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HMAS Australia




Introduction

HMAS Australia was the third of the Indefatigable Class of battle cruisers. The Indefatible class comprised three ships; in order of completion they were Indefatigable, New Zealand and Australia.

The Royal Navy used the name Australia for three ships as shown in the table below.


DateBrief History
1885The first Australia was a member of the eight strong Orlando class of armoured cruisers. Built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at their Govan works on the Clyde, she was the only ship of the Royal Navy to use the name. She was laid down in April 1885, launched in November 1886, and commissioned in October 1888. The Orlando class was a series of fairly small first class armoured cruisers 300 feet long. They displaced 5,600 tons full load and were powered by twin screws each driven by a three cylinder triple expansion engine. Under forced draft they developed 8,500 IHP and could make almost 19 knots. Armament was two 9.2” breech loading guns; rather strangely these were initially open weapons with no shields - one gun was fitted fore and aft, They also carried ten 6” guns - five on either beam. Six 6-pounder, and ten 3-pounder guns completed the outfit. The class was also fitted with six torpedo tubes - one at the bow and one at the stern of the submerged type with the other four deck- mounted - two on either beam. HMS Australia was commissioned for the Mediterranean station in 1889. In 1903 she was assigned as a coast guard vessel and in 1905 she was broken up at Troon.
1913The second Australia was an Indefatigable class battle cruiser and is the subject of this page
1928The third Australia was a Kent class heavy cruiser built by John Browns at their Clydebank works 1925-28. She was 630 feet long and displaced just slightly less than the 10,000 ton 1922 Washington treaty limit for heavy cruisers. The class could make almost 32 knots on their four steam turbines which developed 80,000 SHP. They had an excellent range and were very good sea-boats. However their main armament of eight 8" guns were new and prone to teething troubles in the early years. She also had four 4" guns, four 3-pounders and one quadruple 2-pounder gun and two sets of quadruple torpedo tubes. At the end of a long war Australia was hit by no less than six Kamikaze aircraft - five off the Lingayen gulf - resulting in the loss of 86 of her crew. Repaired she sailed on until 1954 when she was decommissioned and then scrapped at Barrow in 1955

There was to be a fourth use of the name Australia. The Carrier/through-deck cruiser HMS Invincible (R05) was to have become the third HMAS Australia as a replacement for the carrier HMAS Melbourne but following the Falklands war Britain decided not to sell her.


Image 1 shows HMAS Australia - the location and date are not known. [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 2 shows HMAS Australia - the location and date are not known. [5]

HMAS Australia



Basic Data


ItemData
TypeBattle Cruiser
ClassIndefatigable
BuildersJohn Brown & Co.
YardClydebank
Country UK
Yard number512
Displacement (Std)18,500 tons
Displacement (Full load)22,110
Length590 ft
Breadth80 ft
Draught26 ft 6 inches
EnginesFour Parsons direct drive steam turbines
Engine buildersN/K
WorksN/K
CountryUK
Boilers32 Babcock & Wilson coal-fired boilers
Power44,000 SHP
PropulsionFour Screws
Speed25 knots
ComplementApprox. 820


Additional Construction Information

Finance for the ship was provided by Australia and on her commissioning she became the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Her building costs were a little under £1,800,000. A strange feature of both the Australia and New Zealand, which were funded by their respective countries, was that their construction started at about the same time the Royal Navy began building the Lion class. The Lion class was a far better design of battle-cruiser and the only reason I can think for this occurring was that the Indefatigables were a very much cheaper design.

Quadruple propellers were driven by Parsons direct drive steam turbines in a virtually identical layout to that of the Invincible class battle-cruisers. The turbines consisted of a high pressure ahead and astern turbine on the outboard shafts, and a low pressure ahead and astern on the two inboard shafts. The inboard shafts also incorporated an ahead cruising turbine for fuel economy.

The turbines developed a total of 44,000 SHP giving a speed of 25 knots and on her trials on overload she attained 55,881 SHP which gave her a speed of 26.89 knots. Steam was supplied from a total of 32 Babcock and Wilcox coal fired boilers which were also fitted with oil sprayers to facilitate raising steam quickly and to provide maximum power when required. The bunker capacity of 3,170 tons of coal and 840 tons of oil gave them a range of 6,330 miles at 10 knots. The class was fitted with twin rudders which made them quite manoeuvrable with a small tactical diameter.


