From the moment the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany, Australia was also at war.  The date was 3rd of September 1939.


Within days of the outbreak of war in Europe, the Australian Government committed to construct vessels for the British Admiralty.  Britain was in desperate need of anti-submarine and minesweeping vessels to keep its sea channels open.  Ten anti-submarine vessels were to be constructed with the first to be ready by October 1940, with all to be completed by mid 1941. (52)  


Given, Australia was at war with Germany and with German naval activity and hostilities in the Pacific, the need for minesweepers for Australia was considered by the War Cabinet in June 1940.  Such need was reinforced by the subsequent sinking of MV Nimbin by mines off Port Stephens in December 1940, the trawler Millimumum off the NSW coast in March 1941, and by the later activities of the German raiders Orion and Pinguin and the captured Storstad.  Pinguin laid mines between Sydney and Newcastle, off the Victorian coast and off Adelaide in October and November 1941.  Two ships were subsequently lost off Victoria at Wilsons Promontory and Cape Otway, with another off Sydney and a further ship off Adelaide.


By September 1940, (53) the possibility of Japanese intervention was also being factored into the need for Australian anti-submarine and mine-sweeping tasks.  By that time, thirty-one naval vessels were under construction – seven for Australia, 20 for the British Admiralty and another four for Indian requirements.  In addition, twenty-seven vessels from the Australian merchant fleet had been requisitioned.  Further additional Australian requirements demanded the construction of another seventeen vessels with another eight to be requisitioned from the merchant fleet.  It was put to the War Cabinet that if Japanese intervention did not eventuate, the requisitioned vessels could be released.  As a result, it was accepted that forty-eight new vessels were to be constructed in Australian shipyards by the end of 1941, which would entail the ‘fullest use of all Australian ship-building resources’.


By January 1941, with the growing threat of mines around the Australian coast, the War Cabinet directed the requisition of a further nine coastal vessels for minesweeping.


In early 1941, Prime Minister Menzies travelled to Britain.  On 10 March while in Britain, he delivered a statement to the British War Cabinet in which he listed the strength of the Royal Australian Navy – two heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, two armed merchant cruisers, five destroyers, five sloops, one fast auxiliary minesweeper, nineteen minesweepers, seven anti-submarine vessels, one depot ship, three boom defence vessels, five patrol and examination vessels and one fleet oiler. (54)  That was it – there was nothing more!  And the five destroyers were nearly 25 years old, from World War I.


At the time, the European war was demanding more from Australia, whilst to the north, there were menacing signs of war closer to home.  Japan had invaded China in 1937 and was continuing its pursuit of victory.  In 1940, the United States ended its commercial treaty with Japan, imposed sanctions and stopped exporting scrap iron, aviation fuel, machine tools and war materials.  In late 1940 Japan signed a Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy placing them firmly with the enemy on the side of Hitler and Mussolini - against Britain and Australia.  The month after Menzies’ statement, Japan entered into a neutrality agreement with Russia.


By early January 1941, consideration was being given to the procurement of vessels for anti-submarine patrol work at each of the main Australian ports. (55)  The Australian Commonwealth Naval Board (ACNB or Naval Board) issued instructions on 28 February that ‘Motor Boat patrols’ were to be established, and that boats were to be selected locally for the service.  The main considerations for the selection included; seaworthiness, minimum speeds, suitability for fitting machine guns and depth charges, superstructures for freedom from damage, twin screws and diesel engines. (56)


Twenty-four boats in total were required for all ports.  Five were suggested for Sydney with two to be equipped with anti-submarine equipment.  A schedule identified thirty eight Sydney based vessels for possible consideration.  Of those, Miramar, Winbah, Seamist, Toomeree, Leilani, Lolita and Penelope had earlier been identified for transfer to the United Kingdom Admiralty for rescue work in the English Channel.  They were never transferred.  By April, the Naval Board had issued instructions for vessels to be “selected” and reports to be provided.  By the end of May 1941, initial selections for requisition included Miramar, Silver Cloud, Seamist, Leilani and Steady Hour.


Consideration was also being given to the installation of ASDIC (57) equipment in the soon to be requisitioned vessels.  The Secretary of the Navy directed personnel to; ‘Endeavour ascertain by how much ASDIC dome reduced speed of 50 foot 14 knot motor boat.  How long after placing order could delivery of motor boat sets be expected’.  A further direction was issued to consult the Admiralty regarding the ‘comparatively light construction’ of the boats.  The Admiralty confirmed speed would be marginally reduced and units could be supplied.


By May 1941, (58) the demand for additional naval shipping was becoming acute.  Australia was short of dual minesweeping and anti-submarine vessels.  India had asked for six additional minesweepers and identified a potential need for another six.  In addition, Australia had a desperate need for a fleet of new Corvettes for ocean escort work for ‘Australian trade protection’.


