Review: Specific battles and operations
HMCS VICTORIA, (CMDR Norman, RN), landed a detachment of seamen, and captured Matarikoriko Pa, New Zealand.
The Naval Brigades of HMS PELORUS, (wood screw corvette), flagship of the Australian Station, and HMCS VICTORIA, landed at Kairau, New Zealand, to support British troops under attack from Maoris.
They were under the command of CDRE Frederick Seymour, RN, commander of the Australia Squadron, 1860-62.
HMVS CHILDERS, en route to Australia, was diverted to the port of Suakin to participate in the Sudan War. The Victorian gunboats VICTORIA and ALBERT, joined her there on 19 March, but their services were not required and they were then sent on their way to continue passage to Australia.
HMQS GAYUNDAH, (gunboat), was launched at Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
The Naval Brigade from HMS POWERFUL, a flagship of the Australia Station, fought in the Battle of Graspan against the Boers in South Africa.
The Naval Brigade of HMS POWERFUL, (a previous flagship of the Australia Station), attacked Boer positions at Lombards Kop, Ladysmith, South Africa.
The RAN’s first two submarines, AE1 and AE2, arrived in Sydney after a record voyage from England.
Within a year both submarines had been lost on active service, with AE1 lost during the campaign in German New Guinea, and AE2 lost in the Sea of Marmora during the Gallipoli Campaign.
The RAN Bridging Train, (RANBT), was formed in Melbourne under the command of LCDR L.S. Bracegirdle.
The unit was to be a mounted engineering unit made up of RAN Reserve personnel who were unable to be employed in sea going ships. Originally it was planned the unit would operate with the Royal Naval Division, (RN Reservists employed as Infantry), on the Western Front, however the RANBT was later diverted to Gallipoli for service there.
LCDR Bracegirdle was selected as the Commanding Officer. Despite being a naval officer he had extensive experience in land warfare due to his service in China during the Boxer Rebellion, (1900), the Boer War, (1901-02), and the German New Guinea campaign, (1914-15).
The submarine HMAS AE2, (LCDR H. Stoker, RN), penetrated the Dardanelles while the first ANZAC troops were storming ashore at Gallipoli.
After evading Turkish warships and mines, she broke through into the Sea of Marmara with orders to “Run Amok Generally” behind the enemy lines. AE2 sank a Turkish gunboat with a torpedo during her passage of the Dardanelles.
HMS SCORPION, (LCDR A. B. Cunningham, RN), patrolled off the beaches at Gallipoli.
The supporting destroyers were under orders not to engage shore targets in the initial stages of the landing, and cruised impotently off the shore while their comrades were unmercifully shelled by the Turks.
During the WWII Cunningham was C-in-C of the Mediterranean Fleet.
The RAN Bridging Train, (formed from members of the RAN Naval reserve), were embarked on the PORT MACQUARIE, for service in Gallipoli.
Transfer of the RAN Bridging Train for service with the Army on Gallipoli was approved by the Admiralty.
The train handled the building of jetties and berthing facilities, and the unloading of stores and ammunition. It’s arrival at Gallipoli freed large numbers of soldiers for combat duties.
The RAN Bridging Train landed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli.
The force was used in building wharves and pontoons, and unloading supply ships.
The RAN Bridging Train was engaged in salvaging torpedo boats, barges and small craft wrecked during a fierce storm which struck the beaches of Gallipoli.
The RAN Bridging Train landed at Gallipoli.
The RANBT suffered its second fatality in two days of heavy shelling, at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli Peninsula.
CPO E. C. Perkins was killed, and later buried in Hill 10 Cemetery at Suvla Bay.
The RAN Bridging Train was heavily shelled and bombed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli.
The RAN Bridging Train commenced the removal of stores from Gallipoli in preparation for the evacuation.
‘These men’, wrote CMDR L. S. Bracegirdle, RN, commanding the RAN Bridging Train at Gallipoli, ‘took pride in the fact they were the only Australian naval unit serving in the European theatre of war’.
The first contingent of three officers and 153 men of the RAN Bridging Train were evacuated from Gallipoli.
The last personnel of the RAN Bridging Train, (RANBT), left Suvla Bay at 0430 making them the last Australians to depart the Gallipoli Peninsula.
A 50-man team under SBLT C. W. Hicks, RANR, had been left behind to maintain the pier near Lala Baba, and had been subjected to several days of heavy Turkish shell fire before they were evacuated, early on the morning of the 20th.
HMAS PIONEER, (cruiser), engaged German forces at Nazi Bay, East Africa. An attempt to land was beaten back by the defenders.
The RAN Bridging Train was commended by General Bland, (British Army), for its tireless efforts before and during the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsular.
The Commanding Officer of the RANBT (LCDR L. S. Bracegirdle, RAN), wrote of his men: “They were therefore bent on proving to the Royal Navy and the Army that they could overcome any difficulties”.
The invitation to write an article for the Naval Historical Review 1972 gives me the opportunity to remind members of the importance of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in Australian history. Every Australian has heard of Trafalgar but few, I feel, know much about Leyte Gulf, which has been described by the British historian, Donald Macintyre, as the biggest sea fight in history.
THE BATTLE CONCERNS AUSTRALIA CLOSELY for it opened the road to victory in the Pacific by reducing the Japanese Navy, which once threatened our shores, to an ineffective remnant. We should know more about this battle and be proud that the Royal Australian Navy took a small but active part in the victory.
This article has been prepared after reference to various accounts of the battle, including Morison’s History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II and Macintyre’s The Battle for the Pacific. Their researches and detailed studies have simplified the task. So complicated is the story that this article can deal with only one of the three big actions, the Battle of the Surigao Strait, the one in which the Australian ships participated.
The story of the battle starts with a great mass of some 600 ships steaming from Manus and Hollandia for Leyte Gulf more than 1,400 miles from Hollandia. These ships carried the troops and equipment for the attack on the Philippine Islands by General Macarthur. They included the Australian Landing Ships Infantry HMAS Kanimbla, Manoora and Westralia, well remembered round our coast in pre-war days, manned by Australians but carrying American troops destined to land on Panoan Island. HMAS Gascoyne and HDML 1074 were in the advanced convoy with the task of surveying the channel while the US Rangers captured the islands at the entrance prior to the arrival of the main body.
This great armada was escorted by the United States 7th Fleet, under Admiral Kinkaid, and included the Australian cruisers HMA Ships Australia and Shropshire and the RAN destroyers HMA Ships Arunta and Warramunga. The escort was augmented by ships from the US Pacific Fleet, including escort carriers. The only Royal Navy ship present was the fast minelayer HMS Ariadne.
While the convoys were assembling and steaming across the ocean, important events were going on to the northward. Manoeuvring off Formosa, Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet was launching a series of devastating attacks on the Japanese air power based on Formosa and the Philippines. From 10th to 24th October he threw everything he had at them. So successful was he that the Japanese had only 100 operational planes in the Philippines on A Day, hence the freedom from air attacks on passage.
As is so often the case, reports from the few Japanese aviators who did return convinced the Japanese High Command that great damage had been done to the Third Fleet. Tokyo Rose made much of the destruction of the Third Fleet and the authorities appeared to believe their own propaganda. In fact two US cruisers were badly damaged, and minor damage was suffered by three carriers. The Japanese on the other hand lost most of their trained carrier air groups that had been flown to Formosa to operate from shore airfields against the Fleet.
The approach to Leyte Gulf went to plan and, after the usual bombardment and air strikes, the first flight hit the beach at H hour, 10 a.m. on A Day, 20th October 1944.
Macarthur went ashore in the afternoon and made his famous “I have returned” speech. Later USS Honolulu, in the close support area, was torpedoed by a Japanese aircraft which flew in low and escaped detection. The torpedo splash and sub-sequent explosion were observed from Australia but the guns could not be brought to bear in time. The aircraft jinked away and escaped without damage. That was the only effective opposition encountered at sea that day.
(An extract from N Class by L. J. Lind and M. A. Payne)
At 1806, during a high level bombing attack, Nestor was straddled by three 1,000 pound bombs. One fell six feet from the port side, a second about fifty feet to starboard; both almost amidships; and the third fifty feet off the stern to port. The first bomb probably struck the masthead on its descent because soon after the attack it was noted that the radar scanner had been shattered.
THE GIGANTIC FORCE generated by the three bombs exploding almost simultaneously lifted Nestor bodily out of the water and she crashed violently as she fell back. The area between the bridge and the funnel flexed viciously, and Commander Rosenthal and all personnel in the vicinity were thrown to the deck. Nestor was hit in ‘Bomb Alley’, southwest of Crete and 100 miles north of Tobruk.
Captain Arliss in Napier, next ship but one on the screen, realised that Nestor was badly hit. He could see her dead and stopped and obviously without power. He promptly signalled Javelin to take the stricken vessel in tow. If towing was not possible the crew were to be removed and the ship sunk.
Admiral Vian at the same time signalled Javelin (Commander J. M. Alliston RN, who later commanded Warramunga) to go to Nestor’s aid.
While their ship wallowed sluggishly in the swell her crew ascertained the extent of the damage. All light and power had been lost but the worst damage was in the boiler rooms. The near miss on the port side had blown a large hole below waterline in No 1 Boiler Room.
All four men in the room had been killed. Their bodies were immersed in the oily water which filled the room. Water had also flooded No 2 Boiler Room and it was impossible to raise steam.
The crew, stunned at first by the roaring crash of the exploding bombs, remained cool. Within a minute of the attack the engine room staff had rushed to No 1 Boiler Room to their comrades. They were driven back by a wall of superheated steam. They waited until the steam had evaporated and led by Surgeon Lieutenant S. A. C. Watson who had rushed down from his station, they felt their way into the death compartment.
The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross awarded to Lieutenant Watson describes the conditions under which he and his assistants worked.
‘He displayed outstanding bravery in immediately entering No 1 Boiler Room in order to rescue the crew who he knew must be either killed or seriously injured. Of the conditions in the boiler room he had no idea, when he entered it he found it in darkness and flooded. In spite of this he dived repeatedly until all the men were recovered. Unfortunately they had all been killed.‘
Those dead were stoker Petty Officer B. Bulmer, Leading Stoker C. Hill, Leading Stoker M. Burns and Stoker L. J. Blight. Burns was a Royal Navy member of the ship’s complement.
While Lieutenant Watson and his party endeavoured to revive the casualties by artificial resuscitation, damage control parties were at work throughout the ship. Steam was cut off to reduce the risk of explosion and Shipwright A. C. Coole entered the devastated boiler rooms to shore up the gaping hole in the side and the bulkheads. Coole and his men worked in the dark and under hazardous conditions and richly deserved the Mention in Despatches he later received.
The damage and resulting flooding had caused Nestor to settle by the bows and list to port. Scuttles in the lower after mess-deck were lapping the water as the ship rolled.
The other three Ns in the convoy were also under heavy attack. Early in the day, eight 4-engined Focke Wulfs laid a heavy pattern of bombs close to Nizam. At 1030 twelve Stukas dive-bombed the cruiser on the screen nearest to the destroyer. Twentytwo divebombers attacked the old target ship Centurion at 1420.
Shortly after this attack, eight Junkers 88Bs near missed Hermione. Attacks continued unabated until darkness settled on the embattled sea.
The tow was undertaken under hazardous conditions. German aircraft were attacking both ships, attracted no doubt by the helpless position of the vessels. They met a furious barrage from the guns of both destroyers.
The first-class belted cruiser, Australia, of 5,600 tons burden, 8,500hp, 327ft long, 56ft beam, 12 heavy and 22 small guns, with a complement of 461 officers and men (afterwards increased to 499) was commissioned at Chatham on the 19th of November 1889, by Captain Martin J. Dunlop, and left Spithead, under sealed orders, on the 26th of December. Her destination turned out to be St. Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, which was reached on January 7 1890
Influenza broke out on the passage, and as many as 84 were on the sick list at one time.
The people at St. Vincent said the ship had come to take the island, which is a valuable coaling station, as there was a difference between our Government and the Portuguese at this time, and the ship arrived there the day an ultimatum was sent in. No occasion for using force arose, however. The ship left there on the 25th January, arrived at Gibraltar on the 2nd February, and went alongside the Mole.