Images 3 and 4 show unidentified stokers at work in the boiler room on HMAS Australia. The first of these shows scraping out the ash from the bottom grate in the boiler furnace and the second shows stoking. [4]

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

Image 5 shows coaling operations in full swing on board HMAS Australia. On the deck of the battle cruiser many seamen wait to have their trolleys loaded with coal, while others push loaded trolleys. Those on the deck of the collier load coal into sacks. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 6 shows two seamen and two officers watching the instruments on the control board in the engine room aboard HMAS Australia. Identified left to right: Engineer Commander George William Wooldridge, RN; Stoker R Else (rear); Chief Engine Room Artificer John Kenshole of Heavitree, England; Engineer Lieutenant Walter Robert Sinclair, RAN. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 7 shows five seamen cleaning boiler tubes under supervision aboard HMAS Australia. Identified left to right (bottom row, standing): Stoker H Ashford; Stoker Charles Francis Studden of Calstock, England; Leading Stoker D Hartley. Top row, seated: Stoker W P Thomas; Stoker Jack Ashby of North Melbourne, Vic; Stoker Percy Hudson of Lanchester, England. [4]

HMAS Australia




Career Highlights


DateEvent
23 June 1910Keel laid down
25 October 1911Launched - named by Lady Reid, wife of Sir George Reid, Australian High Commissioner in London and former Prime Minister.
June 1913Commissioned
1921Transferred to the Reserve Fleet
12 April 1924Scuttled 24 miles from E of Port Jackson Heads complete with her armament


Armament

Main Battery

Australia had eight 12" C45 Mk10 guns in four twin turrets with turret A on the foc’sle deck. Turret Y was right aft and two turrets were amidships - P forward of the No2 funnel and Q aft. Although P and Q turrets still had restricted arcs of fire ahead and astern, they were in a better position than the echelon arrangement in the previous Invincible class and could fire an eight-gun broadside without risking blast damage to the ship.


Image 7 shows a gun turret on HMAS Australia. [4]

HMAS Australia

Construction of the gun barrels was of wire winding of several miles of thin flat wire onto a steel inner tube. This was then covered with a steel jacket. Bore length was 45 calibres or 540 inches and the guns were fitted with an improved mechanical type breech. Each gun weighed approximately 57 tons with the two gun turrets weighing a total of 450-500 tons. Although of a calibre favoured by the Admiralty, these guns were not a good weapon at long range as the shell tended to wobble in flight giving poor accuracy.

The guns had a range of 16,500 yards at an elevation of 13.5° and fired a shell weighing 850 to 859lbs using a propellant charge of 258lbs of Cordite MD45 (MD standing for Cordite Modified - now obsolescent and comprised 65% guncotton and 30% nitro-glycerine and 5% Vaseline). The number indicates this is a rod shaped propellant i.e. it is in long rods not granular. The charges were in four silk bags and the silk was a special type called Shallon. Much coarser than normal silk this ensured that it burnt completely in the barrel so as to leave no residue that might ignite a following charge. The shell life of the guns was reasonable at 220 rounds per gun (RPG) with on board stowage being 800 rounds or 80 RPG. Rate of firing was two rounds per minute on gun-layers tests but in battle it was nearer one round per minute. Penetration was given as 10.5” of armour plate at a range of 10,000 yards.


Image 8 is a scan of a page in a very old manual and shows the layout of the main and secondary weapons of the Indefatigable class battle-cruisers. Note that the two midships (P and Q) turrets are offset, this was to keep the additional length of the ship to a minimum from the original Invincible design. The proximity of the guns to the ships side and thus lack of protection from interior structures entailed a patch of armour having to be added to the side of each respective side of the ship in the area of the vulnerable turret. The side elevation shows the outline of the armour scheme. [1]

HMAS Australia

Image 9 shows the inside a turret on the battle cruiser HMAS Australia. Five seamen wait as the supply of shells passes from the magazine to a 12 inch gun. Identified left to right: Leading Seaman Keith James Trueman of Thebarton, SA; Boy First Class W R Edwards; Boy First Class Kenneth William Carswell Bourne of West Maitland, NSW; unidentified; Able Seaman Roger Audley Tuxworth of Brisbane, Qld (far right). [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 10 shows the inside a turret on the battle cruiser HMAS Australia. Able Seaman W J Cotter rams home a projectile in a 12 inch gun, watched by Able Seaman T R Field (left). [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 11 shows the same gun with the breech closed ready for firing. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 12 is a view along the foredeck of HMAS Australia showing 'A' Turret with its 12" and 4" guns. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 13 is a view from the foremast looking along 'A' turret and the fo'c'sle. An anchor party is working at the capstan and the ship's whaler is coming alongside [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 14 is a view from the fo'c'sle showing 'A' turret, the conning tower, bridge and foremast. The 4" guns can be seen protruding from the side and the signalling light and semaphore psotions can be seen on either side of the bridge. [4]