At its 15 May 1941 meeting, the War Cabinet granted approval for advanced planning in preparation of a ‘Far Eastern War’ and for the ‘taking up of vessels for special Naval purposes’. (59)


By the following War Cabinet meeting, just two weeks later on 30 May 1941, (60) the situation presented to the members was dire:


Even allowing for the greater efficiency and better performance of our new constructed Australian Minesweeping Vessels (AMS), it will be realised that the present planned programme falls far short of what was previously considered necessary to give security in circumstances in which the strategic position would obviously have been more favourable than can now by visualised.


The shipbuilding and requisition program did not include any allowance for casualties which could occur owing to losses from enemy action, minesweeping, collision or ordinary marine risk.


In July 1941, Japan placed 120,000 troops in Thailand and northern Indo-China – on the doorstep to Malaya and Singapore.  The signs of a Pacific war were loud and clear and Australia needed ships.


*             *             *

By August 1941, the Navy Office had issued directions to requisition Lolita.  Lolita was ‘taken over’ by the Navy on 26 September 1941. (61)  The owner H C Small, had completed a brief questionnaire to assist the process.  He appears to have been a willing seller, but he wanted fair payment.  He confirmed to the Navy he had purchased Lolita on 2 January 1940.  Just the week before, Lolita participated in the 1939 Annual Pittwater Regatta with the Walkers and guests.  Small said he paid £3,200 ‘cash (62) and had subsequently spent a further £150 on maintenance works.  Incorrectly, he recorded 1937 as the year she was built - an error that has persisted in subsequent records. (63)


The following month, with Lolita in the hands of the Navy, she was back at the W L Holmes’ shipyard for naval refit work. (64)  All external glass except the windscreen was removed and the openings boarded up.  She was painted from bow to stern in navy grey and fitted with .303 Vickers machine guns on the fore and aft decks.  She was also fitted at the stern with two depth charge racks (65) to hold a total of four depth charges.


Lolita was surveyed whilst afloat at Garden Island and on the Stannard’s slipway.  The comprehensive Lloyd’s Register of Shipping survey report of November 1941, (66) valued the vessel at £3,000, described the vessel in detail, and listed repairs that had already been completed by the Navy, with the cost of those repairs to be arranged ‘by mutual agreement between the Owner and the Department of the Navy’.


That month, Australia’s light cruiser, HMAS Sydney was sunk by the German merchant raider, HSK Kormoran off the Western Australian coast.  The loss was profound and bought the war into home waters.  Three days later on 22 November 1941, Lolita was formally commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy as His Majesty’s Australian Ship (HMAS), HMAS Lolita under the command of Commissioned Warrant Officer Herbert S Anderson RANR(S). (67)  She was designated as a ‘Channel Patrol Boat’ (CPB) with the responsibility to patrol the shipping channels into and out of harbours.


Within two weeks, on 7 December, Pearl Harbour was attacked.  The United States declared war on Japan and formally entered the wider world conflicts which it had tried to avoid.  On 15 December, the commander of naval operations for Sydney Harbour, Commodore Muirhead-Gould (68) requested approval for the installation of a radio telephone set aboard HMAS Lolita. (69)


From December 1941 onwards, negotiations continued with Small over the purchase price for the Lolita.  At the end of January 1942, the Department of the Navy was proposing a price ‘not exceeding £2,500’ noting that a 10% depreciation would give a sum of £2,200 but in view of the independent valuation of £3,000 by the survey, £2,500 was recommended – despite Small valuing the vessel at £3,350. (70)


Towards the end of March, the Naval Board directed negotiations be undertaken with Small.  The negotiations were fruitful with Small amending his valuation to £3,000, which he was prepared to accept in £10 Bonds.  The Department’s negotiator, a Mr Tennant of the Contract Board, concluded that as that sum was in excess of the £2,500, the negotiations were ‘fruitless’ and the only recourse was for an ‘Impressment Order’ to be issued.  He recommended appropriate action should be taken by the ‘Navy Authorities’.


HMAS Lolita. (71)


Small stood his ground, and on 4 May 1942, he wrote to Muirhead-Gould.  Small rejected the offer of £2,500 as he considered it ‘most unreasonable’ and again confirmed he had purchased Lolita from Walker in January 1940 for ‘£3,200 cash’.  He understood the original cost of the vessel to Walker was £3,800, and with a depreciation of £600 for the twenty months under his ownership, Small claimed his £3,350 was the reasonable value.  Small also re-confirmed this value included £150 for work he had completed on the vessel, and confirmed he had installed 34 new batteries and had stripped and varnished her.


