HMAS Australia, 1911-1924: the first flagship
(This article was first published in NOCN 84, 1 March 2011.)
Builders: John Brown & Co, Clydebank
Launched: 25 October 1911
Commissioned: 21 June 1913; Captain Stephen Radcliffe RN.
Displacement: 18,500 tons standard; 22,000 tons full load.
Length: 179.83 metres (590 ft)
Beam: 24.38 m (80 ft)
Draught: 9.14 m (30 ft)
Armament: 8 x 305mm (12-in) guns in four twin turrets
16 x 102 mm (4-in)
2 x 457 mm (18-in) submerged torpedo tubes
Armour: Belt – up to 15.2 cm (6-in)
Turrets – 17.7 cm (7-in)
Decks – 25 mm (1-in) to 62.5 mm (2½-in)
Machinery: Parsons turbines; 31 Babcock and Wilcox boilers; 4 screws
Maximum speed: 25 knots
Fuel: 3,200 tons coal; 850 tons oil.
Range: 6,300 miles at 10 knots; 2,300 miles at 23½ knots
HMAS Australia sailed from the UK in July 1913 in company with HMAS Sydney, for passage to Australian waters. On 4 October 1913, she led the first Australian Fleet Unit into Port Jackson.
When war broke out in August 1914, Australia’s presence undoubtedly prevented an attack on Australian shipping and cities by the German Pacific Squadron. That month she participated with the Australian Fleet in operations against Rabaul, and later in the occupation of Germany’s New Guinea colonies.
After the German Pacific Squadron was destroyed by RN forces at the Falkland Islands, thereby disposing of that threat to Australia, HMAS Australia was ordered to UK waters and arrived there in January 1915. She became the flagship of the 2nd Battle-Cruiser squadron, comprising also her sister ships HMS New Zealand and HMS Indefatigable.
On 22 April 1916 Australia sustained damage in a collision with HMS New Zealand. She went to Devonport for repairs, and as a result missed the Battle of Jutland in which HMS Indefatigable was lost. In December 1917, Australia was again in collision, this time with HMS Repulse.
In April and May 1918, Australia was employed in a successful experiment to launch an aircraft from a platform built on a gun turret.
Australia was present at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet on 21 November 1918. She returned to Australian waters on 28 May 1919, flying the flag of Commodore 1st Class J S Dumaresq RN, the first Australian-born officer to command HM Australian Fleet. She was occupied on training for the rest of her operational life, but her days were numbered: the ship had been earmarked for disposal under the terms of the Washington Treaty of 1922.
On 12 April 1924, escorted by other fleet units, HMAS Australia was towed out through the Heads and scuttled 24 miles due east of Sydney.
(Reference: Australia’s Ships of War, John Bastock; Angus & Robertson 1975.)