On this day:

1939 > WW2

30 Mar 1939

The Australian Naval Board in a letter to the Government stated, “the control of sea communications in Australian waters must depend basically on the strength of the British Fleet”.

03 Apr 1939

HMAS VENDETTA, (destroyer), transported the body of the Australian Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, to Devonport, TAS, for burial.

10 Jun 1939

HMAS PARRAMATTA, (sloop), was launched at Cockatoo Island, Sydney.

29 Jun 1939

The modified Leander class cruiser HMAS PERTH, (CAPT H. B. Farncomb, MVO, RAN), was commissioned. PERTH was laid down in Portsmouth Dockyard, England, as HMS AMPHION, on 26 June 1933, and launched on 27 July 1934. The Marchioness of Titchfield performed the launching ceremony on 15 June 1936. AMPHION was re-named PERTH at the ceremony by the Duchess of Kent.

04 Aug 1939

New York newspapers carried headlines; ‘Aussies Mutiny-British Officers Too British’. The story concerned an incident in HMAS PERTH, (cruiser), when ratings objected to the wearing of whites ashore. The matter was settled within the ship.

27 Aug 1939

The Australian Naval Board approved the mobilisation of 350 RANR for duty at Darwin, Navy Office, Melbourne and the Naval Control Service.

The passenger liners MORETON BAY, ARAWA, KANIMBLA, and CHANGTE, were requisitioned by the Admiralty in Sydney. The first three were converted to armed merchant cruisers, and the CHANGTE became a victualling stores- issuing ship.

02 Sep 1939

CDRE Wilfred Rupert Patterson, CBE, RN, was appointed to command His Majesty’s Australian Squadron, his flagship was HMAS CANBERRA, (cruiser). He replaced RADM Wilfred Custance who was in the grip of a fatal illness.

03 Sep 1939

The ‘Declaration of war on Germany’ was issued. The Imperial war telegram was received in Canberra at 2150. It read; ‘Total Germany, repeat, total Germany’. At 2115 in a radio broadcast, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced; ‘It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that as a result, Australia is also at war’.

LCDR E.A. Feldt, RAN, was appointed Staff Officer, (Intelligence), at Port Moresby. Feldt directed the Coastwatcher organisation in Papua and New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, until relieved because of ill health in 1943.

The strength of the RAN at the commencement of hostilities in WWII was:

2 heavy cruisers, HMA Ships AUSTRALIA and CANBERRA; 4 light cruisers, HMA Ships SYDNEY, HOBART, PERTH, and ADELAIDE; 5 destroyers, HMA Ships STUART, VAMPIRE, VOYAGER, VENDETTA, and WATERHEN; 2 sloops, HMA Ships SWAN and YARRA; 1 survey vessel, HMAS MORESBY; 2 armed merchant cruisers HMA Ships MANOORA and WESTRALIA.

Three liners, MORETON BAY, ARAWA, and KANIMBLA, were converted into armed merchant cruisers and manned by Australians, but as units of the RN. Eight smaller vessels were requisitioned and equipped as minesweepers.

The permanent naval forces totalled 5440 and the reserve naval forces totalled 4819 personnel.

04 Sep 1939

HMAS KURUMBA, (fleet oiler), was commissioned. The ship had served with the RN between 1916 and 1919. She was later transferred to the RAN. KURUMBA was sold out of service in 1946, and was renamed ANGELIKI in 1948, and EVANGELOS in 1955.

05 Sep 1939

HMAS AUSTRALIA, (cruiser), caught fire alongside the dock, at Garden Island Sydney. A brazier of burning pitch was overturned, setting alight the deck and destroying an 27 foot whaler.

06 Sep 1939

Rates of pay in the RAN were:- Ordinary Seaman 2nd Class, (under 17 years of age), 1/9d per day; Able Seaman, 7/- per day; Chief Petty Officer 11/- per day. Rates for tradesmen were at a higher scale:- Chief Mechanician 1st Class, Chief Engineroom Artificer, and Chief Shipwright 1st Class, 14/6d per day. A marriage allowance of 4/6d for the wife, and 3/- for the first child, 2/- for the second, and 1/6d for the third and all others, was also paid.

