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THE SEARCH FOR HMAS SYDNEY: AN AUSTRALIAN STORY
Edited by Ted Graham, Bob King, Bob Trotter, and Kim Kirsner
UNSW Press, 328 pages, hard cover with dust jacket
Reviewed by Tom Lewis
The story of HMAS Sydney's discovery is now being told in book form for only the second time. The first was in David Mearns' work on the blue-water operations some years ago. This new publication concentrates more on the work of the Finding Sydney Foundation which began its quest from the 1970s. It is a worthy production which dovetails well with the previous publication.
From the beginning the realisation that the WWII cruiser Sydney could only be found by investigating the original story of the action was understood by the people behind the Foundation. They brought to the quest some powerful research procedures, but above all a spirit which imbues these pages: a calm and rational analysis that was streets away from the often hysterical and usually fanciful so-called analysis of sadly, many others. They took the cold hard facts: a highly capable, battle-proven warship had been sunk by a German raider with the loss of all 645 of her ship's company.
The purpose-built cruiser should have mastered the retro-fitted raider with ease but did not. The survivors probably were telling the truth. And so the analysis began.
A Preface by Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston begins the work, with an disclosure of his role in setting up the March 2008 Commission of Inquiry looking into the warship's loss. Presided over by The Hon. Terence Cole QC, that Inquiry produced a three-volume report: The Loss of HMAS Sydney II. (Acknowledgement: this reviewer made an Inquiry submission on the supposed involvement of the submarine 1-124, sunk outside Darwin.)
Successive chapters of The Search for HMAS Sydney then set out the background to the concept that Sydney was lo eatable, and how government, organisations, and private individuals came together to fuse themselves into a united purpose. On 12 March 2008 the raider Kormoran was found and Sydney followed soon afterwards. But behind this was years of assisted investigation.
The book features the stories of several Sydney crewmembers' families, whose relatives never surrendered their need to complete the circle of understanding. These have been well-written with a careful editorial hand, and feature both colour and archival greyscale photographs. The book's physical layout - it is a hardback slightly wider than portrait A4 - lends itself well to such stories, with the photos and graphics given generous space.
There are background chapters explaining the evolution of the Royal Australian Navy, and the force structure which saw the cruiser Sydney's place in it. The various searches for the warship are catalogued, and the many pages of false claims, genuine searches, blind allies, allegations, and investigations show
how far the whole saga has come and the decades that were spent on it. The oceanographic difficulties and various possibilities for where the wreck lay are catalogued, using many colour charts which are well-drawn and easy to follow.
For those familiar with the many books written about the Sydney this new work does not, thankfully, analyse them all to bits, which would have made the book twice the length it is. Some of them, of course, are not worth revisiting again. But in general they mostly all get a mention.
This is a handsome and admirable finalization to the sad story of a fighting ship that went down in what were mysterious circumstances but which now stand revealed as simply being an understandable refusal by many people of WWII and beyond to admit her loss. The Search for HMAS Sydney: an Australian Story, is most highly recommended.
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS: DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT AND SERVICE HISTORIES
By David Hobbs,
Seaforth Publishing, Bamsley, South
Reviewed by Dr Gregory P. Gilbert
These ships will have a flexible and adaptive capability that has the potential to serve the nation well in a range of likely scenarios, but it will take firm leadership, ingenuity and determination to achieve it.
David Hobbs, p. 372
concerning the new carriers
Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales
British Aircraft Carriers is a magnificent book which provides a concisely written and well-illustrated compendium of the warships that have maintained their status as the world's capital ships for over 75 years. It is a large work (489 x 465mm) with 384 pages of detail including appendices, bibliography, glossary and index. There are many illustrations, suitably positioned with accurate captions, but the colour Admiralty drawings reproduced in the centre of the book are amazing. For anyone wishing to see framed original 1948 drawings for HMAS Sydney (III) you need to check out the walls of the RAN's Centre for
Maritime Engineering (CME) in Pitt Street, Sydney.
