The story of the Naval Gun at RFBYC

The story of the Naval Gun at RFBYC

Extract from the book 'Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club 1896-1996' by Ken Tregonning.

H.M.A.S Leeuwin II and the story of the Naval Gun

The war ended on 2 September 1945. Members crowded back. Leeuwin II by now clearly had over-stayed her welcome. November saw the Club seeking information as to when the Navy might vacate, in particular the annexe needed for its own bachelor residential purposes; for Perth suffered from an acute shortage of accommodation. It was not until 6 March 1946 that Leeuwin II was decommissioned. In May there was an amicable agreement with the Club that the RAN would waive charging for the buildings it had erected and were leaving behind while the Club would waive it's charges for restoration of premises occupied by the Navy. The Navy walked out, the Club walked in. 

There is a footnote to this was history. It concerns the Naval gun on our front lawn. After the Allied capitulation on Java in 1942, four elderly Dutch submarines (HNMS KVIII, KIX, KXI, KXII) evacuated naval personnel from Surabaya to Colombo. K.XI, the vessel that concerns us, commanded then by Lt Commander A.H. De Keth, subsequently operated form the RN base at Trincomalee as an ASDIC Training submarine for the Royal and Indian Navies. 

In early 1945 she was directed to Fremantle to be decommissioned and sold. She had been preceded by K.VIII which came here directly from Surabaya in 1942, to be paid off in August of that year. Her conning tower was removed and erected as a funnel on the coal burning Fremantle Harbour pilot boat Lady Forrest. Her electric motor was used on the harbour slip.
She sank while under tow in Cockburn Sound. 

With her crew of thirty one commanded by Lt Commander Paul Bach, KXI arrived at Fremantle on 22 March 1945. Launched at Rotterdam in April 1924 this elderly war horse was paid off and de-commissioned the following month, on April 10. She was purchased through the Australian Disposals Commission by Mr McMinn of the New York Junk Co, 

The Commission contracted Captain W. Harold Tilley of Fremantle to dismantle her. With facilities in Fremantle unavailable KXI was towed up river and and made fast at Keane's Point jetty. At 670 tons and 180 feet in length she was the largest ocean-going warship ever to ascend the Swan upstream of the traffic bridges. 

Captain Tilley, a Club member, was so appreciative of the Club's co-operation – he was permitted to erect tents in our grounds for his workmen, and other facilities were made available to him – that he offered the Club her 3.5 inch deck gun. This along with six torpedo tubes and a 2.7 inch anti-aircraft gun, had constituted her armament. 

The offer was accepted. Lucius Manning tried at the same time to obtain any heavy chain available from Lt Commander Klienan, the officer supervising the operations. Our old fence was falling down. There was money in this metal however, and he was unsuccessful.

He was unsuccessful also in negotiations with the Peppermint Grove Road Board when he sought to have the entrance road altered in order the gun be mounted outside the gates. In the end, and perhaps for the best, it was erected overlooking the river. Alongside it for many more years was a Krups mountain howitzer, captured form the Turks, which has been there since the days when Keane’s Point has been an A.I.F convalescent depot after World War 1.

KXI, with much that could be sold removed, was towed back to the port for further stripping on the Public Works slipway, at last vacant. From there she was moved up the harbour and made fast alongside another Dutch vessel at North Wharf, near the olf railway bridge, opposite Tilley’s boat shed. Here by accident – a labourer left a depth gauge open – she sank, to the fury of the Port Authorities.

After six weeks effort by a local diving firm sealing all apertures and torpedo tubes, she was raised again by the winches of HMAS Karangi, a book defence vessel, and the Fremantle Harbour Board’s SS Agnes. Finally this antique Dutch boat was towed to a position 12 miles west of Rottnest and there in September 1946 scuttled in an area of deep water known as the Ships’ Graveyard, a watery canyon that in remote pre-historic millennia has been the mouth of the Swan River.

In 1696, just 250 years before she sank, Willem de Vlamingh has sighted Rottnest and then trudged across from the mainland coast to our river, possibly at Keane’s Point. We may look on our gun as a reminder of that, of the Dutch ships such as the light cruisers Tromp and Jacob Van Heemskerck based here 1942-44, which helped defend our shores, but particularly perhaps of H.M.A.S Leeuwin II.

The Naval Gun was removed from the Club grounds on 23 July 2020 for some much needed restoration. Stay tuned, we hope that this piece of Club history will be back on Keane's Point again soon. 


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