Kalgoorlie Class Destroyer

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Realising that the Atlanta-class cruiser Westralia and a number of destroyers would eventually have to be replaced following the Second World War, the Royal Westralian Navy launched a number of design studies into potential replacements. Designs ranged from large cruisers to small, specialised frigates, intended to cover the full gamut of RWN capabilities with a variety of differing ships. However, with the draw-down in size of the RWN and post-war economic conditions, it was soon realised that a single design would have to be selected, consolidating all the desired capabilities into one. Studies concluded that two large destroyers, similar in size to the destroyer leaders emerging from the US, should be procured to replace both Westralia and the remaining four home-built Fletcher-class destroyers (called the Perth class in RWN service) Perth, Kalgoorlie, Broome, and Esperance. The resultant design was nearly 150m long, armed with four of the new design Mk42 5-inch guns, estimated to displace in the range of 4000-5000 tons, and was predicted to make 30+ knots with 80 000+ shp. An interesting design element was the funnels, trunked up through the masts to form two macks, somewhat like an enlarged version of the arrangement found on the forward mast of the British Daring class destroyers. It was named the Kalgoorlie class in 1952.

Construction began in 1953, though progressed slowly owing to numerous redesigns. A number of small matters dragged on, including issues regarding the mounting of 3-inch twin guns amidships, which was ultimately resolved by abandoning them altogether in favour of the less capable but lighter, smaller and more affordable Mark V Bofors twin mount. Mk 15 torpedo tubes were recycled from Westralia as a stopgap measure after it couldn't be decided what type, size or country of origin of torpedo to initially use; and the number of 5-inch guns continually varied between 2, 3 and 4 until the Government intervened and froze the design at 4 guns in 1956. Cost climbed considerably in the period. It was not until 1958 that Kalgoorlie touched water, finally being commissioned on 15 November 1959. Perth followed her into service little over a year-and-a-half later, in 1961. Both were assigned the pennant number of their forebears, meaning that Perth numerically came before Kalgoorlie despite entering service later.

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The slow build progress had meant that not only had Westralia and the destroyers aged considerably, but the Kalgoorlie's were effectively obsolescent at the entry of service, with the missile age having begun in the late-1950's. Despite this, the new destroyers were still considered amongst the most powerful in the region, being larger, faster, longer ranging and more heavily armed than the Darings recently introduced into service by Australia. However, it was still decided to convert the class into Guided Missile Destroyers, and Kalgoorlie entered refit in 1965, re-emerging in 1967 with the aft two 5-inch turrets replaced by a Mk13 Tartar launcher and two Ikara launchers and a shared magazine mounted amidships. The replacement of the aft turrets with Mk13 allowed the provision of a deck for operating helicopters, making the destroyers the first ships in the RWN capable of doing so. The Ikara magazine presented a particular issue, with there not being enough space to fit a full deckhouse for the magazine and loading rails for both launchers. A clever, if complicated and occasionally unreliable solution was found in a rotating loading rail, that allowed both launchers to be serviced by the same elevator raising missiles from the magazine a deck below. Perth was refit between 1968-1970.

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Following the Westralian commitment to apply pressure to Soviet interests in the Indian, to ease tensions with the US following Westralia's refusal join the Vietnam conflict and subsequent protests against it, the destroyers saw hard use sortieing against Soviet ships in the Indian Ocean and occasionally Southern Ocean. These operations highlighted the deficiencies in habitability, especially in the area of air-conditioning. It was thus decided to focus the next refit on improving on these issues. Beginning in 1978, a new, completely enclosed bridge was constructed, and the 1950's era air-conditioning was replaced with more modern units. New galleys were installed, and attempts were made to reduce the manpower required and open up some space for improved accommodation, though this was less successful than the other measures. The propulsion system was upgraded to run on diesel fuel instead of furnace oil. In addition, electronics were upgraded, most notably shifting towards solid-state architecture. Furthermore, an SPS-55 set was added for navigation. In regard to armament SM-1 was integrated into the Mk74 FCS. Both refits were completed by the end of 1981.

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In 1982, both Kalgoorlie and Perth were sent to the Falklands as a part of the British Task Force, along with the frigate Esperance and fleet replenishment tanker Swan River. The contingent acquitted itself well in the conflict, with the two destroyers performing remarkably effective shore bombardment missions and claiming 4 Argentinian aircraft shot down with more damaged. Despite this, there were several close calls, with bombs straddling Perth in one incident and one penetrating Swan River, though it failed to explode. Like many navies, both involved or otherwise, the RWN learnt numerous lessons from the conflict, such as the need for an effective CIWS system to protect vessels and the power of sea-skimming missiles. These lessons were incorporated in another refit, this time in 1986, with two Phalanx CIWS being installed in place of the remaining Bofors, and Harpoon being integrated into the Mk 13 launcher. Ikara was deleted and the magazine converted into extra accommodation. Communications improvements were also included. This was to be the final guise of the class, being retired in 1993 following the end of the Cold War, though not before Kalgoorlie participated in a single night of shore bombardment in the 1991 Gulf War. Kalgoorlie was ultimately sunk as a dive wreck in 2000, but Perth was selected to be a museum ship, becoming the centrepiece of the National Museum of Naval History.

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