Remembering the first Vampire

April 11, 2020 – Having only served little more than two years at war, HMAS Vampire (I) – a V Class Destroyer in the Royal Australian Navy – had already earned five Battle Honors: Calabria 1940, Libya 1940-41, Greece 1941, Crete 1941 and Indian Ocean 1941-42.

After near-constant action in South East Asian waters, Vampire was serving in the Allied Eastern fleet in the Indian Ocean. On the morning of 8 April 1942, she was escorting the Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes from Trincomalee in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to avoid an impending enemy attack.

Both Hermes and Vampire were attacked by more than 40 enemy aircraft. Both ships engaged the enemy but the attack was overwhelming with Hermes taking many hits and sinking 20 minutes after the attack started.

Vampire’s gunnery team shot down and enemy bomber but was hit by 16 bombs and sank 10 minutes after Hermes went down.

Nine ship’s company, including the Commanding Officer, Commander William Moran, perished in the action from a crew of 119.

The resting place of HMAS Vampire (I) has never been located, and as recently as 2019 Royal Australian Navy units and personnel searched for the wreck and paid their respects in the sea off Sri Lanka.

The Director Strategic & Historical Studies, Naval History Section, John Perryman highlights that the impact of the loss of Hermes and Vampire was a significant event in Naval warfare at the time as it pointed to the growing strength of naval air power.

“HMAS Vampire’s loss with HMS Hermes underscored the rise of airpower in the maritime environment.

“Vampire’s crew had borne witness to the loss of the great British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse, when they were sunk by Japanese aircraft on 10 December 1941,” he said.

This action off Ceylon pointed to future events.

“Tragically they were destined to suffer the same fate in April 1942.

“The Battle of the Coral Sea that followed in May 1942 was the first time in history when the outcome of a major naval battle was determined by naval airpower with the US and Japanese surface fleets at no time sighting their opponent.

“The decisive Battle of Midway, fought and won by the Americans from 4-7 June 1942, cemented the future of naval airpower and the role of aircraft carriers in modern naval fleets,” Perryman said.