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Anzac Day and the Scrap Iron Flotilla

Anzac Day Australia World War 2 Tobruk Navy Destroyers

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NSW Mntd Rifles #1 Posted 16 April 2018 - 11:18 AM

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Anzac Day, 25thApril, is a sacred day in Australia and New Zealand. Before dawn on this day hundreds of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders gather at war memorials in villages, towns and cities across the two countries to remember those who have served in conflicts over the past 200 years. The dawn services coincide with the time at which Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey on 25thApril 1915.

 

Later in the morning veterans, and increasingly descendents of veterans, march in parades all over both countries. These lead to more commemorative services at the countries’ war memorials. When I was young my family watched the televised Anzac Day parade in Sydney. I remember that there were Boer War veterans carried in taxis, and large numbers of ageing World War I veterans marching in their original battalions. Behind them were thousands upon thousands of World War II veterans marching in their units. I was always intrigued by the veterans of a group of destroyers carrying a banner that proclaimed: “The Scrap Iron Flotilla”. These men were treated with great respect and a sense of awe. 

 

I knew little about them, but knew they had great fame within the Australian armed forces. The name “Scarp Iron Flotilla” had been applied to them by Joseph Goebbels and Nazi propaganda broadcaster, Lord Haw Haw. Like the description “Rats of Tobruk”, Lord Haw Haw’s attempt to ridicule Australian forces was laughed off and proudly adopted as a badge of pride by those he sought to demean.

 

During the 1930s, with an eye to developing threats in Europe and Asia, Australian governments scrambled to prepare the country for war. The Royal Australian Navy had been heavily dismantled after the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty established naval power ratios between Great Britain, Japan and the United States of America. As an island nation with substantial influence in the South West Pacific, Australia has always regarded naval power as paramount to its security. The 1930s re-armament included Australia purchasing ships from the United Kingdom. Among these were five destroyers that had been used by the Royal Navy in World War I.

 

When HMAS Stuart, HMAS Voyager, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta and HMAS Waterhen were deployed to the Mediterranean in 1939 Goebbels described them as scrap iron and “a collection of junk”. Over the following years these “junk” destroyers played a key role in breaking Italian naval power in what Mussolini had described to the Italian people as “Mare Nostrum” (our sea). They fought off the coast of Calabria, at Cape Matapan and were involved in the desperate evacuations from Greece and Crete in 1941. The five ships also underpinned the famous “Tobruk Ferry Service”, bringing supplies to the garrison of Tobruk under the threat of almost overwhelming Axis air power. Waterhen was lost on 29 June 1941, while participating in the Tobruk Ferry Service.

 

With the entry of Japan into the war the remaining four destroyers returned to Australia and served in the New Guinea and Melanesian campaigns between 1942 and 1944. So much for “scrap iron”. In my mind’s eye I still see those proud men marching on Anzac Days.


Edited by NSW Mntd Rifles, 19 April 2018 - 09:32 AM.


The1970Hooper #2 Posted 16 April 2018 - 11:33 AM

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​My grandfather served in the Canadian navy during WW2, and I remember being told about the scrap iron flotilla and how he never met an Australian or New Zealand soldier that didn't feel like a friend after a few minutes of knowing them. Thanks for the post, haven't thought about that in years.

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Edited by The1970Hooper, 16 April 2018 - 11:35 AM.

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NSW Mntd Rifles #3 Posted 16 April 2018 - 06:30 PM

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View PostThe1970Hooper, on 16 April 2018 - 09:33 PM, said:

​My grandfather served in the Canadian navy during WW2, and I remember being told about the scrap iron flotilla and how he never met an Australian or New Zealand soldier that didn't feel like a friend after a few minutes of knowing them. Thanks for the post, haven't thought about that in years.

Lest We Forget.

 

There was and is a brotherhood in the old empire. Lest we forget.

Snorelacks #4 Posted 21 April 2018 - 10:32 PM

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I was fortunate as an American to get to experience an Anzac Day ceremony at King's Park in Perth. As a Veteran it was made even more poignant.


 


test777777 #5 Posted 15 May 2018 - 10:22 AM

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View PostSnorelacks, on 22 April 2018 - 06:32 AM, said:

I was fortunate as an American to get to experience an Anzac Day ceremony at King's Park in Perth. As a Veteran it was made even more poignant.

This year I had never really noticed in previous years, probably because the time of the year can be so variable but this year, it was clear and still and as the Suns rays began to filter through just prior to dawn, they formed a pattern just like the Rising Sun Badge. It was very symbolic and admittedly, upon realising that the eyes got a bit misty.....

 


 

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