While there did some torpedo practice and turning trials. The Undaunted having arrived from England, left on the 13th of March, and arrived at Malta on the 17th; remained there until the 7th of June, having alterations made by the dockyard; joined the fleet off Jaffa on the 11th, and cruised with it, visiting Beirut, Larnka, Marmorica. At a steam trial on the 13th, the Australia steamed the other ships out of sight in four hours.
On the 4th of July the fleet separated, and the Australia was left with the Levant, or Second Division, under Rear-Admiral Lord Walter Kerr, and cruised with it until the 9th of December, visiting nearly every anchorage among the Greek Islands and Turkish and Greek coasts, the time in harbour being fully occupied with constant drills, coaling and watering ship, pulling and sailing boats in races and at sea with tactics, gun and torpedo practices.
Ships had to coal from colliers alongside, and there was great competition as to which could do so quickest. The Australia’s crew got in 219 tons in 2¾ hours, and 500 tons in 9¼ hours. On the 28th July, at Phalerum Bay, in the Second Division Regatta, the ship’s boats won six prizes. On the 25th of August the Empress Frederick of Germany visited the ship, inspected the men, and said it was a pleasure to her to be on board a British man-of-war. On the 2nd of September, at Kalamaki, the ship was inspected by Lord Walter Kerr, with very satisfactory results. On the 7th of September, a great fire having occurred at Salonica, and the British Consul’s house burnt down, the ship was detached there to protect British interests.
From the 13th of December 1890 to the 25th of February 1891 was spent at Malta refitting; the ship’s company went through a musketry course and the usual weekly battalion and other drills.
On the 3rd of February the men were reviewed at Corrodino by the Duke of Cambridge; the day was very wet; on the 26th of February, sailed for a short cruise to Syracuse, Catania, Messina, Naples, Castellamare, and Salerno, giving opportunity to see Mount Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii. On the 18th of March the ship stopped off Malta to land seven officers and men, sick with fever, and then ran a full speed trial to Patras and Platea, where a torpedo course was gone through with the Hecla, winding up with a night attack on the Collingwood on the 1st of April.
The ship then joined the Second Division at Salonica, and cruised with it, visiting the same places as on the previous year. On the 22nd of May, at Phalerum Bay, a sad accident happened. William Droudge, a young AB, fell over a cliff, and was killed.
On the 1st of June, at Phalerum Bay, a ball was given by the captain and officers, which was honoured by the presence of their Majesties the King and Queen of Greece, Princess Margaret and Prince Nicholas.
At Thaso Island on the 13th of June, when a seining party was returning, William Collins, AB, fell overboard, and was drowned.
On the 2nd of August the Second Division was suddenly ordered to Alexandria, and remained there until the 14th, the cause of this being that the Sultan of Turkey, backed up by the French, was agitating for England to evacuate Egypt.
Here another accident happened. While going ashore in a native boat to assist in a performance about to be given by the Kangaroo Minstrel Troupe, John Stewart, ERA, and F. Gregory, blacksmith’s mate, were drowned by the capsizing of the boat.
On the 18th of August the ship was back at Salonica, and cruising in the Levant commenced again. The Second Division Regatta was held at Semnos on the 22nd of August, when the Australia’s boats won eight first and two second prizes. In the evening the Minstrel Troupe went away in boats, and serenaded the other ships of the squadron. On the 7th of September, at Port Sigri, Captain Dunlop left the ship to go as captain of the steam reserve at Devonport, and Captain Swinton Holland took over command.
On the 22nd of October the whole fleet assembled at Milo under the new admiral, Sir George Tryon, and cruised until the 11th of November, visiting Kos Island, Budrum, Giova and Arich Bays, Karagatch, Marmarice, and Suda Bay. At Kos had two boat races with the sister ship, Undaunted, with divided honours. At Karagatch, on the 2nd of November, the race in cutters for the Duke of Edinburgh’s cup came off. The Dreadnought won; the Australia was second. Was back at Malta on the 15th of November for annual refit, and remained there until the 12th of March 1892; the last three weeks of that time the ship was under notice to sail in six hours.
THREE HUNDRED MEMBERS and guests witnessed the unveiling of the British Pacific Fleet Memorial at Naval Headquarters, Potts Point, Sydney, on Sunday 2nd December 1973. Rear Admiral G.D. Moore, CBE, who commanded the base when the BPF arrived in February 1945, officiated.
Diplomatic representatives of Britain, New Zealand and India, Federal and State politicians,
representatives of municipal bodies, historical, nautical and ex-service groups were present in the guest list.
The Royal Australian Navy was represented by the Flag Officer Commanding East Australia Area, Rear Admiral W. Dovers, CBE, DSC, and his staff, Vice Admiral Sir John Collins, KBE, CB, Rear Admiral J.S. Mesley, CBE, MVO, DSC, Rear Admiral O.H. Becher, CBE, DSO, DSC and Bar, and officers of the Fleet.
Captain V.C. Merry, DSC, RN, British Defence Liaison Officer, represented the Royal Navy and delivered the messages printed below:
From Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser of North Cape.
It is very fitting that this memorial should be unveiled by Admiral Moore, who was in naval command at Sydney, and whose constant co-operation with that of many other Australians, especially the Lord Mayor of Sydney, was of such value to us. No home was too small to entertain the British sailor and no request for help to Government was ever refused. A striking example of the kindness shown and the trouble taken was the establishment of the British Centre in the middle of Hyde Park. It was a great pleasure to us that we were able in small measure to repay this kindness by using all our aircraft carriers for the repatriation of prisoners of war. Happy memories, grateful thanks and best wishes to you all.
Fraser of North Cape.’
091700 Z No. 73
Message from the First Sea Lord.
‘On the occasion of the unveiling of the memorial to the British Pacific Fleet I would like to congratulate all concerned in this act of recognition of the close links which bound the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Navy in wartime and continue to bind us in peace.
On behalf of the officers and men in the Royal Navy I send my best wishes to you all.’
[Statement by the Minister for the Navy (the Hon. Norman J.O.Makin, M.P.) in the Australian House of Representatives, 2nd March 1945]
THIS RECONSTRUCTION of the Java Sea Battle, and of the subsequent engagement in Sunda Strait in which HMAS Perth was lost, is based on reports compiled by the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board from a variety of sources. The heavy Allied losses in the Java Sea Battle, and the fact that the only Australian ship taking part was sunk a day later, has made the task of compiling the reports long and complicated.
Fortunately, new light has been thrown on the subject by four of the personnel of HMAS Perth who were rescued from a Japanese transport which was torpedoed while en route from Singapore to Japan late last year.
These four are the only personnel of Perth in Allied hands. Their story, coupled with information pieced together from other sources, indicates that the Australian cruiser fought her two last actions with a courage and tenacity worthy of her gallant war career and of the high tradition of the Navy.
Of the Allied force which took part in the Java Sea Battle, the only ships which survived were four American destroyers. It has now been established that Perth herself sustained neither damage nor casualties in that action; but with the United States cruiser Houston she was sunk in the early hours of 1st March 1942 in Sunda Strait.
The Allied ships in the Java Sea Battle totalled two 8-inch gun cruisers (HMS Exeter and USS Houston), one 6-inch cruiser (HMAS Perth), two 5.9-inch Dutch cruisers (HNMS De Ruyter and Java), and nine destroyers (HM Ships Electra, Encounter and Jupiter; US ships John D. Edwards, John D. Ford, Alden and Paul Jones; and HNM Ships Kortenaer and Witte de With).
It has been estimated that the initial Japanese force comprised five cruisers and 13 destroyers. One enemy 8-inch cruiser and one destroyer probably were sunk by gunfire and another 8-inch cruiser and a destroyer were damaged.
On the evening of 26th February, the Allied ships sailed from Sourabaya, under command of Admiral Doorman, RNN, flying his flag in HNMS De Ruyter. Their objective was to intercept a Japanese convoy reported to be approaching north-eastern Java.
One of USS Houston’s gun turrets had already been put out of action by enemy air attack, but she sailed with the remainder of the force, and acquitted herself with distinction in the subsequent engagements with the enemy.
Enemy air attacks on the following morning were unsuccessful, and in the afternoon the Japanese cruisers and destroyers were sighted. The Allied force at once increased speed to engage the enemy, and the 8-inch cruisers of both sides opened fire at 30,000 yards. The light cruisers and destroyers followed suit as soon as range permitted.
Perth’s second salvo hit a Japanese destroyer, and the enemy flotilla retired into a smoke screen. When the smoke cleared, one enemy destroyer was on fire, and she is thought to have sunk. At that stage, too, Perth came under very heavy fire from the rearmost of the Japanese heavy cruisers.
About an hour later, HMS Exeter was damaged by an 8-inch shell, but was furnished with a smoke screen by Perth and destroyers. The Dutch destroyer Witte de With, screening Exeter, beat off a Japanese destroyer, scoring hits with two salvoes.
In the meantime HNMS Kortenaer, torpedoed amidships, broke in two and sank within a few minutes.
The flagship then led the cruisers in an attempt to get behind the enemy and attack his transports, and the Allied destroyers launched a counter-attack.
In bad visibility, HMS Electra probably scored hits with four salvoes on an enemy destroyer; but Electra herself was hit and stopped. Her guns were silenced one by one, and she sank about 6 p.m.
HMAS Perth, emerging through the smoke, was unsuccessfully attacked with torpedoes by enemy destroyers, and then joined issue with a Japanese 8-inch cruiser. The Australian ship’s opening salvoes scored direct hits and subsequent salvoes also found their mark. When her target was last seen she was on fire and stationary, with her bows in the air. She probably sank.
Darkness had fallen when HMS Jupiter was torpedoed on the starboard side. She was immobilised by the attack, and sank about four hours later.
Throughout the night, enemy aircraft shadowed the Allied force. But shortly before midnight Perth had another success when she scored hits with at least two salvoes on an enemy cruiser.
At this stage double disaster met the Allies when HNMS De Ruyter (flagship) and Java were lost – apparently as a result of torpedo attacks.
With the Allied cruiser strength reduced to his own ship and the damaged Houston, and knowing that the enemy still had at least four cruisers and 12 destroyers (besides the force, other than the initial one, which had entered the area) and a strong air reconnaissance, the Commanding Officer of Perth (Captain H. M. L. Waller, DSO, RAN) had no alternative but to order what remained of the striking force to withdraw.
HMS Encounter and the damaged Exeter succeeded in reaching Sourabaya, as had the four American destroyers and the Dutch destroyer Witte de With. Exeter and Encounter sailed from there on the night of 28th February, en route for Colombo, but the last message from them came next morning, when Exeter reported that she had sighted a force of enemy ships.
Witte de With was bombed and sunk in Sourabaya harbour.
Meanwhile Perth and Houston threw off the enemy by a feint, and reached Tandjong Priok (Batavia) on the morning of 28th February.
After embarking fuel and additional firefighting equipment and rafts, as well as 4- inch ammunition, the two ships sailed together that night, to endeavour to pass through the confined waters of Sunda Strait during darkness, en route for Tjilatjap.
About 11.30 p.m. – some three and a half hours after leaving Tandjong Priok – HMAS Perth signalled that she had sighted a destroyer near Sunda Strait. Later she amplified that signal to one cruiser.
That was the last message received from Perth or Houston. From that stage, the story is taken up by the four Perth personnel who have been interrogated.
The action was fought at night, and, naturally, the four survivors’ story is concerned primarily with what happened on board their own ship. It bears out the conclusion which had been drawn by the Naval authorities: that the two ships were sunk in a surface action against numerically superior enemy forces. It also substantiates the assumption originally arrived at by all who know the Navy’s ways: that Perth and Houston sold themselves dearly, and went down fighting to the last.
It was after 11 p.m. when one of Perth’s lookouts reported a dark object on the starboard hand, and a few minutes later the Australian cruiser’s for’ard turrets opened fire.
The action lasted about one and a half hours. The numerical strength of the enemy is indicated by the fact that enemy gunfire came from several bearings, and that at some stages Japanese destroyers passed so close to the cruiser that they could be engaged with machine-guns.
Apart from making the maximum use of her gunfire, Perth was able to fire eight torpedoes during the action; four to port and four to starboard. The exact effect of these could not be gauged, but next morning three enemy transports and one converted aircraft carrier were seen down by the stern and practically beached.
