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RAN Cruisers WWII




At the outbreak of World War 2 in September 1939 the Royal Australian Navy was just a small naval squadron comprised of 14 warships and 5 principal support vessels. Two additional Sloops were under construction at Cockatoo Dockyard, Sydney and the oldest Cruiser, HMAS Adelaide has recently completed a major refit.


The pride of the Australian Squadron was the cruiser force. Apart from its 3 heavy Cruisers, AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA and ADELAIDE (which was commisioned in 1922), the RAN possessed 3 modern Light Cruisers, PERTH, SYDNEY and HOBART.


HMAS ADELAIDE (Improved Town Class)



HMAS Adelaide May 1941



Pendant No: 147,
Builder: Cockatoo Dockyard Sydney
Construction Time: 7 Years 4 Months
Commissioned: 5th August 1922
Sold: 21st March 1947


HMAS Adelaide was the oldest British built cruiser to participate in the second world war. Her main armament consisted of BL 6-inch Mk13 Guns which was a far siperior gun than that was fitted to the 3 modern Town Class Cruisers.


She was extensively refitted just prior to the outbreak of the war, her fore funnel was removed and she was converted from coal to furnace fuel oil. She was also equipped with 2x 21 inch submerged torpedo tubes and a further two forward gun mountings. Her single 3" AA Gun, aft, and 2 single 3'' on the beams were replaced with a single 4" mounting each. In 1943 two six inch guns were removed and replaced by two sets of Depth Charge Launchers whilst at the same time the aft 4" gun mount was replaced by a 6" gun mount. Several 20mm Oerlikon mountings were also added. All the main guns were further protected with new shields.


Displacement (Tons): 5,560
Dimensions (Feet): Length 460 - Beam 50 - Draught 18.6
Machinery: Parsons Turbines, Twin Screws 25,000 shp
Speed (Knots): 25.5
Complement: 470
Armament: 9 Single 6", Ix3", 1x12Pdr, 4x3Pdr, !0x 20mm, 2x21" Torpedo Tubes.




Both ships were ordered by the Australian Government in 1924 as part of a 5 ship construction programme. Six sister ships were built for the Royal Navy at the same time.


Australia was modernised between April 1938 and August 39, replacing the four single 4" Gun Mounts with 4 Twin Mk16 4" Gun Mounts.





Australia was refitted again at Liverpool late in 1940. Whilst in refit the Nazi bombing (Blitz) was at its height. Australia survived the bombings of Liverpool unscathed. During 1942 she had her topedo tubes removed and by late 1943 the two quadruple .50Cal mounts were replaced bt seven single 20mm Oelikons. These were upgraded to twin mounts by early 1944. 1945 saw eight single 40mm Bofors fitted whilst all 20mm were removed plus X Turret (8") was removed.


Australia was refitted after the war and remained in commission until 31st August 1954. See left menu for Australia's war duties, Against The Divine Wind.





By early 1941 Canberra had her four single Pom Poms removed and two eight-barrelled Pom Poms and 20mm mounts were added with two of the 20mm mounts being placed atop her B and X 8" Gun Turrtes. Canberra was sunk in the battle Of Savo Island duting the Guadalcanal Campaign (see WW2 Section In Left Hand Menu) and replaced, by the Britsh Government, by the Cruiser HMAS Shropshire.


Ship Pendant No Builder Build Time Commissioned Fate
Australia 184. D84 - 1940

John Brown & Co. 2 Years
8 Months 24/4/28 Sold 25/1/55
Canberra 133
D33 - 1940 Same as Above 2 Years 10 Months 9/7/28 Sunk - Savo Island 9/8/42

Displacement (Tons): Standard 9,850; Fully Loaded 13,630
Dimensions: (Feet); Length 630, Beam 68.4, Draught 21.8
Machinery; Brown Curtis geared turbines, 4 Screws, 80,000 s.h.p.
Speed (Knots): 31.5
Range (Miles): 848
Armament: Eight 8-inch (4x2), Four 4-inch (4x1), Four 2Pdr Pom Poms, Four .303 Vickers Machine Guns, Eight .303 Lewis Machine Guns, Eight 21-inch Torpedo Tubes, One Seagull 3 Amphibian.


