This week makes the 100th anniversary of the commissioning of the first HMAS Sydney into the Royal Australian Navy. HMAS Sydney I was commissioned in Portsmouth, England on 26 June 1913, part of a series of new ships for a new Australian Navy. The Sydney sailed into Sydney Harbour with the new fleet in October.
All up there have been four Sydney’s each of which has served with distinction over the past 100 years, operating in all the major conflicts Australia has been involved in.
Sydney I arrived just in time to serve in the First World War. At the outbreak of war, Sydney was operating in New Guinea waters, where it was involved in Australia’s first actions; attacks against German bases along the New Guinea coast culminated in the capture of Rabaul in September.
In October Sydney was dispatched west to join the escort of the Anzac transports taking troops to the war in Europe. It was here that Sydney achieved her most famous victory. On 9 November word was received that the German cruiser Emden was operational in the waters around the Cocos Islands, close to the convoy route. Sydney being the closest warship, was sent to engage Emden. In a battle that lasted a total of twenty five minutes of firing, the Sydney was hit 14 times (although only 4 shells exploded) and the Emden was disabled and run aground.
The victory was greeted with pride and relief in Australia. As a trophy, one of the Emden guns was mounted in Hyde Park. For the remainder of the war, the Sydney operated in the West Indies, Mediterranean and North Sea. In December 1917 she launched a Sopwith Pup from a platform on her deck-the first time an aircraft had been launched from an Australian warship.
At wars end she returned to Australia where she was paid off and scraped in 1928. Her huge tripod mast now stands overlooking the harbour at Bradleys Head.
The second HMAS Sydney came into service in 1935 and arrived in Sydney in August 1936, again just in time for a war. In 1940, Sydney (II) sailed for the Mediterranean as part of convoy duties for troops, like her predecessor.
On arrival Sydney was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet under British command where she was involved in the bombardment of Bardia in Libya, convoy duties around Malta and Crete and the Battle of Calabria against the Italian Navy.
In July Sydney was involved in the Battle of Cape Spada off of Crete. In an intense action with other British cruisers, HMAS Sydney engaged and disabled the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni which sank soon after. Sydney also damaged a second Italian ship the Giovanni Delle Bande Nere.
Returning to Australian waters, HMAS Sydney arrived in Sydney in February 1941 for a refit and a civic reception for the crew. With a school holiday declared, the streets of the city were lined with people to watch the crew parade through the streets and the town hall hosted a grand reception for them.
For most this was the last they were ever seen in public.
In April the ship went north on patrol before heading west to Fremantle. In November 1941, Sydney was returning from escorting a troopship north, and was expected in Fremantle on 20 November. She never arrived.
It wasn’t until survivors of the German raider Kormoran were picked up on the 24th that the Sydney’s fate became known. The two ships had meet off of the Western Australian coast from Carnarvon and in a furious battle had mortally wounded each other. While survivors escaped from the Kormoran, none got off the Sydney and she was lost with all 645 on board.
The ship was not located until March 2008. Check here for some amazing wreck images.
The third HMAS Sydney was Australia’s first aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1948, she arrived in Australia in 1949 with two squadrons of Sea Furies and Firefly aircraft on board. In 1951 the Sydney (III) sailed to the Korean War, the first time an aircraft carrier from a British Dominion navy had gone into action. Between October 1951 and January 1952 Sydney (III) was involved in operations around Korea before returning to Australian waters and being present at the British atomic bomb testing at Monte Bello Island.
After a second tour in Korea, Sydney (III) was paid off in 1958, only to be recommissioned in 1962 to serve as a fast troopship in the Vietnam War. Operating until the end of the war, the Sydney took troops and equipment to Vietnam and bought them home again, earning it the name the Vung Tau Ferry. She was finally sold in 1975 and towed out of the Harbour for the scrap yards of South Korea.
The fourth HMAS Sydney was commissioned in 1980 and still serves the RAN.