- June 1975
- Bridge, Captain Clarence, (OBE, BE, RAN)
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
Loss of Submarine AE1:
During this period, the submarines and destroyers were constantly on patrol. Early in the morning of 14th September (1914), AE1 had orders to patrol off Cape Gazelle and at 7.00 a.m. left Rabaul.
At 2.30 p.m. and again at 3.30 p.m. the destroyers were in W/T communication with her and she was seen to be SE of Duke of York Island apparently returning towards harbour which is what she should have been doing. She was due in at 6.00 p.m. She and her crew of 35 were never seen again.
The German command by now had deployed their cruiser Emden on a raiding foray in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific. The raider had sunk a great number of ships, doing immense damage to allied cargoes.
Sydney was detached from the squadron to search for Emden and to destroy her. After a long hunt she caught up with Emden, whose fire was very accurate and rapid to begin with but seemed to slacken very quickly, all the casualties occurring in her almost immediately.
First her foremost funnel went, then the foremast and she was badly on fire aft. Then her second funnel went and lastly her third funnel and it was seen she was making for the beach.
Sydney gave her two more broadsides. On arriving again near the Emden she still had her colours flying at mainmast head. Sydney signalled ‘Do you surrender?’
Her captain would never surrender and very reluctantly Sydney again fired. Emden then showed white flags and hauled down her ensign.
The action had lasted seven hours and the condition of Emden after the action was indescribable. Sydney lost four dead and 12 wounded. Emden had 120 dead and 60 wounded.
Germans Shell Tahiti:
Meanwhile the patrol and search in the New Guinea area continued fruitlessly until it was learnt that on 2nd October 1914, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had shelled Tahiti and sunk a small French cruiser there.
Tahiti was 2,000 miles to the eastward of our position in New Guinea. A reappraisal of the position was made by the Admiral and Staff. It was decided that Suva should be our new strategic base.
BATTLE OF CORONEL
Good Hope Sunk
Monmouth Driven Ashore:
The days went by in an endless search interrupted only for coaling as occasion demanded. We proceeded as far north as Fanning Island, a small place just north of the Equator and almost directly south of Honolulu. While here we heard of an action on 8th November 1914, off Coronel near the coast of Chile.
The German Fleet had proceeded on their easterly course after their attack on Tahiti and engaged Good Hope and Monmouth off Valparaiso. The action was fought in a heavy sea and lasted an hour. The British ships were heavily outgunned – the Germans were too powerful for our ships.
Our objective was still their destruction and our target position was now known – the gap was closing.
Short of Provisions:
Leaving Fanning Island and proceeding east, the Equator was crossed on 13th November 1914. Provisions were now running low. Potatoes had completely run out – boiled rice was issued in lieu. There were no eggs and the butter was rancid. Fresh vegetables were, of course, nonexistent, and tinned bully beef was a constant item on the menu. Matches were also practically finished and lanterns were kept alight on the mess decks as substitute cigarette lighters.
Chamela Bay, Mexico:
Coal was now essential. The Admiralty sent us supplies through the Panama Canal and once more we filled up with this vital item.
Very shortly Australia was steaming again to the Galapagos Islands which are bang on the Equator. By now she had steamed over 21,000 miles criss-crossing the Pacific and constantly on the alert. All on board were keen to catch up with the Germans and avenge the loss of Good Hope and Monmouth.
An intense search of the islands was carried out and also of the coast of Colombia.
Deserter Gives Himself Up:
Some officers landed at Callao to buy stores and provisions. A few hours after anchoring here a very sorry looking individual came on board Australia and gave himself up as being a deserter from the ship at Hobart, Tasmania, some 12 months previously. (Peru is a far cry from Tasmania.)
The man was recognised and taken on board. (A deserter giving himself up in wartime receives a free pardon.)
On leaving Callao, Australia was given an enthusiastic send-off by dozens of small craft. It was evident that Britain and the British are firmly rooted in the affections of the Peruvians.
