HMAS Sydney (R17)

HMAS Sydney (R17)

HMAS "Sydney" (R17/A214) was a "Majestic" class light aircraft carrier operated by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). She was built for the Royal Navy and launched as HMS "Terrible" (R93) in 1944, but was sold to Australia and renamed before commissioning into the RAN in 1948.

"Sydney" was the first conventional aircraft carrierref|def| [I] to serve in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). "Sydney" also served as the RAN flagship during her career, and after being paid off into reserve in 1958, she was recommissioned as a Fast Troop Transport. "Sydney" served in both the Korean, and the Vietnam Wars.

"Sydney" was decommissioned in 1973. Despite several plans to preserve all or part of the ship as a maritime museum, tourist attraction, or floating car park, the carrier was sold to a steel mill in South Korea for scrapping in 1975.

Construction and acquisition

The ship was laid down by HM Dockyard Devonport in England as HMS "Terrible" (R93) on 19 April 1943, and launched 30 September 1944.cite web |url= |title=HMAS Sydney (III) |accessdate=2008-08-21 |work=HMA Ship Histories |publisher=Sea Power Centre - Royal Australian Navy ] Following the end of World War II, the Admiralty ordered the suspension of many British shipbuilding projects, including the fitting out of "Terrible" and her five sister ships.David Hobbs (2007). "HMAS Melbourne II - 25 Years On", pg 5] Construction resumed in 1946, and modifications to the design were incorporated.

A review by the Australian Government's Defence Committee held after World War II recommended that the post-war forces of the RAN be structured around a Task Force incorporating multiple aircraft carriers. [Donohue, p. 33] Initial plans were for three carriers, with two active and a third in reserve, although funding cuts led to the purchase of only two carriers in June 1947: "Terrible" and sister ship HMS "Majestic", for the combined cost of AU£2.75 million, plus stores, fuel, and ammunition. [Donohue, pp. 38, 45-47.] As "Terrible" was fitted out as a flagship and was the closer of the two ships to completion, construction was finished without modification.Wright, "Australian Carrier Decisions", p. 151] Although "Terrible" was due for completion on 24 June 1948, a skilled labour shortage affected the installation of the ship's boilers, causing the Admiralty to revise the delivery date to October 1948. [Wright, "Australian Carrier Decisions", p. 155]

"Terrible" was commissioned into the RAN on 16 December 1948 as HMAS "Sydney". One of the reasons behind the choice in name was so the RAN could access AU£427,000 raised by the HMAS "Sydney" Replacement Fund for a new ship of the name after the loss of the light cruiser HMAS "Sydney" in 1941. [Wright, "Australian Carrier Decisions", p. 157] Just before the commissioning ceremony, an attempted sabotage was foiled when seven bolts were discovered and removed from the gearbox. ["Australia through time", p. 337] "Sydney" was the last RAN ship to be commissioned as 'His' Majesty's Australian Ship: as after the death of King George VI on 6 February 1952 and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, all RAN ships became 'Her' Majesty's.Cooper, "The Royal Australian Navy", opp. p. 160]


"Sydney" was part of the six-ship "Majestic" class of light fleet carriers. The class had been conceived as a modified version of the "Colossus" class carrier, incorporating improvements in flight deck design and habitability. These carriers were intended to be 'disposable warships': they were to be operated during World War II and scrapped at the end of hostilities or within three years of entering service. [Stevens & Reeve, p. 217.]

"Sydney" was the second ship of the class to enter service, after the Canadian aircraft carrier, HMCS "Magnificent". These two carriers were the closest to completion at the end of World War II, and were finished without major modification from the original plans.

Planned upgrade

The Admiralty predicted that all "Majestic" class carriers would require upgrades to their aircraft lifts and arrester gear in the early 1950s, in order to operate the faster and heavier carrier aircraft under development. Originally, the RAN wanted to upgrade "Sydney" to the same standard as sister ship HMAS "Melbourne", allowing her to operate modern jet aircraft with the installation of an angled flight deck and steam catapult. Following the delivery of "Melbourne" to Australia, "Sydney" was to undergo similar modifications. However, financial and manpower restrictions led to the cancellation of the upgrade.Wright, "Australian Carrier Decisions", p. 160]


Weapons and systems

"Sydney" was armed with 30 x 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns, located in single and twin mountings.


"Sydney" operated the 20th and 21st Carrier Air Groups, which were made up of Australian Fleet Air Arm assigned alternately to the carrier. The former was made up of 805 and 816 Squadrons, while the latter was made up of 808 and 817 Squadrons.

"Sydney" normally carried twenty-four aircraft, split evenly between Hawker Sea Fury fighters and Fairey Firefly attack aircraft.

Operational history

"Sydney" did not commence service until 5 February 1949, as necessary modififications were still being completed. She sailed from Devonport, England on 12 April 1959, carrying 805 and 816 Squadrons of the RAN's new Fleet Air Arm. After a short period in Australian waters, "Sydney" returned to England in July 1950 to collect 808 and 817 Squadrons.

Korean War

In September 1951, "Sydney" was deployed to support United Nations forces fighting in the Korean War. This was the first occasion an aircraft carrier owned by a British Dominion was involved in combat. During her first patrol, the carrier operated a United States Navy helicopter in addition to her Sea Furies and Fireflies; the first helicopter to fly from a British or Dominion carrier.Fact|date=August 2008 On 11 October, "Sydney" set a light fleet carrier record when her aircraft flew 89 sorties in a 24 hour period.

