HMAS Canberra (II)
Adelaide Class
Surface Combatant
FFG 02
1 December 1978
21 March 1981
12 November 2005
Scuttled as dive wreck
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 4200 tonnes
Length 138.1 metres
Beam 14.3 metres
Speed More than 30 knots
Embarked Forces Approximately 221
Machinery 2 General Electric LM2500 gas turbines geared to a single controllable pitch propeller
  • Harpoon Anti-ship Missiles
  • SM2 Surface-to-Air Missiles
  • Evolved Sea Sparrow Surface-to-Air Missiles
  • Mk 13 Missile Launcher
  • Mk 41 Vertical Launch System
Guns 76mm Rapid Fire Gun
  • 2 Mk 32 triple torpedo tubes
  • Mk 46 torpedoes
Other Armament
  • Nulka, Pirate, Seagnat and Lescut decoy systems
  • Phalanx Close-in Weapons System
Helicopters Up to two Seahawk helicopters
Inherited Battle Honours
Battle Honours PERSIAN GULF 2002
HMAS Canberra (II) Badge

HMAS Canberra was the second of six Adelaide Class guided missile frigates built for the Royal Australian Navy to the design of the American Oliver Hazard Perry Class. The Australian Government ordered two of these ships in February 1976 which were to be constructed by the Todd Pacific Shipyard Corporation in Seattle, USA, at a cost of $212m each. The allocation of the names Adelaide and Canberra was announced in June 1977. Two sister ships, Sydney and Darwin, were ordered in 1977 and 1980. They were followed by Melbourne and Newcastle which were built at Williamstown in Melbourne entering service in the early 1990s.

Canberra slides down the slipway at the Todd Pacific Shipyard, Seattle, USA 1 December 1978
Canberra slides down the slipway at the Todd Pacific Shipyard, Seattle, USA 1 December 1978
Left: The Australian White Ensign is temporarily hoisted on the occasion of Canberra's launching. Right: Canberra fitting out in Seattle.
Left: The Australian White Ensign is temporarily hoisted on the occasion of Canberra's launching. Right: Canberra fitting out in Seattle.

The keel of Canberra was laid on 1 March 1978 and the ship launched on 1 December 1978 by Lady Marjorie Tange, wife of Sir Arthur Tange, the then Secretary of Defence.  Canberra was commissioned in Seattle on 21 March 1981. Following successful trials off the United States west coast, Canberra arrived in Australian waters and her new homeport of Sydney in March 1982.

As built, she displaced 4,100 tonnes and measured 135.6 metres (445 feet) in length with a beam of 13.7 metres. Two General Electric gas turbines generated speeds in excess of 30 knots. The hull length was marginally increased to 138 metres in 1990/91 during a major refit that included a strengthened flight deck pending the introduction into service of Sikorsky S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopters. Modifications to the accommodation spaces in 1994 facilitated the integration of female personnel into the ship’s company. Canberra’s main armament consisted of one 76mm gun, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, standard surface-to-air missiles, the Phalanx close in weapons system and two triple mounted anti-submarine torpedo tubes. Her average ship’s company was 186, however, this increased to around 210 on those occasions when two Seahawk helicopters were embarked.

Canberra and her sister ships were primarily used as long-range escorts fulfilling multiple roles including air defence, anti-submarine warfare, surveillance, interdiction and reconnaissance. They were also capable of countering simultaneous air, surface and sub-surface threats.

Canberra proving her missile system during work-ups
Canberra firing an SM1 Standard missile during work-ups.

Although much of Canberra’s early career was in tune with the activities of a peacetime navy, it was highlighted by a number of overseas deployments in the period to 1990, including two to the western Indian Ocean and the United States. One of her interesting ‘Cold War’ tasks was the interception and surveillance of the large Soviet cruiser Frunze and escorts in 1985. Other tasks included Royal Escort duty during the Queen’s state visit in the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1988, participation in the 1988 Bicentennial Naval Salute and the Royal Malaysian Navy’s International Fleet Review in 1990. Between October 1992 and April 1993 Canberra deployed to the Red Sea to support the enforcement of United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iraq, conducting interception and boarding operations to stop the flow of illegal oil out of Iraq.

