THE KANIMBLA SAILED from Devonport on September 9th, called at Gibraltar, and arrived at Genoa, Italy, to embark displaced persons who were being brought to Australia to make a new life. Ashore at Genoa, Kanimbla’s sailors became involved in a brawl that turned into a riot. The RAN sailors were stoned by civilians and fired upon by Italian Military Police. A number of ratings were wounded, including an ex-RN rating who received gunshot wounds in the abdomen and died in Genoa the next morning. Over 20 sailors received bruises.
Kanimbla called at Aden, Fremantle and Melbourne before arriving in Sydney on October 28th 1948.
On this trip to England, the Kanimbla saved the Australian Government a great deal of money because of the cargo and the number of passengers she carried both ways.
After commissioning the Sydney, dockyard work continued on the barriers and other items which had not been completed.
Captain Dowling borrowed a Sea Fury and one Firefly aircraft from HMS Illustrious to train the flight deck party while the ship was still in dockyard hands. On Christmas Day 1948 the first aircraft landed on Sydney’s flight deck, when a helicopter touched down to embark Santa Claus for a short flight to the cruiser USS Columbus which was at a buoy in the Hamoaze.
New Year’s Day 1949 passed with the traditional striking of sixteen bells at 0000.
Since the battle cruiser Australia had been scrapped the RAN had not operated a capital ship and consequently the RAN was classed as a Squadron. On account of the Sydney being classed as a capital ship, soon after the Sydney was commissioned the RAN once again became a Fleet (on 1st January 1949) after 25 years as a Squadron.
During the period after the Sydney was commissioned while still at Devonport, the writer remembers a number of POs discussing the ship’s seamen officers and it is surprising how right their predictions were as to how well the officers would do in the future.
Captain Dowling was later to become Vice-Admiral Sir Roy Dowling; Commander Becher was tipped to become the Captain of the Melbourne – he became the second Captain and later became Rear Admiral. The Navigator was expected to do well and he is now Sir James Ramsay, Governor of Queensland.
Lieutenant Synnot is now Admiral Sir Anthony Synnot. Lieutenant Willis is now Vice-Admiral Sir James Willis. Lieutenant N.E. McDonald retired as Rear Admiral McDonald. Lieutenant Merson retired as Commodore Merson. Lieutenant Loosli retired as Captain or Commodore.
The Supply Officer Commander Blacklock was promoted to Captain in 1949, to become the first RAN officer to rise from the lower deck to reach the rank of Captain.
The Fleet Air Arm pilots had not joined the Sydney at this stage. Of these, Lieutenant Goble retired as Commodore and many others also did well.
The First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander Ian McDonald, had his brother Lieutenant Neil McDonald on board. Lieutenant James Willis had his brother Lieutenant Alan Willis join the ship about a year after we commissioned and there were a number of the ship’s company who had brothers and relatives on board at the same time.
After the Glory everyone was happy with the Sydney. She was the first RAN ship built for cafeteria messing and the standard of the food was very good. CPO Williams was Chief Cook. Because of the cafeteria system the RAN sailors got to know the RN and the ex-RN sailors better and there were never any fights or cliques. The ship’s company worked as a team.
The ship’s laundry did a good job for a very small charge. Everyone was happy with the Canteen and there was not one complaint about it from when the Sydney was commissioned until we left her in June 1955.
On January 6 Sydney sailed for the final full power acceptance trial. The speed recorded on the measured mile was 24.61 knots. During January we operated from Plymouth carrying out radar communication and other trials. During these trials a RN Mosquito Fighter Bomber flying at 300 feet cut across our bow and then at one and a half miles from the ship hit the sea with such violence that the wooden aircraft disintegrated. Within ten minutes of the crash our motor cutter was searching the spot where the Mosquito hit the water, clearly marked by oil, floating wreckage and hundreds of seagulls. There were no survivors. The motor cutter collected a naval Lieutenant’s jacket and braces, one wheel, a buckled fuel tank and many pieces of wood from the aircraft.