Australian Naval Aviation History
The story of aviation in the Royal Australian Navy divides into three phases, characterized by distinctive roles and equipment.
The first phase, marked by cruiser-borne reconnaissance aircraft, lasted from World War I until 1944. The second phase began after World War II and lasted until 1983. This phase was characterised by aircraft carriers operating a variety of aircraft for control of selected ocean areas and for projecting limited power ashore. The third phase, barely begun in 1986, is characterised by helicopters operating from frigates and other ships on a variety of maritime tasks.
The first phase began in World War 1 when the Royal Australian Navy cruisers serving with the Royal Navy in the North Sea took part in the wartime development of naval aviation. British ships were subjected to reconnaissance by German Zeppelins which flew too high to be shot down by ships’ guns while they collected invaluable information.
Attempts to use fighter seaplanes against them failed because the sea was usually too rough for take-off, or drag from their floats reduced the fighter to impotence. Either way the Zeppelin escaped. As a desperate measure, wheeled fighter aircraft took off from platforms built over gun turrets to shoot down Zeppelins; the fighter ditched near a friendly ship after its task. This wasteful procedure was justified by the need for defence against Zeppelins. HMA Ships Australia, Sydney and Melbourne each carried a fighter on a flying-off platform.
Australia also carried a two-seat reconnaissance aircraft on a second flying-off platform. The Australian ships landed their aircraft before they left Britain after the war but the idea that warships needed aircraft had been absorbed by the RAN. However, Naval Board attempts to continue operating aircraft from warships were frustrated by the size of the ships available in Australia after HMAS Australia was paid off for economic reasons in 1920. In 1923 the naval staff regretfully decided that existing ships were too small to carry worthwhile aircraft under Australian operating conditions.
Interest in naval aviation revived with the 1924 Defence programme and, in January 1925, the Minister for Defence approved formation of the RAN Fleet Air Arm. Later in the year the Government announced that a seaplane carrier would be built inAustralia. This Australian Fleet Air Arm was a direct copy of the British scheme and needed co-operation between Navy and Air Force. However, the two services disagreed deeply on naval aviation and cabinet resolved the deadlock by abolishing the Fleet Air Arm. After 1 July 1928 the Air Force provided aircraft, pilots and maintenance personnel; the Navy provided observers and telegraphist air gunners and exercised command of embarked aircraft. This division of responsibility remained until the end ofWorld War II.
The seaplane carrier, HMAS Albatross, remained in commission from January 1929 until April 1933; she embarked Seagull Mark Ill wooden amphibians operated by 101 Flight of the RAAF. Albatross was designed to launch her aircraft by catapult and to recover them by crane after they alighted on the water. For a variety of reasons she did not have a catapult in this period and was reduced to finding sheltered bays in which she could hoist amphibians out onto the water for take-off. Despite her limitations, the seaplane carrier provided essential reconnaissance and gunnery spotting capabilities. The heavy cruisers sometimes carried a Seagull Mk 111 while Albatross was in commission and after she was paid-off, they regularly carried one until it was replaced a few years later. Use of aircraft by cruisers was also restricted by lack of a catapult.
Seaplane Carrier HMAS Albatross
Australia received the first operational aircraft catapult in the RAN in 1935 when she embarked the initial production Seagull Mark V. This amphibian was designed to a specification drawn up by the RAAF to improve on the Seagull Mark III. Twenty four were ordered by Australia and hundreds more were later built for the British services as the Walrus. When the Seagulls reached Australia, Albatross had been transferred to the Royal Navy and they operated from the cruisers only.
During the first years of World War II, cruisers took part in fleet operations in the European theatre and in trade protection in other parts of the world. Embarked aircraft proved useful for reconnaissance and spotting for the guns but vulnerable to fighters; aircraft from Sydney, Perth and Australia were shot down by other aircraft. Catapult aircraft were very successful in trade protection operations searching for raiders preying on commerce, and utilisation could be high if conditions were favourable for aircraft recovery. For example, HMAS Hobart’s aircraft flew 12 searches, mostly of three hours duration, in six days while searching for a German raider in the Indian Ocean.
