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The 26' motor dory was one of over 50 different types of small craft built in Australia for the Australian, US and British armed services.
Australia mobilises with the USA
The entry of Japan into World War II on the 7
December 1941, and its subsequent rapid invasion of South East Asia, the
Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Micronesia and New Guinea highlighted
the grave threat that Australia faced in1942. With Britain fighting for
its very existance against Nazi Germany, it was clear that the
assurances of British military support given between the wars would not
materialise. If Australia was to have any chance to withstand the
Japanese imperial juggernaut, it had to join with and support the USA's
The 26' Motor Dory design and construction
One of the craft needed was a small motor dory to
undertake harbour duties including light towage and cargo carrying. The
26' motor dory was designed for simple construction using lower cost
materials. They had a plywood double-skinned single chine hull to facilitate building
by firms that may have had no shipbuilding background.
A general arrangment drawing of the 26' Motor
Dories. Source: Australian Army
In its Army specification, the motor dory was not
copper sheathed, relying solely on anti-fouling for
protection from worm in the tropical waters. However, those built for
the Royal Navy were copper sheathed.
General Motors - Holdens Ltd
The 26' Motor Dory frame was built upside down. Photo: State Library of South Australia
The background shows the hulls being laminated with two layers of plywood strips. The foreground appear to show jigs for bending the plywood strips. Photo: State Library of South Australia. [Any comments that can better interpret the photo would be appreciated].
Completed 26' Motor Dories USA D No.346 and USA D No.347, plus two others, berthed at Port Adelaide after having been launched. Photo: State Library of South Australia
26' Motor Dory USA D No.343, probably running trials at Port Adelaide. Photo: State Library of South Australia
Slazengers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Slazengers Alexandria Factory during World War II. Photo: State Library of NSW
See caption below
Twenty-two 26' Slazenger-built motor dories ready for delivery to the US
How many 26' motor dories were built?
No definitive answer has so far been
found for this question, but probably multiple hundreds. Indications
are that by far the majority were built for the US Army Small Ships.
A smaller number were built for the Australian Army and the Royal
Australian Navy. At the end of the war, there was also a batch under
construction for the Royal Navy.
The motor dories were fitted with a range of
engines. Petrol engines were most common, probably owing to the shortage
Postwar deploymentWith the cessation of hostilities in August 1945, the Small Craft building program was reviewed. Construction continued for a period to complete boats that were well advanced. When the Small Craft Program ended early in 1946, there were boats that had been completed but not delivered, and boats that were at various stages of construction. In addition there were boats that were now surplus to the requirements of the armed services. The Commonwealth Disposals Commission was established to dispose of war surplus. Before vessels were offered for sale, they were offered to the other services and Government Departments..
Twenty of the dories that were deemed surplus to the Australian Army were transferred to the Royal Australian Navy. A handful were believed to have been kept by the Army after the war.
Those that remained unallocated were to be sold. But before they were offered to the general public at large, the war surplus boats were offered for purchase to ex.servicemen in recognition of their sacrifices and to support their integration back into the peacetime economy.
What was left was put up for auction by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. A selection of articles and advertisements follow:
Sydney Morning Herald 3 April 1946
Port Lincoln Times 29 Aug 1946
Sunday Mail 18 May 1947
Twenty five of the 26'
Motor Dories were operated the RAN after World War 2. These may well
have included the 20 former Australian Army dories as the RAN's DR16 was
previously the Australian Army's AM1708..
The RAN continued to operate the Motor Dories through the 1950s and 1960s. Most were no longer in use by the 1970s. They appear to have been sold off.
DR6 and DR5 and an unidentified Motor Dory (right) on hardstand at Garden Island in 1959. Photo: George Hicks, Garden Island Dockyard Facebook Group
It has been now almost 80 years since the 26'
Motor Dories were built. Intended for the immediate needs of war,
longevity was not a high priority.
Most were built at Slazengers boatyard at Putney[sic] around 1943 using laminated plywood which de laminated over the years. I was aboard one about 1960 when we hit a mooring bouy in the harbour that poked a nasty hole in the bow!Jeffro Da Hodge wrote:
I believe the workboat at Burraneer Bay Marina may be one of these, George may be the name.
One also got cut up at the Cook street boatyard at Kurnell around 25 years ago, the shaft got recycled into rudder stocks for a catamaran and the bronze fittings, braket etc went to scrap. Had lots of rit and delaminated knees and similar so beyond economic repair at the time, no idea on number or history on thst one.
Despite the odds, a few of the 26' Motor Dories
survive with scant knowledge of their history.
Seagull - AM17100
Wirake is still on Sydney Harbour. She provides an
example of a motor dory that has been modified as a pleasure cruiser.
Again, her early history is unknown but it is believed that she was one of
the dories operated by the RAN. Further information on Wirake can be found
on the webpage http://www.boatregister.net/Wirake.htmm
Photos below: Eduard McPeake
Ross Gillett, State Library of NSW, State Library of
South Australia, National Library of Australia, National Archives of
Australia, Cam Finlay, Leyland Wilkinson, Jeffro Da Hodge, Luke Weston,
If you have an interest in participating in a forum to share information and knowledge about
26' motor dories, other service boats during WW2, and boats that were requisitioned during
the War, then you might like to join TBA: