Rear Admiral William James Crossley

RADM William Crossley

William James Crossley was born in Brisbane on 10 April 1930 and educated at Brisbane Grammar School. He completed a five year electrical fitter apprenticeship and was working in Bundaberg when he enlisted in the RAN on 23 April 1954 as a Recruit Electrical Artificer 4th Class.

On completion of his recruit training, at HMAS Cerberus, he was rated as an Acting Electrical Artificer 4th Class and posted to Cerberus as a member of the ship's company. Crossley undertook the examination for promotion to Sub Lieutenant in February 1955 but failed. In June 1955 he joined the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney and served in her until July 1956 - during that time the ship operated in Australian, New Zealand and Southeast Asian waters both as an aircraft carrier and a training ship for engineering sailors and national servicemen. He was confirmed as an Electrical Artificer 4th Class on 28 January 1956 and on his second attempt passed the examination for promotion to Sub Lieutenant.

In late July 1956 Crossley was sent to the United Kingdom to undertake commissioning courses, under the Upper Yardman scheme, and was appointed as an Acting Sub-Lieutenant on 1 January 1957. His final report before commissioning stated ‘he has widened his horizon beyond recognition and has shown promise in applying his considerable intelligence and his civilian experience to the leadership of men’. He then completed officer education and training courses at the Royal Naval College - Greenwich and HMS Collingwood. William Crossley was promoted Sub Lieutenant on 1 July 1958 and returned to Australia later that year. He was then appointed to the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne as a junior weapons electrical engineer officer and saw service in March-May 1959 as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve.

Following promotion to Lieutenant in June 1959, Crossley was appointed as the weapons electrical officer, in mid-July, in the destroyer HMAS Warramunga and served in her until the end of 1959. During that time on board the ship conducted a cruise to Queensland waters and on 29 August embarked Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra of Kent at Bowen. Warramunga then visited Lindeman Island, Mackay, Cid Harbour and then returned to Mackay on 1 September where the Royal entourage and the accompanying press contingent disembarked. The remainder of the year was spent in Sydney or operating in the Eastern Australia Exercise Area until Warramunga was decommissioned in December 1959.

Lieutenant Crossley then joined the RAN Apprentice Training Establishment (HMAS Nirimba), at Quakers Hill, in western Sydney as an instructor and was later Officer in Charge of the Weapons Electrical Engineering School during 1961-62. William married Phyllis Merle Leigh-Jones in Sydney in April 1960. In April 1962 he was promoted Lieutenant Commander before joining the frigate HMAS Quickmatch, in June, as the weapons electrical engineer officer. Lieutenant Commander Crossley served in her until the end of 1962 during which time the ship operated in Australian waters conducting anti-submarine warfare training. Quickmatch also represented the RAN, in Western Australian waters, during the British Empire and Commonwealth Games that were hosted in Perth during November 1962.

He returned to HMAS Melbourne in December 1962. The carrier began 1963 in Australian waters before deploying to Southeast Asia and participating in the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) Exercise SEA SERPENT, during March-May 1963. In that year Crossley was awarded a cash prize of £8 from the Herbert Lott Trust Fund for his proposed modifications to the sound powered telephone circuits used in RAN Ships. The following year he was on board during the disastrous collision with the destroyer HMAS Voyager off Jervis Bay on 10 February 1964. Following repairs Melbourne conducted a deployment to Southeast Asia for exercises during July-August after which the carrier returned to Australian waters.

In January 1965 Crossley was appointed to the staff of the General Manager Garden Island Dockyard as an assistant weapons electrical officer. He was promoted Acting Commander October 1965 and joined HMAS Cerberus as the electrical officer and officer in charge of the Weapons Electrical Engineering Training Division. Crossley was confirmed in the rank of Commander in December 1966 remaining at Cerberus.

Commander Crossley joined Nirimba in late 1968 as the Training Commander and served there until December 1970. He then returned to Melbourne for his third and final posting to the carrier; this time in charge of the weapons electrical department. During his 1971 service in Melbourne she spent seven months in refit with the main task being the rebuild of the catapult system. The carrier then operated in Australian waters before taking part in Exercise RIMPAC off Hawaii in November of that year. 1972 was much busier with Exercises SEA HAWK, TRANSITEX, GENENIS 5 and SEA SCORPION in Southeast Asian waters, Exercise RIMPAC with the United States Navy off Hawaii and a port visit to Yokosuka in Japan. 