Despite what some believe, and the reluctance to debate aircraft carriers in the Australian context since 1982, aircraft carriers will remain the arbiters of sea power of the 21st century. Since the formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918 there have been many prophets who have prophesised the demise of the aircraft carrier, most recently due to the development of anti-ship ballistic missiles by China, however the roles and functions of naval aircraft carriers have endured.
Claims that aircraft carriers are inherently vulnerable are blatantly untrue; even though, as with any weapon system, aircraft carriers can indeed be defeated. This is important as an aircraft carrier that is poorly designed, developed to inappropriate restraints set by financial wallahs, and then operated by uninformed commanders will fail in combat. To avoid such mistakes we need to understand and learn from history, something which British Aircraft Carriers sets out to do.
The author, Commander David Hobbs, MBE, RN(Rtd), is well known to the ANI membership. Hobbs is the leading historian of British carrier aviation, who retired as a Fleet Air Arm pilot after 33 years before working as the Curator of the FAA Museum. As one would expect, his love of the subject comes through with pride in this book. But David Hobbs provides much more than just a collection of technical facts about British aircraft carriers. Hobbs provides detailed service histories for each vessel, including details of peacetime deployments whether on exercise, as a deterrent or just showing the flag in the naval diplomacy role. This includes the British Commonwealth and Indian aircraft carriers of the post-war period.
Hobbs explains how such carrier
designs evolved over time with characteristic British features, good and bad, arising from lessons learnt from actual experience. In order to better understand carrier design, Hobbs also reviews unbuilt carrier designs and concurrent foreign carriers. Carrier-borne aircraft and their operation is considered in detail, as are 21st century carrier-borne aircraft and unmanned aircraft effectively leading the reader to the latest carrier considerations.
A few examples will help to highlight why this book is relevant to Australians. The seaplane carrier Ark Royal (1914), which took part in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, is described in detail, as is the Ben-my-C'hree. The later vessel was sunk after Turkish gunfire from shore batteries started fires and explosions which became uncontrollable. This incident, the only loss of a British carrier in World War I, led to the development of better armour, safer fuel storage and handling, as well as improvements to fire and damage control by the ship's crew. These typified the passive survivability inherent in British carrier design -something which will be familiar to the veterans of HMA Ships Sydney (III) and Melbourne (II).
The story of the maintenance carriers Unicorn, Pioneer and Perseus is also illuminating. During the Abyssinian Crisis of 1935 it was calculated that a single carrier could lose up to 20 per cent of its air group lost or damaged beyond repair in a single operation. An additional 10 per cent would require major repair well above that capable onboard an average operational carrier.
These best guess statistics were largely confirmed in 1945 during sustained carrier operations by the British Pacific Fleet - not to mention the large requirements for replenishment of aviation munitions and fuel. The maintenance carrier
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
experience is well worth considering in light of the need to support the new Adelaide class LHDs. Several years ago there was talk about Australia purchasing a third LHD for logistic support however this never eventuated.
David Hobbs records how the British Government and Royal Navy have prevaricated over policy concerning carrier strike capability over the last 30 years. Even since the contract to build two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers (each over 60,000 tonne) was awarded in 2007 there has been considerable movement on whether these vessels will have a full strike capacity or not. The brave decision to accept a ten year capability gap in British aircraft carriers in order to save money for when the Queen Elizabeth and F-35 aircraft will be fully operational — around 2020 — is already demonstrating policy limitations as international crises adversely affecting Britain's interests have only intensified. The carrier decision, when associated with reductions in US submarine capacity and the increasing anti-access warfare capabilities, contributes to a perceived window of opportunity for military action by those nations hoping to challenge Western naval supremacy.
The success or otherwise of this British policy will be one to watch. Also the success or otherwise of the future French second aircraft carrier PA-02, which will be based upon the Queen Elizabeth class carriers but with a fixed-wing strike capability, will be of interest. The Australian Government should at least consider acquiring a strike carrier similar to the French PA-02 to fulfil our maritime strategic needs. Unfortunately this nation has very few subject matter experts able to make informed decisions when it comes to the air-side of sea control and carrier strike. British Aircraft Carriers should help to inform such a debate -
in my opinion, a debate that should be happening now.