Despite the overwhelming strength of the enemy, Perth was not hit until about 20 minutes after she opened fire. The first shell to strike her passed through her forward funnel and exploded, carrying away a seaboat and doing considerable damage to the port pom-pom and flag deck.
Thereafter she suffered numerous hits, losing her aircraft and its catapult and crane, as well as the starboard pom-pom on the flag deck.
About that time, and with only 10 minutes between them, two torpedoes struck the ship on the starboard side, the second in the forward engine-room.
Some time later, a third torpedo hit was received – this time on the port side, aft.
From the time of the first torpedoing, Perth was hit repeatedly by gunfire from several bearings, and she finally sank at 35 minutes after midnight on the morning of the first of March.
USS Houston is reported to have sunk shortly afterwards.
The fate of Captain Waller is not known. He is reported to have been seen on the bridge, uninjured, after the second torpedo struck the ship. He gave the order: ‘Stand by to abandon ship’; and later: ‘Abandon ship; every man for himself’.
HMAS Perth had a distinguished career in this war. She began her good work in the West Indies and carried it on in the Middle East, where Allied soldiers from Greece and Crete knew and admired her fighting qualities. Captain Waller and his men brought that heritage with them when they went into action in the Java Sea Battle and in the darkness of Sunda Strait. And it was a heritage which they did not betray. In both these actions they left their mark on the enemy, and their ship went down fighting against overwhelming odds.
The rescue of four of Perth’s ship’s company from the Japanese has at last thrown some light on the cruiser’s last heroic action. It is a story of unflagging courage and devotion to duty. Though its end is tragedy, it is a story of which Australia and the Allies may well be proud.
The text of this article consists of extracts from The Battle of Savo Island by Major W. F. M. Clemens, MC. Major Clemens viewed the battle from behind enemy positions on Guadalcanal where he was stationed as a Coastwatcher. The Solomons Battle was to be bitterly contested for almost two years and saw the might of the United States, Australia and Japan expended in a ruthless conflict.
AFTER PEARL HARBOUR, the Japanese had no clear plan other than to extend the arc. Port Moresby was the objective in New Guinea, now to be assaulted from Buna by land, and a new Eighth Fleet, the Outer South Seas Force, was created out of Admiral Inoue’s Fourth Fleet on 12th July, with Headquarters at Rabaul. Command of this Force was given to Rear Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, a man of great experience who had followed Admiral Nagumo’s carriers from Ceylon to Pearl Harbour with supporting battleships. His orders were to protect the Solomon Islands flank. His operational staff officer – Commander Toshikazu Ohmae – had had a look around, and was disturbed at the complacency at Fourth Fleet Headquarters. However, in spite of local difficulties Admiral Mikawa hoisted his flag in Chokai, heavy cruiser, on 26th July. He was given Cru Div 6, four heavy cruisers Aoba, Kinugasa, Furutaka, and Kako, and two light cruisers, Cru Div 18, Tenryu and Vubari, and such destroyers as might be assigned. These continued in short supply owing to the landing operations on the New Guinea coast.
Japanese forces occupied the main islands of the Solomons on 8th June 1942 and commenced building airfields. The Allies reacted by massing a counterforce in New Zealand which assaulted Tulagi and Guadalcanal on 6th-8th August. Admiral Mikawa, based at Rabaul, gathered a striking force at New Britain which immediately sailed for Guadalcanal.
‘We will penetrate south of Savo Island and torpedo the enemy main force at Guadalcanal. Thence we will move toward the forward area at Tulagi and strike with torpedoes and gunfire, after which we will withdraw to the north of Savo Island.‘ The simplicity and audacity of this conception would have commended it to Horatio Nelson. In fact there were similarities to Nelson’s great action at Aboukir Bay. The Japanese ships had never operated together, but night battle doctrine was highly developed in the Japanese Navy, and Mikawa deemed no amplification of his orders necessary. As at Aboukir Bay, each knew how to co-operate with the other and follow the leader as the situation developed.
The silhouettes of Mikawa’s ships had caused derision amongst American sailors. Chokai, with one raked stack nearly meeting a slim one straight behind it, and a cluttered superstructure caused by her ten 8 in. guns in three turrets forward and two aft, 50 calibre weapons of high velocity, six AA guns of 4.7 inches, eight 25 mm and four 13 mm machine guns and eight deadly 24 in. torpedo tubes amidships, also had a triple and 3 in. to 4 in. armour along 410 feet of her sides, and 3 in. armour on her main deck and turrets. All in all a formidable ship. Aoba and Kinugasa, sisters, were finished in 1927, and Kako and Furutaka, also sisters, in 1926. They had twin stacks sharply raked, and six 8 in. guns in twin turrets, two forward and one aft, and, like Chokai, they had eight torpedo tubes amidships. They also had powerful 30 in. searchlights mounted with each group of turrets. These four comprised Cru Div 6 under R/Adm. Arimoto Goto. The Yubari and Tenryu, completed in 1923 and 1918 respectively, could still do 30 knots with their three screws.
The Tenryu had three stacks, all different, while the Yubari had one odd structure with double bends in it. Yubari had six 5.5 in. guns, Tenryu four, and four and six torpedo tubes respectively.
They also had good searchlights fore and aft. The lone destroyer Yunagi, whose name funnily enough meant Evening Calm, was of 1925 vintage, but despite her age she could do 34 knots on four screws. She had four 4.7 in. guns and six torpedo tubes and, of course, two searchlights. The lighter vessels, Cru Div 18, were commanded by Rear Admiral Mitsuhara Maruyama. An odd lot, but no good came of laughing at them.
One need not be an expert naval tactician to observe that Admiral Crutchley had divided his force in such a way as to place each element in a position where it could be struck and annihilated separately. However, he had three channels to guard, and the only thing to do was to block them. However, they were in an ideal position to cross the ‘V’ of the Japanese invading force. All destroyers were equipped with torpedoes but no special orders about their use seem to have been issued. Torpedoes were to be Mikawa’s key weapon.
That the cruiser captains did not prepare seriously for the possibility of enemy surface attack (no orders were issued on this point and guns were all at different states of readiness) was amazing. Two thousand years ago SunTzu, the Chinese military philosopher, had warned ‘In war do not presume that the enemy will not come, prepare to meet him.‘
Our Southern group was on course 310° about 4 miles south of Savo, Canberra leading, Chicago 600 yards astern with Patterson and Bagley about 45° on port and starboard bows respectively. Canberra in second state of readiness had turrets A and X manned, although crews were sleeping close by. All guns were empty and trained fore and aft. One 4 in. was manned on each side. They were doing 12 knots. Blue outside Savo had been picked up at intervals on Canberra’s Type 271 surface warning radar; it had picked up cruisers at 30 miles, but not tonight. Chokai opened fire at 4,500 yards, Aoba at 5,000, and Furutaka at 9,000 with main batteries.
Diaries in any form were disallowed in HMA Ships during World War II but fortunately for history some were kept and many survived. One such diary was kept by C Richardson in HMAS Bendigo and his faithful jottings published in this article tell the story not only of his ship but also the story of the 21st Flotilla.
HMAS BENDIGO was built at Cockatoo Docks in Sydney, and took only a little over two months to complete. She commissioned on the 10th May 1941, after a couple of days of speed trials up and down the harbour. Bendigo was the fifth of this class to be completed and had promise of being the best. Speed was clocked at 15.7 knots, which wasn’t bad, and we had hopes of more to come.
Slipped from the buoy on Friday 16th and proceeded to Melbourne, via Jervis Bay and Westernport Bay, to carry out a short ‘shake down’ cruise. Ship’s company proceeded on seven days’ leave, in two watches, the first leaving 12.6.41 and the latter on the 19.6.41. The ship left Melbourne on 26.6.41 bound for Sydney, arriving there 28.6.41. The crew had settled down excellently and seemed a good mob, although a trifle wild. We spent our last week in Sydney for many months.
The great day arrived, and on the 4th July we proceeded to sea on the first lap of our journey to Singapore, which was no secret.
Arrived at Townsville 9.7.41 after five days of perfect weather. The boys called the ship the ‘fair weather’ ship, and we believed the ship’s cat, Smokey (whom we stole in Melbourne) to be the cause of this. On the 8th, we passed through Whitsunday Passage, the scenery here being unexcelled on the east coast.
Put to sea 11.7.41 after doing up Townsville so that they’ll never forget us. I’ll bet the good citizens heaved a sigh of relief to see the last of us. Arrived at Darwin 17.7.41 still maintaining our reputation for a fair weather ship.
During the afternoon of 13.7.41 we sailed through Albany Pass, or Jardine’s Passage, as it is more commonly called. This is by far the most beautiful spot on the Australian coastline. It is very narrow, the widest place being half a mile, but the water is deep enough for the Queen Mary to pass in safety. There’s a large house just inside the southern entrance, owned by Frank Jardine, a well known identity in these waters.
Nine weeks (weary weeks) we spent in Darwin carrying out various duties, such as minesweeping, patrols, target-towing and invasion manoeuvres. Stored ship on the 22.9.41 and sailed out on the last lap of our journey, arriving in Singapore on 30.9.41 after a calm trip through Dutch East Indies.
Carried out A/S patrols in Johore Straits until 14th November, only getting shore leave while doing a boiler clean. We all like Singapore, a fascinating city of contrasts, and tons of beer. The Union Jack Club is the last word in comfort, and caters for thousands of servicemen at a time.
Sailed up the coast (west coast) to Port Dickson where we had five days rest. Travelled to the capital city, Seremban, by bus, and had a great time. This is in the state of Negri Sembilin, a typical rubber country. Arrived back at Naval Base 20.11.41. 28.11.41 we sailed up the coast again, only further to Port Swettenham where we oiled. This is the seaport for Kuala Lumpur, which is Federal Capital of the Malay States. I may state that the corvettes of this station now number four, Bendigo, Goulburn, Burnie and Maryborough, and known as the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla. On the 29.11.41 we swept ahead of the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse and destroyers Jupiter, Electra, Express and Encounter down to Singapore through Malacca Straits. Arrived in the Naval Base 7.12.41.
Japanese entered the war on 8.12.41, which was my 21st birthday, and they celebrated by raiding us with seven bombers at two and four a.m., killing 60 and wounding 173.
Carried out usual A/S patrols until 11.12.41. On this day we picked up a submarine on the A/S and immediately attacked. A torpedo passed our bows as we stopped, so, altering course, increased speed and dropped depth charges. River gunboat Grasshopper was having fun about two miles away, making lots of noise. We are credited with one Japanese sub. Returned to Naval Base 21.12.41 about 1500. Dutch submarine K13 had an internal explosion (just astern of us) killing four men. Only prompt work on the part of her officers by closing the hatch saved the ship. She was towed out into the stream.
22.12.41. Air raid today lasted two hours.
27.12.41. Slipped and proceeded to sea escorting K13, which can’t submerge. At the southern end of Banka Straits a Dutch destroyer took over for the rest of the trip to Batavia, about 1700 on 29.12.41. Sea is roughening.
30.12.41. Arrived back in Base after a choppy trip. Quite a few of the younger lads sick.
1.1.42. Sirens sounded at 0030 and a short while later 15 twin engined bombers came over and dropped a few tons of noisy death near the big oil tanks and close to the Graving Dock which is about 160 yards from here. Many dud bombs, presumably some of ours taken at Khota Baru.
2.1.42. Slipped and proceeded, heavy seas running. Mines exploding all around us in Johore Straits, thought to have been dropped from Japanese planes. Rather exciting wondering where the next explosion will be.
8.1.42. Big convoy passed, with Hobart.
Old Thunder and Lightning – the Origins of the Queensland Navy
IT WAS A RUSSIAN SCARE in the eighteen seventies that caused the Queensland Government of the day to form a defence plan for the protection of the colony. From the naval point of view a gunboat and a torpedo boat were considered sufficient protection for the Moreton Bay anchorage, whilst a second gunboat was required for the defence of the coast. The protection of the Brisbane River itself was to be by a series of batteries and fixed torpedoes, and it was further recommended that small steamers employed on harbour duties in all ports should be fitted to carry ‘spar’ torpedoes, and to be available for the defence of harbours.
