- Feakes, Rear Admiral , CBE
- Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Melbourne I, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney I
- December 1986 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The following account of how the Royal Australian Navy was born was written by Rear Admiral H.J. Feakes, CBE almost fifty years ago. Feakes was an eyewitness to the great occasion and a serving officer of the fledgling service.
The commissioning of His Majesty’s Australian Fleet (1913) opened a new chapter in British and Dominion naval relations. For over half a century various Colonies had developed and operated small naval forces in their own coastal areas. Personnel had been recruited, both officers and men, from ex Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine.
Ships were usually built, manned and commissioned, without reference to the Admiralty, although it was owing to Admiralty action and assistance that the little navies had survived both periods of stress, reductions and development.
With the sudden reversal of Imperial naval policy initiated by the acceptance of Admiral Sir John Fisher’s recommendations, a complete change of practice now operated. Selection of types of vessels to form the new Fleet Unit were those recommended by the Admiralty, the ships were ordered to Admiralty designs and built under the superintendence of Admiralty officer- overseers, and, notwithstanding the strain on Admiralty manning resources to meet the requirements of the general naval expansion now in progress, the large number of officers and men required additional to those supplied from Australia were readily made available.
Commissioned in December 1913, the advance ship of the new Fleet Unit, HMAS Melbourne (Captain Mortimer L. Silver, RN) sailed from Devonport, and on arrival at Melbourne became parent ship to HMA destroyer flotilla. In June 1913, the battle- cruisers Australia (Captain Stephen E. Radcliffe, RN) and Sydney (Captain John C.T. Glossop, RN) ((Both Commanders Radcliffe and Glossop recently served as Commanders-in-Command in H.M. Australian Squadron. Commander Glossop spent almost all his naval career in Australia.)) commissioned in the Clyde and proceeded to Portsmouth. His Majesty King George V paid a visit of inspection to the cruisers at Plymouth to wish them farewell before departure to Australia.
The bestowal of an order of knighthood (KCVO) on the Flag Officer commanding, Rear-Admiral George E. Patey, transformed a notable occasion into one of great historic interest.
Not since Drake in the Golden Hind received the honour of knighthood at the hand of Queen Elizabeth had a naval commander been so honoured by his sovereign on the quarter-deck of his own flagship. ((This distinction was later claimed for Admiral Beatty when he received the honour of knighthood, GCVO, from H.M. the King, on the quarter-deck of HMS Lion (1917).)) Australian naval forces were further honoured by the bestowal of the title ‘Royal’ Australian Navy.
Paymaster-Commander James J. Jackson, RAN, a member of the Admiral’s staff, was one of the few to witness the delightful informality of this usually ceremonious occasion. He also records the touching concern of His Majesty shown by his insistence on relieving Australia’s High Commissioner (Sir George Reid) from attendance during the quite arduous round of inspection of the flagship. Sir George’s figure was not entirely suited to the gymnastic exercise the Royal progress involved through the great ship’s internal economy traversing tortuous passages, and up and down almost vertical ladders!
Leaving Portsmouth the cruisers parted company, the Sydney calling at St. Helena, and later making a rendezvous in the South Atlantic with the Flag before paying a visit to Cape Town. It was hoped that great results would accrue from the visit of the Australian cruisers in stimulating South African opinion and naval sentiment, but Japan stole the show. Close in the Australia‘s wake followed the mighty Japanese battle-cruiser Kongo, greatly minimizing the effect the Australian flagship had made. The Kongo, a vessel of 27,500 tons, mounting 14-inch guns, quite eclipsed memories of the Australia of 18,750 tons, mounting 12-inch guns. ((One of Australia’s 12 inch shells is now on display in the Garden Island Naval Dockyard Museum.))
Built at Barrow by the Armstrong-Vickers firm, this great vessel had been under our close and jealous observation whilst running her acceptance trials on the Clyde.
Great was the pride of the Japanese people in this, practically the last, warship built for them to their order of a foreign firm.
The Kongo became the pattern ship of three identical ships built in Japanese yards: the Hiyei, completed in 1914, the Haruna and Kirishima, completed in 1915. ((Thirty years later the RAN would have good cause to remember all three names.))
The British-built ship of this group, Kongo, cost 2,500,000 pounds sterling. It would be interesting to know what was the price of her sister ships built in Japanese yards, in Japanese yen.