Small considered the difference between the Department’s offer of £2,500 and his value was ‘too great’.  In addition, Small confirmed that prior to handing the vessel over to the Navy, he had received a valuation from a ‘Certified Marine Surveyor’ of £3,400.  Small set out his position:


Therefore, in view of the good reports received from your Department and the perfect condition of the Lolita it is unreasonable to expect me to accept £2,500.  I have already loaned the Commonwealth Government £4,000, £1,000 of which is free of interest and have made sacrifices in other directions to assist the War Effort.  I am prepared in the case of the Lolita to accept £3,000 to be paid in Commonwealth War Bonds and submit this proposal for your consideration.


Ten months after Lolita had been taken by the Navy, and ten days after the Battle of the Coral Sea, a note dated 18 May 1942, confirmed the purchase negotiations had been completed for the accepted sum of £3,000. (72)


Following her requisition and commissioning, HMAS Lolita, with her commander Herbert Anderson and crew, carried out patrol duties at Port Kembla, Newcastle, Broken Bay and Sydney.  


*             *             *


By early 1942, the Navy had gathered, a flotilla of Channel Patrol Boats - thirteen of Sydney’s finest high class pleasure cruisers, including Lolita.  


Some owners willingly ‘sold’ their vessels, while the Navy was forced to compulsory acquire others – seize them and ‘sort-out’ the value and payment later – just as the Navy had done with Lolita.  They were all commissioned into the Navy as His Majesty’s Australian Ships and were commanded by Navy officers and crewed by RAN sailors.


Vessels that had joined Lolita in earlier Pittwater Regattas, including Miramar II, Sea Mist, (73) Esmeralda and Leilani were acquired.  Others included the Halvorsen designed and built, express cruiser Penelope, commissioned as HMAS Kiara. Other Halvorsen’s luxury cruisers to be commissioned included Nereus, Silver Cloud, Steady Hour, Toomeree and Winbah.  Marlean from the Williams yard at Bayview and Yarroma from W L Holmes were also taken.


As former palatial luxury motor cruisers, often moored on ‘display’ in Farm Cove, adjacent to today’s Opera House, they became known to Sydneysiders as the ‘Hollywood Fleet’. (74)


*             *             *


As the Hollywood Fleet was being gathered, directions from the Naval Board in November 1941 confirmed Lolita along with Esmeralda were to be retained at Sydney, while others in the small fleet had been directed for service in other ports.  Nereus, Winbah and Marlene had been recommended and approved for service at Darwin, with Seamist and Silver Cloud to be allocated to Port Moresby if required. (75)  


Along with the installation of ‘towing arrangements’ for those vessels being proposed for use in Port Moresby and Darwin, approval had been requested for the installation of the new ASDIC equipment, if trials on Miramar were successful. (76)  However, within a few days, the Naval Board directed ASDIC would not be fitted to Nereus, Winbah, Marlean, Seamist or Silver Cloud. (77)  No record has been found regarding ASDIC for the remaining vessels other than Miramar and Yarroma, and it appears ASDIC was fitted to Winbah, despite the earlier direction from the Naval Board


As with Lolita, in December 1941, finance approval was requested to install radio telephone sets in Miramar, Yarroma, Steady Hour, Leilani, Winbah, Nerus and Esmeralda. (78)  For whatever reason, the sets were not installed on Lolita and many of the other patrol vessels.  This failure was to become a serious impediment to the proper functioning of the Hollywood Fleet.


Notwithstanding earlier directions for some of the vessels to be assigned to other ports, on Sunday night, 31 May 1942, all vessels of the Hollywood Fleet were assembled in Sydney Harbour – all except HMAS Kiara which had earlier arrived for service at Darwin.  


Lolita and Yarroma were patrolling the boom net at the entrance to the harbour.  Steady Hour, Seamist, Toomeree, Marlean, Esmeralda and Leilani were at their designated anchorage in Farm Cove.  Silver Cloud was moored in Rushcutters Bay, and Miramar was moored at Garden Island – not far from HMAS Kuttabul.  The locations of Winbah and Nereus are unknown, but according to one report, both vessels were unmanned, (79) whilst another report identifies Winbah may have been the vessel used by Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould, and may therefore have been moored to the wharf at the bottom of the steps leading from his residence, Tresco at Elizabeth Bay. (80)  


All were armed with at least one .303 Vickers machine gun and all carried 2, 4 or 6 depth charges in racks at the stern.  The night was dark and overcast.  Outside the harbour, the seas were rough with a moderate swell.  Winds were from the south-west at force 4, and it was winter. (81)

52 NAA: A5954, 514/1: Construction in Australia of Patrol Vessels., p.166

53 NAA: A5954, 514/1: Construction in Australia of Patrol Vessels., p.118, 120

54 Grose, P., A Very Rude Awakening, p.18.  (Source not cited)

55 NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/2/384: Asdic for motor boats for inner anti-submarine patrol

56 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/5464: Yarroma – Purchaser Std Vacuum Oil Co.  Despite the requirement, Esmeralda and Toomeree would be the only vessels of the Hollywood Fleet with diesel engines.  The remainder were powered by petrol engines.