The ‘spar’ torpedo was really an explosive charge fitted on the end of a boom and run out over the bows of the vessel. The charge was fired electrically at will. The instructions to coxswains warned them to wait until they heard the spar ‘crack’ before making the firing circuit. The volunteers for these craft were surely worthy ancestors of the midget submarine crews and the frogmen of our time.
The two gunboats for this Queensland Marine Defence Force were given aboriginal names, Gayundah (Lightning) and Paluma (Thunder). They were built by Sir W. G. Armstrong Mitchell and Co. at Newcastleon- Tyne. It would be a most appropriate and fitting gesture if the names of these pioneer warships, which did such yeoman service in our naval development could be given to the proposed frigates to be purchased in the USA.
We can imagine how different service in these ships must have been, compared with our lot of today. They were 120 feet in length, 26 feet in beam, and drew 9½ feet of water. Their displacement was only 360 tons. Originally they had a ‘turtle back’ forecastle over which an 8 in. BL 12 ton gun fired. (The training arc was only 7½ degrees either side of the fore and aft line.) Aft, a 6 in. BL 4 ton gun capable of training to 10 degrees before the beam, either side, was mounted in a shield. The ‘close range’ weapons consisted of two one and a half inch Nordenfeldt guns, one point 45 5 barrel machine gun; one 1 inch 4 barrel machine gun. Two 25 foot whalers and one 24 foot jolly boat and a dinghy were hoisted in davits. A fighting top was originally fitted on the foremast, but removed at an early date.
They were powered by horizontal, direct action compound engines of 400 IHP, designed for a speed of ten knots. During their trials on the 26th September 1884, both ships made over 10.5 knots, and the guns fired both common shell and chilled shot with ‘every satisfaction.’ The vessels were, in appearance, very similar to the Colony of Victoria’s Albert.
Gayundah arrived at Brisbane on 28th March 1885, having come out from Britain via the Suez Canal. The ships carried light yards, but sail was only used as an auxiliary, and then under most favourable conditions.
It was appreciated by the Queensland Government that the colony could not adequately defend itself without the assistance of the Imperial Squadron, and early arrangements were made for their gunboats to work and train with the Imperial Forces. This arrangement resulted in Paluma being fitted for surveying duties on completion of her trials. A workroom replaced the 8 in. gun forward, and a deck house the 6 in. gun aft. Paluma sailed from the United Kingdom with a RN surveying crew, and as a White Ensign ship. Gayundah, on the other hand, came out as a Queensland gunboat wearing a blue ensign. Negotiations to permit her to work with the Australian squadron and the placing of her at the disposal of Her Majesty continued, and with a letter from Admiral Tryon, Commander in Chief in HMS Nelson, dated September 1886, a ‘warrant to wear a White Ensign‘ was forwarded, the services of the ship having been accepted by the Admiralty.
This decision on the part of the Queensland Government led to the famous cause celebre when Captain Wright’s term of appointment drew to a close. He tentatively arranged for leave and pay in advance prior to relinquishing the command, it being supposed he wished to make arrangements to return to UK However, when he made it known he did not intend to leave the colony at the time, he was advised that in view of the altered circumstances advance of pay would not be made. In due time the Colonial Secretary ‘dismissed‘ Captain Wright, and directed the First Lieutenant to assume command of the ship and stores. Wright was unable to ‘accept‘ such a dismissal, and contended the ship wearing a White Ensign, he held his office by appointment from the Admiralty. The case was turned over by the Admiralty to the Crown Law Officers, who ruled that the acceptance by the Admiralty of the ship, and the placing at the disposal of Her Majesty of HMQ Ship Gayundah did make the officers and crew subject to the Naval Discipline Act. But such a decision in the days of slow communications took a long time, and the Colonial Secretary’s Office, anxious to finalise the matter, directed the Commissioner of Police to proceed on board and remove Captain Wright from his ship. This the Crown Law Officers ruled should have been done through the Admiral Commanding in Chief, and is the incident that has produced the legend of the ‘Forts in the Brisbane River firing on the Flagship to prevent her sailing.‘ At this time Paluma was carrying out surveys in Queensland and Tasmanian waters. Paluma was despatched to examine the Adolphus Channel area, after the loss of the SS Quetta, in 1890. It was reported that in a seaway head-seas broke over her bridge and came down the funnel, causing the stokers great trouble in keeping the boiler fires going.’
The great flood of ’93 was ridden out by Gayundah, but Paluma, (Capt. Pirie, RN) which was undergoing a refit in the Brisbane River, was swept away, and deposited in the Botanical Gardens.
She was in good company, for the SS Elamane and Maida were also caught in the flood and deposited high and dry with her. It is reputed that a contract to refloat Paluma was about to be signed when a second flood enabled her ship’s company, with kedge anchors and with the assistance of the Government steamer Advance, to refloat her.
Gayundah paid off in 1893 and Paluma two years later. From this time both ships were manned as requisite for Easter training of the Naval Brigade. The armaments were modernised during the South African war, a 4.7 in. QF gun being mounted aft in Gayundah, while Paluma took 2 5 in. BL guns forward.
To Gayundah must go the honour of being the first British Man-of-war on the Australia Station to successfully operate wireless telegraphy (1900). Captain Creswell and his staff set up Marconi wireless transmitter and receiving sets at Kangaroo Point, and Gayundah was rigged with a long bamboo foretopmast and worked Kangaroo Point from Moreton Bay.
After Federation, both vessels were retained for service with the Commonwealth Naval Forces, being used mainly as training ships for the Naval Brigades. In 1911 Gayundah continued in the role of training ship when universal training was instituted. She only fired one angry shot in her career when she captured two luggers pearlpoaching in Australian waters and took them into Broome. During World War I her turtleback forecastle was altered, which improved her sea-keeping qualities, and she patrolled in home waters, to be sold out of the Service at the end of hostilities. Paluma was sold to the Melbourne Harbour Trust in 1911 and renamed The Rip. For a time she served blasting at the ‘Rip’ and as the ‘Buoy and Light‘ tender. In December 1948 she was in Westernport checking and replacing buoys and marks for the anticipated arrival of HMS Vanguard. This was practically her last useful service, and with the commissioning of the ex-Australian Minesweeper, Whyalla, converted for similar duty with the Melbourne Harbour Trust, the Rip, ex ‘Paluma,’ was laid up in the Maribyrong River near the Footscray bridge.
In our last issue we featured the first year in the career of HMAS Bendigo. The corvette’s multifarious duties earned the title of ‘Maid of all Tasks’. Between June and December 1942, Bendigo operated in New Guinea waters and, like her sister-ships, bore the brunt of the Japanese drive to the south. This extract from the diary of G. Richardson is the story of all the corvettes.
1.6.42. At anchor in Port Moresby. Yankee freighter Coast Farmer is alongside unloading by nigger labour. Between 1030 and 1100 about 26 Airocobras took off and yellow warning was hoisted. The alarm bells aboard rang, so we closed up at Repel aircraft stations. Four Zeros appeared at a great height and left trails of vapour over the harbour as a guide to the bombers (an old Jap. manoeuvre). Over our heads we saw two Zeros attack a lone Cobra and bring him down in flames. The pilot baled out, but his chute caught fire and he raced his plane down. A rescue launch raced out to pick up the pieces. Suddenly some bright bloke spotted 21 heavy bombers coming in from another angle right over us, and just then they released the bombs. When I recovered enough to crawl out from under my tin hat, I saw the bombs hit all round the wharf, and the freighter came tearing out in a cloud of smoke. If she ain’t hit she oughta be. No, she only had a few small holes and scars on her. The enemy lost six bombers and two Zeros to our loss of two fighters, and of course my ten years growth they scared me out of. This is our first air raid since leaving Java fourteen weeks ago, and the nerves are jittery. Went alongside and oiled and proceeded with our charge at 1730. We are bound for Cairns. Sounds nice!
2.6.42. At sea. Passed the Colac and the Townsville with transports. George Johnson is going to give us a big write-up in the papers. He says he was amazed at our coolness and calmness under fire. (I was so cold that my knees were knocking!) But I’m blowed if I know how he could be watching us, as he was flat on his face with the rest on the bridge. Boy, I miss my daily tot of rum.
3.6.42. Passed through Grafton Passage at 1330 to the Coast Farmer. Headed for Townsville, while we secured alongside at Cairns in the dogs. Sure is a pretty little town entirely surrounded by mountains.
4.6.42. Alongside Cairns. Had a trip up to Kuranda to see the Barron Falls today. Something I reckon I’ll never forget in a lifetime.
5.6.42. Catalinas and Short Empires come and go all day, as this is their base. Ormiston and Dana Nati arrived escorted by the Warrego, who went on to Townsville, poor cows.
6.6.42. Still alongside this home from home called Cairns. I wouldn’t mind living here, never saw so many pretty girls in all my young life.
9.6.42. Finished our boiler clean, worst luck. Slipped at noon and bound for Townsville.
10.6.42. Anchored in Cleveland Bay during the forenoon. Oiled alongside the naval tanker Kurumba then shifted berth alongside the Townsville. There are six corvettes here, surely one is our relief. Bendigo, Ballarat, Cessnock, Colac, Townsville and Warrrnambool.
11.6.42. At 0400 (some time) we slipped and proceeded with a large Liberty ship bound for New Guinea again. There’s a buzz that this is the last trip. Passed through Grafton Passage in the dogs.
12.6.42. At sea, the weather is wicked, we’re rolling badly and a heck of a lot of water is sluishing around the decks. (Oh, the romance of the sea!)
13.6.42. Arrived at Port Moresby about 1730, there always seems to be a haze overhanging this place, and visibility is bad. The freighter tried to go alongside the wharf two or three times, but the strong wind foiled her, so she anchored. We went and oiled and then proceeded out the reef again. The Warrego has been taking transports up past Samarai to Milne Bay.
14.6.42. At sea and she is rough, but we like it!
15.6.42. Made rendezvous with the Warrnambool and her ship about two o’clock and turned around again.
16.6.42. Heading for Port Moresby. We are escorting a Panamanian ship, the Carola, and she’s laden with explosives. The Colac and her charge passed on the skyline about 1600. Hudson bombers are doing a constant day patrol.
17.6.42. Anchored in Port Moresby harbour in the first dogwatch. The Ballarat is now on the Samarai run, and is anchored by Manubada Island. The Macdhui is alongside. She got a direct hit in the forward hold in today’s raid, several men killed.
This article appeared in The Navy and Army Illustrated dated 15th October 1897. The New South Wales Naval Brigade was the least developed of the Colonial Navies for the obvious reason that there was little need for a local naval defence force with the Australian Squadron of the Royal Navy based at Sydney. It developed more as a port defence force than a seagoing navy and was responsible for the manning of garrison artillery. The force had strong connections with the Marine Board (the present day Maritime Services Board), its Commanding Officer being the President of that Board and Harbour Master.
EACH OF THE AUSTRALIAN COLONIES has its own Naval Defence Force, but some have gone in for it more extensively than others, notably, New South Wales and Victoria The latter has a permanent Naval Force of officers and men and the turret-ship Cerberus, two gunboats, and several torpedo boats, besides the training-ship Nelson, an old wooden ‘liner’ cut down. New South Wales has a large partially paid force of the Naval Brigade, and, in addition, a force of Naval Artillery Volunteers. The Sydney Naval Brigade has been in existence for several years, the Naval Artillery Volunteers having been formed later. They have two torpedoboats, built in the Colonies on Thornycroft’s lines, and in 1881, when HMS Nelson relieved the Wolverine as flagship on the Australian station, the latter was sold to the New South Wales Government for the use of their Naval Brigade, but about 1893 she was again sold to a private firm, and the engines taken out of her.
[The accompanying illustrations all refer to the New South Wales Naval Defence Forces.] Captain Hixson, commanding the force, has been for many years in the Colony as harbour master and president of the Marine Board, and was originally in the Royal Navy. Commander Lindeman, who commands the Naval Brigade, was also in the Royal Navy, and retired as a lieutenant in 1871 – he is secretary to the Marine Board of New South Wales. Commander Bosanquet, also late Royal Navy, commands the Artillery Volunteers. The Naval Defence Forces, officers and men, wear the same uniform as the Royal Navy, with the exception of the distinctive lace on the sleeves, which in the volunteers, is in two interwoven wavy lines, and in the brigade has a square instead of a loop above the stripes.
