Feb. 1944: The Australian Army's 'Navy'. AB 442 FRANCES PEAT being fitted in Sydney for war service - ADF [AWM 64458].
213. The Australian Army's Water Transport Units operated more than 2000 craft in WWII, many, like this one - the former vehicle ferry FRANCES PEAT, AB 442 - seeing action in New Guinea and the islands.
In this scene, however, we have her in a wonderful setting of inner Sydney's industrial waterfront of the 1940s, perhaps at Balmain, where she was first built.
The 300 tons FRANCES PEAT and sister GEORGE PEAT, which also served, were diesel-powered vehicle ferries built for the NSW Department of Main Roads at Poole and Steele in Balmain in 1930 to service an historic Hawksebury River crossing north of Sydney.
Pressed into service by the Army Water Transport units in 1942 they mainly plied the China Strait at Kwiari, a deep narrow channel East of Samarai between the south-east extremity of the New Guinea mainland and Sariba Island. It was a contested area from the air, and Army barges were sunk there.
As AB20 GEORGE PREAT and AB442 FRANCES PEAT could carry 50 jeeps, and had a range of almost 400 nautical miles. They were armed with light anti-aircraft guns but were generally escorted on longer voyages.
When the PEATS were retired at the end of the war they returned to Sydney to find Peats Bridge had been built across the Hawkesbury and they were out of work. They were sold to New Zealand owners and plied Auckland Harbour under new names, EWAN W. ALLISON and ALEXANDER ALLISON, until the Auckland Harbour Bridge was built.
They were then taken under tow for Hobart but ALEXANDER ALLISON [ex-FRANCES PEAT] sank on the voyage. EWAN W. ALLISON/GEORGE PEAT began service on Bruny Island in the Derwent estuary renamed MANGANA, was converted to a barge in 1961, and retired in the 1980s.
She was still there in 2009.
Photo: Australian Defence Force, held at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, AMW 64458. It appears in Major M.W. Askey's book 'By The Mark Five': A Definitive History Of Australian Water Transport Units Participation In World War II [M.W. Askey, Sydney, 1998] p89. It appears here with Major Mike Askey's permission.