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Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMAS Australia

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The Royal Navy effort to outpace the Germans in dreadnought numbers severely taxed the Royal Treasury. The Admiralty reasoned that since it fell to the Royal Navy to protect the Dominions, the Dominions ought to pay their fair shard. Accordingly, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaya all coughed up the dough for new battleships. Canada initially offered to fund three Queen Elizabeth type battleships, but the deal fell through on the collision of the Canadian domestic politics with an intransigent Winston Churchill.

HMAS Australia was the only of the three ships built to formally become a part of her Dominion’s Navy. An Indefatigable class battlecruiser, Australia carried eight 12″ guns in four twin turrets (two wing, one each fore and aft), displaced about 20000 tons, and could make 26 knots. Like her brethren, she carried inexcusably light armor protection (Indefatigable would sink from a magazine explosion at Jutland). Indeed, the armor scheme was if anything less optimal than that of the Invincibles. Commissioned in June 1913, Australia arrived Down Under in late 1913 and immediately became the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy.

Australia’s first mission at the beginning of the war was pursuit of German raiders in the Pacific. She tried to find the German East Asia Squadron, which at the time was wreaking havoc across the Pacific, but failed to engage. With the destruction of the East Asia Squadron at the Battle of Falkland Islands, and with the dominance of a friendly Japanese Navy in the region, Australia’s presence in the East was no longer required. In 1915 she returned to Great Britain and joined the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron at Rosyth. Australia narrowly missed the Battle of Dogger Bank. In April 1916, the bad signalling endemic to ships commanded by David Beatty led to a collision between HMS New Zealand and HMAS Australia. Australia received serious damage, and did not return to service until early June. This prevented Australia from participating in the Battle of Jutland. This might have been for the best, given the poor performance of British battlecruisers in the line of battle.

The rest of Australia’s career was uneventful, although she served as a platform for a catapult launched aircraft in 1918 and was present at the surrender of the High Seas Fleet. HMAS Australia returned to Australia in 1919, again becoming the flagship of the Australian Navy. In 1921 she was placed in reserve. The framers of the Washington Naval Treaty understood that Australia would probably again join the Royal Navy in the event of hostilities (especially in the Far East), and thus included her in the Royal Navy count. Larger and newer ships carried the day, and Australia was scuttled off Sydney in 1924. Had Australia been retained in service (and presumably modernized in the interwar period), she might have been able to play some role in the defense of the Dutch East Indies in the early months of 1942. Her 12″ guns would have been welcome at the Battle of Java Sea, for example. Still, it’s hard to imagine that she could have played a decisive role, and most likely she would have fallen victim to air attack, a 24″ “Long Lance” torpedo, or the guns of the one of the far larger and more powerful Kongo class battlecruisers.

Trivia: Which American battleship was sunk by atomic weapons?

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