties as well as performing auxiliary tasks such as radar tracking duties for HMAS Watson and Murchison. She was also utilised for direction finding calibration in a number of other RAN ships.

The boat briefly recommissioned as HMAS Air Rest on 19 April 1949 before paying off into reserve on 25 May 1949 prior to being transferred to the RAAF in 1950.

HMAS Air Sailor was commissioned on 8 November 1944 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant Thomas Naylor, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Melville. She remained alongside in Rushcutter’s Bay immediately after commissioning awaiting the installation of additional radio equipment and preparing for sea. Following trials and inspection of underwater fittings, she finally put to sea on 13 March 1945 and proceeded to Jervis Bay for exercises.

She departed Sydney, in company with her sister ship HMAS Air Cloud, in the early hours of 24 March bound for Darwin and arrived in Coffs Harbour in heavy weather later that day. The two boats remained weatherbound at Coffs Harbour for nearly two weeks. They departed on 5 April only to be forced to return to Coffs Harbour due to a broken spindle drive shaft in Air Sailor’s water pump. They continued their northerly passage on 7 April.

Air Sailor and Air Cloud departed Brisbane on 22 April, joined by HMAS Air Trail, their passage north continuing to be hampered by poor weather. Air Sailor arrived at Darwin on 22 May. She remained in northern Australian waters conducting ASR and other auxiliary duties until February 1946 and participated in the unsuccessful search for a missing Spitfire and its pilot on 1 August 1945.

She departed Darwin on 2 February 1946 and arrived in Brisbane in early March where she decommissioned on 31 August 1946. She was transferred to the RAAF in 1949.

HMAS Air Sense was commissioned on 1 March 1945 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant John Young, RANR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Magnetic, and later to HMAS Carpentaria. Her first few weeks in commission were spent at Garden Island in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials. On 24 March, in company with HMAS Air Speed, she acted as an escort for their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester on the occasion of the opening of the Captain Cook Graving Dock.

She departed Sydney on 4 May in company with HMAS Air Spray bound for Townsville where they arrived on 16 May. Air Sense immediately began ASR duties and on 19 May proceeded to Bowling Green Bay to recover two airmen who had made a forced landing on the beach. Both Air Sense and Air Spray proceeded to Thursday Island in June for slipping and maintenance. They remained in the area for the rest of the year conducting ASR duties between Thursday Island and the RAAF airstrip, Higgins Field, at Red Island Point south of Bamaga, Queensland.

Air Sense departed Thursday Island for Cooktown on 22 January 1946 and operated between Cooktown and Cairns for the next three months. On 28 April she commenced her final passage as a RAN vessel, departing Cairns for Brisbane where she arrived on 5 May. She decommissioned at Brisbane on 21 October 1946 and was transferred to the RAAF in 1949.

HMAS Air View was commissioned on 20 November 1944 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant Lowell Williams, RANR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Melville. Her first months in commission saw her under the control of the RAN Torpedo Factory (RANTF) until April 1945 after which she proceeded to Jervis Bay for ASR duties with the ships of the British Pacific Fleet.

She returned to the control of the RANTF in May and June, and also conducted radar trials with ML 428, ML 810, ML 818 and ML 822. She underwent a refit from 23 June to 23 August after which she returned to RANTF control.

On 4 September, Air View departed Sydney bound for Darwin. While at Cairns on 19 to 21 September, a 15 foot army punt broke loose of its moorings and struck Air View astern damaging two blades of her starboard propeller. The damage became apparent only after the boat departed Cairns and was subsequently repaired at Thursday Island. She arrived at Darwin on 7 October where she conducted ASR duties until she was reassigned to Queensland waters to provide ASR cover between Thursday Island and the RAAF airfield at Red Island Point.

She returned to Brisbane on 11 July 1946 and was decommissioned on 30 September. She was transferred to the RAAF in 1949.

HMAS Air Watch commissioned in the RAN on 27 November 1944 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant William Bath, RANVR. She was officially listed as a tender to HMAS Madang.

