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Commander Edward Wilfred 'Jake' Linton BEM MCD RAN

Edward 'Jake' Linton was born on 31 January 1935 in Preston, Victoria.  He joined the Navy on the 17th March 1952 and following completion of his initial training at HMAS Cerberus his first posting as a seaman was to HMAS Australia.

It was late 1954, Jake was 19 years old, married, an Able Seaman employed as a Main Gate Sentry at Naval Headquarters at Potts Point, not making enough money to pay his wife’s medical bills and short on answers to the situation.  He spent every second night working in Playfairs freezers in The Rocks and life did not hold a lot of promise.

Then on the notice board at HMAS Kuttabul there was a message calling for volunteers to form the first Clearance Divers Course, and offering tuppence (two pence) or 1 cent a minute for diving time.  This was the answer; tuppence a minute translated into 120 pence an hour or 10 shillings ($1).  In short, if accepted, he could give up his job at Playfairs and meet his financial commitments.  Naturally he volunteered and was accepted.  However, there was just one hurdle and that was a test dive off the wharf at HMAS Rushcutter, using the Salvus Fire Fighting Apparatus rigged for diving, and wearing a suit aptly named ‘The Clammy Death’.  Jake remembers surfacing and complaining that his throat was burning and was promptly persuaded to go down again by a push from the boot of the Supervisor.

. . a flash in the pan . . .

The course formed up at Rushcutter in January 1955, a group of sailors representing just about the full gamut of ranks and right arm rates (in Jake's case, a bare armed Able Seaman).  There was a POUW, LSRP, LS Patrolman, Gunnery Rates – you name it, sixteen of them with not a lot of idea of what they were in for.  The RAN Diving Branch or Standard Divers (Hard Hats) didn’t want to know them, ‘a flash in the pan’, ‘never take on’, and so on, they looked on them with disdain and waited for them to fail.

This was Jake's introduction to some characters; Bill (Fitz) Fitzgerald, a second generation Navy man and born leader; Ron Titcombe (Breast Brush) a Reserve Lieutenant (the original Walter Mitty); Bogie Knight, and many more. Their mentor was LCDR Maurice (‘Batts’) Batterham, a WWII veteran of some renown in diving circles and rumoured to be a cohort of Jaques Cousteau; SBLT SD Ron (Bud) Hillen QDD RAN, lightweight boxing champion of the RAN Fleet during WWII, a Qualified Deep Diver (QDD) and a personality of his time.  Although Batts was the Boss and Ron Titcombe and Bud Hillen were the designated Instructors; the person who held the Course together was undoubtedly Bill Fitzgerald; he was the buffer between the old and the new and he had the respect of both, somewhat grudgingly from the old.  Had he not been a member of their course then Jake believes there may well have been a much different outcome.

Their base was a converted Concrete Ammunition Lighter (CAL) that they moored between two sets of piles on the eastern side of Clark Island in full view of Garden Island and also the Fleet Commander’s Office at Naval Headquarters.  They were also overlooked by the St. Vincent’s Hospital Annexe on Darling Point and provided much entertainment for patients and staff alike.  They kept a duty watch onboard and were visited by the Officer of the Day from HMAS Watson each evening; he apparently certainly got some surprises from time to time.

The course commenced in January and ran for some nine months, and in that time they walked over most of Sydney Harbour’s seabed and swam halfway round the globe, it seemed.  What they really did was forge a camaraderie that continues to this day among Clearance Divers; proud of their qualification and fiercely protective of their branch.

Lengthy articles appeared in the Post and Pix, contemporary magazines of the time, complete with photographs of them under training, and they were dubbed ‘Frogmen’, able to run, jump, ride a bike, wheel a barrow and fly a kite all at the same time.