Seagull Flying Boat Catapulted from HMAS Canberra
Japan’s entry into the war changed the character of war at sea for the RAN and fleet operations took priority over commerce protection; sweeps through the Coral Sea with USN ships underlined the value of cruiser aircraft. During one sweep in June 194 2four aircraft were catapulted at dawn from the task group to search ahead for Japanese warships. Cruiser aircraft flew anti-submarine searches around the entrance to Noumea as the cruisers entered the harbour at the end of the same operation. The highpoint for RAN cruiser aircraft was the landing at Guadalcanal where carrier-borne aircraft were employed exclusively in supporting the landing troops and were not available for ocean patrols. Cruiser aircraft maintained vitally important continuous daylight anti-submarine patrols of the amphibious assault area expecting that Japanese submarines would appear.
Amphibious operations came to characterise war in the Pacific after 1942 and, after Guadalcanal, there were many American aircraft carriers and numerous shore-based aircraft available. Cruiser aircraft were no longer needed, especially after tests had shown radar could record gunnery splashes. Australia was the last RAN cruiser to operate an amphibian and she landed her aircraft in April 1944 to end the cruiser phase in the Fleet Air Arm story.
Left: Flight Commander Robert Alexander Little, from Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia.
Although never serving with an Australian Unit he was and still is Australia's top scoring fighter 'Ace'.
Little travelled at his own expense to England and joined the Royal Navy Air Service in 1915.
He was shot down and killed in France in 1918 after achieving 47 confirmed victories.
In his time as a flyer with the RNAS he was awarded the DSO and Bar, DSC and Bar and a Croix de Guerre.
Little once stated "I did not want to live the life as an old coward".
He once single-handedly attacked a flight of 11 Albatross Scouts of the Baron Von Richthofen 'Flying Circus'.
Australian Aircraft Carriers
The part played by aircraft carriers in World War II, especially in the Pacific, had been noted in Australia and aviation was included in post-war naval plans. In July 1947 the Government approved a plan for a naval air arm comprising two light fleet aircraft carriers, two air stations and eventually, three air groups. The first air station commissioned near Nowra, New South Wales, was HMAS Albatross, on 31 August 1948. The second air station was planned for Schofields, west of Sydney.
Sea Furys and Fireflies on Flight Deck - HMAS Sydney Korean War
Carrier-borne squadrons would operate Sea Fury Mark XI and Firefly Mark V aircraft. Sea Furies would be employed in fleet air defence and attacks on ships and shore targets. Fireflies were intended for ocean reconnaissance and also for attacks on ships and targets ashore. Eventually 101 Sea Furies and 108 Fireflies (Marks V and VI) were acquired by the RAN.
HMAS Sydney commissioned in England on 16 December 1948 as the RAN’s first aircraft carrier. Her air group (20th Carrier Air Group), comprising 805 Sea Fury and 816 Firefly Squadrons, had formed in the United Kingdom in August 1948. Squadron and air group numbering was part of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm system and indicates the very close relationship between the two navies. The air group worked-up in Sydney before she sailed for Australia, arriving in Jervis Bay in May 1949.
Sydney Carrier Ops - Korea.
The second carrier air group (21st Carrier Air Group), comprising 808 Sea Fury and 817 Firefly Squadrons, commissioned in the United Kingdom on 25 April 1950. This air group had been intended for the second carrier, to be named HMAS Melbourne, but she had been delayed and was not expected to be ready until 1951-52. Sydney returned to England to embark the 21st Carrier Air Group and arrived back in Australia in November 1950. The third air group, which had been expected to form in Australia for service in either carrier, was deferred.
While Sydney was collecting the 21st, the Korean War had broken out and, soon after returning to Australia, Sydney began training to take her place as the British Commonwealth aircraft carrier in Korean waters. She embarked a Sydney Air Group of two Sea Fury squadrons (805 and 808) and one Firefly squadron (817). The latter was equipped with the Mark VI Firefly fitted for anti-submarine warfare and poorly suited for ground attack, so Sydney exchanged her Mark VI Fireflies for Mark IV and V general purpose models from HMS Glory in Kure before sailing for her first patrol on 3 October 1951.
During Korean operations a third to a quarter of Sydney’s daily flying was devoted to defensive tasks, such as Sea Fury air patrols in case of North Korean or Chinese air attacks on the Carrier and Firefly patrols around the ship in case of submarine attack. The remainder of the day’s flying was devoted to offensive flying by Sea Furies and Fireflies attacking the North Korean transport network (especially shipping and bridges) and supporting United Nations troops ashore. Sydney used a borrowed American helicopter for search and rescue instead of her usual Sea Otter amphibian. The helicopter’s versatility made a deep impressionon the RAN and, by the time Sydney returned to Australia in March 1952, three Sycamore helicopters had been ordered from England.
