- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I, HMAS Australia II
- December 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Being an anonymous reminiscence about the wartime activities of HMAS Australia, first published in the collection entitled HMAS 1945, published by the Australian War Memorial.
In the three years of Pacific warfare many ships have played their parts, but it may well be doubted whether any ship has a record quite equal to that of our HMAS Australia. Her affairs may have been unspectacular, but for long-enduring service, she surely holds pride of place. Hardly an action has taken place in the South-west Pacific in which the three-funneled flagship has not played a prominent part.
An ageing cruiser when the war broke out, she is old now. When she meets the youngsters straight from the navy yards of the United States, her age is only too apparent. She is rather a motley old ship with so many new devices and pieces of modern equipment welded on to her frame; yet she appears as it were lean and gaunt for want of the gadgets which make newer ships far more comfortable to live in. Still she is a fighting ship, equipped to fight with the best. Sometimes her engineers will shake their heads as over an old skeleton, but they know their skill has kept her fully alive; they know at any time they can call for speed and her old engines will still drive her at thirty knots and more. Old she may be but long in the tooth, tired she may be but not lacking in fighting spirit or stamina.
When war broke out in 1939 Australia went to the Atlantic. She fought twice at Dakar, closing right in under the guns of the fortress and later sinking a French destroyer. She was in dock in Liverpool when that city endured its severest blitz – many months later a half-ton granite rock was found in one of the funnels, apparently hurled there during the bombing. She was with the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. She was convoying in the Atlantic. She came home and then set out again, this time to the Indian Ocean, where for months she escorted the convoys which were supplying the means of victory in Africa. She hunted for raiders and went on an exciting mystery cruise almost to the Antarctic to a favourite haunt of raiders, laying bait for them should they come another time.
War with Japan
Then came war with Japan. Immediately Australia was racing eastward across the Indian Ocean and on to Sydney. On the last lap of 2300 miles she steamed continuously at high speed, arriving in port almost drained of all her fuel. And so she commenced her part in the war with Japan.
In December 1941, Australia became the flagship of Rear-Admiral Crace, RACAS, as he was called – Rear-Admiral Commanding Australia Squadron. Titles have changed. The force was soon after known as the Anzac Squadron, containing Australian, New Zealand and American ships. Later it became a task force of Australian and United States ships. Ships came and went; the force in time became large enough to be divided in two. Admirals came and went. Admiral Crace was relieved by Admiral Crutchley and he in turn by Commodore Collins. In all these changes with the briefest intervals Australia was in advanced operational areas facing Japan.
Although Port Moresby has played so big a part in the war, Australia has been there only once. In the first month of the war with Japan she helped escort Aquitania to Port Moresby, bringing the force which later became famous as the garrison of Port Moresby and Milne Bay. In January 1942 she helped escort the convoy which brought the first American troops to Australia (and indeed the first to any part of the South and South-west Pacific). The war was already going disastrously for us and in the Pacific, Rabaul was under attack when, at the end of January, after eight hours in Sydney, Australia set out for Wellington and Suva as the nucleus of a force which was being concentrated for the defence of Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Fiji. In February 1942 the Anzac Squadron was the sole naval force in the area from Australia to a point far beyond Samoa.