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Adelaide file photo [8461]


Ship ClassTown-class Light Cruiser
BuilderCockatoo Island Naval Dockyard, Sydney, Australia
Laid Down20 Nov 1915
Launched27 Jul 1918
Commissioned5 Aug 1922
Decommissioned13 May 1946
Displacement5,560 tons standard
Length462 feet
Beam50 feet
Draft19 feet
MachineryParsons geared turbines, twin screws
Power Output25,000 shaft horsepower
Speed25 knots
Armament9xBL 6-inch MkXII guns, 1xQF3-inch anti-aircraft gun, 4xQF 3 pounder guns, 1x12 pounder gun, 2x21 inch submerged torpedo tubes, 2 depth charge tubes


ww2dbaseThe first Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ship to be named HMAS Adelaide was a light cruiser that was a modified version of the British Town-class, which was built in Australia during the First World War, the largest engineering project undertaken within Australia prior to the Second World War. Built around the same time were her sister ships HMAS Melbourne, HMAS Brisbane, and the first HMAS Sydney, which were of a similar design. Fitting out and completion of HMAS Adelaide were seriously delayed due to losses of machine parts and forgings which could not be manufactured in Australia by enemy action, and replacements were further delayed by the effect on the supply of manufactured goods by wartime conditions. By the time trials were completed, the ship had earned the nickname "HMAS Long-Delayed". She was equipped to burn both coal and oil fuel.

ww2dbaseAn extensive refit begun on HMAS Adelaide in Sydney in 1938, and by March 1939 she had been converted to burn solely oil fuel. HMAS Adelaide was placed under the command of H. L. Howden, RAN, and ordered to operate from Sydney on trade defence exercises with other units of the Australia squadron, the New Zealand squadron, mercantile marine, and aircraft of the RAAF. The fall of France in May 1940 not only made Hitler the master of Europe for the time being, and left the British Commonwealth standing alone against Nazi Germany, but it changed the strategic situation overnight for Australia. While Henri Petain had established the Vichy government on 16 June, and former Undersecretary for War, General Charles de Gaulle, had escaped to London and established a government-in-exile on 18 June, French colonies in the Pacific were slow to cast their lot with either side. The French colony of New Caledonia close to the Australian east coast was the topic of fiery controversy in Canberra during mid-late 1940. Some argued that it would be a valuable territory for Australia to capture before Japan could do so. Its resources of chrome and nickel needed to be denied to the enemy, production of these metals had doubled in New Caledonia due to orders from Germany and Japan in the years leading up to the outbreak of war, and its strategic position as a potential launching pad for a Japanese invasion of Australia, as well as to use the New Caledonian capital and main port, Noumea, as a base of operations for merchant raiders to prey upon Pacific shipping routes. Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Colvin, argued against the use of force against New Caledonia, saying it would provide a precedent to Japan to attack the Netherlands East Indies, and seem like an aggressive act of war against the status quo in the Pacific to the United States, which had just warned Japan that it would not tolerate a change to the status quo among the European colonies in the South Pacific. With the aim of keeping New Caledonia sympathetic with the Allied cause, the Australian prime minister, Robert Menzies, offered the governor of New Caledonia, Georges Pelicier, trade and economic agreements, which were accepted gratefully, as the British blockade of France meant very few French merchant ships were reaching New Caledonia. To keep abreast of political developments in New Caledonia, Menzies appointed Bertram Ballard as Australia's diplomatic representative to Noumea on 8 August. Ballard's instructions were to emphasise trading relationships and in his public dealings "avoid any activity or statement which would make it appear that the Commonwealth wishes to interfere with the maintenance of the political status quo". Since 23 June it was evident that the British had accepted de Gaulle's legitimacy as head of the French government-in-exile, however many French colonies, including New Caledonia, were vacillating. Only Monsieur Henri Sautot, French Resident Commissioner of New Hebrides had proclaimed loyalty to de Gaulle. While the majority of citizens of New Caledonia were similarly inclined, Pelicier was vacillating. Petain had declared de Gaulle a "seditious person", aligning with the government-in-exile was considered tantamount to treason. The Vichy government had dispatched the sloop Dumont D'Urville to New Caledonia to crush autonomist movements. Ballard reported to Canberra that the warship's impending arrival sparked a crisis in Noumea, and by the time the sun set on August 30, a military government had wrested control of Noumea in the name of the Vichy French. De Gaulle saw the opportunity he had been waiting for, and he asked the Admiralty if a British ship could escort Sautot from the New Hebrides to New Caledonia to take power in Noumea in the name of the Free French. As the nearest naval base in the Commonwealth the Australia Station was asked if it could spare a ship. Other Australian ships powerful enough to overawe the French sloop were unavailable, due to engagement elsewhere, but the HMAS Adelaide was available. The HMAS Adelaide, though the most sophisticated engineering project undertaken in Australia when she was built, but now was so old she was no longer considered a frontline unit. Though modernized immediately before the war, she was the oldest British-designed cruiser to participate in the war. By the time HMAS Adelaide had steamed out of port, a second French sloop of equivalent firepower to Dumont D'Urville had been dispatched to Noumea by the Vichy government. While leaving port to undertake her mission, HMAS Adelaide collided with SS Coptic, an incident that the owners of Coptic pursued in court after the war, and succeeded in suing the Commonwealth 35,000 pounds in 1947 for damages. If push came to shove when Adelaide arrived in Noumea, the RAN ship had superior firepower, but the two French sloops had a faster rate of fire, and superior numbers. The dispatch of the aging Australian cruiser was intended as a bluff to support Sautot's arrival in New Caledonia under the Free French flag, it was anticipated in Melbourne that if the encounter between Adelaide and the French sloops came to blows, HMAS Adelaide would most likely be overwhelmed. She arrived in Vila, the capital of New Hebrides, on 7 September 1940. She remained until 16 September, when she departed for Noumea escorting the Norwegian tanker, Norden, with Sautot on board. Upon arrival in Noumea it was discovered that a pro-Vichy governor had been installed, and martial law declared. Due to this, a large proportion of the population supported de Gaulle, and a mob of approximately a thousand people marched on the governor's mansion, demanding he be replaced by a governor sympathetic to de Gaulle. The arrival of Sautot, as approved appointee of the Free French movement, was greeted with enthusiasm. The governor had called off the sloops that represented Vichy power, in the hopes that his position amongst the New Caledonian population would be improved. Adelaide and Norden were able to enter the port at Noumea unopposed. As soon as Sautot set foot in Noumea, the mob took him to the governor's mansion, and demanded that Sautot be given power as governor of New Caledonia at 0500 hours on 19 September. Dumont D'Urville had departed for Indochina on 25 September 1940, gradually things returned to normal in Noumea. HMAS Adelaide returned to Sydney on 8 October 1940. After she undertook escort and patrol duties in the Pacific, Adelaide was under refit from May to June 1942 in the Garden Island dock, she was in Sydney Harbour when the Japanese midget submarine attack was occurring on 31 May 1942. After this she was based at Freemantle, undertaking convoy and patrol duties in the Indian Ocean.