08 Sep 1939

The British Admiralty asked Australia to send a cruiser and five destroyers for service beyond the Australia Station. The five destroyers, HMA Ships VAMPIRE, VOYAGER, VENDETTA, WATERHEN and STUART were sent to Singapore for intensive training. The cruiser was not to proceed further west than Suez. Later, a request to send all of the ships to the Mediterranean was agreed to.

09 Sep 1939

The destroyer HMAS STUART, (CMDR H. Waller, RAN), received the following signal while exercising off Sydney; ‘Submarine reported to have been sighted off Terrigal. Stuart to proceed with all despatch and investigate’. Asdic contact was made with a submerged object, and depth charges were dropped without positive results. HMAS WATERHEN, (destroyer), continued the investigation next day, and slight oil slicks were observed. The bay was later dragged without result.

10 Sep 1939

HMS OXLEY, (submarine, ex-HMAS OXLEY), was sunk in error by HMS TRITON, (submarine). The Commanding Officer, and one rating, survived the sinking. OXLEY was the first British submarine lost in WWII.

18 Sep 1939

The former steam yacht HMAS ADELE, (auxiliary patrol vessel), was commissioned. The vessel was first commissioned in 1914 as HMAS FRANKLIN, and served as a tender to the Royal Australian Naval College, and later as a yacht for the New Guinea Administrator. ADELE was lost in May 1943 when she was wrecked on the breakwater at Port Kembla, NSW.

22 Sep 1939

CMDR B. M. Long, LCDR E. Feldt, and LCDR R. B. A. Hunt, set up the organisation for the RAN’s Coastwatcher Service.

25 Sep 1939

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS DOOMBA, was commissioned. DOOMBA, (as HMS WEXFORD), was laid down in the UK in 1919. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners, the Doomba Shipping Co, Brisbane, on 3 September 1939.

04 Oct 1939

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS TONGKOL, was commissioned. TONGKOL was laid down in 1926. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owner, Mr A. A. Murrell, Sydney, on 4 October 1939.

06 Oct 1939

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS GOOLGWAI, was commissioned. GOOLGWAI was laid down in Collingwood Shipbuilding Co Ltd, Ontario, Canada. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners Red Funnel Trawlers Ltd, on 3 September 1939.

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS KOROWA, was commissioned. KOROWA, (as EDWARD MCGUIRE), was laid down in Cochrane & Sons Ltd, Selby, England, in 1919. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners, Red Funnel Trawlers Ltd, (who renamed her KORAWA), in September 1939.

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS OLIVE CAM, was commissioned. OLIVE CAM, (as NODZU), was laid down in Wales, in 1919. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners, Cam & Sons Pty Ltd, Sydney, (who renamed her OLIVE CAM), in September 1939.

The Australian Government agreed to the detachment of 2 cruisers and 5 destroyers of the RAN for service abroad. A proviso in the agreement stipulated that the ships were to be returned if a threat in the Far East developed.

The armed merchant cruiser/landing ship infantry HMS KANIMBLA, (CAPT F. E. Getting, RAN), was commissioned. KANIMBLA was laid down in Harland & Wolff Ltd, Belfast, Northern Ireland, for McIlwraith McEacharn Ltd of Melbourne, and launched on 15 December 1935. KANIMBLA was requisitioned for the RN on 5 September 1939, and fitted out at Garden Island Dockyard, Sydney. The ship was manned largely by Australian reservists.

09 Oct 1939

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS BERYL II, was commissioned. BERYL II was laid down in 1914. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners, Cam & Sons Pty Ltd, Sydney, in September 1939.

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS GOORANGAI, was commissioned. GOORANGAI was laid down in the State Dockyard, Newcastle, NSW, in 1919. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners, Cam & Sons Pty Ltd, on 8 September.

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS Orara, was commissioned. Orara was laid down in Kinghorn, Scotland, in 1907. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners the North Coast Steam Navigation Co, NSW, in September 1939.

10 Oct 1939

HMA Ships SWAN and YARRA, (sloops), commenced the first minesweeping operations on the Australian coast in WWII, following reports of an unidentified ship being sighted off Gabo Island.

14 Oct 1939

The Australian coastal passenger liner MANOORA was requisitioned by the RAN, and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. In 1943 she was converted to a landing ship infantry.

20 Oct 1939

The examination vessel HMAS ADELE, was commissioned. ADELE was formerly commissioned as HMAS FRANKLIN, on 14 September 1915.

