|Leander-class Light Cruiser
|Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, Hampshire, England, UK
|26 Jun 1933
|27 Jul 1934
|15 Jun 1936
|1 Mar 1942
|6,830 tons standard
|Parsons geared turbines, four shafts
|1,768 tons fuel oil
|72,000 shaft horsepower
|7,400nm at 13 knots, 1,920nm at 30.5 knots
|4x2x6in MkXIII guns, 4x2x4in MkXVI guns, 3x4x0.5in machine guns, 10x1x0.303in machine guns, 2x4x21in torpedo tubes
Contributor: Morgan Bell
ww2dbaseThe light cruiser that was to become the HMAS Perth was built in the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard and commissioned into the Royal Navy in mid-1936 under the name HMS Amphion, a name common among ancient Greek myth. In a deal between the British and Australian governments, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) purchased the vessel. The crew of the HMAS Adelaide was to man the RAN's newest acquisition for the return trip to Australia. They departed for the United Kingdom on the SS Autolycus on 15 May 1939. Ignorant of the naval tradition that renaming a ship brought ill-fortune upon it, the cruiser these men had crossed half the world to man on the journey home was commissioned into the RAN on 29 June 1939 with the name HMAS Perth. As a nation whose history is mostly bound within the twentieth century, Australia has few links with the ancient world. This ship is a retelling of Australia's very own ANZAC legend in the mould of ancient Greek tragedy. Between 4 and 16 August 1939 the HMAS Perth enjoyed the few remaining days of peacetime under the Australian flag by representing Australia in the World Fair in New York. By the end of the year the HMAS Perth was due to sail for Australia, the declaration of war delayed the crew from returning to their homeland. When war was declared the HMAS Perth was in the West Indies. For the next two and a half months she performed escort and patrol duties in the western Atlantic, operating from the West Indies naval station. In November 1939 the Perth passed through the Panama Canal, where they headed for the Cocos Islands with orders to fuel two Royal Canadian Navy destroyers. The Perth then returned to Kingston, Jamaica, to resume escort and patrol duties in the Atlantic, which lasted until early March 1940. Perth passed through the Panama Canal again the other way on 2 March, and completed the trip to Australia, securing alongside Garden Island on 31 March. She escorted the converted luxury liners liners SS Queen Mary and SS Aquitania out of Sydney on 20 October, at Melbourne they were joined by Mauritania in Melbourne, which completed a trio of troopships on a historic endeavour, to bear the 2nd AIF to their destination of the Middle East. Perth escorted them four hundred miles south of the Great Australian Bight, almost in Antarctic waters to avoid hostile submersible craft, in the first leg of the convoy's endevour, to Freemantle, where it arrived on 26 October. The following day Perth left Freemantle to escort the convoy to the Cocos Islands, where it handed responsibility for the convoy over to HMAS Canberra. En route to Freemantle, Perth encountered what was thought to be a German minelayer. The craft was wrongly identified. Being a Japanese trawler, it was not stopped and examined, as Australia was not at war with Japan yet. Leaving Freemantle on 5 November, Perth headed for Cockatoo Island, to assume responsibility from another convoy from HMAS Adelaide. Returning to Freemantle, Perth received orders that would ensure her crew would never return to their homes in the eastern states for at least a year. On 29 November Perth departed Freemantle bound for Columbo, Ceylon, to co-operate with British ships searching for a German raider, a hunt that ended fruitlessly, but was the beginning of a long list of naval tasks for Perth that delayed a return to Australia until the spring of 1941. She passed through the Suez Canal on 23 December 1940, arriving in Alexandria on Christmas Eve. Perth was in company with Ajax, Orion and Gloucester when an Italian fleet fired upon them, initiating the Battle of Matapan, an encounter that spanned twelve hours and covered two hundred miles of water. Perth, along with two British cruisers, was used as a decoy in the action. On 25 April, ANZAC Day, 1941 Perth evacuated approximately a thousand Australian diggers from Greece, as it fell to the Germans, to Crete. Perth did not arrive to the