Following commissioning she moored at Farm Cove until 10 January 1945 at which time she and a sister ship, HMAS Air Master, were towed to Glebe Island where they were lifted aboard the American liberty ship, SS Andrew T Huntington, for transport to New Guinea. Once out of the water, the hulls of both boats were found to be in a filthy state with no slip having been available to clean them prior to embarkation. The two ships’ companies subsequently busied themselves with cleaning the boats’ hulls during their northward passage.

Andrew T Huntington arrived at Langemak, New Guinea, on 20 January 1945 where the two boats were unloaded; Air Watch by the ship’s gear and Air Master by a floating crane. Unfortunately, both boats suffered damage during the evolution; Air Watch losing a radar antenna while Air Master’s mast was smashed on the boom block of the ship’s gear. Repairs were undertaken at Langemak after which both boats conducted engine trials between 24 and 30 January. The pair then departed Langemak for Madang on 4 February.

Air Watch departed Madang the following day bound for Aitape. On 6 February she struck a submerged object damaging both propellers. She was consequently taken in tow by HMAS Platypus before undergoing repairs at Hollandia. Following trials of her newly fitted propellers, she departed Hollandia for Aitape on 19 February where she conducted ASR and other harbour duties until May, primarily between Aitape and ‘But’, during a period of increased air activity connected with the assault on Wewak,

She was then re-assigned to Morotai where she arrived under the tow of HMAS Bunbury, on 27 May. Air Watch remained at Morotai for just a few days before departing for Labuan in company with HMAS Air Clan under the tow of HMAS Glenelg. The trio arrived at their destination on 14 June. While alongside at Labuan Air Watch experienced an air raid by a lone Japanese aircraft which was shot down after dropping just one bomb incurring no damage or casualties.

At around 04.30 on 21 June, around 50 Japanese troops from the area of Labuan Island known as ‘the Pocket’, the only area of the island still held by the Japanese, attacked the town of Labuan where Air Watch was alongside. Allied garrison units mounted a hastily-arranged defence, and Air Watch’s crew stood by on the wharves with small arms. Over the course of the next two hours, the Japanese force was repelled for the loss one Australian and three Americans killed, and eight Americans wounded. Some 32 Japanese were killed during the raid.

Air Watch provided occasional ASR cover near Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), Malaysia, in July, during which time she took on board and transported to safety a group of Malaysians who had been under observation by Japanese troops. Later, on 6 October, she rescued a pilot who had crash-landed his Kittyhawk aircraft on a beach near Kimanis.

She returned to Morotai in January 1946 where she primarily performed harbour duties before returning to Australia. Air Watch decommissioned at Brisbane on 24 September 1946 and was transferred to the RAAF in 1949.  The vessel is now believed to be in private hands.

HMAS Air Guide was commissioned as HMAS Air Host on 20 October 1944 in Sydney under the command of Skipper (later Sub Lieutenant, RANVR) Alexander McLean and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMA Ships Melville and Madang. Her name was changed from Air Host to Air Guide sometime between January and April 1945. She remained alongside in Rushcutter’s Bay immediately after commissioning awaiting the installation of additional radio equipment and preparing for sea. Following trials and inspection of underwater fittings, she finally put to sea on 23 February 1945 and proceeded to Jervis Bay for exercises and to conduct ASR duties with Royal Navy aircraft carriers of the British Pacific Fleet. On 28 February she suffered considerable minor damage during inclement weather off Jervis Bay and three crew members required medical attention. Although the damage and was quickly repaired and the injured crew members made a swift recovery, the incident did demonstrate how susceptible the vessels were to damage in rough weather.

She departed Sydney on 8 March, in company with her sister ship HMAS Air Foam, and proceeded northwards bound for Madang, New Guinea. She arrived at Madang, in company with HMA Ships Air Clan and Air Rest, on 17 April and later proceeded on to Tarakan, Borneo. A new airstrip was built at Tarakan in June and Air Guide was constantly required to provide ASR coverage for aviation operations. She was also, on occasion, required to transport small numbers of Japanese prisoners of war from nearby locations to the base at Tarakan as well as providing occasional medical transport.

