HMAS Arrow was commissioned into naval service at Hervey Bay in Queensland on 3 July 1968. She was one of twenty Attack class patrol boats ordered for the RAN in November 1965.
The Attack class was equipped with high-definition navigation radar, magnetic compasses, an echo sounder and air conditioning for service in northern Australian waters. Their primary role was to conduct patrol work in Australian territorial waters.
HMAS Arrow crest Arrow sailed south to Sydney with a temporary crew arriving there on 11 July 1968. Following a period of defect rectification, a predominantly RAN Reserve (RANR) crew joined the ship on 15 July putting to sea three days later for work-ups.
She then departed Sydney for her first homeport of Melbourne on 25 July, her departure having been delayed due to inclement weather. She arrived in Port Phillip Bay on 27 July where she became the training vessel for the Melbourne Port Division of the RANR.
Image: HMAS Arrow Ship Crest
Arrow served in that capacity for the next six years providing training to rotating RANR crews for two weeks at a time, primarily along the Australian east coast, and in Victorian and Tasmanian waters. This was in addition to regular weekend training and ‘day-runs’.
She participated in Exercises RED NED and RECOUP in February and November 1969 respectively, and underwent a refit at Cockatoo Island Dockyard from April to June 1970. On 27 February 1971, Arrow visited Devonport in Tasmania to act as flagship for the annual Devonport Regatta on 1 March.
Three years later she attended the Launceston Regatta in February 1974 before sailing to Sydney for a major refit.
On 30 July 1974, Arrow’s time as a RANR training vessel came to an end and she resumed duties with the RAN fleet based at HMAS Waterhen in Sydney. Following a busy period of work-up and trials, she departed Sydney on 21 August for her new homeport of Darwin where she joined the Third Australian Patrol Boat Squadron.
Image: Attack Class Patrol Boat HMAS Arrow
She arrived in Darwin on 2 September, her first operational tasking was to conduct a hydrographic survey of Cone Bay and Collier Bay in north-eastern Western Australia.
She arrived back in Darwin on 9 October. She sailed again for her first Fishery Surveillance Patrol off the Western Australian coast on 23 October and maintained a regular patrol and maintenance program up until what would prove to be a fateful Christmas period.
On December 21 1974 the United States weather satellite SR8 detected a brewing storm over the Timor Sea. By 10.00 that evening the storm had officially been upgraded to a cyclone and assigned the name ‘Tracy’.
Over the course of the next three days, Tracy wound its way south-west and around the west coast of Melville Island, ravaging Melville and Bathurst Islands in the process. She then wound back to the south-east and headed straight for Darwin.
Tracy struck the Northern Territory capital in the early hours of Christmas Day with winds reaching nearly 260 kph, the highest wind speed ever recorded at ground level on the Australian mainland at that time.
Tracy claimed the lives of 49 people ashore and a further 16 at sea. Arrow and her sister ship, HMAS Attack, attempted to sail from Darwin and ride out the storm at sea, but neither made it out of the harbour. Attack was driven ashore at Doctor’s Gully without casualties. Arrow, however, was not so lucky; Tracy drove the boat back toward Stokes Hill Wharf where crewmembers jumped from the doomed vessel’s deck on to the wharf.
They took refuge where they could, trying to avoid flying debris. Arrow sunk under the wharf in some 15 feet of water. Two crewmembers, Petty Officer Leslie Catton and Able Seaman Ian Rennie, lost their lives as Arrow was wrecked under the wharf
Able Seaman Robert McLeod was awarded the Australian Bravery Medal on 16 September 1977 for assisting injured shipmates. Clearance Diving Team 1 successfully re-floated Arrow on 13 January 1975 by attaching pontoons to her hull and using tugs to pull her clear of the wharf at high tide.
She was towed underwater to shallow water at Frances Bay where she was surveyed, written off and later sold to a local businessman whose intention was to rebuild her as a museum piece. The restoration process proved too expensive and Arrow was eventually broken up where she lay.
PO Catton and AB Rennie are memorialized at HMAS Coonawarra with a plaque and the inclusion of their names in a stained glass window at the base’s chapel, and the Arrow Bar at the base is named in the vessel’s honour. Arrow Drive, Catton Court and Rennie Road are all also named in their honour.