Clark Island barbecues

In those days Sydney Harbour was without any significant pollution, you could get crayfish from around the islands east of the Bridge and especially under North Head.  There were fish of all sorts, including leatherjackets, morwong, John Dory and blue groper in abundance and the shellfish, oysters and mussels were all edible.  Friday afternoons were usually taken up with a fish barbecue on Clark Island, and there was always enough to take home for the family.

Other areas they visited for training and exercises were Port Stephens and Jervis Bay, also well endowed with seafood.  In the early days they had demolition-training areas allocated in Sydney Harbour, they would detonate up to 25 pounds of explosive in Chowder Bay on the wreck of an old collier which lay there in around 40 feet of water, much to the chagrin of the local residents.  One can only imagine how the sandstone, which prevails in the area, transmitted shock to foundations of nearby homes.  There was always a plentiful supply of fish after each detonation and they would visit the park at Clifton Gardens to cook the spoils.

Qualification

When they qualified Jake was posted to Rushcutter as ship’s company.  Jake took on the job of assistant diving storeman and remained there until 1956, when he was posted to HMAS Sydney as Diver’s Yeoman.  By this time more courses had been conducted and the Hard Hat community was beginning to accept them.  More characters appeared from the Hard Hat ranks such as Dixie Foord, Sandy Brennan, Joe Flaherty, Alex Donald and John Dollar. They were beginning to make their name within the Navy and, depending on whom you spoke to, they were either flavour of the month or a pack of rogues.  By the early 1960s most (if not all) of the serving Hard Hat or Standard Divers had changed over to Clearance Diver and their numbers got up around 200.

The Branch formed a solid relationship with the Army Engineers from Liverpool Army camp, who got them started in Explosive Demolition and Explosive Ordnance Disposal until they started their own school in these areas.  They also trained the Police Divers when their branch was formed in the late 1950s.

A number of diving tasks came the way of the branch, including recovery of crashed aircraft, most notably the Vickers Viscount which crashed in Botany Bay in 1961.  Jake's involvement in the recovery of the Viscount and the bodies from it was probably the most disturbing job he ever had and he believes that all those involved were affected one way or another.  He remembers becoming a vegetarian for around six months and compulsive at washing his hands.

In 1961 the team also assisted the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority, a leak had developed in a temporary sealing device in the inlet tower at the entrance to the Lake Eucumbene Dam diversion tunnel in the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme and the only practical method of checking the trouble was by diver inspection.  The tunnel was below the surface at the foot of the 80m tower and, although the RAN clearance divers had only worked regularly to depths around 30m, they were the only ones capable of making the inspection. 

A composite team was formed in Rushcutter under the direction of Lieutenant Ron Titcombe MBE and, after the  procurement of special-to-task equipment and a short deep diving workup, they tackled the job.  The work involved removing twenty 31/2 ton racks from the side of the intake tower and twenty eight 5 ton 'stop logs' sealing the tunnel.  This was a major task for the men working in a completely new depth environment with new equipment over a protracted period in freezing conditions at over 1,200 m above sea level, often in visibility reduced to zero by silt.  Their perseverance in the face of nitrogen narcosis and decompression stoppages (which lasted up to 11/2 hours for a 15 minute task time) was nothing short of Herculean.


RAN Clearance Divers at lake Eucumbene 1961

This was perhaps the most mentally taxing in that it required great concentration keeping their minds on the task at 285 feet using air.  The recommended safe depth for diving on air is much less than 285 feet.  Australian Divers developed a variation of the Demand valve for the job and they used the ‘Cousteau Constant Volume Suit’ with it and a wet suit as an under suit.  As the job dragged on winter set in, lowering the water temperature still further and raising the level of the lake to increase the decompression problem, but the leak was defeated and the tower's fittings replaced without a major injury to any team member.  Jake remembers the water was so cold he wondered why it wasn’t hard.  The job had taken four months to complete.  BEMs for dedication and commitment were awarded to three members of the team. 

