- Andrews, Grahame, (Honorary Life Member)
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Adelaide I, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Melbourne I
- June 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Adelaide was back in Sydney on 23 November 1927 and, still a relatively new ship, was paid off into reserve on 27 June 1928. The RAN had taken delivery of two new County class heavy cruisers and did not have enough people to man Adelaide.
Between 1928 and 1938 various Australian voices were raised from time to time, seeking to warn complaisant Australians of the coming political storms but ‘disarmament’ and ‘appeasement’ were more the mood of the general population and Adelaide, now well obsolete, lay disused and unwanted.
In this period the RAN made steady and partly successful attempts to keep up with naval technology. During the period it bought new cruisers and from 1936 on, the RAN restarted an earlier cruiser exchange programme with the RN. By this means the isolated RAN was able to improve its operational skills to match the newer light cruisers coming into service.
By 1937 even the least observant citizen was aware that on one side of the world Germany was resurgent and that Japan was no longer the official ‘ally’ it had been during 1914-1918.
In October 1938, having been laid up for 10 years, Adelaide was taken in hand for a major refit. She was converted to oil firing, which reduced her ship’s company, and was given new gunnery control equipment. Her 6in. (152mm) guns were slightly repositioned, she was given a brace of extra anti-aircraft guns and a modernised gun director to control them, and she was later fitted with depth charge equipment. The change to oil fuel saw a reduction in the number of boilers, with the ship’s forefunnel being removed and part of the associated spare boiler space being used for extra fuel tanks to increase the ship’s modest cruising range. Her maximum speed and shaft horsepower were slightly reduced. Adelaide‘s messing was altered to the modified Broadside method, in which system all meals for the men were prepared in the oil-fired galley and were then issued in dixies for serving in the mess decks. The refit cost £60,000.
The ship was recommissioned on 13 March 1939 under Captain Harry L. Howden, RAN and combined working-up trials with a fleet trade protection exercise over 17-19 April provoked by the Munich crisis. At this time the RAN had cruisers Adelaide, Sydney (2), Hobart and Canberra with destroyers Vampire and Voyager and sloops Swan (2) and Yarra (2) available. Other ships were in refit and under construction.
Adelaide was paid off again on 17 May 1939 to allow her ship’s company to sail to Britain in the converted cargo ship Autolycus to take over the new cruiser HMAS Perth (1). As new recruits began to enlarge the RAN, Adelaide was recommissioned on 1 September 1939, under Captain H. A. Showers, and was in the Sydney area when war was declared.
Adelaide was given the role of convoy escort around our coastline and on 13 December 1939 she relieved the modern cruiser HMAS Sydney on the Western Australian coast to allow that ship to go to Sydney for refit and leave. ((Douglas A. Marshall, Warrant Officer Gunner, served in Adelaide in early part of war.)) Sydney later briefly returned to the west before leaving Fremantle with the first ANZAC convoy. From Aden she moved into the Italian theatre and there earned battle honours against the Italian Navy.
It is obvious that the RAN and Australian Government, believing that Adelaide, not being a front line combat ship, could be best used as a convoy escort in secondary theatres of war where her low speed and poor anti-aircraft armament mattered less. Obviously this plan worked as the ship survived the war, but several times in her war career Adelaide was in situations that might well have resulted in full-scale combat.
Adelaide alternated between the east and the west coast, generally being used as a convoy escort, the RAN having the first World War in mind, when converted German cargo ships raided our sea-lanes, sinking cargo ships and laying mines. The RAN’s pessimistic conclusions were confirmed and many ships were sunk on both sides of Australia even before the Japanese entered the war.
The Japanese would also use concealed armed merchant cruisers and sent them and heavy cruisers out at various times, as well as using submarines in our coastal waters with tragic results.