- Gillett, Ross
- History - general, Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Four Sopwith models were flown, including the Baby, Pup, Camel and 1 and 1/2 Strutter. Despite the success of the trials and operational flights all of the aircraft were returned to British forces before the ships returned to Australia in 1919. Sydney and Melbourne did retain their flying off platforms (located before the bridge) and Australia, her pair of turret-mounted platforms. In the early 1920s, several aircraft were operated briefly by Australia, while the survey sloop Geranium embarked a small seaplane for survey operations during 1924-25.
Apart from the survey flights, the RAN’s next venture into naval aviation came about in the late 1920s when the locally built seaplane carrier Albatross, served in the fleet for a number of years. Equipped with her own internal hanger deck, cranes to lift the seaplanes into and out of the water, and a large open top deck for maintenance, the ship suffered from the effects of the Great Depression and like many other Fleet units was laid up prematurely in the effort to reduce costs. Seagull III amphibians were operated by the carrier during her active years and from 1935 improved Seagull Vs were delivered to the RAAF to operate from Albatross, the two heavy cruisers Australia and Canberra and then, the three light cruisers Sydney, Hobart and Perth from the late 1930s. The improved amphibians were also flown by the armed merchant cruisers, later infantry landing ships, Kanimbla, Manoora and Westralia.
The Light Fleets
Following the demise of the last of the Seagull Vs in the mid 1940s, proposals were formulated by the RAN to procure from Great Britain, two light fleet aircraft carriers of the “Majestic” class. The new carriers would provide long-range air and submarine defence and a platform from which strikes could be launched. The order for the ships was placed on 3 June 1947, the hulls selected having originally been laid down for the Royal Navy in 1943 as H.M. Ships Terrible and Majestic. Construction of both ships had been halted in May 1946 to allow the Admiralty time to establish its future naval aviation requirements. In 1949 the first light fleet carrier, Sydney (ex Terrible) joined the Australian Fleet. The new carrier undertook two tours of duty in support of United Nations Forces in Korea in 1951 and 1953 and served as RAN flagship until the arrival of her upgraded sister ship Melbourne (ex Majestic) in 1956. The newer carrier incorporated a steam catapult, an angled deck and mirror landing aids, plus the ability to operate new generation Sea Venom jet fighters and Gannet anti-submarine aircraft. Vengeance, a third light fleet carrier, of the “Colossus” class, was also operated by the Fleet until the completion of Melbourne.
In mid 1958 Sydney was paid off to reserve and in 1961 the decision was made to use Melbourne as a platform for Wessex helicopters, the ship to be designated as anti-submarine helicopter carrier. However in 1962, after limited modifications, Sydney re-emerged as a fast troop transport and in 1965, another generation of aircraft, Skyhawk attack jets and Tracker patrol planes were ordered for Melbourne, operating with the Fleet Air Arm until June 1984.
For the RAN the era of the traditional gun cruiser armed with eight 8 inch or eight 6 inch guns has long since passed. But between the years 1911 and 1955 this type of warship provided much of the true character of the Navy, both in peacetime and war. From the outset all of the RAN’s cruisers were most successful in their role, operating in the Great War on a myriad of missions in very difficult climatic conditions. From the very hot Indian Ocean and East African regions to the very cold North Sea, as members of the larger British cruiser squadrons, all of the ships and crews performed well. For 45 years Australia’s cruisers were designed for high endurance, a good speed and a powerful gun armament. They ranged in size from the smallish 2,200 ton Pioneer and Psyche, to the most heavily armed, with eleven 6 x inch guns Encounter, to the impressive 13,630 tonners Australia and Canberra, in service from 1928.
Overall, thirteen purpose built cruisers were active with the Royal Australian Navy, with three of the ships originally attached to the Australia Station and subsequently offered to the RAN. Shropshire was transferred from the Royal Navy to replace her lost sister Canberra, sunk at the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 1942. Eleven of the cruisers were constructed in British shipyards, with Brisbane and Adelaide, built in Sydney at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard.