Dive wrecks have long been popular for scuba diving enthusiasts. The excellent preservation of the wreck and the relatively safe conditions they offer make dive wrecks tough to resist.
There are many dive wrecks all over the world, but one of the more intriguing is based five kilometres from the Queensland coast in Australia. Here you will find the final resting place of HMAS Brisbane, a ship with a long and storied history that has continued even now she has dipped beneath the waves.
In the Beginning
HMAS Brisbane’s current life on the ocean floor is the end of the story, so let’s jump right to the beginning of an extraordinary life for an extraordinary vessel.
HMAS Brisbane was one of three Perth-class guided missile destroyers, built and used by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Along with her sisters HMAS Perth and HMAS Hobart, the HMAS Brisbane was one of the first guided missile-armed destroyers owned by the RAN. Their design was based off the US Navy’s Charles F Adams-class destroyers, Suitably, Brisbane was laid down in Bay City, Michigan, in 1965 and was officially handed over to the RAN on December 7th 1967.
Admittedly, the start of Brisbane’s life was not the most glamorous or enthralling. She spent the first nine months of her career involved in ocean-exercises with the US waters, before finally sailing for Australia in September of 1968.
Entry into Service
By 1969, the Australian government could no longer resist the USA’s calls for the country to enter the Vietnam War. Due to Australia’s location, the Americans believed the Australian Navy particularly would be beneficial to the war effort. The Brisbane would ultimately become involved in the Vietnam War as a result– twice.
In January 1969, the Brisbane was prepared for her first deployment. By March she was ready to go, and departed for Vietnamese waters on the 20th of the month. Brisbane arrived at Subic Bay in the Philippines on March 31st. There she underwent a brief workup to ready her for military action, then was eventually deployed to Vung Tau in South Vietnam, where she arrived on April 15th.
The same night, Brisbane was involved in her first mission; a naval gunfire support (NGS) mission. This meant that Brisbane was providing nighttime harassment fire 70 miles south of Saigon. As her stay in Vietnamese waters continued, Brisbane provided gunfire assistance to the Market Time operation, despite not being deployed directly to this mission.
Brisbane’s first stay in battle came to an end on May 18th, when she sailed to Subic Bay for maintenance, repairs, and shore relief for the crew.
Brisbane’s return to the theatre of war was on June 10th, alongside the USS Rowan, in support of Task Force South. Over the next four days, the Brisbane and the USS Rowan conducted just short of 200 NGS missions, mostly aimed at enemy base camps and areas of intelligence.
On June 30th, while Brisbane made her way to Singapore, she spotted the NV Sincere — a merchant naval vessel — in distress and on fire. The Brisbane dispatched a team of 71 officers and sailors to fight the fire, but they were unable to control the flames and the decision was taken for the Sincere to be abandoned. The crew of the Sincere was therefore taken on board the Brisbane, which then guarded the burning merchant ship until the arrival of a salvage tugboat named the Salvana on July 3rd.
Back in the theatre of war, Brisbane would soon suffer a difficult blow On July 22nd, while on shore bombardment duty, the Brisbane took damage to the forward gun turret. All on board survived — save for a broken wrist of one crewman — but the damage to the turret was irreparable. The turret was removed when the Brisbane arrived back at Subic on August 3rd. A replacement would not arrive until September, so once re-deployed, the Brisbane primarily functioned as the head of the escort screen for the USS Oriskany.
The replacement turret was eventually fitted on September 25th. Brisbane then returned to Sydney, Australia, in mid-October for an extensive refit, which included the installation of an Ikara anti-submarine missile system. This refit was so all-encompassing that the Brisbane would not be complete until July of the following year. Brisbane is generally considered to have had a rather quiet entrance into the theatre of war, having only fired 7,891 shells during her six-month deployment.
To Vietnam Again
On March 29th 1971, Brisbane relieved her sister ship the Perth of duties in Vietnam. Brisbane was assigned Military Region 3 gunfire duties initially, but then moved south to Region 4. This first period of her second deployment was considered relatively quiet also, and passed off without major incident.
The Brisbane returned to the gunline on May 15th to relieve the USS Floyd B. Parks. This was notable as it was the first time an RAN officer had held the position of Gunline Commander, which was assumed by the Brisbane’s commanding officer. During this period, the Brisbane operated to the south of the DMZ until she was called upon to provide close protection for the USS Kitty Hawk on May 31st.
Brisbane departed the theatre of war on June 12th 1971 for Hong Kong, returning to the gunline on the June 24th. Upon taking up operations again, she operated entirely in Regions 3 and 4. After further brief periods in Subic Bay and Hong Kong, she returned to the area of operations for her final deployment on August 15th.
During this time, which she spent on the border of the DMZ, there was a notable increase in enemy operations. As a result, the Brisbane was involved in further NGS missions. Of the 7,231 Brisbane fired during her second deployment, 2,127 were fired from August 15th onwards, showcasing just how intense the fighting became at this stage.
Brisbane left the gunline for the final time on September 5th via Hong Kong. She was withdrawn due to the Australian government’s decision to cease involvement in the Vietnam War. Brisbane was the last ship to make combat deployment during the Vietnam War and was not replaced when her deployment ended.
When Brisbane’s second, and final, deployment ended, her service received huge praise from the Commander of the US Navy, who spoke highly of the ship and the work of her crew. Additional praise was received in the form of the 1971 Duke of Gloucester’s Cup, an award given to the most efficient ship of the RAN in a given year.
After several years, during which she underwent a major refit, the Brisbane found herself called into action– but this time, for a very different purpose to that she had fulfilled previously. Cyclone Tracy severely damaged the city of Darwin between 24-25th December 1974.
As a result, Brisbane’s personnel were recalled from holiday leave, and she was dispatched with relief supplies to the stricken city. She arrived in Darwin harbour on December 31st, providing much-needed assistance to the citizens of Darwin.
Other notable facts about the Brisbane
On May 9th 1975, Brisbane was escorting the HMAS Melbourne during a five-month trip to the UK for Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. During the trip, a Sea King helicopter was forced to ditch in the ocean– Brisbane successfully recovered the crew. Brisbane took part in Operation Damask in 1990, serving as part of the naval blockade. It sailed to the Gulf region on November 12th and remained until March 22nd 1991.The Brisbane received two battle honours for her time in service: Vietnam 1969 – 1971 and Kuwait 1990-91.
Beneath the Waves
After paying off in 2001, opinions on the future of Brisbane were divided. Eventually, the decision was taking to transform her — and her two Perth-class sisters — into dive wrecks, meaning Brisbane would be deliberately scuttled.
First and foremost, however, Brisbane had numerous parts removed for reuse. Her bridge and one of her 5-inch guns were removed for preservation in the Australian War Museum, while her air search radar was donated to the Royal Thai Navy for continued use.
Stripped and ready for her final journey, Brisbane was scuttled just off the coast of Mudjimba, off the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. She sank in just two minutes and 10 seconds, and her new life as a dive wreck began.
Brisbane sits at a depth of 27 metres, which is around 89 feet. The water clarity is generally considered to be excellent, and temperatures range between a pleasant 17C and 27C. The wreck is suitable for diving to throughout the year, and is relatively simple to reach thanks to the short distance (less than 3 nautical miles) from the coast. When on your dive, you can explore the outside of the ship, or head inside to see the engine room and control rooms.
Brisbane is now home to over 200 different species of fish, as well as multiple sponges, both soft and hard corals, turtles, and eagle rays. This staggering array of natural delights combine with a wonderful dive experience that makes the HMAS Brisbane a must-dive for those interesting in wreck exploration.