Australia Not many marinas can boast a 100-year-old submarine, but this one does
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Former-submariner-turned-senator Rex Patrick says a decision to make nuclear-powered submarines in Australia had to happen, but will come at a short-term cost for Adelaide shipbuilders who could face another "valley of death".The submarine plan was revealed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning, as he announced a new partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS).
By the time Australia gets the first of its next fleet of submarines, J-7 will be 113 years old, and won't have sailed anywhere in a century.
J-7 may be a familiar sight to dozens of sailors who stride past her every day at Sandringham Yacht Club, but most Melburnians won't even know she's there.
Once one of the fastest submarines in the world, the only place she's going these days is deeper into the mud.
"She was quite remarkable," the Sandringham Yacht Club's historian Graeme Disney said.
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"She had a range of 5,000 miles. That's extraordinary for First World War times."
So how did this once cutting-edge submarine built for the British Navy end up rusting away next to fancy yachts and speed boats in a marina in Melbourne? Because everything new eventually becomes obsolete, and then you have to either throw it away or find some other use for it.
In J-7's case, it was a bit of both.
The fastest thing under the water
In the early days of World War I, Britain heard rumours that the Germans were building a fleet of U-boats capable of speeds much greater than any British submarine.
The rumours turned out to be false, but the British built a new class of submarines anyway.
The J-class submarines were capable of speeds of up to 19 knots at the surface, making them the fastest submarine in the world at the time.
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Are you wondering why there's so much fuss about Australia's decision to acquire nuclear submarines? Here's what you need to know.After all, it's not every day the UK Prime Minister and US President join Prime Minister Scott Morrison for a live defence announcement (even if the latter appeared to forget Mr Morrison's name, referring to him as "that fellow Down Under").
They didn't see a lot of action during the war, but did manage to sink a U-boat and damage a couple of warships.
One of the subs, J-6, was accidentally sunk by a British ship after the captain mistook the J on the vessel's conning tower for a U and assumed it was a German submarine.
At the end of the war, Britain gave the six remaining J-class submarines to Australia as a gift.
Australia hadn't had much luck with submarines to that point, losing the only two it had during World War I within a year of their construction.
If the Australian government thought they were getting a great deal, they must've been remarkably disappointed when the J-class fleet limped into Australian waters in July 1919.
Never look a gift sub in the mouth
After a three-month voyage, during which several of the submarines broke down, they were found to be almost unusable.
One of the subs was unable to dive, which was something of an issue for a vessel that was supposed to spend much of its time underwater.
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After an expensive refit, the submarines were put into service, with four of them based at Osborne House in Geelong, and two in Sydney.
The six submarines lasted just a few years in the Royal Australian Navy, with big cuts to defence spending sealing their fate in 1922.
The subs were expensive to run and the general feeling in the government was that the country didn't really need them. The enemy was defeated, who were they protecting us from? Dolphins?
The decision to sell the submarines for scrap did not go down well with everyone. The former district naval officer for Victoria, Captain J.T. Richardson, was very cranky indeed.
"To scrap the six J-class submarines would be criminal," he said in February 1923.
But, the decision was made and the subs were put up for sale, with two conditions: that whoever bought them would remove them within 42 days of purchase, and would destroy them within 18 months of purchase.
The Melbourne Salvage Company bought four of them, which were used for bombing practice outside Port Phillip Heads by Australian aircraft in 1926.
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The diplomatic ripples from Australia's decision to acquire nuclear powered submarines have been felt across the world. The new AUKUS alliance between Australia, the US and the UK announced last week is expected to deliver an Australian fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.The defence agreement marks a major pivot by the three powers towards the Indo Pacific region and the rising power of China.
The pilots must've needed the practice as it was reported in The Argus that no direct hits were made, but no bomb landed "more than about 200 feet away".
The wrecks of those four submarines are popular dive sites. Another of the J-class submarines lies in about 6 metres of water at Swan Island, near Queenscliff.
J-7 finds a permanent home at Sandringham
In the mid-1920s, Sandringham Yacht Club had hoped to buy HMAS Cerberus, which had been the depot ship for the six J-class submarines, and sink it as a breakwater.
They missed out, but instead bought the J-7 which was sunk in 1930.
Years later a stone breakwater was built, once again rendering the J-7 obsolete when all it was required to do was sit in the water and stop waves from crashing.
When the club's marina was built, it was considered too expensive to remove the sub and, anyhow, many of the members were quite attached to it.
"It's our sub," Graeme Disney said.
Graeme used to snorkle around the J-7 when he was a teenager 65 years ago, and remembers when it was in a lot better shape than it is now.
"If we dived at the side and scraped off the barnacles and seaweed you were presented with pristine grey painted steel," he said.
The pristine paint is long gone, and J-7 is now very much looking her age, peeling and crumbling slowly but surely into the bay next to millions of dollars' worth of luxury pleasure boats.
Graeme still sees people new to the marina do a double-take when they see the rusting ribs protruding from the water for the first time.
"So many people contacted me to say they had no idea Sandringham had a submarine," he said.
"Most people know about the Cerberus in Half Moon Bay but they don't know about the sub because as you can see it's buried in the midst of the marina."
There's been a long-running but largely unsuccessful campaign to get funding to maintain the wreck of HMAS Cerberus, but there's not much hope of that kind of effort for the J-7.
"J-7 is nowhere near as significant as Cerberus, Cerberus is the last example in the world of a breastwork monitor, if we can't get funding for that the hope of getting funding for J-7 is less than nothing," Graeme said.
"My guess is it will just be allowed to rust away."
Defence staff offered counselling for 'stress and uncertainty' after French sub deal scrapped .
The Defence Chief and the departmental Secretary say the decision to cancel the deal is being felt by military personnel and across the department but they are assuring staff working on the project they will be re-deployed.In a message to staff late last week, the Defence Chief General Angus Campbell and the departmental Secretary Greg Moriarty acknowledged the decision to ditch the $90 billion Attack-class project in favour of British and US technology was "being felt across the Department in different ways".