Following the Japanese surrender on 15 August, Air Guide remained in Borneo on ASR duties and conducting Allied intelligence officers in the region seeking information about missing Allied airmen as well as monitoring Japanese troop movements following the surrender. Just before 01:30 on 20 September, Air Guide, assisted by a Catalina aircraft, rescued 24 people whose Douglas DC-3 aircraft had crashed into the sea some 100nm from Tarakan. The search for the aircraft had begun at around 10:30 the previous day.

She moved to Morotai, Indonesia, under tow from HMAS Gawler, in December and on New Year’s Eve rescued a soldier adrift in a canoe. She remained in Indonesian waters until April 1946 continuing ASR duties and conducting Royal Australian Air Force crash investigation and war graves personnel around the area. She also conducted an unsuccessful search for five Japanese prisoner of war escapees in January 1946.

She returned to New Guinea waters at the end of March and on 3 April 1946 began passage back to Australia departing Langemak under tow from HMAS in tandem with HMAS Air Faith. Part of the passage between Langemak and Port Moresby was conducted under her own power as foul weather made continuing the tow untenable. She arrived in Sydney in May and decommissioned on 9 August 1946. She was transferred to the RAAF in 1949. She was returned to the RAN in 1965 though did not recommission, and was sunk as target in the early 1970s.

HMAS Air Master was commissioned on 31 August 1944 in Sydney under the command of Skipper (later Sub Lieutenant, RANVR) Norman Shield and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Madang. She remained alongside in Sydney preparing for sea until 10 January 1945 when she and her sister ship, HMAS Air Watch, were towed to Glebe Island and the following day lifted aboard the American liberty ship, SS Andrew T Huntington, for transport to New Guinea. Once lifted out of the water, the hulls of both boats were found to be in a filthy state with no slip having been available to clean them prior to transport. The two ships’ companies busied themselves with cleaning the boats’ hulls en route northwards.

Andrew T Huntington arrived at Langemak, New Guinea, on 20 January and the two boats were unloaded; Air Watch by the ship’s gear and Air Master by a floating crane. Both boats also suffered damage during the unloading; Air Watch lost a radar antenna while Air Master’s mast was smashed on the boom block of the ship’s gear. Repairs were undertaken at Langemak and both boats conducted engine trials between 24 and 30 January. The pair departed Langemak for Madang on 4 February.

Air Master conducted ASR duties at Madang through to May and occasionally provided medical transport and delivered stores to nearby Allied bases and outposts. She moved to Aitape for ASR duties on 10 May and then on to Morotai, Indonesia, under tow from MV Comara in tandem with HMAS Air Mist, later in the month, but bad luck continued to dog her. A defect in the port engine delayed her voyage to Aitape and once there, on 15 May, she struck an underwater object damaging the blades on her port propeller. Practice shoots often revealed problems with her Lewis guns, and she had been experiencing problems with her wireless radio equipment since arriving in New Guinea.

She arrived at Morotai on 3 June and commenced ASR duties but at the end of the month was once again reallocated to Balikpapan. She departed Morotai on 28 June under tow from HMAS Cootamundra, in tandem with HMAS Air Mist, and arrived at Balikpapan on 3 July. She was employed primarily as a medical transport until 15 July when she recommenced normal ASR duties. Her bad luck continued when she struck a submerged cable on 9 July damaging her port rudder. It was replaced that evening.

Air Master’s return to Australia began on 22 November being taken in tow that afternoon by HMAS Inverell in tandem with HMAS Air Mist. They arrived in Brisbane on 14 December where HMAS Geraldton took up the tow. On 18 December Air Mist’s tow parted and she drifted away in a northerly direction. Attempts to resume the tow were unsuccessful and Air Mist was abandoned as she drifted dangerously close to rocks off Morna Point, Air Master taking off her crew. Air Master continued under her own power from Newcastle, escorted by HMAS Junee, and arrived in Sydney on 23 December.

