- Andrews, Grahame, (Honorary Life Member)
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Adelaide I, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Melbourne I
- June 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Although this obsolete light cruiser was not sent to the front line of any war zone in WW2, she was kept active and must be considered a lucky ship, as she came very close to harm’s way several times.
UNTIL THE 1950s only two major British Commonwealth fighting ships had been built outside the United Kingdom. The first of these was the Chatham class cruiser HMAS Brisbane (1) which served from 1915 until 1936, and the second was her semi-sister ship HMAS Adelaide (1) which was afloat from 1918 until 1949.
Both ships were built on the now long-neglected Cockatoo Island in Sydney’s Port Jackson but Adelaide, of a basic design that dated from about 1906, was not expected to be in service during World War I and, as a result, was completed slowly postwar. The press gave Adelaide the derisory title, HMAS ‘Long Delayed.’ This was perhaps unfair, because cruisers were complicated ships and much had depended upon assistance from the UK (delayed by the war) and by more urgent political imperatives.
Adelaide was launched on 27 July 1918 and was commissioned by Captain J.B. Stevenson, RAN on 5 August 1922. She cost 1,271,782 Australian pounds and came into service at a time when economic necessity and a general feeling that a great war could never happen again had caused great reductions in the RAN’s budget.
An Ugly Duckling
On 6 April 1923 the Daily Telegraph reported that ‘An Ugly Duckling proves to be a Swan. Adelaide reaches 26 knots on trials.’ No doubt her stokers hoped this effort was not to be made too often!
The RAN’s force underwent a peacetime run-down and several smaller ships were laid up in October 1921, followed by the battlecruiser HMAS Australia. More ships were laid up and by 1923 the RAN had just eight active ships: cruisers Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne (all coal-fired), three destroyers, one sloop and one depot ship, Platypus.
On 12 April 1924 Adelaide took part in the sad procession to sea as the battlecruiser Australia was taken out and scuttled under the terms of the Washington Disarmament Treaty. At this time ships of the Royal Navy’s Special Service Squadron were visiting Australia on a 300 day around the world cruise and Adelaide joined this group on its cruise, heading for Wellington, New Zealand on 20 April, 1924, in company with HM Ships Hood and Repulse.
Adelaide visited Wellington, Napier, Auckland, Suva, Honolulu, San Francisco, Panama (first RAN ship to use the canal), Colon, Jamaica, Halifax, Quebec, and, finally, Portsmouth on 18 September 1924. Adelaide trained with RN ships in British waters for about three months and headed for home on 10 January 1925, steaming via the Mediterranean, Colombo and Singapore.
The Pacific and Far East Defence Conference was held in Singapore in March 1925 with three RAN cruisers, including the new Adelaide, attending for the 16 days of the conference during which plans were discussed for the development of the great (impregnable?) base.
Adelaide and her sisters were back in Sydney on 23 April. For the next several years Adelaide worked with RN and RAN ships in various modest exercises but the budget was getting ever less as the Depression became worse. Adelaide served on the RN’s China Station and in 1927 was involved in a tragic incident in the Solomon Islands.
The District Officer at Malaita in the Solomon Islands was murdered, together with 14 local policemen, and Adelaide was ordered to race to the area to restore order. Adelaide left Sydney at 1700 10 October and commanding officer Captain G. E. Harrison was ordered to make best possible speed. The ship’s company was told that they were on a punitive expedition, to bring mass murderers to justice. Landing parties and temporary replacement policemen were selected and trained from among the ship’s landing organisation.
The first shore parties landed on 16 October and joined with local settlers. By the 22nd, after a minor skirmish at the village of the assailants, several natives had been captured and the others driven off. Tropical illness plagued the ship as the trials proceeded. In front of a Judicial Commissioner sentences of death were argued and handed down for six local men with others receiving long prison terms.