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Category: RAN WW2/Hobart

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The second of the 3 RN light cruisers to join the RAN, Hobart was launched at Devonport, as HMS Apollo, on 9th Oct 1934. After two years service with the RN she was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Hobart on Sep. 28th, 1938.

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Success may not count!

The vitally significant, action-packed life and times of my lateral-thinking father Captain Harry L. HOWDEN (d '69, see "Who's Who"), covering both world wars and his WW2 HMAS HOBART, that most successful, efficient, happy, venerable, un-sunk and hence largely ignored Australian cruiser. Do we HAVE to remain a nation worshipping failures?

This is certainly a great opportunity to responsibly put maritime-oriented Australia firmly on the world map of Naval and war drama. 

Apart from KRAIT plus an occasional ship's chapter, there's a near total black hole awaiting naval literature. Defence texts in recent years largely represent Army, nursing, Z-Force, RAAF or coast watch material.

Resourceful Harry, warts, womaniser and all - often successfully unconventional and disobedient towards Authority - was the first of a group to alert and activate Australia re impending war. He was virtually an uneducated albeit ingenious youth (later despised as bypassing Naval College) when he ran away to sea on a square rigger round Cape Horn to serve as midshipman on giant WW1 British HMS Benbow. 

Click to enlarge Harry skippered Chinese Yangtze river gunboat HMS Mantis (on which my folks were married/stationed!) whilst seconded to the '30s Royal Navy, and was well acquainted with Fleet Air Arm research since around WW1. 

He worked for British Secret Naval Intelligence in pre-war Europe, studied the Oriental mind and language in Japan just prior to WW2, arguably shipped out in many more vessels than any officer, was ADC to King George V1, helped start the big Sydney Balmoral Naval Depot during WW2, was Commander of Flinders Naval Depot when we were kids, as well as in charge of West Australian Navy after the war…

Lost ships attract enormously more attention and archival matter than Hobart, which was the most cost-effective Australian battlewagon; certainly involved in more successful battles, campaigns and landings than any other ship. Years ago I could find but 3 Canberra War Memorial photos under  Howden/Hobart; though some information appears under 'Campaigns' despite Hobart's leading role, such as: the vast now-topical Somalia Berbera evacuation about which my paper highlights, together with his Coral Sea Battle Command accompanying the only other Australian vessel HMAS Australia, during which Hobart ditched 3 Jap bombers (see Townsville-celebrated Pacific and Nationwide in '92).

For years Hobart an/or Howden were grandstanding on a world stage, serving at most major amphibious Pacific landings, the fall of Singapore, Tobruk and Med' operations, also Red Sea plus Java conflicts where Harry manoeuvred the ship like a speedboat to dodge 600 targeted bombs in one day… Hobart was present several times in Tokyo bay, including during surrender.

The Prince Phillip was once aboard on an escort cruise as a precocious Hobart midshipman uneasy! Some years back it was planned that the Duke should displace my long-term position as Queensland Hobart Association's Co-Patron, an essential period of data gathering. A related letter to him elicited no response.

Hobart was finally "Purchased" by Mitsui Corp. in '62 - well, they could have in 1938 and saved a load of hassle. Stupidly the latest Hobart has been sunk in Aug 2000 - what a waste of scrap or Jap tourist $s!!

Pa actually CREWED around Pittwater on my 'ship', a 30' old Bailey cutter, after my 1965 Pacific crossing via Hawaii during the Vietnam War - one of the few times I really got to know the old salt. Talk about the Stolen Generation!

Few Hobart crew or top brass, if any, realised their Captain, who is still venerated in awe and gratitude by all surviving crew, was truly a New Zealander - actually Viking stock - and, concerned for his position, wasn't about to tell. Curiously, I can raise absolutely ZERO interest in that country re accepting my articles on their own HERO, despite his old 19th century family homes having become a fine Picton Heritage Resort. .


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