usual Sydney Harbour welcome, with the usual flotilla of pleasure craft and crowded ferries warded off by the wartime security risks, Perth's hide marred by the scars inflicted by German dive bombers. As their ship got a much-needed dry-dock at Garden Island, the crew took advantage of leave to rest with family and loved ones. Many of the crew transferred to other ships in the RAN. A large portion of the gunnery crew was involved in the training of new gunners on other ships. Of the compliment of 682 who had commissioned the HMAS Perth into the RAN, forty remained. The shortfall consisted of new, raw recruits and reservists with experience manning merchant cruisers. Perth's departure from Sydney was delayed by the unexpected, sabotage at the Cockatoo Dock. In October-November Perth was required to return to sea duty. While the Japanese conquest was occurring, Perth was leaving Sydney. In company with the RAN's flagship, the heavy cruiser Australia; Canberra; and a New Zealand ship, Achilles; Perth escorted a convoy carrying four thousand troops to Port Moresby. During the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the USS Houston, a ship whose life would be cut short with Perth by the fates, sped to open water and headed south to the Netherlands East Indies. Perth, serving with HMAS Australia in the Tasman Sea, was ordered to go to Melborne, where the ship's disposition will be shifted, to the ABDA area headquarters in the Netherlands East Indies. She left Australia for the last time on 14 February. At a conference in Lembang in central Java on 2 Februay 1942 a Combined Striking Force of US and Dutch ships was formed under the command of Dutch Rear Admiral Doorman. Perth arrived in Batavia on 24 February. On Christmas Day she added her firepower to the Combined Striking Force in Surabaya. After an unsuccessful cruise to search for the Japanese fleet, Admiral Doorman received a transmission that the Japanese were spotted to the north, so the force rushed to intercept. The Japanese fleet easily defeated the Allied force in the Battle of the Java Sea on the night of 27 February. The divided nature of the Combined Striking Force contributed greatly to the Allied defeat. USS Houston and HMAS Perth fled to Tjiltjap, where they refueled. The cruisers received orders to head for the Sunda Strait, where they encountered the Japanese invasion force for western Java. USS Houston and HMAS Perth were sunk by concentrated destroyer fire, but took a transport and a minesweeper. Of Perth's company of 686 when the ill-fated cruiser last left Australia, 218 were repatriated. The remainder were either killed in the action in the Sunda Strait, or died from mistreatment as prisoners of war in a Japanese camp near Batavia. On board there were four civilian canteen staff and for RAAF pilots. Captain "Hec" Waller went down with the ship.
The Australian War Memorial
B. Whiting, Ship of Courage: The story of HMAS Perth and her crew
The Royal Australian Navy
Last Major Revision: Nov 2008
Light Cruiser Perth Interactive Map
Perth Operational Timeline
|1 Dec 1932
|The construction for HMS Amphion was ordered.
|26 Jun 1933
|The keel of HMS Amphion was laid down at the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom.
|6 Jul 1935
|HMS Amphion was commissioned into service.
|15 Jun 1936
|HMAS Perth was commissioned into service.
|18 Mar 1938
|The British Chief of Naval Staff recommended the transfer of HMS Amphion to Australia.
|29 Jun 1938
|British cruiser HMS Amphion was recommissioned as Australian cruiser HMAS Perth at Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom.
|1 Mar 1942
|HMS Encounter, HMS Exeter, and USS Pope were sunk at the Second Battle of the Java Sea; the ships suffered 7, 54, and 1 killed, respectively. Meanwhile, at the Battle of Sunda Strait, Allied cruisers USS Houston and HMAS Perth intercepted a Japanese invasion force but were both sunk as they attacked; four Japanese transports and a minesweepers were sunk, but two of the transports were later refloated. Also on this date, Japanese troops landed on Java and immediately began marching for Batavia, with the Japanese 2nd Division capturing Serang and the 230th Infantry Regiment capturing Kalidjati airfield at Soebang en route. Finally, Japanese air raids at Surabaya damaged destroyer USS Stewart and Dutch destroyer Witte de With.
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