British Aircraft Carriers also includes development information that is not found anywhere else in the literature. David Hobbs examines the political and naval decisions that impacted upon the development of carriers from the earliest pre-1914 seaplane carriers to the carriers currently under construction. And he does not hold back on criticism when it is deserved. For example, when he concedes "that cynics who say that the British Government has never really understood naval aviation and actually constitutes its worst enemy may have a point" Hobbs is only highlighting the fluctuating British carrier programs since 1945 that have often ended paying much more for limited capabilities due to political interference, grand-standing and insular Service thinking. The last chapter "The Royal Navy's Future Prospects: The Author's Afterwords' is particularly pertinent. One hopes that the message does not continue to fall upon deaf ears.
British Aircraft Carriers is an outstanding highly informative reference work. It is a masterpiece which should be on every naval person's bookshelf. It is a pleasure to read and a pleasure to own.
JOHN 8 LUMDSTROH
THE FIRST SOUTH PACIFIC CAMPAIGN: PACIFIC FLEET STRATEGY DECEMBER MI-JUNE 1942
Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MA, 2014
paperback reprint of 1976 edition, with Introduction by LB. Parshall Reviewedby DrGregoryPGilbert
Vie 'defensive-offensive'may be paraphrased as 'hold what you've got and hit them when you can! the hitting to be done, not only by seizing opportunities, but making them.
Admiral Ernest J. King, 8 February 1942 Reprints are not normally included in the ANI's book reviews however there is always an exception and Vie First South Pacific Campaign is deservedly one of these. As a youth I can remember when a retired naval friend suggested I should read John Lundstrom's new book to better understand the strategy that underpinned Australia's involvement in the Pacific War.
My first thought was that this was not really necessary - I had already read the four Army volumes of the
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
Australian Official History which dealt with the Pacific. What more could I ever need? The truth is that, although I did not know it at the time, Lundstrom's The First South Pacific Campaign did influence the way I think about the major events of 1941-42.
Originally published in 1976 and well received at the time, this book has remained somewhat hidden to Australian readers since the late 1970s. The Naval Institute Press should be congratulated for making this enduring work accessible to the modern reader.
Lundstrom is expert at chasing down the important sources in archives and uncovering details that others may have overlooked because the documents are often buried within a wealth of less relevant source material. For The First South Pacific Campaign Lundstrom examines Japanese, Allied and United States records to uncover the strategic intent, plans and actions of those concerned. Having left almost no file unopened, he does not swamp the reader with trivial details but rather assembles a well-reasoned and succinct review of the Pacific fleet strategies during the first six months of the Pacific War.
The First South Pacific Campaign discusses the Japanese and US plans for war in the Pacific before describing how they were executed in the South Pacific during the first few months of the conflict. The strategic level planning and execution of the Japanese second operational stage - Operation MO and the planned invasion of Port Moresby - is then described. Lundstrom also provides one of the most succinct strategic overviews of the Battle of the Coral Sea that is available, establishing the context for that battle which is rarely discussed in other sources.
Lundstrom is a master of the understated historical revelation. At times you can hear the penny drop in your own mind, as all becomes clear -
this is really a book about naval strategy as it is applied by some of the masters of that art. Ihe First South Pacific Campaign continues by describing the strategic aftermath of the Coral Sea battle, finishing with the Battle of Midway and the end of the defensive-offensive' campaign. The US victory at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 was indeed one of the most decisive factors in the ultimate defeat of the Japanese in the South Pacific and the defence of Australia. The book concludes with an insightful examination of the roots of the US strategic victory and the Japanese strategic defeat in the Pacific.