The award to Petty Officer Edward 'Jake' Linton from Preston VIC., was

for courage, determination and outstanding performance as a diver when clearing the main outlet

For Able Seaman Norman Jeffress from Merewether NSW was noted as having '.. worked without consideration for his personal safety to free a fouled diver in the clearance of the Lake Eucumbene outlet'.  The citation for Leading Seaman Douglas Moore from Warialda NSW recorded 'His ability and capacity was such that he was called on to dive out of roster to rectify jobs which other divers failed to accomplish'.

Sydney Harbour depth charges

The team also rendered safe WW II ordnance from just about all areas of Australia, including depth charges from Sydney Harbour and sea mines from the Barrier Reef.  Members of the branch spent many months on deployment to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands clearing WWII ordnance, and on Defence Cooperation Programs.  In the 1960s Mine Warfare was added to their area of responsibility and Clearance Diving Teams were formed in NSW and WA.  These teams are now fully commissioned and integrated into the Fleet.  A Clearance Diving Team was maintained in Vietnam from 1965 to 1971, firstly in Vung Tau and later in Da Nang.

Their equipment was the Clearance Diving Apparatus (CDBA) Pattern No. 5561A and could be used to breathe pure oxygen or a variety of mixed gases made from percentages of oxygen and nitrogen.  When used with pure oxygen it was designed to allow you to rebreathe the gas after it had been through a soda lime filter, which cleared the gas of carbon dioxide.  Thus the equipment had no exhaust gas and allowed them to operate covertly.  In the mixed gas mode the equipment allowed you to stay longer at depth than normally the case when breathing compressed air.  The gases were mixed to provide the greatest percentage of oxygen in the mixture for the depth of the dive, thus keeping the percentage of nitrogen to a minimum and decreasing the requirement for decompression stoppages.

In 1955 wet suits had yet to be developed and their diving suit, the Underwater Swim Suit Mk. 1 (UWSS), a dry suit, was constructed of rubberised cotton twill and covered them completely with the exception of the hands.  Entry was through the neck and then with the aid of a neck ring, clamp and hood they made themselves watertight.  Another suit, nicknamed the ‘Clammy Death’ was a relic of WWII and was even more uncomfortable. Both these suits had the annoying habit of pinching pieces of flesh from parts of a persons body and at every chance they chose to wear a pair of overalls with a greasy wool jumper when diving.

A hobby for a job

Life was good as a Clearance Diver.  Diving pay gave them a bit of a lift in income and the working environment was excellent, it felt as if they had a hobby for a job.  There are a million stories about some of the jobs they did and also the antics of some of the characters but in the main their reputation soared, and Clearance Divers were highly sought as members of any ship’s company.  One did not seek promotion as it could have a detrimental affect on their diving time and diving pay as a direct result.  Diving Pay was very handy in those days, Jake remembers one pay while diving in Eucumbene, he received £70 or $140 at 10 cents a minute for diving at that depth.

In 1964 Jake was promoted to Chief Petty Officer Instructor Clearance Diver and was the Chief Boatswain’s Mate of the Flagship HMAS Melbourne.  He had reached the top of his profession as a Non Commissioned Officer and he was 29 years old.  Jake's boss suggested that he should try for a Commission and so, after much study (he had left school at 13) he passed the Higher Education Certificate.  Along with another Clearance Diver, Doug Moore, GM BEM, Jake was enrolled in HMS St. George Special Duties Officer School at Portsmouth.  After a most interesting and difficult 8-month long course, Jake remembers that Doug topped the course and, well, he passed.  They were promoted Acting Sub Lieutenants in January 1965 and commenced a 2-year stint in the Royal Navy.