After undergoing a refit she proceeded northwards to Darwin under tow of HMAS Condamine and later HMAS Barwon in tandem with HMAS Air Clan. The voyage proved a difficult one as the tow parted several times in heavy weather and the two ASRs also collided several times. However, Air Master, Air Clan and Barwon all arrived safely in Darwin on 17 April 1946. On 20 May Air Master proceeded to West Point Beach to recover the body of a deceased sailor who had drowned after his dinghy had capsized.

On 18 August she embarked the Governor-General, His Royal Highness, Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, and his royal party for a circuit of Darwin Harbour with HMAS Air Cloud in company. Three days later she undertook a medical transport for a civilian from Cape Don Darwin.

On 5 September, Air Master and Air Cloud conducted a search and rescue operation for the survivors of a RAAF Douglas C47 aircraft which had crashed off East Point during a test flight. Air Cloud rescued two survivors while a civil aviation control launch rescued three others, later transferring them to Air Master for passage back to Darwin.

Apart from these occasional excursions, however, she was infrequently employed at Darwin and she subsequently returned to Sydney where she decommissioned on 20 February 1947.

She recommissioned on 20 May 1949 as a search and rescue vessel operating between Sydney and Jervis Bay and paid off again into dockyard control on 3 November 1953. She recommissioned yet again on 23 February 1954 and remained listed as a search and rescue vessel until 1963. She was sunk as a target, testing the effectiveness of the Seacat missile against small, fast targets, in 1968.

HMAS Air Trail was commissioned on 8 February 1945 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant Victor Maddison, RANR, and was officially listed as a tender to HMAS Madang. Her first few weeks in commission were spent alongside in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials before proceeding to Jervis Bay in March for ASR duties. She commenced passage northwards for Madang, New Guinea, in April, her journey hampered by inclement weather. She arrived at Madang on 18 June and immediately began ASR and other harbour duties.

She moved to Biak in July where she conducted ASR operations until the end of August and then spent the rest of the year operating between Madang and Biak. She commenced her journey back to Australia on 4 January 1946 and decommissioned at Sydney on 2 August.

She recommissioned on 19 April 1949 as a search and rescue vessel operating primarily between Sydney and Jervis Bay. She remained listed as a search and rescue vessel until 1965 and was sunk as a target in 1968.

HMAS Air Chief was commissioned on 12 August 1944 in Sydney under the command of Skipper (later Lieutenant, RANVR) George Vaughan and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Melville. She was initially involved in training ASR crews and put to sea with a party of press photographers on 10 and 11 February 1945 to witness the arrival of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF). She continued her training commitments while also conducting exercises with RAAF personnel and the BPF, and on 18 March rescued a British pilot after his Grumman Hellcat fighter crashed into the sea. He was returned to his carrier, HMS Ruler, suffering from shock and a back injury.

She proceeded north in July and conducted general duties off the north Queensland coast for five months. She departed Townsville for Port Moresby on 30 December but was forced to remain alongside at Thursday Island throughout January 1946 due to an engine defect. She eventually departed Thursday Island on 16 February and spent the next two months operating in New Guinea waters.

On 18 April the boat struck a submerged object off Finschafen damaging both screws. She put in to Dreger Harbour before being towed to Alexischafen in May for repairs. She was back at sea on 13 May. She returned to Australian waters in July and decommissioned at Brisbane on 21 October 1946.

She was transferred to Sydney in November 1948 where she remained in reserve until she was recommissioned as a search and rescue vessel on 21 September 1951 and was later listed as a ‘miscellaneous auxiliary’. She operated between Sydney and Jervis Bay, and in February and March 1964 was involved in trials of the Ikara missile system in Queensland waters. However, her material state was such that she suffered significant damage during the trials, her pumps being run continuously in a futile attempt to stop the ingress of water. An inspection of the hull at Bundaberg found it to be unseaworthy. It was uneconomical to repair her and Air Chief was subsequently sold on 15 July 1966.