Although neither the Japanese Imperial Navy nor the US Navy planned to fight in the South Pacific, wartime events led to both sides increasing their strategic commitment in that area. During the early months of 1942 the US expanded its efforts to control the South Pacific principally to meet the Japanese advance in the region and to protect the supply lines to Australia. This was achieved with limited resources by what Admiral King - Commander-in-Chief US Navy Fleet - labelled a defensive-offensive' strategy. It was Admiral King who developed a great interest in the South Pacific and who ordered US forces to hold vital strategic positions. It was also King who convinced the Europe-first diehards in Washington to support limited fleet carrier operations in the South Pacific and later the offensive on Guadalcanal.
Australia was not represented in the strategic decision making processes in Washington but our nation loomed large in both US and Japanese plans. The Japanese Imperial Navy were rightly concerned that the Allies would pour men and materiel into Australia to turn it into an offensive base for attacks against their southern defensive perimeter. In such circumstances the Japanese positions in New Guinea, the
Bismarcks and Truk would be directly threatened.
Realising that an invasion of the Australian continent was not feasible, the Japanese strategy in the South Pacific aimed to sever sea and air communications between the United States and Australia, believing that isolation would knock out the Australian Government. The United States strategy was to conduct defensive-offensive' operations in the South Pacific until their industrial might generated new forces that would sweep across the Pacific in the second half of 1943. The US strategy was ultimately successful.
Overall there is very little new in The First South Pacific Campaign. However, it is the very fact that almost four decades have passed and still many of the strategic decisions which underpinned the early part of the Pacific War are misinterpreted or ignored, which means this book needs to be read. For Australian nationalistic military historians, works such as this continue to be ignored as they do not neatly fit their agenda. Today however, members of the profession of arms, strategic analysts and political advisors need to sweep away the past myths and embrace the historical truths of the relationship with the United States and the critical importance of maritime strategy to Australia's national security. The First South Pacific Campaign is useful as it can help to develop and improve this understanding.
John Lundstrom's The First South Pacific Campaign remains an important resource for members of the Australian Naval Institute. It needs to be widely read, as it is also an important historical resource which can influence the Australian understanding understanding of strategy in the Asia-Pacific during the 21st century.
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
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THE LUCKY FEW:THE FALL OF SAIGON AND THE RESCUEMISSIONOFTHE USSKIRK
ByJan K. Herman
Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2013,134pp.
Reviewed by CDREJaakMcCaffrie
The Lucky Few is a slim easily read account of the chaotic evacuation from South Vietnam in April and May 1975, as the North Vietnamese Army approached Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). It focuses on the convoy of mostly South Vietnamese Navy vessels carrying about 30,000 refugees from Saigon to Subic Bay, before their onward passage to the USA. But it is also the story of the USSKirk, a Knox-class frigate commanded by Commander Paul Jacobs, which played a key role in the successful operation.
In setting the scene, author Jan Herman traced Commander Jacobs' career from entry to the Massachusetts Marine Academy, transfer to the USN and to his frigate command. Jacobs brought a strong engineering background from his merchant marine experience and impressed his superiors as he progressed through the ranks.
According to Herman he was down to earth, very practical and very much concerned for the welfare of individual crew members. Confident in his ability, he made the most of any opportunities for his ship and crew to shine.
The real story begins with the air evacuation from Saigon on 29 April that saw many South Vietnamese take advantage of Operation Frequent Wind, using US and South Vietnamese helicopters. They flew mostly to the big deck ships within TF 76, which were some 20nm off the coast. But as the author notes, Kirk was keen to be part of the action and by late in the afternoon had become host to a small number of helicopters and a substantial number of refugees. Herman provides a vivid picture of the absolute chaos with overloaded helicopters disgorging their passengers and then being pushed over the side of the receiving ships.
In the Kirk and in other USN ships, amidst the confusion and desperation of the refugees, there were some genuine security fears confronting commanders. Many of the South Vietnamese were armed and no one could be sure that North Vietnamese Army elements had not infiltrated them. Additionally, the fear of North Vietnamese air or sea threat remained for several days.
The author tells of several individual escapes by Vietnamese who, officially or otherwise, gained access to the helicopters, ships and boats heading for TF 76. They highlight the sometimes split-second decisions needed and the acceptance that some family members left behind might never be seen again. The personal accounts also highlight the fact that those with connections stood a better chance of escaping. But for all who were able to leave, in whatever manner, there was simply no telling what the future held.
