- 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)
Kormoran survivors reported that the bridge and the director of Sydney were hit within a few seconds of firing (at less than 2000 metres) and that the Sydney’s remaining guns then appeared to go into local control, which was only a fall-back method.
Adelaide carried her main guns in single, shielded hand-powered mountings, evenly spaced along either side of the hull. Her 1938-39 refit had improved various aspects of her gunnery control but she still seems to have had the old Dreyer gunnery calculation table which provided information to the individual gun mountings, whose trainers and layers then laid the gun by physically matching pointers. At such close range Adelaide’s mountings could have been individually controlled. Each mounting was far enough apart not to have been affected by damage to another mounting.
Could Adelaide have handled the situation, because of her age and obsolete equipment, better than did Sydney? Her later rapid hits on the German blockade runner Ramses suggests her gunnery was excellent. We’ll never know, but the question has fascinated me for years and Adelaide was convoy escort in that area, both before and after the loss of Sydney.
As the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbour and headed south towards the oil of the Dutch East Indies, Adelaide was in New Guinea; virtually all the RAN had to defend the north of Australia.
Gull Force escort
The old ship was ordered post-haste to Darwin to escort the soldiers of Gull Force to Ambon where they would make a futile defence. Adelaide took just 48 hours over 10-12 December 1941 to reach Darwin, travelling at between 23 and 25 knots through inadequately charted, reef strewn waters. What the thoughts of the young Australians on board may be imagined by those of us who were not there.
‘We called into Darwin to take on stores and fuel; during this interval everyone on board was handed a last will and testament form and told it was to be filled in and sent ashore before the ship sailed. When we asked why, we were told that it was a suicide mission and we would not be coming back. It turned out that we had to convoy Gull Force to Ambon. When we arrived at Ambon the Japanese were preparing to land at the other end. When we left to return to Darwin, we had not been gone long when one of our last Beaufighters flew over and signalled that a heavy force of Japanese ships was heading after us. We managed to keep ahead until darkness when we made a right angled turn and headed for Port Moresby.’ (Doug Malloch).
As the Japanese pushed the Allies out of Asia, the Anzac Squadron was formed on 27 January, 1942 to escort troops and equipment to Suva, Fiji.
This seems to have been the only time that Adelaide was officially part of a battle group. Cruisers involved were Australia, Adelaide, HMS Leander, HMNZS Achilles and USS Phoenix, together with merchant ships including liners and a tanker, but Adelaide seems to have played little part in this force.
As the meagre Allied naval forces were forced to retreat, evacuations continued along the line of the Dutch East Indies. In February 1942 the sloop HMAS Yarra escorted a convoy from Tanjong Priok which included the unserviceable destroyer HMAS Vendetta under tow, and passed it on to Adelaide. The next month while escorting another convoy south, Yarra was sunk by Japanese cruisers with heavy loss of life. A few days earlier the second of the RAN’s modern light cruisers, HMAS Perth, was lost in the Sunda Strait. Fifteen days earlier she had been in company with Adelaide off the coast of WA.
On 19 April 1942, Adelaide, with the US destroyer John D. Evans, escorted a Sydney bound convoy from Noumea.
Midget submarine attack
When the Japanese midget submarines penetrated Port Jackson on 31 May 1942, Adelaide was undergoing refit, berthed on the western side of Garden Island. Her gunnery system was again modified and her main guns were fitted with larger shields to provide more weather protection for the gun crews. With Captain J.C.D. Esdaile now in command, Adelaide was back on the west coast run by late 1942. Here she spent most of the rest of her war and one of her convoy tasks brought her into minor action once more. It was a situation that in some respects was similar to the opening stages of the Sydney’s final action. On 29 November 1942 Convoy 01 of three cargo ships was being escorted outward by Adelaide, the Dutch anti- aircraft cruiser Jacob Van Heemskerk and two Bathurst class Australian mine sweepers (corvettes) Cessnock and Toowoomba. Adelaide’s masthead lookout reported a ship and at 14:16 Adelaide, having left the smaller ships to guard the convoy, challenged the distant ship and went to action stations. The merchant ship turned away and made a fake raider report.