[In the main illustration, crews are shown at their guns in Fort Macquarie, Sydney (one of the old forts named after Governor Macquarie), the officers standing in rear.]
In the group of officers, Captain Hixson is seen in the centre, with four stripes on his arm and gold peak to his cap, also wearing medals. Commander Lindeman is sitting the second on his right. The front row is composed of midshipmen, as shown by the white patches on their collars. With few exceptions these officers are colonial born.
[The next illustration gives one of the many lovely views of Sydney Harbour.] In the foreground is the man-of-war anchorage, the larger vessels, like the Orlando (flagship), lying out on the left, the smaller ones being more in the recess of Farm Cove, the sweep of which is seen on the right. It is hardly possible to conceive, without having experienced it, the pleasure of anchoring in this lovely cove, with the most beautiful gardens all round it, after being storm-tossed in a small craft outside. Bad weather is certainly frequent on the Australian Coast, which enhances the sweetness of Farm Cove; and then, also, after being amongst niggers and foreigners of all sorts, it is an additional charm to see English faces and houses on shore so very close to you. Captain Lindeman is best remembered today by the wines produced in his family’s vineyards. He perpetuated HMS Orlando, in which he served, by promoting the brand name Orlando for his wines.
The Battle of Sunda Strait was won by Japanese destroyers. In no other action in the Pacific War were their destroyers given the opportunity of using the tactics they had practised since the Battle of Tsushima. This account of the battle in which HMAS Perth and USS Houston were lost is a translation of the official Japanese proceedings.
The action began when the destroyer Harukaze sighted two enemy cruisers southeast of Babi Island at 2305. Two minutes later the Allied cruisers commenced firing at the transports on the eastern side of St Nicholas Point. Harukaze promptly laid a very effective smokescreen to cover the transports. Prior to the commencement of the action the destroyer Fubuki, on patrol off Babi Island, had sighted the Allied cruisers, and after making an enemy report had shadowed them for some period.
At 2313 Fubuki observed the Allied cruisers alter course to starboard and one minute later the destroyer fired 9 torpedoes at Houston at the short range of 2,500 metres. While on the same course Fubuki illuminated the two cruisers to port and fired 16 shells; Fubuki observed one torpedo hit and that Houston had reduced speed. In the meantime Perth illuminated the Japanese destroyer and opened fire on her – there were no hits.
At 2315 Admiral Hara ordered all destroyers of the 5th and 11th Squadrons to make an attack. At the same time he ordered the heavy cruisers Mogami and Mikuma, which were escorting a convoy to the north, to join his forces. At 2322 the destroyer Katakaze fired at Perth at a range of 3,500 metres and started a fire. At the same time the destroyer illuminated the cruiser. Perth shot at the destroyer furiously, but no hit was scored. Admiral Hara now ordered the 5th Destroyer Squadron to make a torpedo attack at 2326. Katekaze joined in the attack which was made at 2332 at a range of 10,000 metres. This ended the first phase of the battle.
The 11th Destroyer Squadron approached the Allied cruisers on course 135° and at 2340, in spite of furious Allied gunfire, fired 27 torpedoes (9 each) at a range of 350 – 380 metres. They then laid a smokescreen and retired to the north.
The 5th Destroyer Squadron had also closed the range by 2340. The leader Harukazi was hit, her rudder was damaged and she veered to port and could not fire her torpedoes. The second destroyer Hatekaze lost sight of Perth, having suffered many near-misses. But at 2343 Asakaze fired six torpedoes at Perth at 3,700 metres and then escaped to the north. At the same time as Asakaze fired her torpedoes, the light cruiser Natori (the destroyer flagship) illuminated Perth and opened fire. One minute later Natori fired 4 torpedoes at Perth while on a parallel course to starboard. Admiral Hara in Natori then ordered those destroyers who had fired torpedoes to retire to the north with him under cover of a smokescreen.
The 12th Destroyer Squadron had sighted Perth and Houston at 2336 at a range of 13,000 metres, 15° on starboard bow. At the same time the destroyer Shikinami, which was screening the Japanese heavy cruisers, sighted the Allied cruisers dead ahead. At 2343 Mogami and Mikuma closed in and three minutes later Mikuma catapulted an aircraft for gunnery observation. At 2344 a hit was observed on an Allied cruiser, which returned the fire with their main and secondary armament and machine-guns at Natori and her destroyer. Both Perth and Houston were hit repeatedly and their speeds declined – the two cruisers now separated. Shirayuhu and Harukaze were both hit and each suffered eight casualties.
Third Phase 2346-0032.
Mogami and Mikuma each fired 6 torpedoes at 2349 at a range of 11,200 metres while on a parallel course 110° to the Perth and Hobart, this was near Babi Island. At this time Perth and Houston were firing furiously at the 11th Destroyer Squadron. From 2348 the 5th Squadron, second group, was also under fire. Harakaze (of 5th DS) started a torpedo attack at 2349, but because of near misses this had to be aborted.
At this period the Allied cruisers changed course to starboard. Harakaze rapidly closed the range and at 2356 fired 6 torpedoes at Perth and then retired to the north. Two minutes after firing, a very large waterspout was observed and it was assumed that a hit had been scored on Perth. Two minutes later Hatekaze fired 6 torpedoes at a range of 38,000 metres and then retired.
Mogami and Mikuma began firing at Houston at a range of 11,200 metres at 2352. The heavy cruisers scored hits and set Houston on fire. Her turrets exploded and there was a further reduction in speed. Allied searchlights were very weak and their guns ineffective.
Mikuma had trouble with her main switchboard at 2355 and her entire armament was consequently out of action. Two minutes later Mogami fired 6 torpedoes at Houston.
Five minutes after the trouble with her main switchboard, Mikuma began to bombard Houston at a range of 9,000 metres with illumination and many hits were scored. By this time Perth was on fire and Houston was heeling badly to port with her bows down.
The light cruiser Natori now returned to the scene of the action and opened fire on Houston at midnight at a range of 8,000 metres. Two minutes later the Japanese cruiser ceased fire because the Houston was covered by smoke. The 12th Destroyer Squadron, which had not yet been involved in the battle, closed in at about midnight and the destroyer Murakumo opened fire on Perth, which by then was out of control. About the same time two Japanese destroyers fired 9 torpedoes each at both ships and hits were seen. It was observed that Houston was in trouble with manoeuvring and the destroyer Shikinami had a damaged screw caused by a near-miss.
Fourth Phase 0008 – 0036.
At 0005 Admiral Hara had requested the time required for the Japanese destroyers to reload their torpedo-tubes. But at this time Perth was already sinking. At this time Perth was sighted by the Japanese heavy cruisers on course 090°, who opened fire at 7,300 metres. Perth sank at 0012+ and the Japanese ceased fire.
A history of HMAS Perth will be published by the Society in 1976 in its series ‘Ships of the Royal Australian Navy‘. A short biography of Captain H. Waller by Commander P.O.L. Owens was published in the Society’s journal ‘Naval Historical Review’ in 1972.
The Japanese times shown in this account do not correspond to Allied times quoted in the battle and HMAS Hobart did not participate in the Battle of Sunda Strait. Japanese losses are shown as much lighter than shown in Allied accounts of the battle.
The Cape Leeuwin was built by Cockatoo Docks & Engineering Co. in 1925 for the lighthouse service. Commissioned in 1943 she served in New Guinea and the Philippines. She was paid off in 1963 and acquired by Asiatic owners and renamed Ruby.
UNLESS SOMETHING UNFORESEEN HAPPENS it would appear that the grand old ship SS Cape Leeuwin has completed her last itinerary for this Service. It is therefore most appropriate that at least a brief mention of her most important and dangerous yet least known activities appear in these pages at this time.
Most if not all of our readers know of the part played by the Cape Leeuwin in the preservation and safety of life at sea since the 1920s, but how few realise that during the darkest days of World War II she rose to her greatest heights as HMAS Cape Leeuwin. What you are about to read is by no means the complete story of HMAS Cape Leeuwin, but the following account of a few incidents which are quite authentic has been compiled from ‘Smoko’ recollections heard from members of her crew from time to time.
Her main role was the important mission of the restoration of navigational aids to assist allied warship commanders in the island to island campaign during the general retreat of the enemy forces. For these measures to be fully effective it was necessary for the Cape Leeuwin to operate close to the scene of activities, mostly unescorted. During similar service her American counterpart was severely damaged. In activities of this type it will be realised that the front is fluid and whether the vessels contacted were Allied or enemy was anybody’s guess.
On one such occasion whilst on her way to Mindanao, in the Philippines, after rounding a headland, imagine the excitement when a destroyer was reported approaching at speed from the opposite direction. The Leeuwin was very lightly armed, mainly antiaircraft, but with her crew at action stations and after what seemed to be an eternity, the vessel was identified as an American. The destroyer manoeuvred alongside and her Captain inquired the Leeuwin’s destination. On being informed, he voiced his own opinion of the idea, but our Skipper-Captain Buxton, said those were his orders, so the American vessel turned about and acted as escort.
Later a light was to be re-established on what is understood to be Siargoa Is. and on arrival no definite advice was to hand indicating that the island was actually in Allied hands. After some delay a party proceeded ashore and the job of restoring the light began. To give further indication to the close proximity of enemy forces, whilst the job was in progress the shore party observed Allied aircraft circling and then peeling off and strafing nearby islands. Shortly afterwards, to their surprise the circling aircraft dived and strafed them. It is believed that new records were established in descent and taking to the bush.
A second attempt to work on the light brought about a repetition of the strafing and not until the Allied Forces were contacted and convinced that the shore party was quite friendly was the work able to be completed.
At Manila, after having done considerable work in a bomb-damaged building erecting a navigation aid, the work party was stopped on leaving by a surprised Allied Military Policeman. He demanded to know what was going on and after being informed, it was then the work party’s turn to be surprised when informed that they had been working on top of an unexploded bomb.
Whilst in harbour in the Leyte area the Leeuwin had perhaps her narrowest escape. The harbour was crowded with all types of Allied shipping which were subjected to a heavy bombing attack. A plane actually passed low over the ship and crashed into motor torpedo boats nearby, causing great damage. One bomb landed close to the Leeuwin’s stern and lifted the ship literally out of the water, but to the relief of the crew she came down in one piece.
Midshipman Murmin was an officer of the NSW Naval Brigade contingent which sailed in the troopship, Salamis, for China on 8th August 1900. The Australians arrived too late to become engaged in the fighting but shared with the International Force in China the duties of policing the ravaged countryside. Murmin, on his return to Australia in April 1901, resigned from the Naval Brigade and saw service with the British Army in South Africa. This extract covers the journey from Tientsin to Pekin.
Wednesday 10th October 1900.
Left hospital at 9.30 am for lighter to Pekin and had our things put on the lighter and then had to wait till 12.30 before we left, as all the stores were not yet on the lighters. In the meantime the Brigade had marched in from camp and when they arrived lined up in front of the pier, they were then inspected by Vice Admiral Seymour, Commander in Chief of the China Station. The Brigade marched off at 12.00 as they were going to march all the way, meeting the lighters every night and bivouacking for the night, while the sick went in a lighter.
The river presented a scene of confusion and was crowded with junks going up and down and each flying the flag of the nation to whom they belonged. On one side of the river were thousands of bags of white stuff that looked like rice and which belonged to the Russians. We then passed through a pontoon bridge consisting of 8 punts and which had to be frequently opened to allow boats to pass through. We made very slow progress as three Chinamen on shore towed us and three more dug boathooks into the mud and shoved us along. We passed about 500 coolies in charge of 4 French soldiers and they were carrying bricks, each man had five on his shoulder, and they walked in pairs, making a long line. We came to another bridge and had to wait an hour all but 5 minutes before we got through.
