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HMAS OXLEY (I)

Date: 1925-1939
Dimensions:
Overall: 221 x 342 x 2 mm
Overall (Photograph only): 153 x 264 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Tammy Foy
Classification:Photographs
Object Name: Photograph
Object No: 00051283
Related Place:England, Norge, Malta,

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    Description
    Photograph of a surfaced HMAS OXLEY (I), an Odin class submarine. Originally built for the RAN, in 1931 it was transferred to the British Royal Navy and recommissioned HMS OXLEY. Tragically it was torpedoed by another British submarine, HMS TRITON, in 1939 whilst patrolling the coast of Norway. Mistaken for an enemy vessel, of the 53 crew on board only two survived.
    SignificancePhotograph of HMAS OXLEY, an Odin class submarine and one of Australia's early submarines. It was transferred to the Royal Navy in 1931 and was tragically torpedoed by another British submarine shortly after the outbreak of World War II with significant loss of life.
    HistoryHMAS OXLEY was an Odin class submarine designed to replace the J class submarine. With significant financial limitations on the RAN and an obsolete class of submarines the Australian Naval Board determined that only two Odin class submarines were to be ordered. The Odin class were at the time the newest ocean-going type, as opposed to previous coastal defence submarines. The anticipated cost was £700,000 for both. OXLEY was the first to be completed, built between 1925 and 1927 by Vickers Ltd, Barrow-in-Furness, England. The second submarine was HMAS OTWAY. Vickers was one of the largest ship-building firms in England and had built more submarines than any of the other companies that submitted a tender for the project.

    OXLEY was initially under the command of HR Marrack RN and was first manned by Australian and British crew, establishing the practice of exchange programs between the RAN and British Royal Navy. OXLEY, OTWAY and OBERON (an O class submarine built for the Royal Navy) left England together and en route to Malta cracks and fractures in the engine columns of OXLEY and OTWAY were discovered, with the worst being strapped during the passage. In Malta an investigation of OBERON was also undertaken and similar defects were also found. Other spare engine columns cast by Vickers that had previously passed inspection by the Admiralty were also found to have serious defects.

    Repair work was undertaken under the supervision of the Royal Navy and a representative from Vickers and took six months. F.L Getting, RAN, replaced Marrack as commander of OXLEY. Some considerations were given to abandoning the policy for Australia to maintain submarines but this action was not adopted. Vickers bore most of the cost of the repairs due to a warranty clause in the contract, with towage and dock charges were met by the Australian Government. During the repair period both submarines had been reduced to Immediate Reserve and on 20 August 1928 OXLEY was recommissioned with OTWAY following on 1 September. The two vessels left Malta for Australia on 15 November 1928 and on the long passage to Australia experienced a number of other defects such as broken water and oil pumps, requiring repairs in various ports.

    On 23 January 1929 the two submarines reached Thursday Island, finally able to berth alongside the submarine depot ship HMAS PLATYPUS. Unfortunately there was no accommodation on board the ship and the frustrated submariners were forced to sleep to continue to sleep on board the submarines where they had been accommodated continuously since leaving Malta. On 2 February the submarines arrived in Townsville and by 14 February arrived at their berths alongside Garden Island in Sydney Harbour, finally completing their long voyage. Along the way the two submarines had left a combined number of 22 sailors at various ports along the way due to sickness or disciplinary incidents resulting in detention. Only 15 years earlier the first submarines in the RAN, AE1 and AE2 had completed the same passage without leaving a single sailor behind, indicating the low morale on board OXLEY and OTWAY.

    In 1929 the two submarines were confined to exercises off the NSW coast and in May 1930 both submarines were paid off into Reserve. On 10 May 1930 the two submarines were again paid off into Reserve. Representing bad value for money due to the high cost of running and maintaining the submarines and abandoning the idea of running a complement of six submarines as a flotilla, it was agreed OXLEY and OTWAY would be transferred to the Royal Navy and the RAN would replace them with a 6-inch gun cruiser. On 10 April 1931 the submarine was commissioned HMS OXLEY and sailed for Malta on 29 April to join the British flotilla there.

    At the outbreak of war OXLEY was assigned to patrol duty on the extension of the Montrose-Obresfadt air patrol line off the coast of Norway. Another British submarine HMS TRITON mistook OXLEY for an enemy vessel after it failed to respond to signalling and subsequently fired its torpedoes. Both vessels were surfaced at the time. OXLEY sank with almost total loss of life; only two survivors, both had been standing on the bridge when the submarine was struck, were picked up by TRITON. The correct signal was returned after the torpedoes had been fired. OTWAY survived the war and was sold to T.W. Ward in August 1945 and scrapped, left as an abandoned hulk on a mud bank somewhere near Dar es Salaam, Africa.
    Additional Titles

    Web title: HMAS OXLEY (I)

    Assigned title: Mounted photograph of HMAS OXLEY (I)

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