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  • Published: 2 August 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761042003
  • Imprint: William Heinemann Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 448
  • RRP: $34.99

The Scrap Iron Flotilla

Five Valiant Destroyers and the Australian War in the Mediterranean

The British Admiralty’s telegram arrived at Navy Office in Melbourne, the order to go to all-out war. It was coldly succinct: TOTAL GERMANY … The war at sea had begun.

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the British asked Australia for help. With some misgivings, the Australian government sent five destroyers to beef up the British Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.

HMAS Vendetta, Vampire, Voyager, Stuart and Waterhen were old ships, small with worn-out engines. Their crews used to joke they were held together by string and chewing gum; when the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels heard of them, he sneered that they were a load of scrap iron.

Yet by the middle of 1940, these destroyers were valiantly escorting troop and supply convoys, successfully hunting for submarines and indefatigably bombarding enemy coasts. Sometimes the weather could be their worst enemy – from filthy sandstorms blowing off Africa to icy gales from Europe that whipped up mountainous seas and froze the guns. Conditions on board were terrible – no showers or proper washing facilities; cramped and stinking sleeping quarters; unpleasant meals of spam and tinned sausages, often served cold in a howling squall. And always the bombing, the bombing. And the fear of submarines.

When Nazi Germany invaded Greece, the Allied armies – including Australian Divisions – reeled in retreat. The Australian ships were among those who had to rescue thousands of soldiers. Then came the Siege of Tobruk – Australian troops holding out in that small Libyan port city. The Australian destroyers ran ‘the Tobruk Ferry’ – bringing supplies of food, medicine and ammunition into the shattered port by night, and taking off wounded soldiers.

But the four destroyers now left were struggling, suffering from constant engine breakdowns, with crews beleaguered by two years of bombings, wild seas and the endless fear of being sunk. In late 1941 the ships were finally sent home, staggering back to Australia, proudly calling themselves the Scrap Iron Flotilla in defiance of the Goebbels’ sneer. That flotilla is now an immortal part of Australian naval legend, and this is its story.

  • Published: 2 August 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761042003
  • Imprint: William Heinemann Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 448
  • RRP: $34.99

About the author

Mike Carlton

In a working life of more than 50 years, Mike Carlton became one of Australia's best-known media figures. He has been a radio and television news and current affairs reporter, foreign correspondent, radio host and newspaper columnist.

He was an ABC war correspondent in Vietnam in 1967 and 1970, and for three years was the ABC's Bureau Chief in Jakarta. He also reported for the ABC from London, New York and major Asian capitals. In television, he was one of the original reporters on the ABC's groundbreaking This Day Tonight in the 1970s. He also worked for Nine Network News, and A Current Affair.

In 1980 Mike turned to talk radio, first at Sydney's 2GB with a top-rating breakfast program, and then for four years in London at Newstalk 97.3FM, where he won a coveted Sony Radio Academy award in 1993 for Britain's best talk breakfast show. His radio satire on current affairs, Friday News Review, was "must listening" in Australia and the UK.

In television, he reported and hosted Indonesia: A Reporter Returns, a three-part documentary for SBS; he worked on Radio 2UE as a broadcaster for many years and wrote a long-standing column for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mike has had a life-long passion for naval history and is the author of Cruiser, First Victory and Flagship.

Also by Mike Carlton

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Praise for The Scrap Iron Flotilla

Carlton writes with wondrous knowledge of the ships, which he knows intimately, the men, likewise, and the traditions of which he knows more, I suspect, than many navy men ... Pleasingly to readers of Australian military history, Carlton writes in the Bean tradition ... The last chapter of this truly magnificent book is a surprise ... In this short piece of writing, the final appendix, Mike Carlton shows how well he understands the continuity of the Royal Australian Navy across the generations. And the extraordinary changes in personnel and technology. It is the latest of his love-letters to a navy that has served Australia so well.

Mark McKernan, Canberra Times

To my mind Carlton is one of Australia's foremost naval historians ... The Scrap Iron Flotilla is the most detailed analysis yet and by far the most insightful giving us a full picture of not only the events but also the crews who did the best with what they had ... Thanks to Mike Carlton's immaculate research and crystal-clear writing, that flotilla is now an immortal, yet easily accessible, part of Australian history ... while Carlton gives us all the facts, he certainly doesn't let those facts get in the way of a good story.

Ross Fitzgerald, Australian

Some chroniclers are ideal authors for their subject, and some neglected, half-forgotten, or never known accounts of valour at sea need to be written before they are lost to memory. So it is with Mike Carlton and ... his latest naval history book The Scrap Iron Flotilla. The fusion of the journalist’s eye for telling detail and the first class research from primary sources make this book a compelling tale ... Carlton’s skill is that he can move the reader seamlessly from the personal and the particular to the enormous scope of the war in the Mediterranean ... This] is a valuable addition to any naval history collection and, I suggest essential reading for serving RAN members who wish to understand the spirit that animated their professional ancestors in battle eighty decades ago.

Desmond Woods, Lieutenant Commander, Royal Australian Navy

[An] engrossing exploration of a little known chapter in Australian history ... Carlton recounts their joint and various deployments in the eastern Mediterranean with a confidence born of thorough research, and a contagious affection for the ships and their crews ... the story of hundreds of tenacious, terrified, brave and battle-weary Australian sailors who had no idea whether they'd make it home ... Carlton does them proud.

Pat Sheil, Sydney Morning Herald

Mike Carlton has emerged as a gifted historian of Australia’s outstanding naval contributions in two world wars. He polishes this reputation in his new book ... The pages of The Scrap Iron Flotilla may not be encrusted with salt, but the Mediterranean breeze is certainly there to be felt. This is a very fine testament to the courage of the Royal Australian Navy in a most difficult period of World War II. Future generations of Australians will stand in Mike Carlton’s debt.

Stephen Loosley, Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Dads who like military history will appreciate Mike Carlton's The Scrap Iron Flotilla ... a fascinating and well told account of the activities of the ships and the challenges they faced during the War.

Canberra Weekly magazine

Awards & recognition

Frank Broeze Memorial Maritime History Book Prize

Shortlisted  •  2023  •  Frank Broeze Memorial Maritime History Book Prize

NSW Premier's History Awards

Shortlisted  •  2023  •  The Anzac Memorial Trustees’ Military History Prize

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Five valiant destroyers and the Australian war in the Mediterranean. Buy now: https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-scrap-iron-flotilla-9781761042003

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