A good supply of fresh food was taken on-board and also bottles of beer for the ship’s company Christmas dinner.
Christmas Day 1914:
Steaming south from Callao numbers of whales were seen spouting in the vicinity of the ship and it was surprising to see the number of birds which alighted on the upper deck.
Christmas Day was made as happy as possible for the ship’s company. The mess decks were decorated, fresh food from Callao was available and beer distributed. In accordance with Naval custom, the Admiral, Captain and officers walked round the mess decks wishing the men a happy Christmas and drinking each other’s health.
After the 4½ strenuous months of steaming, the Christmas Day celebration was a most happy interlude.
Australia reached Valparaiso on Boxing Day (26th December 1914). Under international law stay in a neutral port is limited to 24 hours – coaling began immediately.
Coronel – Tribute to Good Hope and Monmouth:
On the second day out from Valparaiso (28th December 1914), we were off Coronel where on 4th November 1914, Good Hope and Monmouth had been sunk by the German Fleet.
Australia was stopped where the action had taken place, a memorial service was held and a salute fired. Then a wreath (made from the flowers given to us at Valparaiso) was dropped into the sea.
We then proceeded south on a course towards Cape Horn. We recalled that it was in these waters Robinson Crusoe Island was located.
Battle of the Falkland Islands
By now it was known that an action had been fought at the Falkland Islands in which Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Leipzig and Nurmberg were sunk. The Dresden escaped. In the action a British fleet almost completely destroyed the German ships and the Pacific menace was over.
In the Falkland Island action were two battle cruisers, Invincible and Inflexible (12-inch guns, and similar in all respects to our own ship the Australia). I was proud to remember that I had served in Invincible just a year ago.
Jubilation and Disappointment:
(I must here recount that in 1916 the Invincible herself, with immense loss of life, was sunk in the Battle of Jutland. I was still serving in the Australia which had joined the Battle Cruiser Force under Admiral Beatty. The wheels of fate ground inexorably on.)
When it was announced aboard Australia that Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sunk, great jubilation was coupled with bitter disappointment that we had not been there to take part in the action.
For five months (August to December 1914) and steaming some 30,000 miles under war conditions, Australia had chased these ships up the Queensland coast, around New Guinea, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Suva and Samoa and back and forth across the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, down the coast of South America to Cape Horn and the Falkland Islands.
All the ship’s company felt that fate had treated us unkindly that we did not see the matter to its final end.
The Straits of Magellan:
South of Coronel Australia was in the roaring 40s – it was exceedingly rough and cold. (These ‘roaring 40s’ are a nightmare to the sailor.) The ship was battened down – great damage was done to the torpedo nets as their securing chains were carried away. On New Year’s Eve (31st December 1914) we made the western entrance to the Straits of Magellan.
Action Stations in Magellan Straits:
About midday on the 31st December 1914, when we were in the Magellan Straits, a large ship was sighted ahead. It was thought she might be the Dresden still at large after escaping from the Falkland Island battle. Australia went into action stations and excitement ran high.
It was soon known that she was the British cruiser Carnarvon which had come from the Falklands. Both ships stopped for a short time for a staff conference. Australia then proceeded to the east of the Straits.
Soon Australia passed the town of Punta Arenas, which is the most southerly town in the world. It is built on a low-lying slope overlooking the Straits.
On New Year’s Day (1st January 1915) Australia passed out of the Straits of Magellan – we had now left the Pacific behind and had the Atlantic before us.
Falkland Islands – Lifebuoy from Scharnhorst:
As Australia approached the Falkland Islands and about 20 miles out, a lifebuoy marked SMS Scharnhorst was picked up and kept as a relic of our long chase.
The recent battle was discussed on all sides and the British victory was celebrated with the English settlers. The German losses had been heavy – 2,000 killed. The British ships lost 20 men.
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