- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW1
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS New Zealand, HMAS Australia I
- March 1974 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
WHEN THE NEW BRITAIN – NEW GUINEA CAMPAIGN drew to a close HMAS Australia was ordered to the Atlantic. The route selected was east across the Pacific, and so the battle cruiser became the first and only ship of the Royal Australian Navy to round the Horn. The action reported in this article took place when Australia was steaming north up the Atlantic coast of South America.
‘It was two bells in the afternoon watch, and the Australian flagship, HMAS Australia, was steaming at a comfortable 15 knots in the South Atlantic, destination unknown. Suddenly a column of smoke was reported bearing three points on the port bow; glasses were levelled at the stranger, but her identity could not be discerned.
As our orders were to keep a strict vigilance owing to the presence in these waters of the German raiding cruisers Karlsruhe and Koenigsburg, we increased speed to satisfy ourselves that the stranger was all right. As we drew nearer we signalled; the stranger disregarded our demands to heave to, and increased speed also, being under the impression (as we found later) that she was out of our range; but in that, she was sadly mistaken. The chase continued, and we gradually drew near her and rumours were seen flying around our ship as to what we were after. At 6 p.m. the Admiral ordered, ‘Action stations’.
As the bugle blazed forth this order it was received with a cheer, as it was understood then that the stranger was hostile. In two minutes the Australia fired the left 12 in. gun of the foremost turret as a ranging shot. The projectile plunged into the sea just ahead of her, having passed through her rigging. That settled her clearing-out ideas and she hove to and we found out she was a German. As we drew nearer and our searchlights lit her up, we saw she was a handsome vessel. An armed boarding party was swiftly got away, and they found she was carrying stores and materials, value about £400,000, for the raiding cruisers. Her captain wanted us to take her as a prize, but our Admiral declined, and, after bringing some 150 prisoners aboard, we opened fire on her. She sank stern first, and the Australia unconcernedly proceeded on her way.
The Elenore Woerman was a fine vessel of 9,000 tons, and only 10 months old, and it seemed a pity to sink her. Of her crew it was a curious fact that everyone could speak English, and they were very pleased to be captured.’
Despite this auspicious beginning, Australia’s service in the Atlantic and with the Grand Fleet was far from exciting. An unlucky collision with HMAS New Zealand prevented her from participating in the Battle of Jutland. Her log and the diaries of her crew records monotonous patrols and long periods in harbour.