View Full Version : Australian Beginnings in WW1

09-03-2008, 01:35
I know to some this post is like teaching them how to suck eggs. However not many know the actual machinations involved when the RAN joined the first world war.

On the outbreak of war, the exact position of the German Pacific Squadron was unknown but intercepted wireless traffic indicated the armoured cruisers (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) were within 1,500 miles of Australia. Considering the waters of German New Guinea (the north-east mainland, the Bismarck Archipelago, and Buka and Bougainville in the western Solomons) as the most obvious location, the ships of the new Australian Fleet steamed northwards.
On 9 August, HMA Ships Australia, Sydney, Encounter, Parramatta, Yarra and Warrego rendezvoused south-west of New Guinea’s eastern tip for an attack on Rabaul, capital of the German colony. Two days earlier on the way north, Rear Admiral Sir George Patey RN (the Commander-in-Chief) issued the RAN’s Operation Order No. 1 aboard his flagship HMAS Australia. The text of this historic document is reproduced below.



1. All indications pointing to the probability of German ships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and Nurnberg, and perhaps Komet and Planet being in the neighbourhood of Simpsonhafen, New Britain, and to their being found either in that place or in Matupi Harbour, I intend to make an attack on those ports with the object of torpedoing any ships which are there and destroying the Wireless Station.
2. To effect this I intend to proceed with Australia, Sydney and destroyers to rendezvous 3, arriving there at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, August 11th.
3. Sydney will take charge of the destroyers and proceed as ordered in para. 4 and 5. Australia will move up to a position Lat. 4.38S, Long. 32E. (Rendezvous No. 4) to support the above.
4. Sydney and destroyers will be ordered to proceed at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, and will proceed to Simpsonhafen at 20 knots.
Should the enemy’s heavy ships be met under way outside, the destroyers are to attack at once, Sydney informing me as soon as the attack develops, and retire on Australia with the destroyers.
The moon rises at 10.17 p.m.; the attack should therefore be delivered at about 9 p.m.
It is probable there may be a patrol in St. George’s Channel; this ship should be avoided if possible, otherwise Sydney should attack her, sending the destroyers on at the same time.

By His Excellency the Right Honorable
Sir Ronald Craufurd Munro Ferguson,
a Member of His Majesty's Most Hon-
Australia to wit. orable Privy Council, Knight Grand
R. M. FERGUSON, Cross of the Most Distinguished Order
Governor-General. of Saint Michael and Saint George,
Governor-General and Commander-in-
Chief of the Commonwealth of Australia.

WHEREAS a state of war exists between His Majesty the King
and the German Emperor:
And whereas by the Naval Defence Act 1910-1912 it is amongst
other things enacted that the Governor-General may transfer to the King's Naval Forces any vessel of the Commonwealth Naval Forces and any officers or seamen of the Commonwealth Naval Forces:
And whereas it is deemed expedient to transfer to the King's
Naval Forces all the vessels of the Commonwealth Naval Forces and all officers and seamen of those vessels:
Now therefore I, Sir Ronald Craufurd Munro Ferguson, Governor-General
aforesaid, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive
Council, do hereby order that from and after the publication
of this Order all the vessels of the Commonwealth Naval Forces,
and all the officers and seamen of those vessels, shall be
transferred to the King's Naval Forces, and that such transfer
shall continue in force until the issue of a Proclamation
declaring that the aforementioned war no longer exists.
Given under my Hand and the Seal of the Commonwealth this tenth
day of August, One thousand nine hundred and fourteen, in
the fifth year of His Majesty's reign.
By His Excellency's Command,
(L.S.) E. D. MILLEN,

Minister of State for Defence.

Of some interest is the wording of a line within the document "PROCLAMATION TRANSFERRING THE AUSTRALIAN NAVY
TO ADMIRALTY CONTROL". Would the words in RED constitute treason if they were taken literally and " The Governor General May " was thought a bad idea and instead read "The Governor General has decided NOT to ". Would that little word have changed the face of WW1 ;)

Discussion Welcome

09-03-2008, 02:14
Very interesting post, apart from the last paragraph, Tomsam!!

May is Imperial British politeness for "you will", especially considering how much the Royal Navy and the British taxpayer had contributed to the existence of the Royal Australian Navy and the so-called "Eastern Fleet".

Indeed, discussion will be welcome :D

God Save The King!


09-03-2008, 02:28
This is a very interesting post indeed. I have recently posted a fuller account of these actions:


There's no doubt that your post adds significantly to this.

Your comments Harley need an explanation. Of course much of the RAN at the time was due to Britain. In fact quite a few personnel were British. But do appreciate that Australia was almost entirely British at the time. Australian passports did not replace the British one until after WW2.

Also appreciate that Australia was very new, having come into existence only in 1901.

A further example: at the landings of the 1st AIF at Gallipoli, 35% of that force were British born.

There was massive collaboration on many fronts between the two countries - just as there is today.

Know that at the outbreak of WW1, PM Fisher said that we would defend England to the last shilling. And he offered to turn the RAN over to the RN.

The only fly in the ointment was our objection to the relationship that Britain had made with Japan.

God Save the King indeed!

And just for the record Harley: I am very proud of my British heritage and proud also that I hold a full British passport. Proud of the magnificent work my grandfather did for the RN at Portsmouth and Scarpa Flow and proud of my father's WW1 efforts in the RHA. And proud to be an Australian. Schizophrenic eh!

09-03-2008, 18:14
Maybe with the number of Australian immigrants of non-British origins rapidly increasing year by year there might be reason to describe your self as a British Australian!

09-03-2008, 20:45
Terry, a friend calls me the Oz-Pom git! In fact such is immigration to Oz now that those of British stock now only amount to 40% of the total.