HMAS Australia


Secondary Battery

Sixteen single 4” C50 Mk7 guns were fitted to this class of ship. Thankfully none were installed on the main turret roofs a place that was untenable when the main armament was in action - instead they were positioned in casemates or in open mounts around the deck houses.

Image 15 shows an anti-aircraft gun on the after deck of HMAS Australia, with a group of seamen. [4]

HMAS Australia



Torpedo Armament

Ships in the Indefatigable class were originally fitted with three 18” submerged torpedo tubes, one aft and one on either beam. In about 1915 the stern tube was removed from all three of the ships in the class.



Armour Protection

As already mentioned above, the armour scheme of these ships was not great - nor was it intended to be as the ships were not designed for fighting a heavily armed opponent. The class was particularly weakly defended against long-range plunging shell-fire. The main belt consisted of a shallow belt just 6" thick with a 4" upper belt. Closing the armoured citadel off were two armoured bulkheads which were just 4" thick, The decks over the magazines and machinery spaces were just 2.5" thick and reduced to an inch elsewhere. The barbettes protecting the turret machinery and shell hoists were a little better at 7" where they were outside of other armour but reduced to just 3" inside other armour. The main turret faces were 10" thick with 6" side and back plates and the control tower armour was 2.75" thick.


Image 16 shows Australia. The caption on the source photo says it was taken in 1915 from the Forth Bridge in Scotland. Steve Woodward says "I can definitely identify this image from my father's collection of cuttings of the Australia and can see that the anti-torpedo nets have gone so it was taken post the start of WW1. The photo was obviously taken from above but does not look to be high enough for an aeroplane so I think it was taken from the Forth bridge either leaving or entering the Firth of Forth with what may be the Renown or Repulse astern." [4]

HMAS Australia



Operational History

Commissioning

HMAS Australia was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy on the 21 June 1913 under the command of Captain Stephen H. Radcliffe RN. On the 23 June she hoisted the flag of Rear Admiral George Edwin Patey as flagship of the Australian fleet. She sailed from Portsmouth on the 21 July 1913 in company with the light cruiser HMAS Sydney – a Chatham class light cruiser which had just been built by the London and Glasgow Engineering Company at Govan on the Clyde. Sydney was later to become famous when she was involved in the RAN’s first ship-to-ship battle with the German light cruiser/raider Emden on the 9 November 1914.


Image 17 shows HMAS Australia on an unknown ceremonial occasion. The ship appears to be in pristine condition and a photographer is visible on a stepladder taking pictures. The date is not known. [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 17 shows HMAS Australia - The date is not confirmed but it was clearly taken at Portsmouth - note the transom stern of the Victory on the left. Australia is fitted with anti-torpedo nets that were removed early in WW1 so this is early in her life. The only time she is known to have been in Portsmouth was at her commissioning in June 1913 so this picture is highly likely to have been taken at that time. [2]

HMAS Australia

Image 19 shows HMAS Australia - presumably at Portsmouth as the photographer was Cribb of Southsea. This image also shows anti-torpedo nets - the date is not known. [2]

HMAS Australia

Image 20 also shows HMAS Australia at Portsmouth. This photo is much clearer and does not appear to show the torpedo nets which is a bit of a mystery. Possibly she had them fitted at the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard shortly after this photo was taken. The source describes the photo "HMAS Australia with HMS Victory en route to Australia 21 July 1931". [2]

HMAS Australia

The voyage back to Australia was used to publicise the RAN and raise awareness of its role. Australia along with the cruisers Encounter, Melbourne and Sydney escorted by the Destroyers Parramatta, Warrego and Yarra arrived at Sydney on 4 October 1913 to an enthusiastic welcome. Following this she carried out a tour of Australia visiting most if not all the major ports. One memorial to her at this time is the film Sea Dogs of Australia the battle-cruiser in the film is Australia.