Jake's introduction to the Wardroom was ‘on’ HMS Aisne (you were never ‘in’ Aisne, he was told).  He was designated the Upper Deck Mate, Diving Officer and Wine Caterer.  Upper Deck Mate and Diving Officer were no problem, being the Wine Caterer was an education in itself and he found how easy it was to fall out of favour with other members of the Wardroom.  He personally couldn’t see much wrong with Sparkling Star Wine, Porphyry Pearl or Ben Ean Moselle; besides, all the other wines available seemed much too expensive.  Aisne was yet another eye opener, they commenced the Portland work up but failed after 6 weeks.  The Captain and Engineer were relieved, and they did another work up and sailed for the Far East the day after completing it.

Jake's time in the UK was soon over and he returned to Australia and joined HMAS Vendetta for a short period, then back to Rushcutter and the Diving School as Training Officer in 1968.  The Diving School moved to HMAS Penguin in 1969 and he remained there until 1970.  He was Training Officer and Course Officer for the 1969 MCDO’s Course.  This course saw the long awaited transfer of LCDR Ian McConnochie from the Supply Branch to the Seaman’s Branch and his qualification as a Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Officer, a feat with no precedence and one that hasn’t been overshadowed.  Jake's last task at the school was the writing of an addendum to the RAN Diving Manual covering the Draeger FGT1 Mixed gas Diving Equipment the replacement for the CDBA 5561A.

In May of 1970 he took command of the 8th Clearance Diving Team 3, in training to deploy to Vietnam. They  departed for Vietnam in October 1970. 

Without doubt one of the smallest, and unrivalled, Australian units to serve in Vietnam was Australian Clearance Diving Team Three (CDT3).  They were an elite group of 49 officers and men; divers trained in the dangerous business of explosive ordnance disposal, who established an enviable reputation for courage and innovation in time of war in the spirit of the diver’s motto, 'United and Undaunted'.

The eighth and final contingent returned to Australia in May 1971, bringing to a close four years of war service in trying and hazardous circumstances.  The contingents had rotated through Vietnam at approximately six to seven month intervals.  The one fatal casualty was a young sailor killed in a motor vehicle accident while on exchange with an American unit in Cam Ranh Bay.  Seven personnel were decorated whilst others received recognition from the United States and South Vietnamese governments, including a United States Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation awarded to the first contingent.

Exchange posting

When Jake returned from Vietnam he was posted to HMAS Torrens to qualify for his Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate.  While they were on deployment in the Far East he was offered a three year exchange posting with the USN at their Fleet and Mine Warfare Training Centre in Charleston South Carolina.  Jake jumped at the chance and within three weeks of returning to Australia he and his family had packed and moved to the United States.

His tour with the USN was a great experience and gave him a new look at their contemporaries, having had three years with the RN and then a tour of Vietnam working for the USN and now a further three years working within the USN in the US.  With that experience he was able to evaluate that the RAN were second to none.  He qualified as a Staff Mine Warfare Officer while in the States and then began teaching the trade.  He participated in the Planning of the Minesweeping operation of Hanoi, Operation End Sweep, and also the Mine Clearance Operations in the Suez Canal.  Sadly he didn’t make it to either event, as the USN did not want any third country nationals confusing the diplomatic issues.

On his return from the States he was posted to the RAN Research Laboratory to produce a draft of the first of the Mine Warfare Pilots and then, much to his surprise, was offered Command of HMAS Curlew, a Ton Class Mine Sweeper that had been converted to a Mine Hunter.  He learnt a lot in Curlew, mostly the difference between being a member of a ship’s company and being in Command.  He survived the job and had the wonderful experience of circumnavigating Australia in command of a warship.  After Curlew there was a stint at HMAS Waterhen as Staff Mine Warfare Officer, then two years as OIC of Clearance Diving Team 1 (CDT1)

CDT1 was another very rewarding job with highlights of Defence Cooperation Program tours to the Solomon Islands and standing by to go to the Gulf.  By now Jake had well and truly learnt that he had had ‘A Fortunate Life’, and if Albert Facey had not chosen that title for his autobiography then he would like to have used it for his own, if and when he ever wrote it.  The other great piece of wisdom that had finally dawned on Jake was that working for or with Clearance Divers and/or being in charge of them was a great experience.  They all want to get the job done and properly, don’t take a lot of leading, and if you have their respect you have the game sewn up.

