- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Ship histories and stories, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Pioneer, HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment)
- September 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On 22 March 1916 Pioneer proceeded to rendezvous with Hyacinth and the flagship HMS Vengeance (battleship) off the capital of German East Africa, Dar-es-Salaam. A German `hospital ship’ named Tabora was suspected of being used for less honourable purposes and consent was requested from the Germans to inspect it. Permission was refused for an inspection party to board her, and Pioneer was ordered to close in and open fire if any movement was detected among the ships in harbour. She fired several 4-inch rounds before Vengeance ordered her to cease and await a response to a signal ordering the Germans to evacuate their sick from Tabora. With no answer forthcoming, all three ships opened fire and the suspect vessel was destroyed.
Following this action, Pioneer returned to blockade duties and participated in further bombardments of the ports of Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam in June and July 1916. The action in July was the last in which Pioneer participated, although parties from her crew were detached to relieve the garrison at Sadani during the capture of Bagamoyo on 15 August. It was during this raid that the German letterbox that now graces the wardroom of HMAS Cerberus was taken as a trophy by two of Pioneer’s officers, Acting Commander W.B. Wilkinson and Lieutenant R.C. Creer, who were acting as Beach Master and Provost Marshal respectively.
By this time the naval situation in East Africa had stabilised, as the German forces were being driven inland, and contraband traffic by sea was not considered likely to do them much good.4 It therefore became possible to send Pioneer home.
On 22 August 1916 she sailed from Zanzibar to Australia, flying her paying-off pennant. Her arrival in Sydney on 22 October brought the career of this obsolete ship, dating from pre-Federation years, to an end, yet she had probably seen more actual fighting and fired more shells in the course of World War I than any other Australian ship. Pioneer’s hulk was scuttled off Sydney on 18 February 1931. The postbox souvenired by two of Pioneer’s officers remains in commission.
Reproduced by kind permission of Sea Power Centre – Canberra, from Semaphore 12/2005
1 L. G. Wilson, Cradle of the Navy, Victoria, 1981, p. 27.1.
2 Adapted from J. S. Corbett, History of the Great War, Naval Operations, Vol. III, Longmans, London, 1923, p. 63.
3 M. A. Melville-Anderson, An Account of the Movements of HMAS Pioneer during the Great War, August 1919, (Navy Historical Section).
4 For further reading see: H. Strachan, The First World War, Simon & Schuster, London, 2003, pp. 80-94.
5 A. W. Jose, The Royal Australian Navy, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1928, p. 238.