William Crossley was promoted Captain in December 1972 and took command of the Sydney shore establishment HMAS Watson in January 1973. He was to be one of the few non-Seaman branch officers to command the base. Watson had previously specialised in anti-submarine warfare training but the early 1970s saw a major upgrade to the base as many of the World War II vintage buildings were removed and replaced with modern facilities to enhance RAN warfare training, especially electronic warfare, navigation and tactical training for ships. The first junior officers tactical course was conducted in November 1973. It was not all plain sailing and technical issues delayed the acceptance of the Tactical Trainer Building until late 1975. In late December 1974 Watson became the temporary home for 100 residents from Darwin following the devastation of Cyclone Tracy.

In August 1975, Captain Crossley handed over command of Watson to Captain James Kelly, DSC, RAN and took up his next appointment, as an Acting Commodore, in early 1976 as the Project Director Naval Supply Centre Zetland, Sydney. During World War II the RAN's logistics support had grown exponentially and dozens of small sites around Sydney were taken over as warehouses and stores issue depots. By the early 1970s the decision had been made to co-locate much of the Navy's logistics efforts into a single site. In 1975 the old Leyland vehicle factory at Zetland (a southern suburb of Sydney only a few kilometres from Garden Island) was obtained by the Department of Defence and converted into the Naval Supply Centre - Zetland. By the mid-1980s the bulk of the smaller supply depots had been closed and their stock transferred to Zetland. Some specialist stores depots remained in other locations such as medical stores at Randwick (which supported all three services) and boats, anchors and heavy mooring equipment at Rydalmere (the depot was located on the Parramatta River and stores moved to and from Garden Island by boat or lighter). Zetland was closed in 1996 when all navy stores were moved to the Defence National Storage and Distribution Centre at Moorebank in western Sydney.

On 16 September 1978 Crossley was promoted Commodore and appointed as the Director-General Naval Manpower. Based at Navy Office in Canberra he was responsible for the strategic management of the RAN's workforce including recruiting, retention, postings and planning for future personnel requirement. In 1981, Commodore Crossley became the Director-General Navy Facilities with Australia-wide responsibility for the Navy's bases especially the funding of maintenance and upgrades. This not only included buildings at the many RAN establishments but also airfields, fuel installations, dockyards and gunnery ranges. Crossley was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen's Birthday honour list 1983 in recognition of service to the RAN particularly as the Director General of Naval Manpower and Director General of Facilities Branch Navy. Also, in 1981 he was Chief Superintendent Technical in Naval Support Command.

William Crossley was promoted Rear Admiral in January 1984 and took up his last appointment as Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP). During this period the Navy was dealing with substantial manpower issues some of which stemmed from the decommissioning of Melbourne and the decision by the Hawke Labor Government to not replace the aircraft carrier. This caused issues with the future manning of the Fleet Air Arm as experienced personnel retired or transferred to other services or other Navy’s. Additionally new platforms such as the guided missile frigates, Fremantle class patrol boats and the new tanker Success were coming into service and all needed highly skilled personnel to crew them. Overall recruiting and retention remained the two major challenges for the Navy - both then and now.

Two major changes to recruiting and training occurred during William Crossley’s tenure as CNP. The first was the cessation of Junior Recruit training at HMAS Leeuwin in late 1984. The recruiting of 15-16 year old boys had commenced at Leeuwin in 1960 due to the lack of adult volunteers for the RAN. By the early 1980s the high cost of the scheme and changes in public perception of the need for boy sailors saw the enlistment of junior recruits cease in late 1984, and Leeuwin decommissioned in 1986. While the quality of the training at Leeuwin was high and the sailors it produced were excellent (including two boys who reached star rank and one of those going on to be Chief of Navy) the cost of maintaining three basic training establishments (Cerberus, Leeuwin and Nirimba) was deemed excessive and spelt the end of Leeuwin in 1986 and Nirimba in 1994. The other major change was the cessation of degree stream training, for Midshipman, at the RAN College in 1986 and the opening of the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in the same year. This required major changes to the recruiting and training of officers in later years due to the heavy land centric focus of ADFA.

Rear Admiral Crossley was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Australia Day honour list in recognition of service to the RAN, particularly as Chief of Naval Personnel. He retired from the RAN in late 1986 and has the distinction of being the first RAN sailor to attain the rank of Rear Admiral.