In February 1938 the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board (ACNB), which consisted of both government officials and flag officers of the Australian navy, defined that there was an urgent requirement for several dozens of military vessels for local defense and guard duties. The ships would have to be built both cheap and simple so there was a need for a simple and basic design. The basic requirements were defined by a displacement of approximately 500 tons, a speed of approximately 10 knots and a range of 2,000 nautical miles. The vessels would be used for mine detection and for submarine hunting. Soon it became clear that the basic requirements, as proposed by the ACNB, would not completely comply.
The ACNB searched for a comparable design of a ship in Great Britain, but there was not a single design which complied with all requirements. Therefore the engineers of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) placed themselves at the drawing boards. The design grew into a mix of that of the network ships of the Kangaroo-class which were never built, British minesweepers of the Bangor-class and existing designs of submarine warfare vessels. The designers under the command of Rear Admiral P.E. McNeil in February 1939 presented a design of 650 tons and a max speed of 15 knots, which was approved by the ANCB as well as the Australian admiralty and by the British admiralty.
The financing of the new class vessels was arranged in the Commonwealth Governmentís Shipbuilding Programme. Of the 56 ships, 20 would be constructed at the account of the British admiralty and 36 were to be ordered by the Australian navy. For the RAN this was only an accounting detail as all 56 ships would be deployed by the RAN and crewed by Australians. Apart from that, four ships of the new design were ordered by the Royal Indian Navy (RIN). These ships were to be manned by British naval personnel. The vessels would have to be constructed for only 25,000 Australian dollars each.
Never before in Australia that many war ships had been built and because the construction had to take place within months, an impressive logistical train was set up in the large southerly country. In the design an engine installation was foreseen which consisted of a simple triple-expansion steam engine which could be constructed in the existing workshops of train locomotive manufacturers. In order to obtain sufficient capacity, several wharves, which had been closed down several years ago because of the depression in the 30ís, were re-opened. Also no less than eight ship yards were involved in order to comply with this large request in short notice.
On February 10, 1940 the keel was laid down of the Bathurst, the first of the new ships, on the Cockatoo Dockyard in Sydney. The whole class therefore, in a good tradition, was baptized the Bathurst-class. The ships were noted as Australian Minesweepers (AMSís) in order to hide from the Japanese, the most important potential enemy, that the vessels were also submarine warfare ships. As the vessels were to be adapted to manifold tasks, they were called Ďcorvettesí after a smallish type of sailing ship which in earlier days was used for local defense. The production of the ships began slow, mainly because of problems with the supply of raw materials and because of the learning curve involved in the initiation of the enormous logistical operation, but started to increase its speed in 1941. From that year onwards there were months when two or even three new Bathurst-class corvettes were introduced into the Australian or Indian navy.
During the Second World War it would appear that the Bathurst-class corvettes would comply with their planned role as multi-purpose work horses. They were used to sweep mines, to hunt submarines, to transport troops, to carry out coastal bombardments and for patrol, transport, work-ships and surveyor tasks. Because of the successful design the ACNB generated the idea during the construction of the Bathurst-class, to construct ships in Australia of a larger design. This however appeared to be asked too much of the shipbuilding capacity of this large country but with only 12 million inhabitants. The need for larger ships during the war was met by the British admiralty by the application of the Flower-class corvettes and River-class frigates.
As the Bathurst-class corvettes were all named after small and medium sized Australian cities, the names had a large diversity. So there were aboriginal names like HMAS Toowoomba or HMAS Wollongong, European names like HMAS Deloraine or HMAS Shepparton or very funny sounding names like HMAS Gympie or HMAS Dubbo. This fact only contributed to the multi role and multi-purpose image of the class.