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HMAS Gunbar


Gunbar was requisitioned for War Service on 30 September 1940 by the Royal Australian Navy at a Charter Rate of 120 Pounds per month from the North Coast Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. Sydney. She was refitted as a Minesweeper and commissioned for Minesweeping duties along the south east coast of Australia on 19 December 1940 under the command of Lt. N.M. Muzzell, RANR (S). 

HMAS Gunbar had a crew of 27. In April 1941 she moved to Western Australia and operated out of Fremantle until January 1942. She then moved to Darwin where she was one of many vessels attacked during the first Japanese air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942. HMAS Gunbar has the reputation of being the first ship attacked by the Japanese aircraft during the attack.

Nine sailors including the Commanding Officer were wounded during the attack. Ordinary Seaman Herbert John Shepherd (F3384) later died from his wounds on 22 February 1942.

HMAS Gunbar was being used as  Water Carrier at the time of the attack. She was just passing through the entrance boom when the Japanese aircraft arrived over Darwin. The nine Japanese aircraft proceeded to attack HMAS Gunbar on eighteen occasions. They knocked her single machine gun out of action.

Peter Thomas interviewed Lt-Cdr Muzzell, the captain of HMAS Gunbar in 1984 when he was 80 years old at his home in Melbourne. The interview tape went to the NT Archives.

Peter Thomas told me that:-

HMAS Gunbar had no radio. She had a Vickers HMG and some Lee-Enfields. The Vickers could not elevate much above horizontal. The skipper, Lt (later Lt-Cdr) Muzzell, had a Webley revolver. ... The crew of HMAS Gunbar observed a large formation of Japanese aircraft. As it transpires, they were on their way to bomb Darwin. One aircraft detached from the formation, and attacked the Gunbar. The crew responded as best they could, but the Vickers could not be brought to bear on the aircraft. Lt Muzzell later described firing with rifles and a revolver at an aircraft as "like throwing peanuts at a tiger". Prof Powell quotes this phrase in his book.

HMAS Gunbar limped into the Harbour and evacuated five of her wounded and then went to the assistance of of the stricken merchant ship Portmar. HMAS Gunbar evacuated the crew of Portmar.

HMAS Gunbar stayed at Darwin until April 1943. During its time in the Darwin area, HMAS Gunbar along with HMAS Kara Kara were the two anchored gate ships for the Darwin Boom Defence.

HMAS Gunbar eventually moved to Sydney where she was paid off into Reserve.

She was then converted into a Boom Gate Vessel at Port Kembla in New South Wales. She was recommissioned  on 21 October 1943 and operated in the Port Kembla to Sydney area for the rest of the war. She was paid off from service with the RAN on 3 December 1945.

Commanding Officers              

Lt. Norman M. Muzzell, RANR (S)

18 Dec 1940

Lt. Maurice Boyd, RANR (S)

Apr 1942

Lt. Samuel C. Smith, RANR (S)

3 Jun 1942

Lt. Charles C.G. Gray, RANR (S)

7 Dec 1942


Ship paid off to Maintenance Reserve 30 Jun 43 - Recommissioned 21 Oct 1943


Lt. Harold F. Town, RANR (S)

21 Oct 1943

Lt. S.P. Gains, RANR (S)

4 Sep 1945

There are streets in Darwin named in honour of HMAS Gunbar and Lt-Cdr Muzzell.

One of the crew members from HMAS Gunbar, believed to be the bosun, donated some of his souvenirs from the ship to the Breakwater Battery Military Museum, at Port Kembla, including a couple of white ensigns from the ship, his bosun's knife and call, and some associated paperwork. Some of these are included in a display on Port Kembla during WWII in the museum.



"Wrecks in Darwin Waters"
by Tom Lewis

"For Those in Peril - A comprehensive listing of the Ships and Men of the RAN who have paid the Supreme Sacrifice in the Wars of the 20th Century"
by Vic Cassells

Roll of Honour - Northern Territory Library



I'd like to thank John Richards, Peter Thomas and Donna Abbati for their assistance with this web page.


Can anyone help me with more information?


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 Peter Dunn 2015


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"Australia @ War"
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This page first produced 18 February 2002

This page last updated 11 September 2018