I got ashore and had a look at a railway station nearby, and saw about 50 cars that had been shelled, and of most of them only the axles wheels and springs remained, the wood having been burnt off. Passing up the river we passed numerous Chinese villages and a very strong fort held at present by the Japanese, and from the river we could see 15 guns. We next passed the ruins of a cathedral, which had been a very fine building but was now in a state of ruin. The next fort we passed was also a strong one and was held by the Russians who when we passed were watering a lot of horses. I served out the men’s blankets at 5.00 and posted sentries for the night. We saw the Brigade who passed us at dark but we could just see a body moving and heard them singing. We anchored at 8 p.m. and seeing, no-sign of the main body we turned in, but got very little sleep as it was very cold and draughty.
Thursday 11th October 1900.
Turned out at 4 am and got under way and after having gone about ¼ of a mile we met one of our own junks that had been left with some bread and water for us. We then went on and after passing a Japanese camp we saw the remainder of the junks anchored at Peitsang and we hove-to and went onboard the mess junk for breakfast. Just as we commenced breakfast the Brigade marched up, having lost their way the day before and marched about 9 miles out of their way. We served out fresh meat to the men and remained at Peitsang till Friday morning. Two Indian officers (English but with Sikhs) dined with us and another passed with about 70 Sikhs while we were at dinner.
I joined the Brigade and we marched off at 7.30. We passed through several villages and cotton fields and after marching 14 miles through very pretty country arrived Yangtsen at 2 p.m. and had dinner. There was a party of Sikhs and then a regiment of Americans camped there. We bought some provisions from the American Commissariat and got some very nice tinned fruits. As the junks did not arrive till late at night, we had to sleep ashore and two of us shared one blanket, and found it very cold!
ON THE 25TH APRIL 1915 ANZAC troops stormed ashore at Gallipoli – and established a new tradition.
The objective of that operation was to force Turkey out of the war, establish a short supply route to Russia and speed up the collapse of the German-Austrian-Turkish Alliance.
North of Gallipoli lay the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. We are all familiar with the Gallipoli Campaign, but there is little knowledge of what went on in the Black Sea, either in the West or even in Soviet literature. The material for this article was taken in large parts from the writings of the former Imperial Russian Navy Officers, published in the West. I believe there are some lessons to be learned from what went on in the Black Sea.
In the X-XII centuries the Black Sea (BS) was the scene of lively trade and fighting between Byzantium and the Russians. A product of this love-hate relationship was the adoption by the Russians of the Greek Orthodox faith.
Following the conquest of the Russians by the hordes of Genghis Khan, and later, conquest of the Byzantines by the Turks, the Black Sea became a Turkish lake. In the XVII Century Russian expansion reached the Black Sea again and from the Battle of Kewakeur in 1720 until the Crimean War the Black Sea was almost a Russian lake. After this war it became once again a Turkish lake, as the Treaty of Paris barred Russia from having a Navy in the Black Sea. Russia unilaterally abrogated this treaty clause during the war with Turkey in 1877. This Russian act was not recognised by France or Britain.
The Black Sea Fleet was re-established and maintained at a level to give it a slight advantage over the Turks – but no more than that. This fleet was confined to the Black Sea as it could not pass the straits. This led to a very much resented inactivity during the War with Japan in 1904 and the morale problem that this created culminated in the well-known mutiny in the battleship Potemkin.
The great dreadnought building race added to the problems of the Black Sea Fleet. Russian ships had to be built on that sea, yet Turkey had ordered two Dreadnoughts in Britain. – the Rashadieh of 22,780 tons (10 x 13.5”) and Sultan Osman I of 27,500 tons armed with no less than 14 x 12” guns. In response the Russian Duma authorised the construction of four Dreadnoughts on the Black Sea.
There were, however, no shipyards capable of building them. In 1912 two keels were laid down in a paddock near Nikilayev and the construction of the ships progressed alongside the construction of the shipyard.
Lesson No. 1: Where there is a will there is a way.
In our September, 1976 issue we featured an article entitled ‘North of Gallipoli’ in which the author, Commander George Nekrasov, wrote of the relatively unknown operations of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the effects on Allied strategy at the time. During the same period Acting Sub Lieutenant G.D. Moore was serving in HMS Defence south of Gallipoli. Here are his recollections of those operations.
IN 1914 I WAS SERVING in HMS Defence, flagship of Rear Admiral E.R.T. Troughbridge commanding the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet, and I had been promoted to Acting Sub-Lieutenant on 1st July – a month before the outbreak of World War II. I mention these details to indicate to readers that not only did these events occur some 62 years ago and I write entirely from memory, but also that I was a very junior officer, so I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of some of the remarks.
The Mediterranean Fleet, under the command of Admiral Sir Archibald Berkley Milne flying his flag in HMS Inflexible, consisted of 3 battle cruisers, 4 armoured cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers.
On the outbreak of war our main concern was to track down the German ships Goeben, battle cruiser and Breslau, light cruiser. In those days of course there were no aircraft carriers and we were dependent on sighting the enemy from our ships or receiving information from our intelligence system.
The first news we got of the whereabouts of the Goeben was the report that she had bombarded Bone, east of Algiers and the next, when our light cruiser Gloucester sighted the two German vessels coaling at Messina. It was then considered they would attempt to reach the Austrian naval base at the head of the Adriatic near Fiume.
To counter this move our Squadron of four cruisers, Defence, Warrior, Black Prince and Duke Of Edinburgh, steamed back and forth across the southern end of the Adriatic when Gloucester reported the Germans had sailed on an easterly course and had passed Cape Matapan and eventually that they had entered the Dardanelles.
We hastened after them and set up a patrol to ensure they could not again enter the Mediterranean. We used to anchor by day off Mudros and patrolled by night off the entrance to the Dardanelles.
There was quite a gathering of warships and colliers at Mudros and of course in those days they were all coal burners.
Shortly after our arrival an enemy aircraft flew low over our anchorage and the two uniformed officers in the open cockpit could be seen examining us through binoculars. There was not an anti-aircraft gun in the Fleet and the aircraft flew just out of range of our rifles and machineguns. It was a most frustrating experience. As a result of this visit a signal was hastily sent to Malta requesting that a 12 pounder with a high angle mounting be sent to us by the next collier.
The day came when the gun arrived and there was great jubilation. The Gunnery Department set about rigging it and when the work was almost completed it was discovered that all the bits and pieces were there except the breech block. So the aircraft continued to enjoy its daily unopposed flight while we below gnashed our teeth with impotence.
It was yet one more example of our unpreparedness for a modern war.
Unfortunately, we did not remain at Mudros until the impertinent aviators received their just deserts. Defence was shortly afterwards ordered to Malta where Admiral Troughbridge left us, then as a private ship (sailing under independent command) we sailed on a southerly course under orders to join Admiral Stoddart’s Squadron of Good Hope and Monmouth off the west coast of South America. We had only reached Montevideo when the Battle of Coronel was fought. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank the Good Hope and Monmouth but that is another story.
In a previous issue of Naval Historical Review we published an article on the guns of Singapore and their ultimate fate. Mr. Bogart, a United States member of the Society, has forwarded this report obtained from Japanese sources.
BETWEEN 7TH AND 12TH APRIL 1942 Lieutenant Colonel Masataka Numaguchi of Japanese Army Technical Headquarters and Major Katsuji Akiyama of the Japanese Heavy Artillery School toured Singapore to report on captured weapons.
Their report was translated by the US Army as Japanese Monograph No. 68, ‘Report on Installations and Captured Weapons, Java and Singapore’. Extracts from the monograph are quoted below.
‘The condition of four 15 inch guns, six 9.2 inch guns, sixteen 6 inch guns, three 12 pounder guns and eight 6 pounder dual mounted guns is hopeless. The parts of these guns that can be used as spare parts will be saved while the remaining parts will be scrapped. Total available steel, approximately 3,300 tons.
One 15 inch gun (Buena Vista Battery). A careful test will be conducted to determine whether the shell at present in the tube will slide back by its own dead weight by elevating the barrel gradually. Should this method of extraction be unsuccessful, an attempt will be made to fire the shell with a decreased base charge (¾ of that employed by the British) after carefully checking the breech block.
Before doing this, the condition of all parts of the gun, especially the recoil buffer and the counter recoil, will be thoroughly inspected. If the damage to the motive power mechanism is slight, the piece will be cleared, inspected, and repaired by specialists and tested without delay.
Power Plants for guns: There are three 15 inch guns in Johore Fort. The power room for the control tower is flooded and cannot be restored.
However, the powerhouse for the right turret is in perfect condition, while that of the left gun turret has suffered only minor damage.
The power room of the 15 inch guns in Buena Vista Battery is slightly damaged.
The 15 inch guns were Navy guns manufactured in 1903 and 1919, but installed only recently.
As the principal aim is to establish defence against enemy submarines in the Singapore Harbour anchorage, the main position of the fortified zone established by the British Army will be abandoned and a new zone will be set up around the anchorage. This will constitute an area enclosed by a line through Merbau, Bokum and Tembakul Islands.
Batteries consisting of two to four 6 inch (150 mm) guns will be established on Merbau, Bakum and Tembakul Islands respectively and sonars will be installed in the principal channels and outside the line of the islands. Furthermore, sub-chasers will be assigned to escort our ships and to prevent enemy submarines from entering the anchorage. The Buena Vista 15 inch (380 mm) and the Siloso 12 pounder gun batteries will be completed in order to extend the control beyond the harbour and into the anchorage…
The 15 inch (380 mm) guns in Buena Vista Battery and the 12 pounder guns in Siloso Battery will be used in the same positions after being repaired. These batteries will use the present observation posts and will be equipped temporarily with Type 89 battery telescopes.
From this report it would appear that the Japanese scrapped four of the 15 inch guns. Depending on the success of repairs recommended it would seem that the fifth gun was scrapped early, in the war or was disposed of by the Allies after the cessation of hostilities.
WHEN OUR COMMONWEALTH was proclaimed in 1901, submarines were about to begin appearing in the Royal Navy, where their introduction had been opposed for a long time. Captain Creswell, the new Director of Commonwealth Naval Forces, was very much against them, and up until 1906 his view prevailed in Australia.
In 1907, however, the Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, attended a colonial conference in London, and came home convinced that the submarine was not only a potent weapon but also one that was suitable for Australia. He proposed buying three a year, plus two torpedo boats, for three years.
By the next year Deakin was replaced by Andrew Fisher, and the new government shelved Deakin’s idea and ordered three Torpedo Boat Destroyers instead.
In 1909, the German Navy’s growth began causing increasing concern, and the Admiralty came up with a proposal for an Australian Fleet, of a battle cruiser, three light cruisers, six destroyers and three submarines. These three proposed submarines were to be the fairly small ‘C’ class, but later it was decided that two ‘E’ class, which were twice the size of the ‘C’s’ would suit our conditions better, and late in 1910 tenders were accepted for the construction, at Barrow-in-Furness, of AE1 and AE2 (the ‘A’ being for Australia).
These ‘E’ class were the latest type, of 725 tons displacement on the surface and 810 tons submerged. With five 18 inch torpedo tubes, (2 bow, 2 beam, 1 stern) and developing 1,750 horse-power from two 8-cylinder diesel engines, they could do 15 knots on the surface and 10 knots submerged. They were 176 feet long, had a beam of 22½ feet, and cost £105,000 each.
Early in 1914 they were finished, and they were both commissioned on 28th February 1914, when they immediately prepared for the long hazardous voyage to Australia. They sailed from Portsmouth only two days later, on 2nd March, and they reached Sydney on Empire Day (24th May), each manned by three RN officers and a crew of about 30 mixed English and Australian ratings.
I haven’t yet mentioned much about AE2′s officers, but here I’d like to bring them into the story. The Captain was Lieutenant Commander Henry Hugh Gordon Dacre Stoker (and I must say that he is one of the few people I know with the same Christian name as myself, Dacre; in fact he has two of my names, Dacre and Henry!) He was at that time just about to turn thirty.
The First Lieutenant was Lieutenant Geoffrey Arthur Gordon Haggard, three years younger than Stoker, nephew of Rider Haggard, and later to be my wife’s father. The third hand was Sub-Lieutenant John Pitt Cary.
The Captain, Lieutenant Commander Stoker, later wrote a book about his life in general, and his time in command of AE2 in particular. It was called Straws in the Wind, and he gave one of two original manuscripts to his ex-First Lieutenant, whose son, Geoffrey Haggard, my brother-in-law, now owns it. I shall unashamedly quote from it from time to time.