Image 21 shows HMAS Australia at sea in 1913. [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 22 shows HMAS Australia entering Sydney in 1913. [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 23 shows HMAS Australia at Farm Cove Sydney - the date is not known. HMAS Melbourne is in the background. [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 24 shows HMAS Australia entering Sydney Harbour for the first time on 4 October 1913. [5]

HMAS Australia


WW1

Action

When WW1 broke out, the Australian fleet was a major deterrent to the German East Asiatic Fleet under Admiral Graf Von Spee and kept that fleet out of Australia’s waters. During these times Australia captured the German supply ship Sumatra.

Image 25 is captioned "HMAS Australia at sea Circa 1914". [2]

HMAS Australia

At the end of December 1914 Australia sailed for England via the Panama canal. During the crossing of the Pacific she encountered one of Graf Spee’s supply ships SS Eleonore Woermann - a 5,000 ton collier. Graf Spee at this time had already been defeated by Rear Admiral Sturdee off the Falkland Islands. Australia captured the collier, removed the crew then sank her with a single 12” shell.


Image 26 shows HMAS Australia in very choppy seas - the date and location are not known. [2]

HMAS Australia

Arriving in Devonport on 25 January 1915 she sailed shortly afterwards for Rosyth where on 15 February she hoisted the flag of Rear Admiral Sir William Pakenham assuming the role of flagship of the 2nd Battle-Cruiser Squadron (2BCS). This squadron comprised the three ships of the Indefatigable class - Australia, New Zealand and Indefatigable herself - and was based at Rosyth. For the next months the 2BCS’s life was one of routine sweeps and patrols of the North Sea then, out on manoeuvres on the 22 April 1916, the 2BCS found itself in dense fog and the New Zealand collided quite heavily with the Australia. New Zealand’s damage was quickly repaired, but not so the Australia. Her damage was quite severe and so she spent until 9 June 1916 under repair at Rosyth dockyard. As a result she missed the Battle of Jutland on 31 May -1 June 1916; New Zealand took over as Flag of the 2BCS which sailed as a two ship squadron.

Image 27 shows HMAS Australia - this fine photograph was taken by Green Brothers but the date and location are not known. [5]

HMAS Australia

When she returned to service Australia again joined the 2BCS and resumed her life of routine patrols. In December 1917 she opened fire on a possible submarine sighting but this was likely a false alarm. On 12 December 1917 during fleet manoeuvres she collided with the battle-cruiser HMS Repulse and needed nearly a month under repair.

In February 1918 several of Australia’s crew volunteered for special duties leaving the ship temporarily for the raids on Ostend and Zeebrugge where they acquitted themselves very well. Towards the end of the war Australia carried out a number of trials launching aircraft from a makeshift platform on top of the barrels of A Turret's guns.



Launching of Aircraft

The first flight by an aircraft from HMAS Australia took place on 18 December 1917, piloted by Flight Lieutenant (later Captain)) F.M. Fox, RNAS (later RAF); the first successful flight of a two-seater aircraft (carrying pilot only) was on 8 March 1918. On 4 April 1918, and again on 11 May 1918, Sopwith number 5644 successfully took off from HMAS Australia with a two man crew and wireless equipment, piloted on both occasions by Capt Fox.

Image 27 shows HMAS Australia - the source photo is captioned "Launching Sopwith Pup". [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 29 shows a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter biplane aircraft (serial number 5644) being hoisted onto the deck of HMAS Australia. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 30 has the following caption on the Australian War Memorial website:

Silhouetted against the water, three men work on a Sopwith 1 1/2 strutter two seater biplane, which was carried by HMAS Australia on a platform above the starboard gun turret. The aircraft first took off from the ship on 4 April 1918 and again on 14 May 1918; this had not been done before with a two seater aircraft. (See EN0010, EN0011, EN0224.) The Forth Bridge can be seen in the background.

