- Newton, A.C., RN (Rtd)
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1977 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The first shot fired in the war by an Australian ship came from the Encounter. During the New Guinea operations Colonel W. Watson, of the 1st Battalion of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, was ordered on September 14 1914, to advance from Herbertshohe to Toma, and the Encounter was detailed to cover the movement. This was done by shelling the ridges behind Toma, but the precautions were unnecessary, as the village surrendered without trouble.
Shortly after this episode, the Encounter joined in the search for the AE1, the Australian submarine which was lost with all hands. With the destroyer Parramatta .the AE1 went on patrol from Blanche Bay to Cape Gazelle on the morning of the advance on Toma. She did not return: An immediate search was instituted and a few days later a boat’s crew from the Encounter found on an outlying reef a launch, armed with a quickfiring gun, burned to the water’s edge. It was believed at the time that the crew of this launch had sunk the AE1, but no traces of oil or wreckage were found.
When the German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were reported to be sailing for the Australian coast, the crew of the Encounter saw heavy smoke trails on the horizon. Captain Lewin ordered that the ship should be stripped for action. Everything inflammable was thrown overboard, including cabin fittings, bedding, and even some clothing. Stripped to the waist the crew stood to the guns. After a seemingly interminable wait it was discovered through the glasses that the ‘enemy’ was a rusty South Seas tramp, steaming ‘flatout’ for Sydney, and burning coal at a rate which made the chief engineer of the Encounter sigh with envy.
In the diaries of Keller, a German official at Rabaul, it was recorded that ‘at Mioko, wreckage, a cabin, broken oars, a small red buoy, and a cap ribbon marked ‘HMAS Encounter‘ came ashore.’ That was on August 14. In September he gleefully recorded that ‘Buko natives report the Encounter sunk by a big ship with many funnels.’ His rejoicings were premature.
The Encounter went to Suva to join the fleet engaged in taking over German possessions, and an amusing story is told of an experience of one of the landing parties. The party was in charge of a very zealous young officer, who had orders to take possession of the German residency on an outlying island. The way was steep, the day was warm, and the members of the expedition arrived at the bungalow steps in a very moist condition. A German housewife was seated on the verandah placidly knitting, and noises from the rear of the house indicated that her husband was engaged in repairing the chicken run. As there was nothing in Admiralty Instructions about procedure in such a case the officer was nonplussed for a moment, but the woman quickly put him at ease. Glancing mildly over the array of fixed bayonets, she said, ‘It is very hot; would you care for a glass of lager, Herr Hauptman?’ Standing at ease in the garden, the other members of the landing party were edified to see their commanding officer disposing of the contents of a long glass which the ‘enemy’, hammer in hand, had fetched from the kitchen!
Convoy and patrol work in Malaysian waters was interrupted in August 1917, by a search for SS Matunga, a Burns Philp ship which had left Sydney carrying 1,000 tons of coal for HMAS Una, formerly the German yacht Komet, and sixteen members of the AN and MEF, who were returning from leave in Sydney. The search was fruitless and it appeared later that the Matunga had been sunk by the German cruiser Wolf. The Encounter was then disguised as a tramp, and wireless was used in an attempt to convince the raider that she was a cargo vessel replacing the Matunga. But the commander of the Wolf was wily, and he refused to be drawn.
During the patrol in the South Seas the crew of the Encounter saw the last of the Seeadler, the converted schooner in which Count von Luckner came raiding into the Pacific. At Mopelia, in the Low Archipelago, von Luckner left his wrecked vessel and most of the crew, who under Second Lieutenant Kling, escaped in the schooner Lutece. A working party from the Encounter boarded the wrecked Seeadler and the islands were searched without success for Kling and his companions.
Towards the end of the war the Encounter returned to Sydney, and she was used for coastal defence. For some time she was the only cruiser defending Australia. When hostilities ceased the vessel became a naval training ship, and as such visited most of the Australian ports. Later she provided a comfortable floating home for the personnel of the Sydney Naval Depot, then known as Penguin. Reductions of the Defence estimates, however, necessitated her destruction, and in 1929 she was scrapped and sent to Cockatoo Island to be stripped.
On the 18th anniversary of her firing of the first shot of the Australian Navy in the war, viz., 14th September 1932, she was sunk, but not before the old ship proved that the fears that she would not cross the Bay of Biscay in 1905 were so groundless as to prove amusing.
The State Department of Navigation instructed the latter owners to sink the hulk five miles east north east of South Head. The Encounter was towed to the stated position, the sea cocks opened, and the explosive charge lighted, but the charges failed to ignite, and the vessel drifted and sank four and three quarter miles southeast of the Signal Station. The old ship died hard; maybe she tried to make the Harbour once again.
Gone, but not forgotten is the Encounter, which helped in no small measure in building up the prestige and traditions of the Navy, of which Australians are so proud.