These helicopters reached Australia in HMAS Vengeance in March 1953. She was a light fleet carrier, similar to Sydney, on loan to the RAN until Melbourne was ready for service. The long delay in completing Melbourne was partly caused by a desire to incorporate fundamental improvements in aircraft carrier design. The steam catapult, angled deck and mirror landing aid, allowing carriers to operate faster and heavier aircraft, were becoming essential features of a modern aircraft carrier and Melbourne’s delivery was delayed while all three were fitted.
Vengeance embarked a squadron of each aircraft type while Sydney retained her Korean mix of two Sea Fury and one Firefly squadrons in preparation for more Korean service. During Sydney’s second Korean tour of duty, from December 1953 until April 1954, the fighting had been replaced by protracted negotiations. Her air group exercised and patrolled as part of the United Nations force but was not required for action. She returned to Australia in June 1954 and, later that year, embarked an alternative air group of both Firefly squadrons and a single Sea Fury squadron for more usual maritime operations. Plans to modernise Sydney to the same standard as Melbourne, thus maintaining a two-carrier navy, were changed in 1954 when the Government reduced the funds available for naval aviation. Now Australia planned for a single carrier. Sydney would not be modified, nor would Vengeance remain an operating carrier. She adopted the training ship role until she left Australia in June 1955.
Melbourne commissioned on 28 October 1955 after her squadrons had commissioned in August. The Gannet Mark I, succeeding the Firefly in 816 and 817 Squadrons, was a standard Royal Navy aircraft type and the squadrons trained in Britain with Australian aircraft. The Sea Fury replacement in 808 Squadronwas the Sea Venom Mark 53. This aircraft differed from Royal Navy versions, principally because of a different air-intercept radar, and Australian aircraft were not ready in time for 808 Squadron to train with them. Mark 20 Sea Venoms and a few Vampires were leased from the Royal Navy instead.
Thirty-nine Sea Venoms, 34 Gannet Mark 1s, and three Gannet trainers (with pilot controls in the second cockpit usually occupied by the observer) were bought by Australia. Melbourne reached Sydney on 9 May 1956 and the Fleet Air Arm began re- organising around a single aircraft carrier. By 1959 the Melbourne Air Group comprised 816 (Gannet) and 805 (Sea Venom) Squadrons with a flight of Sycamore helicopters for search and rescue. At Nowra, 723, 724 and 725 Squadrons operated carrier-borne types for training plus Dakota, Vampire and target-towing Fireflies.
RAN Fleet Air Arm Gannets
In November 1959 the Government announced Melbourne would be retired in 1963 when she reached the end of her theoret ical life span. This plan was soon modified and 27 Wessex anti-submarine helicopters were ordered to reequip her; 817 Squad-ron commissioned on 18 July 1963 as a Wessex squadron and first embarked in Melbourne later in the same year. The Wessex also took over the Sycamore’s embarked search and rescue role. Iroquois helicopters, entering service in 1964, took over Sycamore tasks ashore and the remaining Sycamores were retired.
Melbourne landed her Sea Venom and Gannets for the last time in 1967 and sailed to America to collect new aircraft. These were10 Skyhawks (eight single seat and two twin seat) and 14 Trackers to replace Sea Venoms and Gannets respectively. When she returned to Australia Melbourne began a modernisation at Garden Island Dockyard. In May 1967 Wessex began embarking in Sydney on her voyages to Vietnam and, later in 1967, Fleet Air Arm personnel began serving with the United States Army in South Vietnam when members of the first detachment of the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam joined the 135th Assault Helicopter Company at Vung Tau. Members of this flight served with the 135th AHC until 1971; other RAN pilots served with the RAAF at Vung Tau.
After her extended refit Melbourne regularly operated a general purpose air group of Skyhawks for strike and air defence,Trackers for anti-submarine warfare or surveillance and modernised Wessex for anti-submarine warfare. Delivery of another 10 Skyhawks (eight single seat and two twin seat) beginning in 1971 allowed planning for an alternative strike air group of 14 Skyhawks. Four squadrons at NAS Nowra provided training and support with a variety of aircraft including 10 Macchi jet trainers delivered in 1970 and 1971 to replace Vampire jet trainers.
