HMAS Steady Hour


Like many of the other vessels which formed the Hollywood Fleet, HMAS Steady Hour was not the first vessel by that name.  Steady Hour I had been built for Fred Harris but details of her builder remain a mystery, as there is no record of her being built by Halvorsen’s.


Steady Hour I to the left of Sylph (Sylph was formerly Bruce’s first Silver Cloud). (448)


However, the register records Steady Hour II was another motor cruiser from the Halverson yards.  Built for Fred Harris in 1940 (449) and at 56 feet (17.07m), she was one of the smaller vessels in the fleet, similar in size to Lolita. (450)  


By early June 1941, Harris had been informed his new motor cruiser was going to be requisitioned.  Being less than 8 months since he launched her, Harris did not willingly allow the Navy to requisition her.  Besides, he was living on the vessel at the time and would have to find a new home if the vessel was taken from him.  On 12 June 1941, he wrote to the Minister for the Navy – The Hon. William Morris Hughes and pleaded the assistance of his local member, The Hon. E J Harrison. (451)  Harris set out his valuation for the vessel at £4,751.  He understood the speed for the required patrol vessels was to be 14 to 15 knots which needed more powerful engines.


He invoked the support of Lars Halvorsen, who submitted he could build a purpose made vessel to suit the Navy’s requirements (452) in the time it would take the Navy to have Steady Hour refitted to meet the wartime requirements.  Harris asked that as a matter of urgency, Lars’ proposal should be investigated and all further acquisition of boats should be temporarily suspended.  The Navy did not accept the submission and informed the Minister.  


Steady Hour was formally requisitioned by the Navy on 17 July 1941, (453) and surveyed the following day.  The survey report provided details of her construction; spotted gum keel and frames with Queensland maple superstructure and interior woodwork, twin six-cylinder Chrysler marine engines, accommodation for eight in four cabins, two bathroom facilities, and an extensive galley.


The vessel cost Harris in the vicinity of £4,700 and given further works since she was launched, he considered the value to be £5,000.  Harris argued that as Steady Hour was only new, depreciation should not apply.  


HMAS Steady Hourunder naval command’. (454)  This Photo would have been taken soon after the initial requisition and before she was converted for naval operations.


Negotiations dragged on, as occurred with other requisitioned vessels and by January 1942, Harris was prepared to accept £3,500.  The Navy did not accept the position and forcibly acquired her on 7 February 1942 by ‘Impressment Order’ for a sum of £3,300 - significantly below Harris’s value.  Harris finally signed over his rights to the vessel on 10 April 1942 and finally received his money two months later on 10 June 1942.


HMAS Steady Hour at Port Kembla in 1944. (455)


Steady Hour was formally commissioned into the Navy on 26 August 1941 and was to be used as a non-ASDIC patrol boat. (456)  Like other vessels, she was armed with two .303 Vickers machine guns and two sets of depth charges on the stern.  Her first commander was Lieutenant Athol G Townley who remained in command till 1 June 1942.  For her role in the Battle of Sydney Harbour, Steady Hour was awarded the ‘Pacific 1942’ Battle Honour. (457)  

It appears she spent a considerable period of time in Sydney following the Battle, before relocating to Port Kembla in November 1943.  In April 1944, she was refitted in Sydney, (458) and arrived in Darwin via Thursday Island and Melville Bay on 22 May 1944 in company with Seamist.  When she arrived in Darwin, she had sailed 5,096 miles (8,150km) since she had been commissioned into the Navy. (459)


On arrival, Steady Hour was allotted to Drysdale Island approximately 450 km east of Darwin off the northern coast of Arnhem Land. (460)  In early October, she investigated a report of a submarine approximately 350km west of Darwin in the vicinity of Lesueur Island off the north-east coast of the Kimberleys and continued with air sea rescue duties at West Bay approx. 200km north-east of Darwin. (461)


In November, the Naval Board advised Darwin that new Gardner diesel engines were to be fitted to Steady Hour.  She returned to Darwin for survey and was slipped between 25 and 27 January 1945. (462)  In February, the NOIC Darwin advised the Board that whilst the work could be undertaken in Darwin, it would take 3½ months and would seriously impact other work. (463)  


