HMAS Vampire: Last of the Big Guns

Find out about the HMAS Vampire, a ship from another era. The last of three Daring class destroyers launched in Australia, built at Cockatoo Island in the heart of Sydney.

By Australian National Maritime Museum

HMAS Vampire (1956) by Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney NSWAustralian National Maritime Museum

The last example

This ship is the last example of an Australian ‘gun ship’, with three twin-gun turrets manned by large teams of gunners that are now a thing of the past. This expedition takes you around the Vampire, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at life on board a Navy destroyer.

Sailors’ galley

 Food was very important part of a sailor’s life. Galleys were popular places for socialising and spreading “buzzes” (otherwise known as gossip). Meals for junior sailors were prepared and served here, the largest of the three galleys on Vampire.

Menus were planned by the chief cook in consultation with the senior cooks from each of the three galleys. The senior medical officer or supply officer and the commanding officer signed off the weekly menus.

Food preparation and storage area

This is where all the food for the crew was prepared and served. The drawers contain essential cooking ingredients such as flour and sugar. The fittings are mostly made of stainless steel. 

Food

Sailors ate three hot meals a day. The menu included scrambled eggs, sausages, hamburgers and roasts. It was essential to provide a diet rich in nutrients and high in vitamin C for the crew, especially when they were out to sea for long periods.

Bain-Maries for serving hot food

Sailors walked past here with their plates to collect their hot meals. The containers that you can see here were used to keep the food warm before and during serving. 

Sailors’ bathroom

This bathroom was for the use of junior sailors who were limited to two minutes in the shower. Showering longer carried the threat of time in the sweltering boiler room where they could experience how long it took to prepare clean hot water. 

Showers and dolly

Sailors showered every day and sometimes twice a day. The showers were open all day except during cleaning periods. The dolly (metal bin containing a T-shaped rod - see bottom left hand corner) is a simple washing machine.

Water

Because the ship made its own fresh water at sea with evaporators from the boiler room, showers were always available. When in port the sailors looked forward to a nice long shower!

Sailors’ heads

These toilets were used by junior sailors. They flushed straight into the sea, and as you can see they didn’t provide much privacy! This area was also a social area with men chatting, smoking and swapping comics.

Heads

The toilets are called ‘heads’ from the time of sailing ships when toilets were located at the head (front) of the ship. These heads were cleaned twice a day and they were difficult to use.

CDA cases

The third cubicle was assigned to CDA cases, which stands for ‘caught disease ashore’. To prevent the spread of disease, those who were infected had their own toilet, plates, and utensils.

Gun turret alpha

Guns on a modern warship are now completely automated, but when the Vampire was in service, its turrets required up to 23 sailors to operate; they needed two loaders per gun, gunhouse and turret captains, and gun bay magazine and shell room personnel.

Ammunition

The ammunition is in two sections made up of the shell, or projectile, and the brass cartridges containing the propellant. The projectiles have to be hoisted up from the shell room, two decks below.

Gun turret

 Sailors wore protective clothing but the gun turret was not a pleasant place to work as the turret itself constantly moved and revolved, as well as pitching and rolling with the movement of the sea.

Helicopter drop zone

Helicopters were used extensively at sea to transfer personnel, including sick and injured sailors, and for replenishment of food, stores, and ammunition, to the Vampire. These operations were called vertical replenishments or ‘vertraps’. The deck was occasionally used for BBQs too. 

Deck

Vampire’s deck was not strong enough to support the weight of a helicopter so it hovered over the white markings while stores and personnel were transferred by winch. This was especially tricky in bad weather!

White markings

White markings were painted on the deck to identify the drop-off space to the pilot while he hovered overhead. Pilots had to be specially trained and very skilled to complete this maneuver. 

Sick bay

Sailors were generally young and fit and so the sick bay was mainly used for fractures, injuries from serious falls, or occasionally if a new sailor suffered from sea-sickness. No medical officer was kept on board unless the Vampire was conducting long independent operations.

Medical equipment

A range of ailments were treated, like scurvy and sea-sickness, as well as the occasional partial amputation. Here you can see the equipment that was used, as well as the clothes worn by the medical officer, and beds for the sick and injured. 

The classroom

This was originally an open space that held the triple barreled anti-submarine mortar weapons system, which was a weapon designed to directly hit submarines and cause only a small explosive charge. It was converted into a classroom in 1980 when the Vampire became a training ship.

Diagram of ship

Trainee officers and sailors would use this diagram to learn about every area of the ship and its operations. You can see that it is quite detailed and there was a lot to learn. 

First fleet storeship BORROWDALE (c 1786) by Francis HolmanAustralian National Maritime Museum

Continue your exploration

Find out more about the Australian maritime history on the Australian National Maritime Museum page.

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