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HMAS Tobruk Landing Ship, Heavy (LSH)

HMAS Tobruk is a Landing Ship, Heavy (LSH) of the Royal Australian Navy, based on the design of the Round Table Class of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The heavy lift ship HMAS Tobruk is a multi-purpose troop and roll-on/roll-off heavy vehicle carrier. Tobruk gives the Australian Defence Force an amphibious heavy lift capability. The ship is a multi -purpose troop and roll-on/roll-off, heavy vehicle carrier built by Carrington Slipways Pty Ltd at Tomago, near Newcastle, NSW. The design includes facilities for bow and stern loading, beaching, a drive-through capacity and inter-deck transfers via ramps.

The design includes facilities for bow and stern loading, a drive-through capacity and inter-deck transfers via ramps.Tobruk can transport 18 Leopard tanks, 40 Armoured Personnel Carriers or 40 Australian Light Armoured Vehicles. The Vehicle Deck has been reinforced to enable the transportation of two Landing Craft Mechanical-8 (LCM-8) on specially designed cradles. In addition, two Landing Craft Vehicular Personnel units (LCVP) are secured by davits on either side of the superstructure. The ship's roll-on/roll-off function is supplemented by 2 x 8.5 tonne capacity Favco cranes and a Velle derrick capable of lifting up to 70 tonnes. The amphibious role is enhanced by forward and aft helicopter decks, which can be operated simultaneously. Helicopters can also be refuelled on both decks. Tobruk can accommodate up to 300 troops for extended duration. In an overloaded state, the ship can provide accommodation for up to 520 troops for short periods of time.

The second Australian warship of this name, Tobruk was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1981, becoming the first and only amphibious heavy lift ship in the fleet. The heavy lift ship HMAS Tobruk is the first purpose-built major amphibious ship in the Royal Australian Navy, providing the Australian Defence Force with a heavy lift capability. Australian concerns and confrontations in South East Asia had warranted recommissioning former aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney as a fast troop transport in 1962. Combining this role with training, SYDNEY made numerous voyages to Vietnam in support of Australia's involvement in that theatre, before she was finally paid off in 1973. HMAS Sydney's operations underlined the value of the strategic transport capabilities of the Navy.

This prompted the subsequent debates about amphibious requirements as the Department of Defence took its first steps towards a unified department and a more joint-focused ADF. The Tobruk requirement was the cause of considerable disagreement between Navy and Army. The persistence and drive of Commander Peter Shevlin, first as champion of an ADF amphibious capability and then as Tobruk Project Director, overcame the machinations of the Navy, Army and Defence staffs and their involvement with Carrington Slipways as the requirement was developed, the tender and contract were let, and the ship was built.

Following the 1987 Defence White Paper and the end of the Cold War a few years later, the importance of amphibious capabilities was questioned by some in the context of the more restrictive interpretations of the Defence-of-Australia doctrine. Operation MORRIS DANCE, the ADF's response to the 1987 Fiji crisis, revealed the government's limited power projection response options, and the lessons learned became a clarion call for a return to a credible capability in maritime maneuver and amphibiosity. In December 1993 the Australian government approved in principle, at a cost of $70m, the acquisition of two ships of the Newport Landing Ship, Tank (LST) class, the ex-USS SAGINAW, and ex-USS FAIRFAX COUNTY. HMAS TOBRUK was to be decommissioned.

In late 1993, the Australian Government offered to lease the heavy landing ship HMAS Tobruk, to the New Zealand Defence Force [NZDF]. In November 1993 a brief was developed for the New Zealand Chief of Naval Staff to assist with discussions. It was noted in the brief that there were some important shortfalls against New Zealand's requirements. On 11 May 1994 the Australian Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Ray wrote to his New Zealand counterpart, Warren Cooper, with a firm offer of a lease for the ship.

But skeptics described the Tobruk as a 25 year old ship in a 10 year old body. She was had been commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1981, but was based on the British Round Table class Landing Ship Logistic [LSL] design which had been commissioned in the 1960s. An engineering officer was reported to say: "The country will pay dearly. She's an orphan, so parts will be expensive. She will be a nice little earner for the dockyard's new operators." In the event, on 21 June 1994 the Australians advised that they wished to sell the Tobruk, offering a deferred purchase or lease to purchase option. But taking into consideration the very high operating costs for the vessel, the NZDF determined that it was not worth continuing with further discussions.