Both ships were fitted with catapults, Australia in September 1935 and Canberra in April 1936. Up until 1936 Seagull 111s were embarked when Seagull 5s replaced them. Australia's aircraft and catapult were removed in October 1944.


Modified Leander Class -
HMA Ships Perth, Sydney and Hobart


These three cruisers were ordered by the British Admiralty for the RN in 1933. HMS Apollo and HMS Amphion were later to be commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Hobart and HMAS Perth.


Sydney was commissioned directly into the RAN from the outset, although she was originally to be named HMS Phaeton.


Each of these cruisers were fitted with the same Seagull Mk V Aircraft like the other 3 cruisers already in service in the RAN.

Displacement (Tons): Standard 7,105, Hobart 6,980, Perth 6,830, Sydney Full Load 9,000
Dimensions: (Feet); Length 555, Beam 56.8, Draught 19.6
Machinery; Parsons geared turbines, 4 Screws, 80,000 s.h.p.
Speed (Knots): 32.5
Range (Miles): 7000 @ 16 Knots
Armament: Eight 6-inch (4x2), Eight4-inch (4x2) except Sydney 4x4" Single, Four three Pdr, three 4 barrelled o.50Cal Machine Guns, Eight 21-inch Torpedo Tubes, One Seagull 3 Amphibian.



Above:HMAS SYDNEY returns to Sydney, Australia after a triumphant tour of duty in the Mediterranean, where, included in her famous victories was the Sinking of Italian Cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni on the 19th July 1940.


Ship Pendant Number Builder Const. Time Comm. Fate

Hobart 163, D63 - 1940, Devonport Dockyard 2 years 5 months 28/9/38 sold 22/2/62

Perth 129 D29 - 1940 Portsmouth Dockyard 3 Years 1 month 29/6/39 Sunk Sunda Strait 1/3/42

Sydney 148 D48-1940 Swan Hunter 2 Years 2 months 24/9/35 Sunk Cocos Islands 19/11/41


Each Ship caried the Seagull V amphib. aircraft with a 53 Feet long revolving catapult operating amidships just forward of the after funnel (see avove). Prior to being commioned into the RAN all three ships were refitted where Perth and Hobart had their 4-inch Single Gun Mountings replaced by twin 4-inch mountings. Upon declaration of war in 1939 Sydney's refit was cut short and she maintained her single 4" mountings until her loss in 1941. Between January and February 1941 Perth was armed with a quadruple Pom-Pom amidships, but was again removed in July where 20mm Oerlikons were mounted on top of both A and B 8-inch Turrets.


HMAS SYDNEY was lost with all hands and without trace on 19th December 1941 after an action with the German raider Kormoran near the Cocos Islands (Indian Ocean). The loss of Sydney with all hands was a devastating blow for both the Navy and the Australian people. Less than a month later the Japanese entered the war and began their advance South towards Australia and all this did little to raise the morale of the Australian people. The total, unexplained loss of this now 'famous' ship was felt deeply by all members of the small Australian population.


To this day , 60 years later, mystery, controversy, argument and debate still abound. The subject raises its head in Australian Parlimentary discussion regulary. Veterans organisations and various interested parties have tried in vain, over the past 60 years to pressure the Australian Government into conducting a full official enquiry into her sinking.




Many books and articles on the loss of HMAS Sydney (Captain J. Burnett, RAN) have been written and produced over the years, naval histroians and academics debate theories of incompetence and conspiracy.


What makes the whole story more remarkable is that although Kormoran was itself sunk by the heated, close range engagement, many of her crew survived. Thus becoming prisoners of war in Australia, including her Captain, T. A. Detmers. The Kormoran survivors who were not kept isolated from each other after their subsequent rescue all attested that Sydney was last seen by them as a glow on the horizon.


