HMAS
Sydney
(I)

HMAS Sydney (I)
Class
Town Class
Type
Light Cruiser
Builder
London and Glasgow Engineering Co, Govan, Glasgow, Scotland
Launched
29 August 1912
Launched by
Lady Henderson, wife of Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson
Commissioned
26 June 1913
Decommissioned
8 May 1928
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 5400 tons
Length 456 feet 10 inches
Beam 49 feet 10 inches
Draught 15 feet 9 inches
Performance
Speed 26 knots
Complement
Crew 376
Armament
Guns
  • 8 x 6-inch guns
  • 1 x 13-pounder gun
  • 4 x 3-pounder guns
Torpedoes 2 torpedo tubes
Awards
Battle Honours

The name Sydney is one of the most famous ever carried by an Australian warship. The first Sydney was a Town class light cruiser; one of three ordered in 1910 which were part of the initial Australian fleet unit. Traditionally cruisers were the most versatile element of a naval force. A cruiser’s role was to go anywhere and to do anything and they were to prove particularly useful in the role of trade protection and scouting duties. The Town class cruisers were really a group of classes, each representing a steady improvement in seakeeping and warfighting capabilities. Sydney (I), Melbourne and Brisbane belonged to the third group known as the Chathams. These incorporated a side belt of 3-inch armour to improve protection against high explosive shells, while better stability resulted in increased accuracy of their gunnery.

HMAS Sydney's launching on 29 August 1912
HMAS Sydney (I)'s launching on 29 August 1912.

The first cruiser laid down for the RAN was Sydney (I) which was launched in August 1912 by Lady Henderson, wife of Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson. She commissioned at Portsmouth on 26 June 1913 under the command of Captain John CT Glossop RN. She departed Portsmouth on 25 July 1913 and first arrived on the Australia Station at Albany on 19 September 1913. On 4 October 1913 she formed part of the Australian Fleet Unit that ceremonially entered her namesake harbour to a rapturous welcome from tens of thousands of spectators who turned out on the shores of the harbour to welcome the arrival of ‘their’ fleet.

HMAS Sydney entering Sydney Harbour for the first time as part of the Australian Fleet Unit, 4 October 1913.
HMAS Sydney (I) entering Sydney Harbour for the first time as part of the Australian Fleet Unit, 4 October 1913.

The Citizens of Sydney Presentation Shield

On Sydney's arrival in her namesake port on 4 October 1913 the citizens of the City of Sydney presented the ship with this ornate sterling silver shield. Designed by Mr W. Kerr, a Sydney jeweller, it features representations of the Royal Coat-of-Arms and a relief of HMAS Sydney. The flags are the white ensign and the Australian National Flag both enamelled in the proper colours. The top of the shield is surmounted by a silver ribbon on which are the words "The Citizens of Sydney" in Royal blue enamel letters. The centre panel on which is the Royal Coat-of-Arms is surrounded by a silver ribbon bearing the words H.M.A.S. SYDNEY in Royal blue letters. The groundwork of the shield consists of richly embossed representations of wattle, Christmas bells, flannel flower and Australian ferns. The shield is now on display in the Naval Heritage Collection, Sydney.

Following a period spent in eastern Australian waters, Sydney (I) proceeded to Singapore in March 1914 to meet and escort to the two new Royal Australian Navy submarines, AE1 and AE2, which were en route to Australia from England. Sydney (I) spent the remaining months of the pre war period working up in Australian waters.

Sydney steaming out of Sydney Heads following the outbreak of World War 1 (RAN Heritage Collection)
Sydney (I) steaming out of Sydney Heads following the outbreak of World War I. (RAN Heritage Collection)

The days preceding the outbreak of war in August 1914 found Sydney (I) in Queensland waters. On 3 August 1914 she was joined at Townsville by the destroyers HMAS Warrego and Yarra before proceeding north to form a unit of Admiral Patey's Pacific Squadron.

Following the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, Sydney (I) operated in New Guinea and Pacific waters and in the brief campaign against the German Pacific possessions during which she carried out a series of punitive patrols. Highlights during this period included the capture of Rabaul (9 to 11 September 1914) and the destruction of the Angaur Island Wireless Station on 26 September 1914.

In October 1914, Sydney (I) and her sister ship Melbourne detached from the Flagship HMAS Australia, and returned to Australia to form part of the escort for the first ANZAC convoy which consisted of some 38 transports. The convoy’s escort comprised Sydney (I), Melbourne, HMS Minotaur and the Japanese cruiser Ibuki. The convoy sailed from Albany on 1 November 1914 and on the morning of 9 November 1914 was steaming some 50 miles east of the Cocos Islands.

At about 06:20 on 9 November, wireless telegraphy (W/T) operators in several transports as well as in the escorting warships received signals in an unknown code followed by a query from the Cocos Island W/T station, 'What is that code'? It was in fact the German cruiser Emden under the command of Captain Karl von Müller, ordering her collier Buresk to join her at Point Refuge to coal. Shortly afterwards, the Cocos Island telegraphists signalled 'Strange warship approaching’ followed later by the same message prefixed by ‘S.O.S.’  - the international distress call.

Emden had by then anchored in Port Refuge and immediately dispatched a landing party, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Von Mücke, with orders to destroy the cable and wireless stations.

The wrecked wireless office on Direction Island
The wrecked wireless office on Direction Island.
Superintendant of the Cocos Island Wireless Station Mr Dover Farrant beside the felled wireless mast. Farrant is credited with alerting Sydney to the presence of Emden in Port Refuge
Superintendant of the Cocos Island Wireless Station Mr Dover Farrant beside the felled wireless mast. Farrant is credited with alerting Sydney (I) to the presence of Emden in Port Refuge.
 

As Von Müller patiently awaited the return of his landing party, smoke was sighted on the horizon which was at first assumed to be the Buresk. Soon afterwards the masts of the approaching ship were recognised as those of a warship. The ship Von Müller had spotted was Sydney (I) which, as the nearest warship to the Cocos group, had been ordered by Captain Silver in Melbourne to proceed at full speed to investigate. By 07:00 Sydney (I) was 'away doing twenty knots' and at 09:15 had simultaneously sighted the island and the Emden some seven or eight miles distant. At first Captain Glossop could not tell whether the ship sighted was Emden or the Königsberg, both of which were thought to be at large in the Indian Ocean at that time.

Left: Kapitän Karl von Müller. Right: Captain J.C.T. Glossop
Left: Fregattenkapitän Karl von Müller. Right: Captain JCT Glossop.
The successful German raider SMS Emden
The successful German raider SMS Emden.
The page from Sydney's ship's log recording the action and those wounded.
The page from Sydney's ship's log recording the action and those wounded.
Boy Seaman Tom Williamson was one of those wounded during the action.
Boy Seaman Tom Williamson was one of those wounded during the action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HMAS Sydney (I) Part Two

Related Content