22 Oct 1939

The Australian merchant ship TREVANION was sunk by the German pocket battleship GRAF SPEE, in the South Atlantic. TREVANION was the first Australian ship sunk in WWII.

01 Nov 1939

RADM John George Crace, CB, an Australian-born officer of the RN, was appointed Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Squadron, taking over from CDRE W. Patterson, RN. His flagship was HMAS AUSTRALIA.

02 Nov 1939

The Australian liner WESTRALIA was requisitioned by the Australian Government for conversion to an armed merchant cruiser.

03 Nov 1939

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS UKI, was commissioned. UKI was laid down in Port Glasgow, Scotland, in 1923. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners, the North Coast Steam Navigation Co, NSW, on 3 November 1939.

04 Nov 1939

HMAS KOALA, (boom defence vessel), was launched at Cockatoo Island, Sydney.

07 Nov 1939

An Australian Government order-in-council was signed, and transferred all vessels and personnel of the Commonwealth Naval Forces, and personnel of the RAAF, to the King’s Naval and Air Forces. The transfer did not stipulate the duration of the service, nor did it cover ships subsequently acquired or built. However, further transfers of ships and personnel were made between 1940 and 1943.

13 Nov 1939

The Department of the Navy was re-created as a separate portfolio.

15 Nov 1939

Separate ministers for the Army, Navy and Air Force were appointed in the Australian Cabinet. Sir Frederick Stewart was made Minister for the Navy.

16 Nov 1939

CAPT J. A. Collins, RAN, was appointed in command of HMAS SYDNEY, (cruiser).

30 Nov 1939

Mr A. R. Nankervis is appointed as the Permanent Head of the Naval Board. He was previously Finance and Civil Member of the Board. Mr G. L. Macandie continued as Secretary Naval Board, the first Minister for the Navy in WWII was Sir Frederick Stewart.

02 Dec 1939

The German pocket battleship GRAF SPEE took the first Australian naval POW’s of WWII, after sinking the merchant ships DORIC STAR and TAIROA, in the South Atlantic. The Australians were DEMS ratings of the RANR.

04 Dec 1939

The 20th Minesweeping Flotilla, HMA Ships SWAN, YARRA, ORARA, and DOOMBA, commenced operations on the east coast of Australia.

07 Dec 1939

The Australian War Cabinet considered a memorandum from VADM Sir Ragnar Colvin, RN, the British First Naval Member and Chief of Naval Staff, which advocated that HMA Ships CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA, and SYDNEY, (cruisers), be assigned to protect convoy US1, (11 fast liners carrying 13,500 Australian and New Zealand troops), from Fremantle to the Cocos Islands.

The Australian Government would not agree to such a depletion of naval forces in Australian coastal waters.

11 Dec 1939

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS BERMAGUI was commissioned. BERMAGUI was laid down in Ailsa Shipbuilding Co Ltd, Troon, Scotland, in 1912. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners, the Illawarra & South Coast Steam Navigation Co Ltd, Sydney, in December 1939.

12 Dec 1939

The armed merchant cruiser/landing ship HMAS MANOORA, (CMDR A. H. Spurgeon, RAN), was commissioned. MANOORA was laid down in Alex Stephen & Sons Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1935, for the Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd. She was requisitioned on 14 October 1939.

18 Dec 1939

German Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, described the arrival of the Australian Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean as ‘a consignment of junk’, and ‘Australia’s Scrap Iron Flotilla’. The five WWI destroyers, HMA Ships STUART, VAMPIRE, VENDETTA, VOYAGER, and WATERHEN, emblazoned the name in glory under the command of CAPT H. M. L. Waller, RAN.

The auxiliary minesweeper HMAS COOLEBAR was commissioned. COOLEBAR was laid down in Ardrossan, Scotland, in 1911. She was requisitioned for the RAN, from her owners, the North Coast Steam Navigation Co, NSW, on 18 December 1939.

19 Dec 1939

The cruiser HMAS PERTH, (CAPT H. B. Farncomb, RAN), was shadowed by the USS VINCENNES, (cruiser), while on the Yucatan Channel patrol in the West Indies. VINCENNES demanded PERTH’s identity, but PERTH refused to comply.

'On This Day' is based on the book "Navy Day by Day: Historic Naval Events in Australia and Abroad" written by the late Lew Lind. More information.

Browse entries