At this point the author introduces Rich Armitage, who was to become well known a quarter of a century later as
Deputy Secretary of State in the George W Bush administration. Armitage had the task of coordinating aspects of the evacuation, including the destruction of any sensitive naval equipment on South Vietnamese ships and the gathering of some 80 Vietnamese vessels off Con Son Island some 115nm southwest of Vung Tau. The ships were a motley collection of various types, many of them old and many in poor condition. All were overcrowded and lacking facilities to cope with the thousands of refugees cramming their decks and needing food and water as well as medical attention in some cases. The presence among them of armed South Vietnamese troops added a dimension of terror to the whole saga. Ultimately, US Marine guards were placed in all of the ships to ensure order.
Once at the rendezvous, Commander Jacobs in the Kirk tried to establish some order among the refugee ships and allocated supplies as best he could from his own ship. He also allocated refugees to those ships best able to make the onward voyage to Subic Bay and safety.
The voyage from the rendezvous to Subic Bay is really the heart of the book and the author provides a graphic account of the Kirk and her crew totally overwhelmed by the scale of the humanitarian operation they were leading. The provision of food, water and medical care to the refugees was the most urgent task for Commander Jacobs and his crew. Becoming secure from the prospect of air and surface attack from North Vietnamese forces was also a major consideration and was achieved only gradually, as the convoy was limited to a five knot speed of advance. No less important was the task of keeping the motley collection of vessels going at all in light of the parlous mechanical state of many of them.
Of all the humanitarian work carried out during the transit to Subic Bay the
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
health care provided by HMC (Chief) Stephen Burwinkel stands out. As well as caring for all pregnant women, who were transferred to the Kirk, Burwinkel spent his days visiting each of the refugee vessels and caring for many of the 30,000 people. Lack of sanitation and a shortage of medical supplies proved to be major problems and despite the sterling efforts of Burwinkel and his team, several refugees died during the voyage. In describing the efforts to care for the refugees the author points out the incredible US Air Force bureaucracy that required authorities in the USA to approve the air dropping of additional medical supplies to the Kirk by Philippines-based aircraft
Jan Herman conveys well the frustration associated with the diplomatic manoeuvring needed to have the Philippines government accept the refugees, before their onward passage to the USA, via Guam in many cases. The eventual solution to the diplomatic problem involved reflagging all of the South Vietnamese vessels as USN units.
The book ends with a recounting of mainly happy transitions by the refugees to life in the USA, helped by families throughout the country acting as sponsors for them. The stories included several cases of families reunited in the USA after being split in the dash for freedom.
The Lucky Few is a well told story of the USS Kirk and its crew engaged in a major humanitarian assistance operation. Although the events took place almost 40 years ago they resonate today because of the stream of refugees fleeing dangerous situations around the world, and the fact that many of them are still rescued and cared for by navies. The book will be of most interest to students of the Vietnam War and to those with an interest in humanitarian operations at sea.
THE GATHERING STORM THENAVALWARIN NORTHERN EUROPE, SEPTEMBER1939APRIL 1940
Sea forth Publishing
432 pages plus extensive appendices and bibliography, notes, abbreviations and index. Well illustrated with black & white photographs and maps.
Reviewed by David Hobbs
Geirr Haarr's previous work for Seaforth Publishing was his outstanding two-part history of the German invasion of Norway in 1940. The Gathering Storm is effectively a prequel but has a wider perspective which includes German operations against Poland in the Baltic and the development of the Battle of the Atlantic from September 1939 to April 1940. It is a well-researched and thoughtful work with the additional merit that it is written from a Norwegian perspective by someone
who does not see things in the way that a British or German writer might.
The focus of the book is on the evolving nature of a new conflict rather than a retrospective story of events from a known conclusion and I found this to be an interesting approach. Yet again Haarr has produced a good selection of photographs, many of which are from his own archive. Many seem to have been taken at exactly the right moment to illustrate points he makes in the text. Several of the maps are taken from Seaforth's War at Sea -A Naval Atlas published in 2012.