The flow of new equipment for the Fleet Air Arm continued with two HS 748 twin turbo-prop aircraft to replace four Dakotas, two of which had been in service with the RAN since 1951. The HS 748s were intended primarily for electronic warfare training for the fleet; the first arrived at NAS Nowra in June 1973. In the same year the first Bell 206B light helicopter for the Navy was flown to Nowra; this would replace the Scout operated by HMAS Moresby for surveying. Sea King helicopters replaced Wessex in 817 Squadron on 2 February 1976; the Wessex were converted to the general utility role by removal of sonar equipment.
A4G Skyhawks on Deck - Melbourne (Wessex Helo in Background)
In addition to regular naval tasks centred on Melbourne, the Fleet Air Arm began a long involvement with coastal surveillance when three 851 Squadron Trackers started operating from Broome in Western Australia in March 1975. Subsequently the detachment operated from Darwin until the task was taken overby civilian Nomad aircraft in December 1980. This Darwin task was immediately replaced by surveillance of the Bass Strait oil platforms which grew into a major commitment. The year after coastal surveillance flying began, 10 Trackers were destroyed in a hangar fire at NAS Nowra on 4 December 1976; replacements were collected from the United States by Melbourne in 1977.
By the late 1970s replacing Melbourne herself had become a major Australian defence issue. The problem appeared to have been solved on 25 February 1982 when the Minister for Defence announced Australia would buy HMS Invincible, taking delivery late in 1983. The refit planned for Melbourne was cancelled and she paid off on 30 June 1982. 805 (Skyhawk) and 816 (Tracker) Squadrons paid off at NAS Nowra on 2 July 1982; fixed wing flying continued in training squadrons at Nowra. Then the Australian Government offered to forgo the purchase of Invincible if the British Government wished to retain her for service after the Falklands War. This offer was accepted and the proposed purchase was cancelled.
Possible replacements for Melbourne were still being examined by the Defence bureaucracy when the Federal Government changed in 1983. The new Labor Government believed Australia did not need the capabilities represented by an aircraft carrier and implemented this policy immediately. Jet flying effectively ended on 30 June 1983. Four Skyhawks were retained to tow targets for exercising ships; the rest were placed in storage. The Macchis were handed over to the Air Force. Some Trackers remained in service for patrols of the Bass Strait oil platform area until 31December 1983; in January 1982 this commitment had increased to a daily patrol. On 30 June 1984 the remaining Trackers and Skyhawks ceased flying completely.
Above: From the top, down:
Seaking, Wessex, Iroquois, Kiowa.
In 1984, as the last fixed wing squadrons were disbanding at the end of the aircraft carrier phase, squadrons were re-organising for the helicopter phase in Fleet Air Arm history.
817 Squadron retained Sea Kings for anti-submarine work in HMA Ships Stalwart and Tobruk as the opportunity offered. 816 Squadron reformed on 9 February 1984 as a utility Wessex squadron specialising in operations with the Army and in Tobruk. 723 Squadron retained a mix of HS 748 for fleet training, Bell 206 for Moresby flight, and Iroquois for general shore-based helicopter tasks. The latter helicopter types were nearing the end of their service life and in May 1984 the first of six Squirrel light utility helicopters arrived at NAS Nowra.
The first RAN FFG commissioned in 1980 but a decision had not then been taken on the helicopter she would operate. Initially the aircraft was to be used for surveillance around the frigate, if necessary providing targetting information for the ship’s Harpoon missiles. This role had been expanded to include anti-submarine operations when the decision not to replace Melbourne had been taken.
Pending selection and delivery of the appropriate aircraft, available helicopters were embarked to maintain expertise in helicopter operations. A Bell 206 embarked in HMAS Adelaide for a few months in 1984. In 1985 a Squirrel embarked in each of the frigates for extended periods.
As the interim frigate helicopter was settling into the ships,arrangements were being finalised to acquire eight Seahawk helicopters as permanent equipment for the four frigates. Delivery to Australia was late in 1987 and the Seahawk entered squadron service in the RAN early in 1989. Arrival of these frigate-based helicopters saw the Fleet Air Arm firmly established in the third phase of its history.
HMAS MELBOURNE II (EX - HMS MAJESTIC)
|Type:||Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier|
|Displacement:||15,740 tons (standard)|
|Length:||701 feet 5 inches (overall)|
|Beam:||80 feet 2 inches|
|Width:||112 feet 6 inches (overall)|
|Draught:||25 feet 5 inches|
|Flight Deck :||690 feet 8 inches|
|Propulsion:||Parsons single reduction geared turbines, 2 shafts, SHP 42,000|
|Laid Down:||15 April 1943|
|Launched:||28 February 1945|
|Armament:||25x40 mm Bofors AA|
|Builders:||Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd., Barrow-in-Furness, England|
|Commissioned:||28 October 1955|
HMAS MELBOURNE was laid down for the Royal Navy as HMS MAJESTIC. She is one of six 'Majestic' class aircraft carriers which were laid down in 1943. In 1947 when it was decided to acquire two aircraft carriers for the RAN none of the 'Majestic' class had been completed, construction having been suspended in May 1946.