57 ASDIC, known to Americans as Sonar, consists of an underwater transmitter and a receiver mounted under the ship.  A signal is transmitted through the water.  When it hits a submarine, it is reflected back to the station.  The operator of the station determines the bearing and distance to the submarine.

58 NAA: A5954, 514/1: Construction in Australia of Patrol Vessels., p.93, 94

59 NAA: A5954, 735/2: Summaries of Decisions of the War Cabinet 1941., p.60

60 NAA: A5954, 514/1: Construction in Australia of Patrol Vessels., p 85

61 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita – Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45., p.69

62 See Appendix A - Comparative Purchasing Value.

63 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45., p.70

64 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45., p.68

65 Some authors have said that depth charge ‘throwers’ were installed.  There is no evidence to support this and in any event, the light timber construction of the vessel (and other vessels of the Hollywood Fleet) would not provide sufficient structural support for the explosive operation of such devices.

66 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.52.  See Appendix H – Survey Report of Lolita.

67 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.50.  Throughout Anderson’s command of HMAS Lolita, he was referred to as holding the rank of Warrant Officer.  The matter of his rank was clarified by the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal in its Decision of 17 April 2013 (see Chapter – Anderson’s Appeal) where it was confirmed that on 1 September 1944, he held the rank of Commissioned Warrant Officer from the date of his enlistment being 15 September 1941.

68 Muirhead-Gould was appointed Commodore-in-Charge, Sydney on 3 February 1940.  On 20 March 1942, he was appointed to the acting rank of Rear-Admiral and as Flag Officer-in-Charge, Sydney.  He was an officer of the Royal Navy on loan to the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board.  His appointment was terminated on 21 September 1944 and he reverted to the Royal Navy the following day.

69 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.48

70 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.42, 43

71 AWM Photograph 301905

72 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.35

73 There is significant confusion regarding the names of both vessels.  Svensen in The Halvorsen Story, uses both names – Seamist and Sea Mist in the body of his book, however, in his schedule of the Halvorsen vessels, he uses Seamist and Seamist II.  In a range of advertisements promoting their business, Halvorsen refer to the Gale’s earlier 45ft cruiser as Seamist and to Seamist II for the later 60ft cruiser.  The Australian National Maritime Museum refers to both vessels as Seamist and Seamist II.  The International Power Boat and Aquatic Monthly magazine uses Seamist for the first vessel (November 1937).  The Navy’s Contract Demand for the second vessel is for the purchase of Seamist (NAA MP138/1, 603/246/4966) yet the Purchase Agreement is for Sea Mist.  Naval correspondence, directions and orders refer to the second Seamist as both Seamist and Sea Mist.  The two Reports of Proceedings held by the AWM (AWM 78/309/1) contain both forms.  The commendation from the Naval Board in October 1942 refers to Seamist.  The Sydney Log (AWM 78/418/1) records Seamist being commissioned on 21 July 1941.  I have therefore, adopted that form for this historical record.  However, it should be noted that for Jack Davey, a later owner of the second vessel, she was named Sea Mist, (See The Australian Women’s Weekly, 8 November 1972) which has continued to be her name.  I have therefore referred to her as Sea Mist from that time onwards.  As for the first Seamist, constructed for R A Gale, she was always named Sea Mist in associated naval documents (NAA MP139/1, 603/246/2350).  

74 The Sun (Sydney), 9 June 1946, p.5, 15 June 1946, p.4

75 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.66

76 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.66

77 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.65

78 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400: Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.48

79 NAA: SP338/1, 201/37 – (Japanese) Midget Submarine Attack on Sydney Harbour, May 31st June 1st 1942, p.44

80 NAA: SP338/1, 201/37 – (Japanese) Midget Submarine Attack on Sydney Harbour, May 31st June 1st 1942, p.216.  See also Grose, P., A Very Rude Awakening, p.242.  See AWM78, 418/1 – Sydney Log, p.172.  This document is the Sydney Log which shows Nereus arrived from Broken Bay with Steady Hour on 4 May 1942.  The Log also shows Winbah departing on 11 July for Broken Bay confirming she was also in Sydney Harbour on 31 May 1942.

81 NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/21/79 – Midget Submarine Attack on Sydney Harbour, p.24