Perhaps as a sample of his style, I’ll quote two passages from the part describing the original trip to Australia:
‘On then from Colombo, with the beautifully calm weather still holding. The nights, with their starlit sky, dead smooth sea, and phosphorescent water swishing musically by, used greatly to affect our red-haired, but sentimental, Sub-Lieutenant; every evening, on coming on deck to smoke an after dinner pipe, he would lean on the rails, look around, and deliver himself of the same remark: ‘This is a night on which every woman wishes to be loved’. Such great thoughts lose their value when in a submarine one thousand miles from the nearest point of land.’
WHEN THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER1 emerged from the 1914-18 war as a major weapon of war, it was inevitable that the Royal Australian Navy – with the largest island continent in the world to protect – would seek to acquire such a ship for service in Australasian waters.
The RAN first initiated plans for a naval air service in 1913 and, as early as 1917, a move was made to obtain Australia’s first aircraft carrier. With the incursion into the Pacific of the German raiders SMS Wolf - with her Friedrichshafen FF33E seaplane Wolfchen (or Wolf Cub) – and Seeadler, the Australian Naval Board requested the loan of a similar carrier to HMS Riviera. The Admiralty replied, however, that this ‘was not possible in the circumstances‘. In fact, carriers were in such demand at the time that the Royal Navy had taken over an Australian mail steamer, SS Nairana, which was being built in the United Kingdom for the Bass Strait run between Melbourne and Launceston, and converted it into a light aircraft carrier which was commissioned as HMS Nairana in September 1917.
During the same year aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service began operating aboard Australian warships serving with the RN. HMAS Brisbane first embarked a Sopwith Baby seaplane in mid-1917 and, in December, Sopwith Pups were launched from HMA Ships Sydney and Australia. During 1918 Australia was equipped with a Sopwith 1½ Strutter and a Camel – or, sometimes, two Camels – and Sydney and Melbourne each carried a Camel. When the war ended on November 11 1918, plans for a Royal Australian Naval Air Service were still in abeyance, and the Australian warships returned their aircraft to the Royal Air Force in 1919, before sailing for home waters.
The post-war period brought a cut in defence spending, and it appeared that many years would pass before Australia could afford to purchase an aircraft carrier. As an interim move, HMAS Australia embarked an Avro 504L seaplane, HL3034, in July 1920, for two months, and a second 504L seaplane, H3042, joined HMAS Melbourne on September 29 for a Pacific cruise to New Guinea and Rabaul. These experiments were not a success however, and the two aircraft were returned to the Australian Air Corps, and were renumbered A3-47 and 48 in 1921.
Plans for a naval air service received a further setback in September 1920, when the Federal Government decided to establish an autonomous air force which would, inter alia, provide support for the army and navy. In the event, approval was given for a squadron of ‘ship’s aeroplanes’ and, in 1921, six Fairey HID seaplanes were ordered for co-operation with the RAN. They were initially allocated Australian Naval Aircraft serial numbers, ANA-1 to 6, but were renumbered A10-1 to 6 after the Royal Australian Air Force was formed in 1921.
In May 1923, the RAN instituted a special branch of observers, whereby selected navigators underwent a three months course at RAAF Point Cook flying in Avro 504K trainers and Fairey HID seaplanes. The latter aircraft also participated in fleet exercises, but worked mainly with the sloop HMAS Geranium surveying the Great Barrier Reef. One HID accompanied Geranium in 1924, and two IIIDs operated from shore bases with the sloop for the 1925 season. As the latter year began, it seemed likely that naval aviation would remain in the doldrums for some time to come, but within six months the situation changed dramatically.
In the first instance, three RAN lieutenants started a four year pilot training course at RAAF Point Cook. Six months later the formation of the RAN Fleet Air Arm was promulgated by the Navy Order 137-16, June 1925. Then, on June 10, came the surprise defence announcement of the year. While opening Federal Parliament the Governor-General, Lord Stonehaven, revealed that the Government had decided to purchase ‘a seaplane carrier,’ and added that provision had been made for ‘the aeroplanes and necessary amphibians to equip the seaplane carrier.’
Proof that this untoward announcement came as a shock – particularly in defence quarters – is contained in the forthcoming autobiography of Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams (this important work is being published by the Australian War Memorial, and Sir Richard and the AWM kindly granted permission to quote selected extracts), ‘In 1926 . . . I read in the Press one morning that on the previous day the Government had placed a contract with a dockyard in Sydney for the construction of a seaplane carrier to be known as HMAS Albatross,’ recalls Sir Richard. ‘I had heard nothing of this from the Navy so I sought confirmation of it from the Minister, and when I asked him who was to supply the aircraft he said ‘You will’. He had not mentioned the matter to me previously. This was an extraordinary position.‘
The Government’s announcement also caused embarrassment to the RAN because, apparently, an aircraft carrier specification had not been prepared. This confused situation resulted in a cryptic cable being received by the Admiralty Director of Naval Construction which stated, in effect, that it was politically desirable to built a ‘seaplane carrier’ in Australia. The cable then provided the two only known specifications – a speed of 21 knots and a cost of one million pounds! The Naval Constructor in charge of the Admiralty’s Aircraft Section is on record as retorting – ‘a more unsatisfactory way of producing an aircraft carrier I do not know, and I cannot imagine.’
What then brought about this political decision that, to all intents and purposes, ignored the two services involved – the RAAF and the RAN? It all began in February 1924 when the British Government informed the Dominions that, for the time being, no further expenditure would be incurred on the Singapore Naval Base. This decision particularly affected the political defence planning of Australia and, as a result, a naval expansion program was immediately initiated.
On June 27 1924, the Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, announced plans to purchase two 10,000 ton cruisers, and two ocean-going submarines. The Labor Opposition argued that the cruisers should be built in Australia to assist the local shipbuilding industry, as Cockatoo Island Dockyard was about to close down through lack of work. The construction of the cruisers excited a nation-wide controversy and, after prolonged investigations, the Government ordered the two warships from Great Britain, thereby saving more than one million pounds. This money was then used to keep Cockatoo Island Dockyard employed, thus appeasing the Opposition and the public and relieving the shipbuilding depression. So it came about that one million pounds was allotted for the local construction of an aircraft carrier which, the politicians argued, was required to offset the carriers being introduced into the Pacific area by Japan.
Australia’s so-called ‘seaplane carrier’ necessitated much original thought as the design of such a ship had never before been planned from the drawing board stage. The early seaplane carriers of the RN had been improvised versions of ships laid down for other purposes. ‘You can say that the hull was designed around three holds, three cranes, and 21 knots,’ wrote the designer of Albatross, Constructor Stephen Payne, some years later.
Payne had the assistance of a young naval architect, Mr. Woolnough, who was attached to Australia House, London. Woolnough attended the weekly meetings at the Admiralty and, presumably, obtained the necessary information, piecemeal, from Australia as the design progressed. He, at least, ascertained that Albatross would be required to carry a maximum of nine aircraft, although it is not certain what type of aircraft was nominated. It would appear that the designer assumed that the Fairey IIIDs in Australia were the ‘seaplane carried’. At any rate, the dimensions of the aircraft deck hatch and hangars provided sufficient space to operate the IIIDs with their wings folded. The cranes also had the capacity to cope with the all-up-weight of the IIIDs. In fact, Janes Fighting Ships, from 1929 to 1934, annually reported that ‘at present 6 Fairey machines are carried’ aboard Albatross – despite the fact that the last Fairey IIID had been phased out of RAAF service in 1929.
Another error has been perpetrated over the years by the assumption that Supermarine Seagull III amphibians were specially acquired for Albatross. Although six of these aircraft were ordered in 1925, they were purchased to replace the Fairey IIIDs in the Seaplane Training Flight, and for survey work in northern waters. This is borne out in Sir Richard Williams’ memoirs, and substantiated in a statement made by the Minister for Defence, Sir Neville Howse, on July 1 1926: ‘. . .as amphibians were urgently required for training personnel for the seaplane carrier now under construction, and for use this season on the Barrier Reef survey, Seagulls, being the best amphibian types available, were ordered. This number, however, six, was limited to those which would definitely be used up in training, it being anticipated that improved types would be available when the time arrives to order aircraft for the seaplane carrier.‘
To accommodate nine of these unknown ‘improved types,’ Albatross was designed with a high freeboard, which contained three holds, or hangars. Each hold contained space to store three aircraft, of similar measurements to the IIID. Three cranes were positioned on the aircraft deck, above the holds, for hoisting aircraft up from the aft hangar, lowering them over the side for take-off, retrieving them after landing alongside, and returning them to the hangars below deck. Provision was also made in the bow for the installation , at a later date, of a catapult for launching aircraft that were strengthened for this purpose. Of necessity, the ship’s bridge, machinery, crew quarters, and boats were placed aft. Plates and sections were despatched from England to Australia, and the keel of Albatross was laid down at Cockatoo Island Dockyard on April 16 1926.
During the same month the six Seagull III amphibians, A9-1 to 6, arrived by ship in Australia and were erected and tested at RAAF Point Cook. On July 1 the Seagulls were allotted to the newly formed No. 101 (Fleet Co-operation) Flight and, a few months later, the flight moved to RAAF Richmond under the command of Flight Lieutenant A. E. Hempel. The Fairey IIIDs still in service remained at Point Cook as seaplane trainers.
While Albatross was under construction from 1926 to 1928, No. 101 (Fleet Co-operation) Flight moved to Bowen, Queensland, where a coastal base was established for the Seagull IIIs to work with the survey ship, HMAS Moresby, on the Great Barrier Reef project until late 1928. Meanwhile, three ex-RAAF Seagull IIIs were acquired in 1927, and renumbered A9-7 to 9. Reporting their arrival at Point Cook in January, Aircraft added that ‘. . . it is still a little early to talk about equipment for the aircraft carrier which is now being built at Cockatoo Dock, NSW.‘ With the extra Seagulls in service, the RAAF extended survey flying to New Guinea in late 1927.
On Thursday, February 23 1928 – the day after H. J. L. (Bert) Hinkler, completed the first solo flight from England to Australia in Avro 58 IE Avian, G-EBOV – Australia’s first aircraft carrier was launched at Cockatoo Island Dockyard by the Governor-General’s wife. ‘I name this ship Albatross,’ declared Lady Stonehaven. ‘I am proud that she is the result of Australian workmanship, and I congratulate those who have so faithfully and skilfully constructed her. May she prove a valuable addition to the Royal Australian Navy.’ The Sydney Mail reported that ‘Albatross glided down the ways in stately fashion to the accompaniment of cheers by the large crowd of spectators, and the strains of Advance Australia Fair played by the Naval Band.‘ During the speeches, the Chairman of the Commonwealth Shipping Board, Mr. Larkin, observed that ‘one and all hoped that the seaplane carrier would have a peaceful life, and would never have to be used in warfare‘ – a hope, unfortunately, that did not eventuate.
The previous month, January 1928, Cabinet decided not to approve authority for the continuation of the RAN FAA, thus negating the decision made in 1925. It was decided, instead, that the RAAF would provide the aircraft, pilots, and maintenance personnel for the new carrier, and the RAN the observers and telegraphists. Naval officers, however, could train as pilots for RAAF service if circumstances permitted – although this was also discontinued in the 1930s. In the event the Navy was given operational control of embarked RAAF aircraft, a system that remained in force until 1944.
Albatross, the twelfth ship of the name, was completed in December 1928. On her trials, during the same month, she exceeded the required speed of 21 knots, and 22.5 knots was attained with 12,910 h.p. The ship’s machinery comprised Parsons geared turbines with two shafts, the designed horsepower being 12,000, and four Yarrow boilers were installed. Dimensions included a length of 443¾ ft., a beam of 60 ft., and a draught of 16¼ ft. Standard displacement was 4,800 tons. Armament comprised four 4.7 inch anti-aircraft guns, and two 2 pdr pom-pom guns. The ship’s complement numbered 450, including six officers and 24 other ranks from the RAAF.