The style is analytical and Haarr makes a number of observations about British and German naval strengths, pre-conceived ideas and failings. While I agreed with most, I felt that his chapter on Air War at Sea failed to distinguish between the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command of the RAF which largely failed to deliver the effect it could have done before 1942. I was disappointed that he fell into the common trap of assuming that Admirals lacked an interest in aviation. Much more could have been made of British plans to use aircraft at sea and of the abortive German carrier Graf Zeppelin. The Royal Navy was building more aircraft carriers than any other navy in 1939.
Apart from this shortcoming, I felt that Haarr takes a fresh new look at a period of World War II that is often overshadowed by later events and adds positively to the bibliography of the war. I gained the impression that his interest in the subject is deep and genuine and feel that I would enjoy meeting him to discuss it further.
There are extensive notes for each chapter at the end of the book together with eight pages of published and unpublished references for those who want to carry out further study after reading it. Useful Appendices list Allied naval and merchant ships lost in
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
the period; the nomenclature of British convoys; armed merchant cruisers; the minefields laid off the Norwegian coast by the RN in April 1940 and several other topics. The descriptions of the torpedoing of the Athenia,
the loss of the armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi
and the Altmark
incident bring new perspectives to earlier versions of the events and make this book stand out.
Overall, The Gathering Storm is a very readable book with much that is new to offer and, while somewhat disappointing in regards to the coverage of naval aviation, this book stimulates the reader to look at the period in question from a new angle. I would add that the cover artwork of Cossack approaching Altmark with her boarding party stood ready, painted by Anthony Cowland, is superb; I have added this book to my own library and I thoroughly recommend it.
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
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Visions from the Vault
n 11 September 1914 the RAN landed the first elements of the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force near Rabaul in German New Guinea. The assembled fleet, including a battlecruiser, three cruisers, three destroyers, two submarines, a gunboat and more than half a dozen auxiliaries, was not only the largest but also the most balanced and self-reliant force ever gathered during wartime under a single Australian naval commander.
Notwithstanding subsequent flaws in tactical execution, the ultimately successful operation stands as a notable achievement for a people that had been at war for just four weeks, and that had only recently begun to meditate seriously upon sea power's role in protecting the national interest. Not for another 85 years, when it controlled a 16-ship multi-national task group off East Timor, did the RAN deploy and command a comparable flotilla for a defined operation.
Six Australians died on 11 September, our first Great War casualties. One, Signalman Robert Moffatt, was wounded ashore and later died onboard the flagship HMAS Australia. This photograph shows his burial at sea on 12 September. iW
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
ANI On-line: A guide to the new website.
Ournewwebsiteisnowon-lineHnadditiontothefeatutesavailableonthe previoussite,menewsitealsofeaturesalibraryofpastjournals,adixussion forum, a news section andmemberlist. This shortguide isdesignedtohelp youtakefulladvantageofmenewfeatures.
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Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
Thinldng of Maldng a Contribution? Style Notes for Headmark
In general, please present your work with the minimum of formatting.
Don't indent, and leave left justified. Separate paragraphs by one line. Single spacing only. Use one space only after stops and colons.
Use numbers for 10 and above, words below. Ship names use italics in title case; prefixes such as HMAS in capitals and italics. Book and Journal titles use italics.
Use single quotation marks for quotations. Do not use hyphens for any rank except Sub-Lieutenant.
Endnotes rather than footnotes. Use footnotes to explain any points you want the reader to notice immediately Book titles follow Author surname, first name, title if any. Title. Place of publication: publisher, year of that edition.
Adkin, Mark. Goose Green. London: Leo Cooper, 1992.
Adler, Bill (Ed.) Letters from Vietnam. New York: EP Dutton and Co., 1967.
Articles use quotation marks around their title, which is not in italics.
If citing web sites please use the convention:
Australian Associated Press. "Army admits mistakes in SAS investigation". 17 February, 2004.