- Swinden, Greg
- History - Between the wars
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Adelaide I, RAFA Biloela
- June 1994 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
ADELAIDE’S role in the punitive expedition had been mainly to provide logistic and communications support and none of her men had fired any shots in anger. This was the last punitive expedition that the RAN was involved with and one historian even went so far to say that “the ADELAIDE’s part in the expedition is not one of the high points in Australian naval history” and that “privately her officers expressed doubts about the usefulness of the exercise”.
Captain Harrison certainly wrote later of the expedition that the hostility between the different native groups on the island could have been used to bring about a swift end to the problem. Harrison stated that “five hundred natives were awaiting the word to attack the murdering tribe. It seems a great pity no such order can be given as they would undoubtedly clear up the whole situation in a week”.
Contrary to the misguided view that the Malaita expedition was a low point in RAN history, the Navy can look back on the punitive expedition with some pride. Some of the highlights which have been forgotten were;
(a) ADELAIDE was dispatched with short notice to the Solomons which required rapid planning and significant logistic effort.
(b) She arrived quickly and without incident thanks to the efforts of her ship’s company.
(c) Despite being hampered by disease ashore her men performed credibly in providing a vast range of services from construction work to communications support.
(d) Although a number of men became ill no lives were lost amongst her ship’s company.
(e) Her men were shown to be highly disciplined especially in comparison to those in the civilian “White” force.
(f) ADELAIDE’S officers and men effectively carried out the orders issued to them by the government, despite the possible feeling by those on board that the expedition was a waste of time.
In what is often considered a mere footnote to Australian Naval history, the punitive expedition by ADELAIDE to Malaita in 1927 stands out as a classic example of the RAN being willing and able to carry out a difficult task at short notice. Whether ADELAIDE’S dispatch to the Solomons was an example of Australia kowtowing to British imperial wishes is not relevant here. What matters is that the ADELAIDE was given her orders, and her ship’s company carried them out to the best of their ability, thus upholding the most important law of the Navy – “Thou shalt not criticise, but obey“.
Gillett R. -Australian and New Zealand Warships 1914-45, Doubleday Australia 1983.
Hermon Gill G. – Royal Australian Navy 1939-42, Australian War Memorial 1957.
Keesing R.M./Corris P. – Lightening Meets the West Wind: The Malaita Massacre, Melbourne Oxford University Press 1980.
“Open Sea” – HMAS TINGIRA Old Boys Association magazine 1969/70.
Australian Navy List 1927.