Note: I have been advised by Steve Cox that this aircraft is actually a Sopwith Camel; looking at the shape of the upper wing it is certainly different from the aircraft shown in the other images below. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 31 shows another view of the same Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter biplane aircraft (serial number 5644) being hoisted onto the deck of HMAS Australia. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 32 shows Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter biplane aircraft (serial number F-7562 atop the port turret. Other photos show it on the starboard turretof HMAS Australia. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 33 shows HMAS Australia fitted with an Aircraft launching device and equipped with a Sopwith 1½ Strutter two-seater aircraft for reconnaissance. This model was introduced into service in 1916. There appears to be no launching mechanism and it is assumed that the aircraft has to launch on the very short and narrow platform mounted on the guns using its own power. Presumably the launch is there to rescue the pilot should things go wrong. It would seem a tall order to land on the gun platform but they are not equipped with floats to land in the sea. [4]

HMAS Australia

Image 34 shows HMAS Australia with the searchlights at work at the Firth of Forth in 1918. The 2-seater Sopwith biplane can be clearly seen on its launching platform. [6]

HMAS Australia

[5]

Image 35 shows the ship's company of HMAS Australia in 1918. [5]

HMAS Australia



The Armistice

On 11 November 1918 The Armistice was signed and on 21 November Australia led the port column of the ships greeting the surrendering German High Seas Fleet as they arrived at the Firth of Forth for disarmament checks before being interned in Scapa Flow. In the Firth of Forth each allied ship was given watch over a German counterpart to ensure no foul play - Australia watched over the battle-cruiser Hindenburg.


Image 36 is a photo showing men of HMAS Australia marching North along Macquarie Street during a peace celebration at Sydney in 1919 and was originally taken by a photographer from the Sydney Morning Herald and Sydney Mail. [4]

HMAS Australia


Post WW1

In early 1919 Australia left Northern waters for Plymouth and on 23 April 1919 sailed for Freemantle.

Image 37 shows HMAS Australia passing through the Suez Canal in 1919. [5]

HMAS Australia

She arrived at Freemantle on 28 May 1919 for a planned four day visit. However this proved short of the expectations of her crew and a request was made for a longer stay. This was refused and a number of the crew, chiefly the stokers, refused to sail the ship and a number of men were charged with mutiny. Delayed by all this she did not arrive in Sydney until 15 June. She had been away from Australia just short of 5 years so perhaps her men’s behaviour was justified. Several of the men involved in the so-called mutiny were jailed but outrage in the country saw them freed relatively quickly.


Image 37 shows HMAS Australia dressing ship in honour of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1920. [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 39 shows inscriptions on the side of HMAS Australia recognising her battle honours. [4]

HMAS Australia


Resuming the role of flagship of the RAN, the costs of running the ship became the ruling factor and she was reduced to the role of a gunnery training ship with a reduced crew at the Flinders Naval Depot until 1921 when she returned to Sydney to pay off into reserve.



Disposal

The 1922 naval arms limitation treaty held in Washington now ended Australia's career and it was decided to scuttle her. Although nowadays this seems like a dreadful waste of re-usable metal, there may simply not have been suitable scrapping facilities within range.

Before disposal, useful weaponry and equipment plus valuable non-ferrous scrap was removed. A large numbers of parts were also sold as souvenirs and on the 12 April 1924 the battle-cruiser was towed out to sea 24 miles from Sydney Heads and scuttled. She was less than nine years old but the world of naval warfare had moved on a long way from the times when she was conceived and built and, to be brutally honest, she would not have stood the test of combat with the newer ships then around. To have kept her would have been a truly awesome task. She would have need new machinery and her 12” guns were obsolete and in need of new armament. Rebuilding the ship to take that armament would have been a massive under-taking. Her battle-cruiser armour was woefully inadequate when she was built and would not have protected her against the newer light cruisers let alone anything larger, so the decision to delete her was entirely the best solution.

The scuttling of HMAS Australia was reported in great depth and with great emotion in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 April. The event was photographed and you will find below copies of the reports from the local newspaper and a remarkable set of photos of the scuttling which should be considered together to get the full picture of the event.

Images 40 to 59 are copied from the Sydney Morning Herald of Monday 14 April 1924. [3]

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

Images 60 to 63 show HMAS Australia being towed into position for scuttling. [5]

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

Image 64 shows HMAS Australia at her scuttling. The source caption says "Australia with the sinking party ready to jump into the sea boat when it comes to the escape." [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 65 shows HMAS Australia at her scuttling with boats taking away members of the sinking party. The photographer who took most of this series of photos can be seen clearly. [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 66 shows HMAS Australia listing heavily as she was scuttled on 12 April 1924. [5]

HMAS Australia

Image 67 shows HMAS Australia on her way down. [5]

HMAS Australia



Image Credits

  1. From an old British Navy manual
  2. Images of unknown provenance
  3. By courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald (14 April 1924)
  4. By courtesy of the Australian War Memorial website -External Ref. #7
  5. By courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy website- see External Ref. #3