Today is the beginning of a week of naval celebrations commemorating 100 years since the arrival of the first Royal Australian Navy (RAN) fleet into Sydney Harbour.  In 1913, Australia, newly federated from a bunch of colonial states took charge of its own maritime defence from the Royal Navy.  As HMAS Australia steamed into Sydney, it struck the Australian colours for the first time as the last British warship on the Australian station lowered hers.

Seven ships entered the harbour that morning: the battlecruiser HMAS Australia, the light cruiser Sydney, the cruisers Encounter and Melbourne and the destroyers Warrego, Parramatta and Yarra.  The fleet entered in single file, watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators from as many vantage points as there were around the harbour.  It was an impressive sight and reassured Australian patriots after the visit of the American White Fleet in 1908.

HMAS Australia and her sister ships with pennants flying, Sydney Harbour Oct 1913
HMAS Australia and her sister ships with pennants flying, Sydney Harbour Oct 1913

Fleet Reviews are a naval tradition that stretch back to as early as 1415 when Henry V reviewed his fleet before sending it to war against France.  In fact the British navy is quite fond of reviews, staging them to correspond with coronations or significant jubilees of reigning monarchs.  During World War II, over 800 ships, including Australian, were secretly reviewed prior to the D-Day invasion in June 1944.

For the RAN the first review after 1913 was in Port Phillip in 1920 with 28 ships.  In 1986 to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the granting of its Royal title saw 27 ships from seven nations take part.  Two years later for the Bi-centennial of the arrival of the First Fleet 59 warships from 15 nations came to Sydney.

This time around it’s a peaceful affair.  The RAN has 19 warships and submarines involved, joined by 18 warships from 17 navies, as well as 16 tallships and 3 civilian ships including the steam launch Lady Hopetoun.  The Lady Hopetoun, launched in 1902, was on the harbour and involved in the first Fleet Review in 1913.  This year she carries retired navy officers as part of the official Review party.

Events for the International Fleet Review are being held around the harbour and across the city all week.  If you like big ships, fast planes and sailors then this is the week for you.

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