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Royal Australian Naval Reserve

Naval Reserve CrestThe Royal Australian Navy Reserve (RANR) today, more than ever before in peacetime, is an integral and essential part of the RAN.

The RANR Motto is "Non Sibi Sed Patriae" - "Not Self But Country" and the long tradition of part time citizen Naval service in Australia stretches back to the formation of the NSW Naval Brigade in 1863, long before the founding of the RAN (and the RANR)in 1911.

The NSW Naval Contingent went to the Boxer Rebellion in China. Victorian members served at Tientsin and the NSW contingent at Beijing. South Australia sent the naval vessel "Protector", which was employed in operations in the Gulf of Pechili.

The first Australian killed in the Great War (WWI) was a Naval Reservist in a landing party seizing German New Guinea in September 1914. At Gallipoli the RANR provided the Naval Bridging Train.

The earliest Naval Reservists were described as: "the watch dog of the Australian coast. Though their work involved endless hours of duty maintaining precautions against dangers that never materialised, it should not be forgotten that they served willingly and cheerfully wherever their duty called them". This captures the essence of Reserve service to the present day.

Within the first three months of World War I, the Australian Fleet, which came under operational control of Britain's Admiralty, had removed any threat to Australia and its local interests. By the end of 1915 there was need for only one major warship in Australian Waters. The rest were operating with the Royal Navy in other areas of operations.

  1920 - 1945 go to top of page

After the war there was a reversion of naval policy to an emphasis on Australian trade protection rather than preparing for invasion. The concentration of local needs continued during the Depression and in the 1930s the RAN was reduced to five ships and 3,200 personnel.

It is against this background that the Reserve trained between the wars, hi Sydney, at "HMAS RUSHCUTTER", and were ready to be sent off in 1939 to help man British as well as Australian ships of all sizes in all oceans.

Many Reservists, RANR officers, and later during the hostilities only "Wavy Navy", Royal Australian Naval Voluntary Reservists, commanded small ships, corvettes and even destroyers. (They were referred to as "Wavy Navy" because of the wave like appearance of their insignia of rank.)

The Navy's significance became starkly apparent during WW 2 with the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which Japan threatened the security of Australian waters, the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney harbour on 31 May 1942 and the sinking of more than 30 ships off the Australian coast in less than one year.

Australia recognised that it was a maritime nation relying heavily on the unrestricted use of the seas and upon seaborne cargoes. The Government built very large numbers of small Bathurst class corvettes to defend its coast and nearby waters. The RAN was to become the fourth largest navy in the world with a peak wartime strength of 337 ships and 39,650 personnel.

Captain Darling, QBE, DSC**, VRD, RANR commanded a Royal Navy Frigate in the Atlantic where he sank three U-Boats. Lieutenant Commander Leon Goldsworthy, GC, DSC, GM, RANVR was the most highly decorated man in the RAN in WWII for his dangerous work in mine clearance. His "Who's Who" entry describes him simply as a War Hero.

  1950 - 2000 go to top of page

The present RANR was reactivated in January 1950 when National Service Training and part-time training resumed as the "Cold War" hotted up in Korea.

For the next 40 years Reservists trained in Port Divisions in each of the capital cities, one night a week, on many weekends and for at least 13 days annual continuous training.

Each Port Division of around 150 to 350 officers and sailors was commanded by a Reservist of Commander rank and was organised into Departments - Seaman Communications, Engineering, Electrical, Supply and Secretariat, Medical - much as in a major warship.

The Port Divisions essentially recruited, trained and administered their own personnel with support from the RAN depots in which they were lodged. More advanced specialist training was undertaken at RAN establishments such as HMAS CERBERUS in Victoria and HMAS WATSON in Sydney.

The Naval Reserve

In the 1950s RANR officers and sailors - many had served in WW II, some stayed on after National Service, others joined from civilian life - were intended to man RAN ships laid up in reserve after 1945.

Accordingly they trained in Seamanship, Gunnery and Minesweeping aboard a variety of Assigned Training Vessels -small wooden Seawards Defence Boats, general purpose vessels such as HMAS PALUMA and in Sydney the Bathurst-class corvette HMAS WAGGA, that took the reservists as far as Noumea.

Other reservists were, and still today are, serving in roles such as Bandsmen, Divers, Doctors, Dentists, Psychologists, Lawyers, Stewards, Cooks, Communicators and Stores personnel. They also served on RAN ships deployed in the Arabian Gulf during the Gulf War of 1990-91. Five warships, HMAS SYDNEY, HMAS ADELAIDE, HMAS BRISBANE, HMAS DARWIN and HMAS SUCCESS served tours in Gulf waters.