By the mid 1990s, when the ADF acquired HMA Ships Kanimbla and Manoora from the US, the initial intention was to pay off Tobruk early as a partial offset for the new ships. By 1997, however, the ever-increasing requirements for amphibious and sealift capabilities in the region led to a Government decision to retain Tobruk. By 1999 the RAN faced a scheduled but desperately needed refit in the heavy landing ship on HMAS TOBRUK.

Sixteen vessels of the RAN, along with ships from nine other navies, took part in Interfet in East Timor. They provided essential logistic support to the operation, transporting men and supplies to various points on the East Timorese coast, giving security to the force, and providing other services ranging from clearance diving teams to hot showers. The heavy landing ship HMAS Tobruk had provided support to a number of other peacekeeping operations, including those in the Sinai, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.

The HMAS Tobruk was riddled with degraded asbestos, causing the Department of Defence to hire an asbestos specialist to oversee an overhaul of the ship, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Tuesday, November 28, 2006.

The major operation of 2007 was the strategic sea lift mission to the Middle East Area of Operations under Operations CATALYST (Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq) and SLIPPER (ADF's contribution to fighting global terrorism). Tobruk moved equipment into the area supporting our servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. The preparation for this Operation was comprehensive and thorough. The crew were drilled in every possible scenario to the satisfaction of fleet training staff before being given the final 'tick of approval' to deploy. Port visits to Muscat and Dubai allowed a little rest and recreation in a busy schedule. A visit to Manila on the way home enabled the backload of a Vietnam era OV-10 Bronco aircraft for the Australian War Memorial.

After a short maintenance period Tobruk's role changed to amphibious warfare. In this role the ship has the ability to off-load and on-load troops and their support equipment in a variety of ways depending on the geography and the availability of facilities. Tobruk can conduct amphibious operations regardless of what is available on land - facilities ranging from just an open beach to well-supported wharves can be used. During Exercise TALISMAN SABER in June 2007, Tobruk contributed to the major amphibious assault using 'stern door marriages' to disembark vehicles and troops by landing craft. Stores and vehicles were also delivered using the ship's cranes and the ship's own small landing craft known as LCVPs. Tobruk also has the ability to operate helicopters from the forward and aft decks.

In September 2007 Tobruk was routed westwards to assist with HMAS Arunta's work-up for her Gulf deployment. The roles of consort, target, replenishment ship, spare aviation deck etc were assumed in the West Australian Exercise Area and it was a great opportunity to work with all the assets available for the 'work-up' of a frigate.

Involvement in Operation RESOLUTE demanded yet another role change for Tobruk late in 2007. This time the role was border protection. Tobruk's boarding teams were worked up and support teams and procedures for embarking potential illegal immigrants and illegal foreign fishermen were practised. All training was then proven in the real environment with live boardings, apprehensions and the transport of potential illegal immigrants.

On 28 January 2011, with the decommissioning of HMAS Manoora, and the extended unavailability of HMAS Kanimbla, Navy was maintaining HMAS Tobruk at 48 hours notice for sea to ensure an amphibious lift capability was available. On 02 February 2011, the Government was advised that HMAS Tobruk was to commence maintenance work in order to be fully prepared to provide any assistance in the days following Cyclone Yasi, in the event not required. On 4 February HMAS Tobruk left its dock and was being prepared to return to 48 hours notice for sea. This had not occurred as further maintenance issues and problems have been identified. This work included efforts to survey, verify, certify and replace a number of safety critical flexible hoses necessary to ensure the safe operation of HMAS Tobruk. The Tobruk would be required to dock in 2011 to replace worn-out support bearings on a propeller shaft. She was due to be decommissioned at the end of 2012. On 17 March 2011 Reuters News Agency reported that Australia had purchased RFA Largs Bay from the UK as a replacement for HMAS Tobruk.

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