- 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)
To describe the cruisers a complicated system for classification of sizes and roles was initially employed by the Royal Navy. These included second and third class protected cruisers of 5,900 tons (1905) and 2,000-2,500 tons (1890s), while the RN flagship of the Australia Station from 1901 to 1905 HMS Powerful, a first class protected cruiser, displaced 14,200 tons. Fortunately, by the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the more sensible light cruiser category was generally employed. This system was later extended to the larger and better armed heavy cruisers of the mid war and Second World War periods.
The light cruiser Adelaide was laid down in 1915 for service in the Great War, but was not commissioned until 1922. This delayed commissioning meant that the ship was still considered suitable for retention throughout the 1930s and in 1938-39 underwent a major refit in Sydney. Her three older “Town” class half-sisters were all deleted by this time, the last Brisbane, in 1935. From 1928, for over a quarter of a century, the most effective fleet members were the heavy cruisers Australia and Canberra, and after the loss of the latter, Shropshire. During 1938-39 Australia received a major modernisation, but with the outbreak of war it was not possible to upgrade her sister ship. Despite the refits to Adelaide and Australia, the most modern ships available at the outbreak of the Second World War were the three ship “Modified Leander” class light cruisers Sydney, Perth and Hobart.
The three surviving cruisers from the Second World War, Hobart, Shropshire and Australia were paid off in 1947, 1949 and 1954 respectively, with Australia providing service as a training ship during her last five years and Hobart earmarked for conversion to the same role, although she never actually served as a training ship. The final fates of the RAN’s cruisers varied widely; Sydney (II), Canberra and Perth were sunk during the Second World War, Psyche was converted to a lighter and later sank, Pioneer and Encounter were scuttled off Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Australia and Shropshire were broken up in the United Kingdom, with Sydney (I), Adelaide and Hobart scrapped in Sydney, Port Kembla and Osaka, Japan respectively.
Armed Merchant Cruisers
Another important pair of ships commissioned by the RAN was the two Armed Merchant Cruisers (AMCs) Manoora and Westralia. Modified from commercial passenger ships operating around the Australian coast, the AMCs supported the navy’s six purpose-built cruisers in the early part of the Second World War. Conversion of these ships in late 1939 saw the fitting of numerous six inch guns and one anti-aircraft gun to each vessel. The ships provided the necessary firepower in the absence of the other cruisers and thus could be well described as most successful in their new roles. After the requirement for the ships had lessened, both were taken in hand, with another passenger ship Kanimbla, and converted to Infantry Landing Ships (LSIs) to participate in the forthcoming amphibious war against Japan. The LSIs were later employed in the repatriation of allied prisoners-of-war and other troops from numerous Asian and Japanese ports.
After its powerful cruiser force, the Navy relied much upon its eleven destroyer classes. These ‘workhorses’ of the Fleet totalled 39 ships, the size and role of the successive classes increasing with the commissioning of each new generation of destroyer. The era of the RAN destroyer had begun with the “River” class, completed between 1910 and 1916 and came to a temporary conclusion in 2001 with the decommissioning of the last of the three 1965-67 vintage “Perth” class Guided Missile Destroyers (DDGs). During the century up to 2011 the RAN utilised its destroyers in eight wars, conflicts and skirmishes, satisfying a myriad of tasks, including naval gunfire support, anti-submarine protection, and convoy patrol, cover for amphibious landings, anti-aircraft duties, reconnaissance, providing an Australian naval presence and as escorts for aircraft carrier and larger fleet concentrations.
Twelve of the destroyers were built in Australia, 24 in various shipyards in England and Scotland and the three DDGs in the United States of America. During the same period the armaments carried by the ships were mainly British designed. Only after 1965 did local and American manufacturers outfit that new generation of “Perth” class with different weapons systems. Another three destroyers now building in South Australia will join the Fleet in the mid 2010s in the form of the “Hobart” class air warfare destroyers.