By Ross Gillett
During 1986, more than any other time since the formation of the RAN, the focus of public and media attention was directed at events both naval and maritime.
In January 1986 the RAN staged an impressive Fleet entry into Sydney Harbour to mark the beginning of its 75th Anniversary celebrations. Taking the salute was the Governor General, Sir Ninian Stephen, while above, the RAN’s special Anniversary Sea King helicopter flew into and around the various bays and coves, with its large Australian White Ensign flapping in the breeze. The Fleet arrival that summer morning would provide a brief taste of the major events planned for the anniversary year.
The largest gathering of warships ever to assemble in an Australian port in peacetime gathered in Sydney Harbour, early in October, to celebrate the Navy’s 75th year. The resultant Naval Review included 24 RAN ships, ranging from the flagship, HMAS Stalwart, down to Fremantle and Attack class patrol boats. Visiting participants included a seven-unit Royal Navy task group led by the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, a four ship United States Naval group, the Canadian Navy training squadron of three frigates, two RNZN warships and one warship each from France and Papua New Guinea. Most of these ships sailed into the harbour on Monday, 29 September as part of a massive ceremonial entry, taking over three hours.
On the Tuesday, the first battleship to visit Sydney since the end of the Second World War arrived off the city to perform a 15-gun broadside firepower demonstration. The ship, USS Missouri, just recently recommissioned, fired her nine 16-inch and six starboard five-inch guns. Missouri then made her triumphant entry through the Heads the next morning to a massive public and media welcome. Because of her size, the ship would later anchor in Athol Bight, as the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise had done in 1964.
The Fleet Review proved to be the major highlight of the Anniversary celebrations and was certainly the most spectacular with all ships ‘dressed overall’ during the day and illuminated at night. Review Day was Saturday, 4 October, HRH, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Reviewing Officer. A highlight of the day’s events was the two mobile lines of warships in the bright afternoon sun, consisting of the Flag Line (with one unit from each nation with their senior visiting officer embarked) and the Small Ships Line, comprising six minor Royal Australian Navy units. Both lines steamed past the hydrographic ship HMAS Cook carrying the Duke, the Prime Minister of Australia and Chief of Naval Staff, with Prince Philip accepting the salute from all ships and their crews, whilst overhead flew aviation groups comprising Naval fixed and rotary wing aircraft and maritime patrol aircraft of the RAAF.
The static review comprising 25 warships and auxiliaries were all located at alongside berths, anchored or secured to buoys in the area between Bradley’s Head to the east and the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the west. All the participating ships, plus personnel from the Naval Support Command who lined the ‘battlements’ of Fort Denison ‘cheered ship’ as the Reviewing Officer steamed past. Sailing with Cook was her escort, the patrol boat Geelong.
Cook assumed her position for the start of the Naval Review at 1200, north-east of Bennelong Point, near Sydney’s magnificent Opera House. At the same time the flag Line Review, led by Perth proceeded towards Cook to fire a 21-gun Royal Salute, followed immediately by ‘cheer ship’. Each unit of the line also ‘cheered ship’ as they passed the Reviewing vessel.
As the final ship of the Flag Line Review passed, Cook and her escort commenced reviewing the major units lying off the northern shores of Sydney Harbour. Cook then stopped in a position south of Bradley’s Head as the second Review, the Small Ships Line began its steam past. During the Review of the ‘Small Ships’ a flypast of RAAF Orion P-3C maritime patrol aircraft began. Following the Small Ships Line, Cook returned to review the remaining static units. When she returned to Sydney Cove at 1323 a flypast of RAN helicopter squadrons and visiting navies’ aircraft filled the skies. Geelong then steamed past and ‘cheered ship’.
That evening Navy staged a massive fireworks display, with all the ships illuminated for the night. At Bennelong Point, massed naval bands performed at the Sydney Opera House. Following the week-long events, many of the visiting ships, in company with RAN units sailed to other capital cities for further visits.
The spectacle of a naval review on Sydney Harbour proved most successful and would be repeated in 1988, but in greater numbers of ships, people, events and overall organisation.
‘Mighty Mo’ returned to Sydney for a second, but low-key visit in 1987. Organisers of the forthcoming 1988 events declined another firepower demonstration, deciding instead to wait for the visit by her sistership, USS New Jersey, for the Bicentennial Naval Salute.
Participating RAN Fleet Units