This year (2017) marks the 75th anniversary of RAN (navy) diving at HMAS Penguin. HMAS Penguin (II) (Balmoral) was commissioned on 14 July 1942. This post is about the first officer in charge of diving at HMAS Penguin.
Leut Frederick Lowrie had served in the RN before emigrating to Australia and enlisting in the RAN. Lowrie’s first association with diving is in his report of 22/8/1932 – 19/6/1934 when he was denoted as Officer in charge of diving at HMAS Penguin (Garden Island). Prior to that he was fulfilling general officers duties and earlier, gunners duties. There is no record of him ever being trained as a diver but he did have a prior record of “training boys” and was highly regarded for his training abilities. Garden Island was then the site for diver training.
He remained in this position till an appointment briefly to HMAS Adelaide on 1st September 1939 and then to HMAS Kanimbla 30th October 1939.
German Ship Hohenfels
On 25th August 1941 HMAS Kanimbla attacked the Port of Bandar Shapur and seized the port and shipping. The crew of the German ship Hohenfels scuttled her by opening her sea cocks.
PO Humphries RAN was awarded the George Medal for ‘skill and courage of the highest degree’ during twelve extremely hazardous dives to enter the flooded engine room of the German prize ship Hohenfels to shut the bilge suction valves. He was without communications or a standby diver, and his descent included three long and two short ladders.
In September 1941, the Commanding Officer of HMS Kanimbla, Capt W. Adams, RN; wrote a report containing the following paragraph:
“Mention must also be made of Mr Frederick George Lowrie, Commissioned Gunner, Royal Australian Navy (Emergency List), who was in charge of all diving operations. By chance, although “KANIMBLA” is not allowed any diving equipment, he, who has for many years been diving instructor at Garden Island, Sydney, Australia, is one of her company. At the age of 59 years, this Officer was in charge of all diving operations in connection with “HOHENFELS” and his continued energy and cheerfulness in conditions of great responsibility, and long and irregular hours, was much appreciated by me in the temperatures prevailing. He is strongly recommended for promotion to Lieutenant.”
Attack by Japanese Midget Submarine
Harry Brutnall trained under Leut Lowrie at Garden Island. Harry was billeted on the HMAS Kuttabul when she was sunk by a Japanese midget submarine on the night of 31st May – 1st June 1942. Fortunately for Harry he stayed ashore that night. The next day he was diving on the Kuttabul to recover bodies and equipment under the supervision of Leut Lowrie.
In his unpublished manuscript, A Knockabout Sort of a Fellow, Mervin Lynam, says he was transferred to the diving boat as “pumping party”. The exact date is not specified but it is 1939 or later. He says the diving officer was an old dug out English Leutenant and they had 4 divers. The work was laying the boom net across Sydney.
Lynam claims diver Buggs a WWI veteran was sent down on the sub at Chowder Bay (Taylor’s Bay is on the same side of the harbour as Chowder Bay but a couple of bays further in). While Leut Lowrie is not mentioned by name it would appear that he was involved in this tragic but historic event.
Leut Lowrie Appointed to HMAS Penguin
In April 1943 he was appointed to HMAS Penguin in charge of diver training and as Port Officer (in charge of the Port of Sydney).
End of Career
Leut Lowrie was posted to HMAS Rushcutter on 11th Nov 1946 and demobilised 18th December 1946. He was promoted Lt Commander after his retirement on 1st January 1957.
He passed away on 8th November 1968.
By Allan Kessler