Following an agreement between the British and Australian governments to transfer two of the class, HMS MAJESTIC and HMS TERRIBLE (later HMAS SYDNEY), to the RAN. Work resumed on MAJESTIC in 1949. On 28 October 1955 she was renamed MELBOURNE and commissioned in the RAN. The renaming ceremony was performed by Lady White, wife of the then Australian High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, Sir Thomas White.
MELBOURNE sailed from Glasgow for Australia on 11 March 1956 and arrived at Sydney on 9 May with 808 Squadron (De Havilland Sea Venoms), 816 and 817 Squadrons (Fairey Gannets) embarked.
In August 1956 she assisted in the search for survivors from the wreck of the collier BIRCHGROVE PARK.
In July 1958, 817 Squadron was disembarked and later disbanded and in the following October, 805 Squadron (Sea Venoms) was embarked. 808 Squadron was disembarked in November 1958 and was also subsequently disbanded.
805 Squadron was disembarked and disbanded in June 1963 and in August 817 Squadron, which had been reformed in July with Westland Wessex helicopters, was embarked. On 10 February 1964 Melbourne was involved in a collision with HMAS VOYAGER off Nowra, NSW. VOYAGER sank with the loss of 82 lives out of a complement of 317.
Each year, 1959 to 1967 inclusive, MELBOURNE served in Far Eastern waters on exercises and/or as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve. She took part in SEATO exercises and escorted HMS SYDNEY (carrying troops) to Vietnam on several occasions.
In August 1967, 816 and 817 Squadrons were disembarked and 816 was disbanded. This squadron had acquired Sea Venom aircraft in 1964 in addition to its Gannets.
In September 1967, MELBOURNE sailed to the USA where she embarked the newly acquired Douglas Skyhawk and Grumman Tracker aircraft, returning to Australia in November of that year.
A major refit at HMA Naval Dockyard, Garden Island, which commenced in December 1967 and lasted until November 1968, prepared the ship for further operational duty. MELBOURNE sailed from Sydney for the Far East on 5 May 1969 with 805 Squadron (Skyhawks), 816 Squadron (Trackers) and 817 Squadron (Wessex Helicopters) embarked. 805 and 816 Squadrons had been reformed with the new aircraft in January 1968.
Further misfortune occurred during the course of a SEATO exercise when in the early hours of 3 June 1969, MELBOURNE and USS FRANK E. EVANS collided in the South China Sea with the loss of 74 crew of the latter vessel.
MELBOURNE continued to be occupied in exercises and training during 1969 and 1970, including SEATO exercises in Far Eastern waters in 1970. In May 1970 she visited Osaka, Japan for Australia's National Day at the EXPO 70 exposition. MELBOURNE'S band participated in the 'Waltzing Matilda Review' at EXPO.
Following the visit to Osaka, MELBOURNE participated in exercises in Far Eastern waters with other RAN ships and ships of other navies. In December 1970 her three squadrons were disembarked and MELBOURNE commenced another major refit at Garden Island which lasted until August 1971.
Following the completion of the refit, 805, 816 and 817 Squadrons were embarked in September 1971. MELBOURNE participated in multi-nation exercises in Hawaiian waters in November 1971
In January 1972 MELBOURNE departed Sydney in company with HOBART, DUCHESS, STALWART and SUPPLY forming Task Group 327.2 for Subic Bay (Philippines) for Exercise SEA HAWK and subsequent ANZUK exercises. The carrier returned to Sydney via Fremantle on 26 April 1972 having steamed 15,933 miles since departure on 27 January.
From June 1972 to January 1973, HM~S MELBOURNE was occupied in training and exercises including Exercise RIMPAC 72 from Pearl Harbour, then proceeded to Yokosuka, Japan on 3 October 1972. Exercise SEA SCORPION began on 15 October off Corregidor and MELBOURNE did not return to Australia until 27 November via Manila and Singapore. She had been absent for 101 days.