Another, and exclusive, role of the RANR is maintaining the Naval Control of Shipping Organisation that would coordinate all merchant shipping movements and convoying in and around Australian Waters in time of war or tension. A vital task for a nation almost totally dependant on seaborne trade for economic survival.

A small number of Engineering and Gunnery sailors from the RANR served on HMAS Melbourne during the Malaya Emergency with the Far East Strategic Reserve Forces. All of these members qualified for or are in receipt of the Australia Active Service Medal with clasp Malaya and the Australian Service medal with clasp FESR.

Following Confrontation with Indonesia in the early 1960s, seagoing Reservists gained a new role and new training vessels to provide additional crews for the Attack - class Patrol Boats.

From 1968 Reservists in Sydney, then Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth and later Adelaide and Hobart, successfully operated and maintained their own patrol boats. Hobart and Adelaide "Rockies" had previously gone to sea in the genera! purpose Vessels HMAS BASS and HMAS BANKS.

They visited ports all around the Australian coast, often showing the flag where larger RAN ships never visited. They carried out Fishery Patrols and the Perth based HMAS ACUTE, manned by Reservists from Fremantle Port Division, arrested a Taiwanese fishing vessel during "routine training."

East Coast boats also took part in Bass Strait Oil Rig Surveillance patrols to ensure the safety of oil drilling platforms from straying merchant ships crossing the Bass Strait.

They also participated in major Fleet exercises such as the "Kangaroo" series as well as Reserve boats exercising together in the Anchorman series out of ports from Cairns to Melbourne. They joined RAN manned boats to cross the Coral Sea in a 12 ship formation to exercise in PNG waters. As well as Patrol Boats, RANR officers and sailors spent varying periods at sea in all major warships even the occasional submarine.

They helped man the six Ton-class Minesweepers that were sailed out from Britain in the early 1960s, filled billets aboard the "Vung Tau Ferry" - HMAS SYDNEY, converted to a troop ship during the Vietnam war, or gained their Bridge Watchkeeping, Ocean Navigation and Command Certificates under the critical eye of RAN Captains of Fleet ships.

The Vietnam War forged an intimate relationship between the RAN and the United States Navy. For more than five years the RAN was an integral part of an operational US Fleet. There was co-operation and integration based on interoperability and common logistic support. The Australian naval contribution consisted of a destroyer on six month rotational deployments, the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam and a RAN Clearance Diving Team.

The 1980s saw further developments for the RANR. Additional Port Divisions were established in Cairns, Darwin and a Nowra Air Division at HMAS Albatross, where mostly ex RAN personnel could continue to utilise their aviation skills to support the Fleet Air Arm.

Sydney and Melbourne Port Divisions were assigned the larger, more capable, Fremantle - class Patrol Boats for sea training.

The vessels crossed the Tasman to exercise with their RNZNVR counterparts in 1991.

The Reservists in Brisbane and, later Darwin, operated Landing Craft (Heavy) taking part in joint amphibious exercises.

Since 1950 the RANR has been headed by an RANR Seaman Captain, the Captain Naval Reserves, but in mid 1980s the position of Director General Reserves (Navy) was created and Filled by Commodore Lindsey, the first RANR officer to rise through the ranks of the RANR from Recruit Seaman to Commodore.

In 1992 the Naval Reserve underwent its greatest restructuring since 1950.

The Port Divisions were shut down, training craft withdrawn, moving to National Management and the development of a Total Force concept with RANR personnel better integrated into the RAN. Instead of being reserve for wartime expansion, the RANR would now provide greater, continuing support in peacetime and a surge capacity in the event of short warning contingencies.

The key themes of the Navy's history have been integration and interoperability. It has attempted to achieve integration through inter-co-operability and the possibility of a higher level of defence for Australia than it can provide on its own.

The Total Force philosophy centres on part-time officers and sailors serving in the Fleet Units and Establishments of the RAN on an equal basis to their full-time counterparts.

Reservists are spread across the full spectrum of RAN activities and there is a better opportunity to provide the best possible return for the Navy in performance terms and for the Reservist in terms of training and operational experience.

  Today go to top of page

Today the RANR is a diverse mix of ex RAN and civilian personnel from all walks of life, who fill in the gaps for the peacetime Navy ashore and afloat.

Reservists can step in to release full time personnel for leave opportunities, to go on courses or undertake special projects. Reservists too are employed on specialist tasks utilising the civilian expertise that the Navy needs on a part time basis.

The Royal Australian Naval Reserve today is working in a valuable, complimentary and essential partnership with the Royal Australian Navy.

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Reserve Forces Day Council Inc
Patron in Chief His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
National Chairman the Honourable Tim Fischer AC
National Executive Officer and NSW Chairman Lieutenant Colonel John Moore OAM RFD ED Retd

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