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The Scrap Iron Flotilla

Five valiant destroyers and the Australian War in the Mediterranean



Mike Carlton

Docklands, Vic: Penguin Random House, 2022

Paperback   448pp   RRP $34.99


Reviewer: Kevan Sanderson, November 2022


During the early days of the Second World War, Australia sent five destroyers to bolster the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean fleet. HMAS Stuart, Vendetta, Vampire, Voyager and Waterhen were designed and built during or shortly after the First World War. They were old and the Nazis contemptuously dismissed them as a load of scrap iron which the officers and sailors of the RAN proudly adopted as their badge of honour.

The Scrap Iron Flotilla by Mike Carlton describes the diverse roles played by these ships; convoy escort, anti-submarine patrols, supporting the troops besieged in Tobruk with shore bombardments and ferrying supplies, and troop transport and evacuation in Greece and Crete. All under air attack from the Italian air force and the Luftwaffe and the constant threat of the much larger Regia Marina, the Italian Navy.

Carlton has created an entertaining account by weaving together historical actions and events with personal accounts of participants serving in the conflict theatre and on TSIF ships. He derives these accounts from contemporaneous newspaper articles, books and letters written by the participants themselves. He vividly describes the conditions endured and the lives of the men serving in TSIF in one of the more dynamic and active theatres of WW2. He has personalised history as we follow these individuals through the Mediterranean conflict.

While the book primarily addresses actions in the Mediterranean to the end of 1941, Carlton describes each ship’s service until its sinking or decommissioning and includes later actions against the Japanese. Though he also briefly mentions HMAS Sydney, Perth, and Parramatta the book is not intended as a comprehensive description of the RAN in that theatre.

The Scrap Iron Flotilla contains a lengthy index and bibliography and extensive notes on each chapter indicating the depth of Carlton’s research and providing excellent sources for additional reading. Several relevant maps are provided but their quality and shading are such that they hard to read. Good quality drawings of HMAS Stuart and Waterhen (the same V/W destroyer class as Vampire, Vendetta, and Voyager) are also included and are very useful as they complement Carlton’s descriptions of the ships.

The book also includes two appendices. Appendix 1, Crossing the Bar - a naval term for dying, summarises the lives of key characters after the Scrap Iron Flotilla is disbanded until their ultimate demise. Appendix 2, Line of Stuarts, describes ships that subsequently bore the name HMAS Stuart and hypothesises a visit by Hec. Waller, Captain of the flotilla leader, HMAS Stuart, to a modern, high-tech, Anzac class frigate, the current bearer of the name.

Carlton’s latest book taps out at over 400 pages though it is an easy read. I enjoyed the way Carlton describes and relates the significant historical events of the conflict through the words of and to, individuals who were there. Two things I did not like. I found Appendix 2 a little superfluous - a bit of fluff that struck a jarring note. Also, Carlton occasionally refers to acts of historical persons shrouded in unsubstantiated, personal judgements.

However, it is a good read which I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone interested in World War ll naval conflicts.





The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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