Hot sub time machine: A photo tour of the HMAS Ovens submarine

The Oberon-class submarine HMAS Ovens was built for the Royal Australian Navy and served for 26 years. Now she sits beside the Western Australian Maritime Museum. Here’s a full photo tour.

ovens-opener-and-starter.jpgWhen you think of major submarine bases (if you think of major submarine bases), you might think of New London, Kings Bay, Pearl Harbor, maybe Rybachiy. But… Fremantle?

During World War II, Fremantle, on the west coast of Australia, was actually one of the largest submarine bases in the world, and largest in the southern hemisphere, home to over 160 submarines.

Fitting, then, that the silent service would have a representative here, in the form of the Oberon-class HMAS Ovens.

The diesel-powered ship was not named after a gas range. Rather, it honors Irishman and Australian explorer John Ovens (1788-1825). Here’s a full tour.

Laid down in Greenock, Scotland, in 1966, launched in 1967 and commissioned in 1969, the Ovens is a little over 295 feet long, 26.5 feet wide. This is a reasonable size for a diesel sub, but certainly far smaller than modern nuclear boats (like the nuclear missile submarine Redoutable I toured last year).

Two supercharged V16 generators supplied power to two 3,500 horsepower electric motors. This gave her a range of 9,000 nautical miles at maximum of 12 knots (the same speed she was capable of on the surface). She could do up to 17 knots submerged. The diesel fuel, as is the case with most diesel subs, is stored between the outer hull and the pressure hull, and is replaced by seawater when used (to maintain balance).

Crew life was better than on WWII boats, with no hot bunking (except for a pair of rookies) for the crew of upward of 68. Everyone but the captain, though, shared a room with at least one other. Showers were limited to “Once a week, whether you need it or not.”

My tour guide was a former chief petty officer on the Ovens, Garry Coombe, who shared stories such as how they rescued multiple sinking sailboats, and refueled motorboats adrift in the middle of the ocean.

Think about that for a minute. You’re sailing your yacht, as you do, and ACK! Jeeves forgot to top up the tanks. You call for help, and a short time later a submarine arrives to give you a splash of diesel.


Decommissioned in 1995, she now rests alongside the Western Australian Maritime Museum, of which she’s a part.

Unlike most submarine tours, this one is only guided, and you need to book a time.

The rest of the museum, though small, has some cool exhibits about the history of fishing and shipping in Western Australia.

If you’re in Perth, it’s worth the trip down (the museum is an easy walk from the train/bus station). If you have the option, definitely take a tour with Garry.