The RAN in the Black Sea
- March 2010
- L.J. Una
- History - Between the wars
- HMAS Brisbane I, HMAS Huon I, HMAS Parramatta (I), HMAS Swan I, HMAS Torrens I, HMAS Warrego I, HMAS Yarra I
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
IN 1918 the Allies had cast their lot with the White Russians in the savage civil war which was raging in Russia. They offered to give support to any state prepared to take up arms and resist the Bolshevik expansion. Ukraine had been declared an independent state in the German-Russian Peace Treaty of 1917 and the Austrian and Germans had immediately occupied the state to obtain control of its wheat. When the defeated enemy forces withdrew after the Armistice, Cossack forces prepared to resist the Bolsheviks and appealed for Allied support.
Parramatta sailed early on 25 November from Ismid with a combined fleet which included the battle ships Superb, Temeraire, Justice, Democratie, Roma and two divisions of F destroyers which also included Swan. They passed through the Bosphorus at 0830 and increased speed bound for the famous Crimea Peninsular.
This was the destroyers first entry into the Black Sea and it was anything but comfortable. Heavy seas buffeted the ship and visibility was poor. She steamed a mile on the starboard beam of the battleships and a keen lookout was kept for submarines.
Shortly after dawn on the 26th the south end of the peninsula was sighted and at 1000 speed was reduced while Superb made her entry into Sevastopol. She was allowed by the ships of the battle fleet and Parramatta and the destroyers entered last.
The Russian port showed no signs of war damage. Several old units of the Russian Fleet were in the harbor and a number of German torpedo boats which had been scuttled after the Armistice.
A detachment was landed on the 27th to pick up mail and despatches. They were surprised to meet large numbers of Germans and Austrians, still in uniform, wandering the streets. Mounted Cossacks were also seen guarding the docks and government buildings. The civilian population was poorly dressed and appeared to be dazed.
At 1330 Parramatta weighed and commenced her duty as despatch ship between Sevastopol and Constantinople. She was to continue in this role until 16 December.
While Parramatta was involved in her despatch ship duties, Swan, together with the French destroyer Bisson, was engaged in a task which took her through the Sea of Azov. She embarked the Russian Admiral Kernoff and an interpreter to make contact with the Commanding Officer of Anti Bolshevik Forces, General Krasnoff at Rostov.
Included in this party was Commander (D), Commander A.G.H. Bond, Engineer Lieutenant Commander G.W. Bloomfield, Lieutenant J.G. Boyd, Paymaster Sub- Lieutenant D. Munro and six ratings from Swan. They were landed by the destroyer at Marioupol and travelled by train through a blinding snow storm to Rostov and Novocherkasak.
The purpose of the expedition was to report on the position of Krasnoff’s forces. They cut the visit short when the Bolshevik Armies broke the defence line at Bobrov, and returned to the destroyer. A number of Russian awards were made to the party. Bond received the Order of St. Vladimar and Bloomfield, Boyd and Munro the Order of St. Anne.
On 5 December Hill landed a large party for a route march in the vicinity of Sevastopol. They landed at the city steps and visited the battlefields of the Crimea War, which were close to the port. The weather was cold and the sailors marched with surprising vigour.
The Japanese Navy had been active in the Mediterranean since the previous year, and on the 6th, a cruiser and a flotilla of destroyers joined the Allied naval forces at Sevastopol. The Bolshevik forces, which out- numbered the defenders by 10 to 1, were rapidly advancing on the port.
HMAS Brisbane, the first Australian built cruiser, arrived on the 10th and joined Parramatta, Huon and Warrego. Later in the day the four vessels weighed and steamed for Constantinople.
Christmas 1918 was spent at anchor at Ismid. Commander Bond visited each of the destroyers during the morning and wished all the seasons greetings. He then handed over command of the Flotilla to Commander W. Burrows before entering hospital.
Swan remained at Sebastopol until 15 December and helped guard the railway station at the head of the Valley of Inkerman which was invested by the Bolsheviks. She visited Taganrog and Ekaterinodar before returning to Constantinople. On several occasions the destroyer operated within small arms range of Red troops.
On Boxing Day Parramatta, Swan, Yarra and Huon sailed for Malta. Warrego, which was in dock at Constantinople, followed later and rejoined the Flotilla at Gibraltar. Torrens, plagued by condenser troubles also was in dock and joined the ships of the Flotilla at Malta.
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