As a result, the work was directed to be undertaken at Townsville.  On 26 February 1945, she departed Darwin with Seamist and Alma Doepel for Thursday Island and further south for refit. (464)  On 3 March whilst refueling at Melville Bay, 650km east of Darwin, Steady Hour was destroyed by fire.  Her companion ship Seamist was nearby and the crew heard a loud explosion.  The commanding officer of Seamist, Sub-Lieutenant (RANVR) Askew described the scene and the actions taken to save the vessel.  Askew said he cast off Seamist from the wharf whilst mustering nearby RAAF personnel to remove fuel lines and drums from the wharf adjacent to Steady Hour.  The crews from both vessels fought the fire with extinguishers and water hoses, but as the fire had full control and ammunition began to explode, Askew evacuated the crew and let go her mooring lines.  A towing line was fastened, and Steady Hour was towed into the stream where she drifted ‘a mass of flame with ammunition exploding’.  She was eventually towed to a beach where an unsuccessful attempt was made to sink her in shallow water.


The commanding officer of Steady Hour, John Sykes was badly burnt, and together with the engineer and telegraphist, were taken to hospital.


The subsequent Board of Inquiry (465) found a static spark ignited fumes that had accumulated in a gap above the fuel tank.  The Board considered the crews of both vessels did everything possible to extinguish the fire and salvage the ship.  In addition, the Board recorded their appreciation of the action taken by Percy Allan, a sailor from Seamist who despite being unable to swim, dived into the shark infested waters to rescue Leading Seaman Piper.  Piper had been blown overboard from Steady Hour.  The NOIC of Darwin subsequently recommended to the Naval Board, that Allan be recognised by the Royal Humane Society for his actions.  It is unknown if he was so recognised.


But following the war, by 1947, Fred Harris, the former owner of Steady Hour was aboard a motor cruiser of the same name – Steady Hour.  As Commodore of the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Rose Bay, he was reported taking the salute in ‘his cruiser Steady Hour’. (466)  


Given Steady Hour II had been destroyed, he could only have been aboard his former Steady Hour I, unless he had acquired another vessel and named her Steady Hour!  HMAS Steady Hour is not included in the Navy’s ‘Ship Histories’.

448 The International Power Boat and Aquatic Monthly – November 1937, p.12

449 Neither Svensen, R. in The Halvorsen Story or the Lloyds Survey for the Navy identify the exact date in 1940 she was launched

450 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/3859 – Purchase of HMAS Steady Hour, See Survey Report, p.48 to 52

451 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/3859 – Purchase of HMAS Steady Hour, p.73

452 Halvorsens subsequently constructed more than 200 craft for the Navy, and other armed services during the War, ranging from dinghies to the 112 foot (34m) fast Fairmile ML Patrol Boats.

453 AWM 78, 418/1 - Sydney Log

454 Halvorsen photograph album, No. 2 held by the ANMM

455 AWM Photograph 301996

456 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/3859 – Purchase of HMAS Steady Hour, p.38

457 RAN Ship/Unit Approved Battle Honours, 1 March 2010

458 NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/27/160: Loss of Steady Hour

459 NAA: AWM78, 321/1: HMAS Steady Hour: Reports of Proceedings., p.7

460 NAA: AWM78, 400/2: RAN Administrative Authority – Darwin Naval Base (HMAS Melville): Reports of Proceedings., Part 2

461 NAA: AWM78, 400/2: RAN Administrative Authority – Darwin Naval Base (HMAS Melville): Reports of Proceedings., Part 1, Report for period October to December 1944

462 NAA: AWM78, 400/2: RAN Administrative Authority – Darwin Naval Base (HMAS Melville): Reports of Proceedings., Part 1, Report for period January to March 1945

463 NAA:  MP151, 524/202/1960: HMAS Steady Hour and Sea Mist

464 NAA: AWM78, 400/2: RAN Administrative Authority – Darwin Naval Base (HMAS Melville): Reports of Proceedings., Part 1, Report for period January to March 1945

465 NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/27/160: Loss of Steady Hour

466 The Sun (Sydney), 12 September 1947, p.8