HMAS Albatross commissioned at Sydney on January 23 1929 under the command of Captain D. M. T. Bedford, R.N. A month later the carrier positioned at Port Phillip where aircraft stores, and personnel, of No. 101 (Fleet co-operation) Flight embarked on February 21. On the 25th, six Seagull IIIs were hoisted aboard at Geelong – and, more than one RAAF officer heaved a sigh of relief to see the folded-wing aircraft lowered through the 41ft. x 20ft. hatch and into the hangars, albeit the fit was close! By coincidence, the Fairey IIID (span 46 ft. 11¼ in, length 37 ft., height 11 ft. 4 in.), and the Seagull III (span 46 ft., length 37 ft., height 12 ft.) possessed almost the same dimensions, particularly when their wings were folded.
No sooner had Albatross joined the Fleet than she was called upon to assist in the search for Kingsford Smith’s Southern Cross, G-AUSU, lost near Wyndham on March 31 1929. As the days slipped by with no trace being found of the Fokker F.VIIb-3m, the Minister for Defence, Sir William Glasgow, ordered HMAS Albatross, and her Seagulls, to proceed from Sydney with all possible speed to Wyndham. The entire crew of the carrier was recalled from leave, and Albatross sailed on April 11 for her dash to the west. Shortly after her departure, however, Captain L. H. Holden in the DH61 Canberra, G-AUHW, located the Southern Cross on April 12, and Albatross was ordered back to Sydney.
Working up exercises for HMAS Albatross were carried out in Australian waters where the carrier, and her aircraft, operated as a reconnaissance element for the new 10,000 ton cruisers HMA Ships Australia and Canberra, which at that time did not carry aircraft. In June 1929, combined manoeuvres took place with the Royal New Zealand cruisers Dunedin and Diomede. Rear-Admiral E. Evans (later Admiral Lord Mountevans), commanding Australian Squadron, was most impressed with the performance of Albatross and her aircraft. So much so, that during the concluding sports regatta at Hervey Bay, north of Brisbane, he gave permission for a special race for the Seagulls. The event was decided on a time basis, and the amphibians roared around the course at low level in full view of the RAN and RNZN ships anchored in the bay. As Lieutenant-Commander G. W. R. Nicholl, RN, remarked in his book The Supermarine Walrus, ‘. . . it is difficult to imagine Their Lordships of the time approving a similar contest in the Royal Navy!‘
In July and August Albatross made a vice-regal tour of the New Guinea area with Lord and Lady Stonehaven. In addition to her Seagulls, Albatross embarked the Wackett Widgeon II for tropic trials. Meanwhile, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Commodore R. Williams, had already initiated action to replace the wooden-hulled Seagull IIIs in Albatross. ‘I obtained the dimensions of the hangar and the capacity of the crane – anything which affected the handling of aircraft in and out of the ship,’ recalls Sir Richard in his memoirs. ‘. . . with the assistance of my Director of Technical Services, then Wing Commander H. C. Harrison, we drew up a specification of the aircraft we would need.‘ The resultant specification – an air-cooled metal construction, strengthened for catapulting, fitted with folding wings, with provision for a crew of three, and of such dimensions as to operate from Albatross – was submitted in 1929. This aircraft eventually materialised as the RAAF’s Supermarine Type 236 Seagull V of 1933 and, later, the RAF’s and FAA’s Walrus I of 1935, and wooden-hulled Walrus II of 1941.
Meanwhile, in November 1929, Albatross took part in combined exercises with the RAN and RAAF in Port Phillip Bay. The Seagull III crews opened the mock war with an early morning attack on their erstwhile friends at Point Cook and Laverton. They then maintained patrols over the RAAF bases to alert the fleet of retaliation raids.
In December, Squadron Leader V. R. Scriven, an RAF exchange officer, took over from Squadron Leader Hempel as No. 101 (Fleet Co-operation) Flight’s Commanding Officer, and Senior Air Officer aboard Albatross. The flight comprised one squadron leader, one flight lieutenant and three flying officers, all of the General Duties branch. These five pilots – Albatross carried a maximum of Six Seagull IIIs, one of which was a reserve aircraft – were allotted five naval officers as observers. The RAAF also provided a Stores and Accounting branch flying officer, and 24 non-commissioned officers and airmen of eight trade musterings. In addition, six RAN telegraphist air-gunners were attached to the flight.
No. 101 (Fleet Co-operation) Flight re-embarked in Albatross during May 1930, after spending a month at RAAF Richmond. The carrier then departed on a second extensive cruise to New Guinea and the Mandated Territories. In August, Captain H. J. Feakes, RAN, assumed command of Albatross from Captain Bedford. Late in 1930 the carrier visited Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Port Pirie and Wallaroo for the first time. The close of the year also brought the first effects of the Depression, and the RAN sea-going squadron was reduced to Australia, Canberra, Albatross, and one ‘S’ class destroyer.
For the next two years, Albatross continued to operate along much the same lines as she had done during 1929-30; winter cruises to the New Guinea area, spring cruises to southern states, training exercises, and combined operations. In February 1931, Squadron Leader J. E. Hewitt took over command of No. 101 (Fleet Co-operation) Flight and Captain C. J. Pope, RAN, replaced Captain Feakes aboard Albatross in August 1931.
The full impact of the Depression had reached Australia by 1933 and, on April 23, HMAS Albatross was paid off into the Reserve Fleet. For the next five years the aircraft carrier was either swinging at anchor in Sydney Harbor, or berthed at Garden Island. Ironically, the prototype Supermarine Seagull V – the amphibian specially designed for Albatross to Air Commodore Williams’ specification – took to the air for the first time on June 21 1933, two months after Albatross was laid up.
Early in 1936 an E III H catapult was fitted to Albatross at Garden Island, in anticipation of the carrier being recommissioned by the time the first of the 24 Seagull Vs had arrived in Australia. But it was not to be. Apparently, catapult trials were carried out with a Seagull V in August 1936, although the author has yet to locate photographs of this historic event. Albatross remained in reserve until April 19 1938, when she was accepted by the Admiralty as part payment for the new cruiser, HMAS Hobart; as from 1936 all the RAN cruisers – Australia, Canberra, Sydney, Hobart and Perth were equipped with their own Seagull V amphibian, thus negating the requirement for Albatross. Flying her paying-off pennant, HMAS Albatross sailed from Sydney under the command of Captain H. G. D. Acland, RN, on July 11 1938. As she proceeded down the harbor, the carrier was farewelled by a formation of Seagull V amphibians of the No. 5 (Fleet Co-operation) Squadron, commanded by Squadron Leader C. B. Wincott, RAF, from RAAF Richmond – this squadron was formed from the No. 101 (Fleet Co-operation) Flight on April 21 1936, and it was subsequently renumbered No. 9 (Fleet Co-operation) Squadron on January 1 1939.
Although Albatross severed connections with the RAN in 1938, her subsequent history is full of interest. On October 6 1938, the carrier was commissioned in the RN as HMS Albatross for trials at Devonport, and was then placed in reserve on November 30 1938. HMS Albatross recommissioned on August 25 1939 – due to shortages she had no catapult installed – and embarked No. 710 Squadron, FAA, comprising six Supermarine Walrus 1 amphibians. She then sailed for war service in the South Atlantic, West Africa, and Madagascar areas. In 1940 a catapult was reinstalled, and in 1941-2 Albatross underwent a refit in America. In 1943 the carrier returned to England, was paid off, and the catapult was again removed. In 1944 HMS Albatross joined the Home Fleet as a repair ship, and took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy. On August 11 Albatross was hit by a torpedo off Courseulles and casualties exceeded 100, including 50 killed. The ship also destroyed a Junkers Ju 88, and two shore batteries. HMS Albatross joined the Reserve Fleet in January 1945 at Portsmouth, and later Falmouth.
In 1946 Albatross was sold to a British company which planned to convert her into a passenger luxury cruiser. When conversion costs became too high, it was decided to use Albatross as an offshore floating cabaret at Torquay on the Devonshire coast. The ship was saved this fate when it was bought by the Greek-British Yannoulatos Group of shipowners on the day Prince Charles was born and in whose honour she was renamed Hellenic Prince. She was then converted to a passenger vessel and in 1949 was chartered by the International Refugee Organisation. Carrying 1,000 displaced persons, the ship returned to Sydney on December 5 1949, where she had first taken the water some 21 years previously in 1928. Hellenic Prince was finally scrapped at Hong Kong on August 12 1954.
Although the genesis of naval air power in Australia is closely associated with the RAN’s first aircraft carrier, the warship was almost forgotten by the nation she served. That is until August 31 1948, when the Naval Air Station at Nowra, NSW, was commissioned as HMAS Albatross. RANAS Nowra is the shore support base for the RAN FAA, and it is most appropriate that the station perpetuates the name HMAS Albatross – the first of the line.
DECEMBER 1941 WAS THE MONTH OF DISASTER for the Mediterranean Fleet, for within the space of twenty four hours, the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Andrew Cunningham, had lost the services of two battleships (Queen Elizabeth and Valiant), two cruisers from Force K, operating out of Malta (Neptune and Aurora), and a destroyer (Kandahar) also from Force K. Within the previous four days, he had also lost the cruiser HMS Galatea at the entrance to the swept channel off Alexandria.
Further afield the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour, invested Singapore, and caused the diversion from the Mediterranean Fleet of cruisers and destroyers so urgently needed if Malta was to survive.
And Malta must survive, for the miniscule air striking force, surface force and submarine arm operating from the battered island were destroying 37% of the war supplies being shipped to General Rommel.
Without this continual attrition, he could build up his potential to the point where the Afrika Korps could attain his prime objective – the vast oil resources of the Middle East – and as a by-product, the destruction of our Eighth Army.
But all the news was not grim. The United States was in, and on the local scene, a convoy had been fought through to Malta, despite the intervention of Italian heavy ships.
The convoy had sailed from Alexandria on 15th December, under the protection of the Fifteenth Cruiser Squadron, or the ‘Fighting Fifteenth’, as it was later to be nicknamed.
The 15th Cruiser Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral P.L. Vian, consisted of his flagship, HMS Naiad (Captain Guy Grantham), HMS Dido (Captain H. McCall) and HMS Euryalus (Captain E.C. Bush). They displaced 5,500 tons; their speed was 33 knots and they had six torpedo tubes. Five turrets mounting twin 5.25 inch high angle guns were fitted.
Of the ten ships of the class that were eventually built, Naiad was the first to be completed. I was fortunate enough to be appointed her gunnery officer during her final months of fitting out, and she commissioned in June 1940.
Her gunnery control had an ingenious switching system which made it possible to engage a surface target and an aircraft target, or two aircraft targets, simultaneously.
Two shell outfits were of course carried; time fused HE shell for use against aircraft and impact fused semi-armour-piercing against ships. Variations of gun-drill were required to deal with the two different types of target, but they were not unduly complicated.
All three ships of the squadron were battle-hardened and well trained.
‘Coming events cast their shadows before’, it is said. It is certainly true that the experience we gained in the First Battle of Sirte was to stand us in good stead in the Second.
As mentioned above, the convoy consisting of the Naval auxiliary supply ship Breconshire, with an anti-aircraft screen of six Hunt Class AA destroyers and the AA cruiser Carlisle (first world war vintage), left Alexandria for Malta on 15th December. Later in the evening the 15th Cruiser Squadron with six fleet destroyers sailed to overtake and escort the convoy.
The plan was that Force K, (the cruisers Aurora and Penelope), operating from Malta, should meet us in the Gulf of Sirte at daylight on 17th. After dark of that day, Vian should turn over the convoy to Force K for the final few hours run to Grand Harbour at Malta.
Enemy bombing in the ‘alley’ between Crete and Cyrenaica on the 16th was ineffective, and after dark, Vian detached Carlisle and two destroyers to the eastward to ‘chatter’ on their wireless.
They were to simulate a battle squadron being rather careless about its radio silence! (The truth was that Cunningham was so desperately short of destroyers that his battleship could not put to sea for lack of an anti-submarine screen).
In the light of later events, it seems that this ruse may have succeeded in persuading Admiral Iachino that our battle squadron was in support.
Rendezvous was duly effected with Force K at daylight on the 17th, and heavy air attacks from German and Italian high level bombers and torpedo planes continued throughout the day.
During the morning we received indications that heavy enemy surface forces were at sea, but it was not until about 1500 that we sighted a single red flare, high in the sky, to the north-westward.