- Bradford, John
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Canberra I
- March 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I read with interest the file correspondence on the naming of the USN Cruiser, the USS Canberra in the September 96 issue. In June 1994 while at US Naval Institute I was shown the Oral Records of Captain J. L. McCrea, USN, in particular the section which discussed events leading up to the wartime naming of a USN Fletcher-class destroyer after the USN Sullivan Brothers. Close by was his account of events concerning the naming of the cruiser. Now it is possible to compare the two versions of events surrounding the naming of the USS Canberra. There is only one cautionary comment I would like to make: while oral records, personal memories and official histories etc. are invaluable aids for conducting naval history research, when it comes to authenticity there is no substitute for sighting the original correspondence or documentation.
Reminiscences of VICE ADMIRAL JOHN L. McCREA USN (Rtd.)
Q: What were some of the other things that the President had you do for him?
Admiral McCrea: Well I can’t begin to tell you everything, but there was always something that I was doing for him. You remember the Battle of Savo Island?
Q: In August 1942.
Admiral McCrea: Yes. The Australians lost the ‘Canberra’ down there. One day I was taking over a bunch of names to him. He always insisted on seeing the names of ships that were going to be assigned by the department, and he was looking over this list. He finally looked up, and he said, “You remember the Australians losing the `Canberra’?”‘
And I said: “Yes, Mr. President, I very well do”.
And he said, “What do you think of the idea of us naming one of our ships the `Canberra’?”‘.
I said, “Mr. President, I think that would be wonderful, only of course, we would have to get permission from the Australians, sound them out”.
And he said, “Well that’s where you come in. You get hold of Sir Owen Dixon”. He was the Australian Ambassador to the United States at that time. “See what he thinks about it”.
So I got on the telephone, and I told Owen Dixon I would like to come out and see him, that I had a message that I wanted to deliver to him.
And he asked if he couldn’t come to see me. I said, “No, not at all, Mr. Ambassador, I’ll be on my way right now”.
So away I went out there to see him. And I told him the story that the President was turning over in his mind – the idea of naming one of our new heavy cruisers the `Canberra’ – and how he was wondering if this would meet with the approval of Sir Owen Dixon’s government. Well, I saw, I thought, one tear in his eye, and he though it was the most wonderful thing. He said, “Of course, I will have to consult with my government”. In a day or two he called me up, and he said that he had a message for me, couldn’t he come up to see me. I said, “No, I’ll come to see you”.
I went out there – I had previously told the President about it, of course, and that I was going to go out and see him. So after that, he said that the government would be very pleased. I returned and told the president, and he said, “You are not finished with this yet. Now will you go out and see Sir Owen Dixon and tell him that, with his approval, I would like to designate Lady Dixon as the sponsor for the ‘Canberra’.
Well, I went out there, and if I saw one tear before, I saw two tears this time. And the Ambassador said, “I can’t imagine anybody being so thoughtful”.
And that’s the way it turned out; she christened the heavy cruiser ‘Canberra’. The Navy Department, though, didn’t like the idea, because they took the name – one of the plans for the `Pittsburgh’ – and changed it into `Canberra’, and the engineering people said, “My God, there are 50 – some odd thousand blueprints that have got to be changed”.
So I said, “I wouldn’t think that would be insurmountable; all you have to do is scratch out ‘Pittsburgh’ and write or paste`Canberra’.