HMAS Air Spray was commissioned on 13 February 1945 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant William Bath, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Magnetic, and later to HMAS Carpentaria. Her first few weeks of commission were spent at Garden Island in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials before proceeding to Jervis Bay in April to conduct ASR duties.

HMAS Air Mercy Air Trail Air Speed HMAS Air Mercy, Air Trail  and  Air Speed
She departed Sydney on 4 May in company with HMAS Air Sense bound for Townsville where they arrived on 16 May. She conducted ASR duties in the Townsville area until both Air Spray and Air Sense were ordered to proceed to Thursday Island in June for slipping and maintenance. Air Spray remained in the area for the rest of the year and into 1946 conducting ASR duties between Thursday Island and the RAAF airstrip, Higgins Field, at Red Island Point south of Bamaga, Queensland. Through the second half of February 1946 she was involved in the search for a missing aircraft in the Lloyd Bay area. The aircraft was eventually located inland.

Higgins Field closed in April and Air Spray began passage back to Sydney on 8 May. Inclement weather followed her down the Queensland coast and she grazed the edge of Middle Reef on 16 May damaging part of a propeller shaft. She arrived at Townsville shortly after the incident where she was slipped and the decision was made not to effect repairs. She was taken in tow by HMAS Barwon on 28 June and arrived in Sydney on 1 July where she decommissioned on 16 September.

She was transferred to the RAAF in 1949. She was returned to the RAN in 1965 and was listed as a miscellaneous auxiliary allocated to HMAS Cerberus. She was sold on 28 August 1969.

HMAS Air Mist - Air Mist was commissioned on 20 September 1944 in Sydney under the command of Skipper (later Sub Lieutenant, RANVR) James Needle and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMAS Madang. She remained alongside in Sydney preparing for sea until 1 March 1945 when she proceeded for Jervis Bay, and on 10 March commenced passage northwards bound for Morotai, Indonesia, in company with HMAS Air Save and was joined by HMA Ships Air Wave and Air Host in Brisbane.

She arrived at Morotai on 3 June, having conducted part of the passage under tow by MV Comara in tandem with HMAS Air Master, and commenced ASR duties but at the end of the month was once again reallocated to Balikpapan. She departed Morotai on 28 June under tow from HMAS Cootamundra, again in tandem with Air Master, and arrived at Balikpapan on 3 July. She conducted normal ASR duties at Balipapan through to November.

Air Mist’s return to Australia began on 22 November being taken in tow that afternoon by HMAS Inverell in tandem yet again with Air Master. They arrived in Brisbane on 14 December where HMAS Geraldton took up the tow. On 18 December Air Mist’s tow parted and she drifted away in a northerly direction. Attempts to resume the tow were unsuccessful and Air Mist was abandoned the following morning as she drifted dangerously close to rocks off Morna Point, Air Master taking off her crew before she ran aground.

HMAS Air Speed was commissioned on 28 February 1945 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant Jack Williams, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Madang. Her first few weeks in commission were spent alongside in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials. On 24 March, in company with HMAS Air Sense, she acted as an escort for their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester on the occasion of the opening of the Captain Cook Graving Dock.
Air Speed operated in Jervis Bay between 12 and 19 April performing ASR duties with the ships of the British Pacific Fleet before proceeding northwards for Madang, New Guinea, on 23 April in company with her sister ships, HMA Ships Air Hope and Air Mercy. On 15 June, en route from Port Moresby to Milne Bay, Air Speed struck an uncharted coral reef necessitating the replacement of both screws and a shaft at Milne Bay. She departed Milne Bay on 8 July and arrived at Madang four days later.

She remained in Madang until December conducting ASR duties and providing transportation services in the area. On 20 August she took the popular entertainer Gracie Fields and the Naval Officer in Charge, New Guinea, on a tour of the harbour. Fields, the top box-office draw and the highest paid actress in Britain in the 1930s, was touring the South Pacific performing for Allied troops.