After a refit at Garden Island in July 1973, MELBOURNE, in company with BRISBANE and STUART again visited Pearl Harbour for RIMPAC 73. Other exercises and training periods followed during 1974 including Exercise KANGAROO ONE which involved sea, land and air forces from Australia, Britain, USA and New Zealand.
The ship briefly visited California in March 1974 calling at Long Beach and San Francisco. Relics of the Pacific War which had been presented to the Admiral Nimitz War Museum at Fredericksburg, Texas by the Australian Government were offloaded at Long Beach. Cargo for Australia was loaded at both ports.
On 26 December 1974, the day after Darwin was devastated by Cyclone Tracy, MELBOURNE sailed from Sydney to assist in the relief operation, termed NAVY HELP DARWIN. The ship carried a large cargo of urgently needed supplies. She left Darwin to return to Sydney on 18 January 1975.
RIMPAC 75 followed in March 1975. In April 1975, the Skyhawks, Trackers and Wessex helicopters of 805, 816 and 817 Squadrons were flown off in preparation for a major refit at Garden Island where MELBOURNE remained until 21 June 1976.
On 4 August 1976 the Carrier Air Group re-embarked comprising 805,816 and 817 Squadrons and MELBOURNE was occupied in training and exercises until 11 October 1976 when she left for KANGAROO II during which MELBOURNE flew 567 fixed wing sorties. The USS ENTERPRISE was another participant in this Exercise during which a United States Marine Corps AV8A Aircraft showed it's paces to a number of visiting officials.
On return to Australia, the Governor General the Honourable Sir John Kerr, AK, GCMG, KStJ, QC and Lady Kerr took passage on MELBOURNE from NAS Nowra to Melbourne. On the 28th October their Excellencies took part in the ship's informal 21st Birthday celebrations.
On 31 October 1976, a Seaking helicopter from HMAS MELBOURNE assisted in the rescue of a hang glider pilot at Hall's Gap, north of Melbourne.
From December 1 to the 2nd, 13500 citizens of Melbourne visited MELBOURNE before she proceeded for Sydney on the 3rd arriving on the 5th, the Carrier Group having disembarked on the 4th. MELBOURNE remained in Sydney undergoing an assisted maintenance period until 1977.
In February 1977, MELBOURNE sailed for Pearl Harbour and Exercise RIMPAC 77. From there the ship sailed to San Diego to embark S2G Grumman Tracker aircraft and transport them to Australia.
In May 1977, MELBOURNE in company with the guided missile destroyer HMAS BRISBANE, departed Australia for the United Kingdom to take part in the Spithead Review marking the Queen's Silver Jubilee. Passage was via Colombo, the Suez Canal, Crete and Gibraltar. MELBOURNE also participated in Exercise HIGHWOOD in July 1977 before returning to Australia, via Naples, Port Said, the Suez Canal, Bombay and Singapore.
MELBOURNE was docked in the Captain Cook Graving Dock in Sydney from October 1977 to January 1978. Following a work up period, MELBOURNE sailed for Pearl Harbour and Exercise RIMPAC 78. On her return to Australia in May, the ship entered refit, which was completed in April 1979.
In August 1979, MELBOURNE visited New Zealand to take part in Exercise TASMANEX. This was followed by Exercise SEA EAGLE in September and Exercise KANGAROO III in October.
In February 1980, MELBOURNE was again deployed to Hawaii for Exercise RIMPAC 80, returning to Australia in March. MELBOURNE was in refit from April to July 1980. In September 1980, MELBOURNE led an RAN task force into the Indian Ocean, the largest and longest RAN deployment in the area since World War II. MELBOURNE returned to Australia in November.
MELBOURNE remained in Australian waters until May 1981 when she sailed for South East Asian waters, returning in July. In June 1981, MELBOURNE was involved in the rescue of a group of Vietnamese refugees.
After further service in Australian waters, participating in Exercises SEA EAGLE and KANGAROO 81, MELBOURNE entered a period of self maintenance in Sydney. However, a decision was made to decommission the ship. MELBOURNE was decommissioned on 30 June 1982, having spent 62,036 hours underway and steamed 868,893 nautical miles.
MELBOURNE was moored at Bradley's Head dolphins in Sydney Harbour, awaiting a decision on disposal. The ship was initially sold in June 1984 to an Australian company for $1.7 million, however the sale fell through. In February 1985, MELBOURNE was sold to China United Shipbuilding Co Ltd for $1.4 million to be broken up in the port of Dalian, China.