What happended to Sydney? Why didn't she use her radio? Were there war crimes committed? There are also many more unanswered questions. Maybe these questions to Australia's greatest maritime mystery and tragedy, one day, will be answered and maybe they will not; thus leaving Sydney to be what it has been for 60 years - A mystery and subject of forever, endless, passionate debate and speculation both within and outside the Naval community.





Above: HMAS Perth just prior to her sinking in the Battle Of Sunda Straight


Another cruel blow to the Australian people's morale was the loss of HMAS Perth, only 3½ months after Sydney's loss, when along with the cruiser USS Houston they encounted the entire Japanese invasion force in the narrow Sunda Straight (Indonesia).


Although these two ships were overwhelmed by a greatly superior force their heroic stand ranks highly in the annals of naval warfare. The survivors subsequent capture and their brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese is another epic story of courage and endurance.


By June 1943 Australia's relatively small fleet had lost its 15th ship of the war.





Hobart's refit in Devonport in the latter part of 1942 saw her catapult removed and the addition of 1 single and 5 twin 20mm Oelikons. Furthermore another two quadruple Pom-Poms were fitted.


In July 1943 A considerable number of RAN Warships were despatched to assist in the landing operations at Kiriwina situated in the Coral Sea, whilst patrolling with Task Force 74 on route to Espiritu Santo HMAS Hobart was attacked by a Japanese submarine. Hobart was struck by one torpedo causing considerable damage along with killing 7 Officers and Six Sailors. Australia's cruiser force was now seriously depeleted with only Australia and Adelaide in seagoing condition. To compensate for the loss of HMAS Canberra at Savo Island the British Admiralty offered HMS Shropshire in its place. Australia gratefully accepted and intended to rename it Canberra.


By this time though the United States had already decided to name a new cruiser of their own in honour of her former Australian counterpart. USS Canberra was a heavy cruiser of 13,600 Tons, built at Quincy, Massachusetts and commissioned in October 1943. USS Canberra then carried on from where HMAS Canberra left off - taking the fight to the Japanese in the Pacific Campaign.



Above:Hobart Torpedo Damage


So HMS Shropshire was to become HMAS Shropshire and she too served with distinction in the remaining Pacific campaign.






Shropshire was orinially built for service in the British, Royal Navy. She was completed on 12th September 1929 and for the first part of WW2 served in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.


In early 1941 she was fitted with two 8-Barrelled Pom Poms then later in at a refit in Chatham (Oct 41-Feb42) she replaced her single four inch mountings with twin mounts, plus 7 single 20mm Oerlikon Mountings. At the end of 42 she was to get a further 3 20mm's.


With Canberra's tragic loss at Guadalcanal (Savo Island), the British Government offered HMS Shropshire to the RAN. The offer was graciously accepted and 'Shroppy" became a member of the Australian Fleet on 25th June, 1943.


Prior to her transfer she was to undergo another refit which saw even more changes and additions to her armament: two quadruple 0.50 Cal Machine Gun Mountings added and four single 20mm mounts removed then another seven Twin 20mm mounts added. Her catapault was removed during this refit.


In 1945 her torpedo tubes were considered redundant and removed and all 20 mm Oerlikons were replaced by 11 Single 40mm Bofors.


'Shroppy', as she was known to the blokes who served in her was paid off in 1949.

Pendant Number: 73 (Royal Navy).
Builder: W.M. Beardmore & Co.
Construction Time: 3 Years 7 Months
Commissioned: 20 April 1943
Fate: Sold 16/7/54

Displacement (Tons): 14,540
Dimensions (Feet): Length 633, Beam 66, Draught 22.6
Machinery; Parsons geared turbines 4 Screws 80,000 s.h.p.
Speed (Knots): 32
Range (Miles): 12,800 @ 12 Knots
Complement: 820
Armament: 8 x 8 Inch (4x2), 8 x 4 Inch (4x2), 12x 40mm Bofors (12x1), 2x2 Pdrs, * x 21 Inch Torpedo Tubes.