ww2dbaseIt was paid off on 13 May 1946, and sold to Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd on 24 January 1949. The hulk was towed to Port Kembla, NSW, and broken up for scrap on 2 April. A memorial to HMAS Adelaide, containg her main mast, diagram of the ship, and commemorative plaque, was erected in Chase National Park in Sydney in 1950. The second RAN ship to bear the name HMAS Adelaide was a long range escort frigate, which was commissioned in 1980.

ww2dbaseSources: Royal Australian Navy, D. Stevens (ed), The Royal Australian Navy in WWII, Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Aug 2009


Launching ceremony of HMAS Adelaide, Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, Australia, 27 Jul 1918Port side view of HMAS Adelaide, circa 1940s

Adelaide Operational Timeline

5 Aug 1922 Adelaide was commissioned into service.
13 May 1946 Adelaide was decommissioned from service.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
24 Aug 2009 03:43:02 AM

A question: In the article the Adelaide is referred to as a ‘Town Class‘ Light Cruiser, although (as far as I am aware) the ‘Town’ (a.k.a. Southampton) class cruisers were in fact build under the 1933/34 Estimates and were a quite different design to the RAN Adelaide. Janes’ Fighting Ships of World War I calls the Adelaide a “Chatham Class” design. Anyone care to explain?
2. Commenter identity confirmed C. Peter Chen says:
24 Aug 2009 06:40:32 AM


Adelaide was a Town-class light cruiser of the Birmingham sub-class. Chatham is the name of yet another sub-class of the Town-class.
3. Rob W says:
13 Aug 2010 11:54:41 PM

Dose anyone know of any website or publishings that list the crew members of this vessel?

my grandfather served on it in the 1940's about halfway through WW2 and I would like to find his name and those of his friends

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Launching ceremony of HMAS Adelaide, Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, Australia, 27 Jul 1918Port side view of HMAS Adelaide, circa 1940s

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