Jake was promoted to Commander and in 1982 was given a 'Pier Head Jump' to take Command of Curlew, again this time for just a bit over three months, when her Captain became indisposed.  Being in command of a relatively small ship as a Commander had a lot of benefits.  They visited Port Fairy in southern Victoria, a most difficult port, as the ship was too big to enter the river and anchored offshore in the long swells from the Southern Ocean.  He had visited there once before in his previous commission and recommended they not return.  He forgot that it was Prime Minister Fraser’s electorate

Next came a posting as Officer in Charge of the RAN Diving School.  He spent over four years there and didn’t have a lot to do, as Clearance Divers who all knew what they were doing surrounded him and he was only there to be responsible for their actions.  Not too tough, for about 99.9% of the time, their actions and accomplishments reflected very well on him.  The hardest thing about this period in his career was providing Clearance Divers to the Counter Terrorist Organisation.

SAS and Clearance Divers

The Special Air Service (SAS) were given the task of providing a Counter Terrorism Force when the Government felt there was some danger of a terrorist attack on our oil rigs in Bass Strait.  It was Jake's understanding that to provide this force would have stretched the SAS resources too thin to enable them to meet their other commitments, and it was decided that the Clearance Diving Branch would supplement their forces.  Along with the OIC of the SAS Regiment, his role was to select appropriate personnel.  Jake's feeling was that there wasn’t much need for selection as any Clearance Diver, because of his training, would be suitable for the role.  The Regiment didn’t feel that way and were fiercely protective of their role and reputation.  As a result there were times when Warrant Officer Clearance Divers were working for SAS Corporals, a situation which at times caused some interesting get‑togethers in the Bar with an odd trip to the Sickbay afterward.  In retrospect, whilst he was fiercely protective of his Clearance Divers it is not surprising that his counterpart in the SAS Regiment felt the same about his troopers and ‘who could do it better’ was always going to be a bone of contention.  Jake just felt that he was providing cannon fodder for the SAS and that there was not a lot of career enhancement for those who volunteered – and there were plenty of volunteers.  In the years since then, Clearance Divers have proved that they can fill any role in counter terrorism with great professionalism, but they still get very little recognition for their service in that field.

Jake retired in 1986 after nearly 35 years in the Navy and 31 years as a Clearance Diver.  A testament to the camaraderie of the branch is that he is still well informed of the comings and goings of the branch and considers himself indeed fortunate to be a member of it, and like all other Clearance Divers past and present is fiercely protective and proud of his branch.

In Jake's words –

"I never met a Clearance Diver that I could not work or socialise with.  I have made many lasting and close friendships across a number of generations and don’t know of too many other branches of any Navy that has so many fathers, sons and grandsons who have put on the facemask.  The branch has also proved to be great preparation for future careers; we have had the Head of the Queensland Pilot Service, owners of very successful diving businesses, a Deep Draft Oil Tanker Captain, car dealership owners, ferry and merchant ship captains and who knows what in the future – Governor General perhaps!"

Much has happened since Jake retired in 1986, with a clearance Diving team of 70 odd members maintained on each coast and their first Rear Admiral promoted.  In addition there are many more Battle Honours on their Banner.  All this from a bunch of blokes who just like swimming and eating fish.

Jake and his wife Anne are still enjoying their retirement on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.


8th Team. Reunion - 23rd April, 2007.
Rear: Phil Narramore, 'Jake' Linton & Larry Digney.  Seated: Tony Ey & Brian Furner.


Sources:
Jake Linton
Naval Historical Society of Australia
Vietnam Veterans Association - Victorian Branch
RAN Clearance Divers Association
Bravo Zulu Vol I 1900-1974 by Ian Pfennigwerth