Air Speed departed Madang for Jacquinot Bay on 1 December where she performed harbour duties before returning to Australia in early 1946. She arrived in Sydney on 22 March 1946 and decommissioned on 30 July.
She recommissioned on 7 March 1951 as a search and rescue vessel operating primarily between Sydney and Jervis Bay. She decommissioned and recommissioned twice more during the 1950s and remained listed as a search and rescue vessel until 1963.

HMAS Air Foam was commissioned as HMAS Air Wave on 20 September 1944 in Sydney under the command of Skipper (later Sub Lieutenant, RANVR) Ivor Meddleton and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Rushcutter, and later to HMA Ships Melville and Madang. Her name was changed from Air Wave to Air Foam sometime between January and April 1945. She remained alongside in Rushcutter’s Bay immediately after commissioning awaiting the installation of additional radio equipment and preparing for sea. Following trials and inspection of underwater fittings, she finally put to sea on 19 February 1945 and proceeded to Jervis Bay for exercises and to conduct ASR duties with Royal Navy aircraft carriers of the British Pacific Fleet.

She departed Sydney on 8 March and proceeded northwards bound for Madang, New Guinea. At the end of April Air Foam ran aground on a reef off the south east corner of Hick’s Island in Far North Queensland. The commissioned trawler, HMAS Lucy Star, came to her assistance but, after an unsuccessful attempt to tow Air Foam off the reef on 8 May, Lucy Star was forced to return to Portland Roads on 10 May as a member of her crew had suffered a fractured arm. The salvage tug, Cambrian Salvor, arrived the following day to render further assistance. Another attempt to refloat Air Foam was made that evening but was once again unsuccessful. She was finally refloated on the evening of 12 May and an immediate inspection showed only slight leaking. Cambrian Salvor took Air Foam in tow on 13 May and arrived at Thursday Island the following morning where preparations were made to slip the boat and conduct repairs. Several members of Air Foam’s crew required medical attention at Thursday Island’s naval base, HMAS Carpentaria, for coral cuts suffered during the salvage operation.

She remained at Thursday Island for four months during which time her engines were also replaced. She underwent trials between 23 and 28 August, and during the night of 27/28 August conducted an unsuccessful search for a missing transport plane in the vicinity of Prince of Wales Island.

After nearly two weeks at Horne Island conducting ASR duties, Air Foam departed for Madang on 22 September. She suffered another engine defect at Langemak on 27 September, which forced another extended period alongside, and she finally reached Madang on 8 November. She conducted ASR duties and provided emergency medical transportation over the next few months in New Guinea and Solomon Islands waters.

On 30 May she was taken in tow by HMAS Diamantina at Dreger Harbour for return to Australia having recently run aground on a reef near New Britain and suffered damage to her hull. They returned to Dreger briefly as Air Foam had slipped the tow but recommenced their passage the following day. A difficult passage ensued in inclement weather and three independent drogues, made up of buckets, chains, mats and timber, were required to keep Air Foam steady. They arrived in Sydney on 14 June and Air Foam was subsequently decommissioned.

HMAS Air Mercy was commissioned on 28 February 1945 in Sydney under the command of Sub Lieutenant Edward Johnson, RANVR, and officially listed as a tender to HMAS Madang. Her first few weeks of commission were spent at Garden Island in Sydney preparing for sea and conducting trials before proceeding northwards for Madang, New Guinea, on 23 April in company with her sister ships, HMA Ships Air Hope and Air Speed.

Air Mercy arrived in Madang on 24 June and conducted ASR duties until 20 August when she proceeded to Middleburg Island, Indonesia, to take soundings and survey seaplane moorings. She proceeded to Biak where she again took up ASR duties and rescued ten people adrift in a launch on 11 October, and on 23 October assisted in the rescue operation of a Dutch Catalina crew when their aircraft crashed into Sorido Harbour. There were no serious casualties. She returned to Alexishafen at the end of October for a refit and returned to Biak at the end of December. She departed Biak on 17 February 1946 to begin her voyage back to Sydney where she decommissioned on 30 July 1946.

She recommissioned on 29 April 1949 as a search and rescue vessel operating between Sydney and Jervis Bay and remained listed as a search and rescue vessel until 1957.