- Underdown, Michael
- History - general, Ship design and development
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1979 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IT IS NOW WELL KNOWN that the Australian Government was critical of the Japanese naval contribution during the First World War. In fact, Japanese naval support to Australia over the whole duration of the war only amounted to:
- assistance of a single Japanese cruiser in escorting the First Convoy;
- the maintenance of a Japanese cruiser squadron (two vessels) on the Australian coast for ten months in 1917;
- the escorting of several merchant vessels between Fremantle and Colombo at intervals during 1917 and 1918;
the maintenance of a single cruiser on the Australian coast for six months in 1918,
and of a second for 21½ months.
The two cruisers mentioned above in (b) were HIJM ships Chikuma and Hirado. They were light cruisers of 5,129 tons, constructed at the Kawasaki Dockyard in 1912, with eight 6″ guns and four 3″ guns, and capable of doing 27 knots. On the 5th July 1917 the Cadet-Midshipmen of the Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay were able, at the invitation of Rear-Admiral Yamagi, to observe these ships during gunnery and torpedo exercises.
Commander Duncan W. Grant, RAN and Chief Gunner Thomas L. Dix, R.N., who were among the small party which accompanied the cadets, submitted reports on the exercises to the Commanding Officer, RAN College, who forwarded them on to the Commonwealth Naval Board, from whence they were sent to the Admiralty.
The port watch under Chief Gunner Dix went on board the Hirado and the starboard watch under Commander Grant on board the Chikuma, which was the flagship. The cadets were taken to the ships by steamboats (each ship had two) as the Admiral considered the sea too rough for the College’s own cutters to be used. On each ship the cadets were divided between the fore-bridge and the poop. The after-bridge, which only measured about 12ft. by 9ft., was crowded. On the Chikuma, there were 5 or 6 officers and 2 signalmen on the bridge, and on the Hirado, 4 officers, 2 RF operators, 5 voice pipe men, 2 telegraph men and the helmsman. Gunner Dix thought ‘the number of people on the bridge . . . out of proportion to the work being done’.
The Hirado indicated by flag when she was ready and the Chikuma hoisted the ‘Clear for Action’ signal. On the Hirado the signal was sounded by bugle. The ships were cleared for action in the same manner as in the RAN (boats turned in, anchor cables secured, etc.) and then ‘General Quarters’ was sounded. The guns were cleared away and the crews fell in the ‘closed up position’. One projectile was supplied to each gun. Although ammunition was not passed up to the guns in the presence of the party, this was carried out by electric chain hoists or, in an emergency, a rope whip driven by an electric motor. The guns were fitted with a cross-connected telescope and a combined telescope-periscope. Two ratings attended the telescopic sights and one set the sights. A further rating gave the range and deflection down a Rudolf’s flexible hose. The breech was worked by a rating sitting astride the gun. There was no protection at the gun and the sightsetter and other crew had to stand. The Gunnery Lieutenant controlled the firing from the upper top, the 6in. gun receiving its orders, however, from the forebridge. Alterations of range and deflection were passed from the Gunnery-Lieutenant through the Captain and repeated by megaphone to the waist guns, and by voice pipe and megaphone to the poop guns. The sightsetters received their orders by flexible hose.
The actual gun drill was carried out very smartly and the moored targets were hit several times. Both Commander Grant and Chief Gunner Dix thought the exercises were carried out very noisily, no doubt the result of all orders being repeated on receipt and after execution (by megaphone). In general, the gunners’ practice was similar to that in the RAN except that electric range and deflection receivers were not used, which meant more work for both sightsetters and gunlayer.
The next exercise was ‘Fire Quarters’. The hoses, which were probably kept coiled rather than flaked as they were kinked, were played overboard by an engine-room party helped by the gun crews. The ventilation was, however, not closed and the boats were not turned on. The collision mats were then got out smartly by the gun crews. On ‘Away all boats’ crews’ being sounded, the boats were turned out and lowered efficiently. During ‘General Quarters’ the Medical Branch attended to the ‘wounded’ The ships carried 18in. torpedoes, which were kept on racks in the bulkhead. From there they were moved by overhead tramway. Commander Grant considered that ‘not enough care was exercised in keeping the screws clear of the bulkhead while the torpedoes were being swung into position’. However, both he and Chief Gunner Dix thought the torpedo crews to be very smart, even though the gyroscope diagrams were not good.
The exercises ended with the men ‘pulling around the fleet’. The fact that the crew wore thongs on board ship and carried their boots with them in the cutters seems to have aroused much interest.
The general impression was that the ships were dirty, although the vital items – such as guns, etc. – were ‘spotless’. The exercises were carried out noisily and without too much enthusiasm. Commander Grant was surprised to find no exaggerated discipline. The men did not, for example, stand to attention when addressed. He was impressed by the Japanese method of standing at ease, though. This consisted of standing with one foot advanced – a much less tiring method. He summed up his impressions in the following words: ‘It gave me the feeling that I was viewing evolutions which might have been considered up-to-date in our Fleet some ten years ago’.