January 9, 2014

Submariner bravery - HMAS Farncomb 2007

Eight years before the 2007 event - in June 1999, as part of combat system trials, HMAS Farncomb fired a live Mark 48 Mod 4 torpedo at HMAS Torrens, sinking the decommissioned destroyer.

The following 2009 article concerns an event in 2007. It illustrates that the rare occasions when some details of submarine operations become public usually occur when a submarine has an accident or some other misfortune. In the following case public disclosure became even a rarer thing - a good news story about genuine bravery of submariners. The link is at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/sailors-washed-off-submarine-as-rescue-kept-quiet/story-e6frg6nf-1225776884379

"Sailors washed off submarine as rescue kept quiet     

  • by: Cameron Stewart
  • September 19, 2009 12:00AM  
    A covert intelligence-gathering mission by a navy submarine almost ended in disaster when a giant wave washed five of its crew into the ocean in the middle of the night.
    The accident, which was kept quiet by the navy for two years, took place during a deployment to Asia by HMAS Farncomb in March 2007.
    However, tragedy was averted when three sailors risked their lives by diving into the swirling ocean to rescue their crewmates in a 90-minute life-and-death struggle against the elements.
    Now the navy has announced three of Farncomb's crew will receive bravery awards for their actions -- the first such awards given to submariners in 27 years.
    The rogue wave swept the five men off the top of the surfaced submarine as they tried to clear fishing lines from its propeller. In rough seas and worsening weather, they could not make it back to the submarine, so the captain asked for volunteers to rescue them.
    Sonar operator Greg Langshaw, engineer Rohan Pugh and cook Steven Rowell put up their hands and, assisted by crewmates, they worked together to drag the five men back to the boat.
    The rough seas caused the submarine to heave violently, breaking one of Petty Officer Langshaw's ribs and causing severe bruising to others as the men were hauled back on to the vessel.
    Navy chief Vice-Admiral Russ Crane said: "All of Farncomb's personnel who were involved showed significant fortitude, teamwork and courage to ensure that all sailors were returned to the submarine without major injuries and (with) no loss of life."
    The accident occurred during a five-month deployment through Southeast Asia and the western Pacific, during which Farncomb gathered intelligence by sailing close to foreign coastlines, listening to communications.
    Defence will not say where Farncomb was or what its activities were at the time of the accident.
    The story of the Farncomb could easily have been a naval tragedy or even a diplomatic incident.
    Instead, it is a tale of courage and heroism from a group of sailors who risked their own lives to save their mates from death.
    The navy was uncertain about how best to recognise the bravery of the crew. For more than two years it kept quiet, but last month Chief Petty Officer Pugh, Petty Officer Langshaw and Leading Seaman Rowell were told they would be offered bravery awards.
    The navy says the delay was because "due process" needed to be followed. However, The Weekend Australian understands it only nominated the men for the awards this year.
    On Thursday, Governor-General Quentin Bryce announced awards for the three men, while several other crew members were awarded commendations from Vice-Admiral Crane.
    Chief Petty Officer Pugh says the award, which will be presented next March, was the last thing he expected. "I thought it was great to be recognised for it,' he said. "I think anyone would have done it."
    Submariners are rarely given public medals because, like the SAS, much of what they do cannot be revealed.
    The navy says the last bravery medals awarded to submariners were in 1982, when two crew aboard HMAS Onslow were decorated for their actions when their submarine filled with toxic fumes.
    The Farncomb incident occurred 20 years after two sailors were lost while on an exercise off Sydney Harbour.
    They were swept overboard when the Oberon-class submarine HMAS Otama dived while they were still in the conning tower."
    This article can be related to two previous articles on this website:
    "Australian Oberon Submarine Intelligence Gathering" http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/australian-oberon-submarine.html 

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