Canberra shadowing the Soviet cruiser Frunze at close quarters
Canberra shadowing a Soviet cruiser of the Frunze task group at close quarters.

In the late 1980s the RAN introduced the concept of two-ocean basing and this led to a significant shift in the balance of fleet units based in Sydney (Fleet Base East) and at HMAS Stirling (Fleet Base West) near Rockingham. Canberra relocated to Western Australia in January 1996 from where she enjoyed a higher operational profile, actively supporting Australia’s national interests and the Federal Government’s domestic and foreign policies, particularly in light of increased regional instability and world events.

Canberra exercising in the Indian Ocean c.1996
Canberra exercising in the Indian Ocean c.1996

Regionally, Canberra was one of a number of Australian warships placed on standby to evacuate Australian citizens from Indonesia following the fall of the Suharto regime in May 1998. September 2001 found Canberra serving in the Solomon Islands for a month in support of an International Peace Monitoring Team.

Illegal fishing activity in Australia’s remote fisheries zone in the Southern Ocean twice saw Canberra tasked to assist the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. In April 2001 she escorted the foreign fishing vessel South Tomi to Fremantle. In January 2002 she apprehended the Russian flagged vessels Lena and Volga – both were apprehended for poaching the Patagonian Toothfish in the Heard and McDonald Island Exclusive Economic Zone and their masters charged and convicted for illegal fishing. Canberra’s crew barely had time to catch their breath before deploying to the Persian Gulf to spend four months on active service in support of Operation SLIPPER, Australia’s contribution to the War on Terror.

On returning to Australia Canberra actively patrolled Australia’s northern approaches during Operation RELEX II, a whole of government initiative aimed at deterring people smuggling operations, escorting a number of Vietnamese nationals from the vicinity of Port Hedland to Christmas Island in July 2003.

Throughout Canberra's career she saw extensive service both on the Australian station and overseas.
Throughout Canberra's career she saw extensive service both on the Australian station and overseas.

In her twilight years, Canberra visited South Korea, China and Aichi, Japan, the host of the 2005 World Expo.

Despite being based far from her namesake city, the crew of Canberra worked hard to maintain linkages with the national capital. The ship enjoyed a long affiliation with her adopted charity, the Rivett based Noah’s Ark Resource Centre and the ACT Brumbies rugby team. A City/Ship Liaison Committee, formed in 1980 to foster links with Canberra, struck a limited edition medallion to commemorate her commissioning and the ACT Government presented the ship with Northbourne Avenue street signs to grace the ships’ main passageway. The men and women of Canberra exercised their right of Freedom of Entry to the City of Canberra on five occasions; 1982, 1986, 1990, 2000 and 2005.

Canberra in Western Australian waters c. 2002
Canberra in Western Australian waters c. 2002

The name Canberra has a proud history. In 1925 the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board selected the names Australia and Canberra for two new 10,000 ton Country Class Heavy Cruisers under construction in the United Kingdom. Despite later objections from Admiral Sir William Napier (First Naval Member), the first Canberra duly commissioned in Scotland in July 1928 and was Flagship of the Australian Squadron from 1931 to 1940. She was sunk, with the loss of 84 lives, following the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 1942. A memorial to the first Canberra was unveiled in King’s Park, near the Carillon, on 9 August 1981.

At the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, an American cruiser was named USS Canberra in 1943 in honour of her Australian forebear. USS Canberra served until 1947, was converted to a guided missile cruiser in the 1950s and completed five tours of duty in Vietnam before decommissioning in 1970. The bell of USS Canberra was gifted to Australia in September 2001 to mark the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS Alliance, and can be seen on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

HMAS Canberra was the first Adelaide Class Guided Missile Frigate (FFG) to be decommissioned. She was scuttled at 2pm on Sunday 4 October 2009 in 28 metres of water off Ocean Grove, Victoria to create an artificial reef and diving site.

Canberra moments before being scuttled on 4 October 2009 (Courtesy ABC)
Canberra moments before being scuttled on 4 October 2009 (Courtesy ABC)

See also: