HMAS ENCOUNTER, (shore establishment at Port Adelaide), was decommissioned, marking the end of a century of naval presence in the Port Adelaide area.
At the outbreak of war on 4th August, 1914, the German East Asiatic Squadron, commanded by Vice-Admiral Graf von Spee, had its base at the fortified harbour of Tsing-tao on the Kwantung Peninsula at its southern end where it abuts into the Yellow Sea.
The squadron comprised two armoured cruisers, SMSs SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU, armed with 8-8.2 inch and 6-6 inch guns, three light cruisers, SMSs EMDEN, NURNBERG and LEIPZIG, armed with 10-4.1 inch guns and the gunboat SMS GEIER, armed with 8-4.1 inch guns. This squadron exercised an influence, in the first months of the war, second only to that of the German High Seas Fleet.
In addition, von Spee had paid off three old gunboats and used their armament and crews to man the armed merchant cruisers, PRINZ EITEL FRIEDRICH and CORMORAN II (this makes the World War II CORMORAN, ‘CORMORAN III–).
Area of Operation
The area of operations covered half the globe, a vast area in which the Royal Navy had few ships capable of combating the two armoured cruisers with any chance of success. The great distances involved complicated factors which today do not apply.
Wireless equipment in ships was quite crude and often did not have the power to cover the distances required. Communications with Admiralties in Europe was made by telegram to or from consulates or agents in friendly ports necessitating warships to detour to ports off track.
Coal-burning warships (the majority) required to take their colliers with them or have them waiting at pre-arranged ports and anchorages. The alternative was to capture ships carrying coal, which often happened.
German Possessions In The Pacific
The German possessions included the Marianas, the Carolines, Palau (or Pellew), the Marshall Islands and the Samoan Islands. Closer to Australia, they possessed the Bismarck Archipelago (including New Britain and New Ireland). The north-eastern portion of New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelm Land) was also a German protectorate.
The Caroline and Palau Islands were considered as an entity, divided for administration purposes into Western Carolines including Palau Islands with seat of government at Yap, and the Eastern Carolines with seat of Government at Ponape. Yap, 1.700 miles (approx) from Hong Kong, was a place of some importance, being connected by cable with the Celebes and thence with the Dutch East Indies to Europe, and with Shanghai and thence to Tsing-tao, and with Guam and thence to the United States. It also had a powerful wireless station, making it a vital link in the German communication network.
There were German W/T stations on Auguar, the southernmost of the Palau Islands and at Nauru lying isolated near the equator.
The Marshall Islands are 600 miles to the east of the Carolines and have numerous sheltered anchorages. The capitol, Jaluit, had no cable communications.
Samoa lies 2,400 miles from Australia and 1,650 miles to the south-east of the Marshall Islands. They differ from the coral islands, being volcanic in origin and produced copra, cattle and rubber. Western Samoa was a United States possession. There was a wireless station at Apia which radiated to Fiji, Nauru and Honolulu.
The Bismarck Archipelago and Kaiser Wilhelm Land had their seat of government at Herbertshohe (Rabaul) in New Britain, which was reputed to have a new wireless station.
This made a huge ‘haystack’ in which to search for the half dozen ‘needles’ which were the ships of the German East Asiatic Squadron.
At the start of hostilities on 4th August 1914, the German squadron was not concentrated. On 6th August, the Commander in Chief, China Station, Vice Admiral Sir T.H.M. Jerram KCB, received a report from Navy Officer, Melbourne, saying that from wireless intercepts, the probable position of SCHARNHORST at noon on 5th August appeared to be 8 degrees south, 162 degrees east, near the Solomon Islands, steering S.E. Other reports indicated EMDEN to be escorting four colliers from Tsing-tao on 3rd August steering SE. The Nord Deutsche liner YORCK left Yokohama on 4th August heavy-laden with coal and LEIPZIG was reported to have sailed from Mazatlan, Mexico, about 6th August.
Admiral Jerram was of the opinion that von Spee was searching for the French cruiser MONTCALM, or was on his way to rendezvous with colliers which had left Newcastle, NSW, on 1st August, or was on his way to South America and would concentrate his forces in the South Seas. Admiral Jerram did not feel justified in leaving his station in the China Sea, particularly as he felt AUSTRALIA, SYDNEY and ENCOUNTER were closer to the supposed position of the enemy. He was determined to intercept EMDEN if she was proceeding to Yap with its important cable and wireless station.
I FEEL THAT THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY of the Royal Australian Navy should not be allowed to slip away without brief mention of the operations carried out by the Navy in 1914.
It was of course just under three years old and even at this stage the majority of the personnel was Australian. As is normally the case, the Navy was in that state of readiness which allowed it to complete with war stores, with minimum fuss and time and be ready in all respects to meet the enemy.
The immediate enemy was undoubtedly the German Pacific Squadron, under command of Vice Admiral Graf Von Spee, consisting of Armoured Cruisers (8.2” guns) Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, three Light protected Cruisers (4.1” guns) Leipzig, Nurnburg and Emden, and one Light unprotected Cruiser (4.1” guns) Cormoran. (There are also some German merchant ships capable of being converted to auxiliary cruisers in the general area.)
Their base was Tsingtao in N.E. China but on the outbreak of war on 4th August their whereabouts were unknown, except for Emden in Tsingtao.
The Australian Fleet had been assembled barely a year and at the commencement of hostilities some of it was exercising inside the Barrier Reef, the remainder refitting in Sydney. Nevertheless it proceeded to its war stations.
Vice Admiral Sir George Patey, Flag Officer Commanding the Fleet, having appreciated the situation regarding the German ships’ possible disposition considered that he had to search for them first in the Bismarck Archipelago and probably further.
Accordingly Australia, Sydney, Encounter and three destroyers were ordered to rendezvous on 9th August for an attack on Rabaul – the best harbour in the archipelago. Melbourne was also ordered to join the force. Encounter did not join until 12th and Melbourne had to proceed to Rossel Island to coal.
A night search by destroyers inside Simpsonhafn revealed no German ships and eventually the activities were observed from ashore. The search for the wireless station was likely to be long and Admiral Patey decided to search round Bougainville Island and then proceed to Port Moresby for coal.
Early in August it was decided that a special force of Naval Brigade (under Commander J.A. Beresford) and Army was to be raised, the whole to be under the command of Colonel W. Holmes. They embarked in the Berrima, commissioned as an auxiliary cruiser under command of Commander J.B. Stevenson. This force was to occupy German colonies in the Pacific (eventually SW Pacific after Japan’s entry in the war) and left Sydney on 19th August. It had to wait in Port Moresby until the flagship Australia completed her duties in the Samoan occupation, by New Zealand personnel. Finally it left Port Moresby on 7th September and on 9th September rendezvoused with AUSTRALIA, the fleet being Australia, Sydney, Encounter, Warrego, Yarra, Parramatta and Berrima. Submarines AE1 and AE2 were also part of the force. On 11th September they approached Rabaul and adjacent places.
The actions leading up to the capture of the wireless station at Bitipaka on Blanche Bay resulted in the loss of one Naval Officer, one Army Medical Officer (attached to Naval Brigade) and two Able Seamen.
On 31st August Australia and Melbourne, having assisted in the escort of the New Zealand Force detailed to capture Samoa, left Apia; Australia for Port Moresby and Melbourne for Nauru. Here a party was landed on 9th September, captured the Island and found the wireless station already destroyed by its own personnel.
With the capture of Rabaul and the Governor of German New Guinea, only one more place of note remained to be captured and on 24th September an Australian Force escorted by Australia, Encounter and French cruiser Montcalm occupied Madang.
Some inspection of other small places had to be done to ascertain the situation regarding occupation, and doubt about the whereabouts of the German Government vessel Komet had to be cleared up. She was eventually captured on 10th October at a hideout in New Britain, by a small vessel armed with a borrowed 12pdr. She was commissioned as HMAS Una on 17th November 1914.
On 14th September the Australian Navy lost its first warship. Submarine AE1 and Parramatta left Rabaul at 0700 to patrol off Cape Gazelle. At 1530 AE1 was seen to be returning to harbour. She was never seen again. Three officers and thirty-two men were lost.
By 14th September the German ships had been located – Emden in the Indian Ocean and the others had closed Apia and Samoa, and moved away to the N.W. So Australia was ordered to cover Encounter at Rabaul.
Melbourne proceeded to Sydney for repairs and escort duties with the first AIF convoy. Sydney remained with Australia and they operated from Suva. Searches were made of all the islands off Fiji, without result. On 8th November Australia left Suva and eventually arrived Rosyth in 1915. The Battle of Falkland Islands decided this. The German Squadron was utterly defeated and so was no longer a menace.
Sydney had been detached in order to join Melbourne for escort duties with the first AIF convoy. Encounter remained in New Guinea waters for a time returning to Australia when no longer required there.
The destroyers patrolled off and up the Sepik River until Komet was captured and then visited all places required to be examined by Brigadier Holmes.
Submarine AE2 returned to Australia having been based at Suva with the other Australian ships. She left Australia with the second AIF convoy, departing Albany on 31st December.
On 9th November history was made when Sydney sank the German cruiser Emden off the Cocos Islands, whilst a party from Emden was ashore putting the wireless and cable stations (vital links in Australian overseas communications) out of action.
This commerce raider had had a very fruitful career, sinking nineteen ships, capturing five for her own use and using four others for transporting prisoners from her victims to friendly ports. She had been ‘tying down’ some sixteen ships, British and Allied, in the search for her and these were now released for other duties.
And so young and comparatively inexperienced as the ship’s companies were, the Royal Australian Navy had carried out its wartime tasks efficiently and successfully under the guidance of the Senior Royal Navy officers who had been lent to help it ‘get underway’. Losses had been sustained but the presence of the battle cruiser prevented the German armoured cruisers from operating in Australasian waters and undoubtedly much shipping was saved thereby.
The decision to establish an Australian Navy was well and truly justified in just a few months of war.
Some four officers and thirty-eight men had lost their lives.
I would like to repeat that the Navy is at all times ready for action even if all its war stores are not onboard. Today these war stores are comparatively few. In 1914 they were quite extensive but really did not prevent the ships from engaging the enemy if he/they were encountered before embarking them.
The above events, so very briefly related, seem to me to have been overlooked by the majority of Australians including – more’s the pity – the present RAN.
Never let us forget the ‘blooding’ of our Navy, in which it performed so well.
No self respecting warship in the World War I era was without its Fou Fou Band.
Originality was the keynote of a successful Fou Fou Band and from this photograph of the Stoker’s Fou Fou Band in HMAS Encounter in 1917 it was not lacking. Dress was only limited to the bandsman’s imagination.
This photograph was taken during the ship’s patrols in the Indian Ocean, which accounts for the natives aboard.
H.M.A. Ships Encounter and Australia with Huon and two other “Rivers”, and Tattoo and two other
S class boats laid up in Sydney Harbour in 1921.