Following her first patrol, the carrier sailed to Japan to resupply. On the evening of 14 October, Typhoon Ruth passed through the anchorage at Sasebo, Nagasaki. Ships present at the anchorage were ordered to sea the morning before the typhoon hit, but due to the number of ships present, "Sydney" was unable to leave until late in the day, and sailed during the worst part of the storm. A Firefly, a convert|16|ft|m|adj=on motor dinghy, and a forklift were lost overboard, and the carrier experienced winds in excess of convert|68|kn|km/h—the ship's wind recorder breaking at this reading.

"Sydney"’s second patrol occurred from 18 to 26 October, during which her aircraft flew 389 sorties, fired 96,280 rounds of ammunition and 1,472 rockets, and dropped convert|95000|lb|kg of bombs. Two Sea Furies and one Firefly were lost with no casualties, and 28 aircraft were damaged by flak.

"Sydney" completed seven patrols during the Korean War, spending 64 days in the area.


"Sydney" was present for the first British atomic bomb test, Operation Hurricane. The test occurred on 3 October 1952, off the coast of the Montebello Islands, Western Australia.

"Sydney" transported the Australian service contingent to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and participated in the Coronation Fleet Review on 15 June.

"Sydney" continued in service as a carrier until her newer sister ship, HMAS "Melbourne", took over the RAN's aircraft carrier and flagship roles.Fact|date=August 2008 A planned upgrade of "Sydney" to a similar standard was cancelled, and she disembarked her air squadrons 22 April 1955.Fact|date=August 2008 She took on a training role within the RAN fleet, until she was paid off to Special Reserve in Sydney on 30 May 1958.

Fast Troop Transport

"Sydney" was converted into a troop transport ship during 1961 and 1962, during which all of her aircraft operating equipment was removed. The hangar was converted for storage and accommodation. She was recommissioned as a Fast Troop Transport on 7 March 1962.

In October 1963, five of the crew drowned in the Whitsunday Islands during a training exercise.Frame, "Where Fate Calls", p. 37] A group of junior officers and sailors had been ordered to take three of the ship's whaleboats on a twelve-hour voyage around Hayman and Hooke Islands; out of the sight of both the carrier and her escort, HMAS "Anzac". The third boat left "Sydney" at around 0500 hours, and was believed to have capsized four to five hours later. Despite poor weather, "Sydney"’s captain declined an offer by "Anzac"’s captain for the destroyer to move to the north of Hayman Island in case of incident, and a search party was not sent until after the boat failed to return at 1900 hours. A Board of Inquiry was held aboard "Sydney", which resulted in the ship's captain, executive officer, and traing officer facing courts-martial. [Frame, "Where Fate Calls", pp. 37-38] The latter two were acquitted, and while the captain was found guilty on one of the charges brought against him, it was dropped on a technicality relating to the wording of the charge. [Frame, "Where Fate Calls", p. 38]

Her first international deployment was in 1964 to Borneo and Penang, delivering equipment and supplies to Malaysian forces in support of the country's defence policy against Indonesia.

From June 1965 to February 1972, "Sydney" was involved in transporting troops and equipment to and from Vietnam. She made 24 voyages in support of Australian forces fighting in the Vietnam War, earning the nickname "Vung Tau Ferry".Fact|date=August 2008

In 1968, "Sydney" was modificed to carry six LCVP landing craft on davits.Andrews, "Fighting Ships of Australia & New Zealand", p. 8] 16 LCVPs were constructed for use with "Sydney", but half were put up for sale in the early 1970s.

In the late 1960s, "Sydney" was slated to be replaced, with rumours circulating that the new ship would be an amphibious assault ship, most likely a United States-built "Iwo Jima" class ship. These rumours were proven false by the early 1970s.

In 1968, "Sydney" was modificed to carry six LCVP landing craft on davits.Andrews, "Fighting Ships of Australia & New Zealand", p. 8] 16 LCVPs were constructed for use with "Sydney", but half were put up for sale in the early 1970s.

On 15 July 1971, "Sydney" left Australia for a training cruise to the United States and Canada on a training cruise. On her return voyage, she collected the second order of 10 A-4G Skyhawks purchased for the RAN's Fleet Air Arm.David Stevens et al. (2001). "The Royal Australian Navy", pg 194.]

Decommissioning and fate

"Sydney" paid off for disposal 12 November 1973. She was sold for AU$673,516 to Dongkuk Steel Mill of South Korea for scrapping on 28 October 1975. "Sydney" departed her namesake city under tow on 23 December 1975.


* For the purpose of this article, a conventional aircraft carrier is defined as a ship designed primarily to launch and recover multiple fixed-wing aircraft from a flight deck, and operated as such. This definition does not include seaplane tender HMAS "Albatross", or the planned "Canberra" class large amphibious ships.



*cite book |last=Andrews |first=Graeme |title=Fighting Ships of Australia & New Zealand |edition=1973-1974 edition |year=1973 |publisher=Regency House |location=Kogarah, NSW |isbn=0909262004 |oclc=868367
*cite book |title=Australia through time |origyear=1993 |edition=15th ed., rev. |year=2007 |month=May |publisher=Random House Australia |location=North Sydney, NSW |isbn=9781741665802 |oclc=
*cite book |last=Donohue |first=Hector |title=From Empire Defence to the Long Haul: post-war defence policy and its impact on naval force structure planning 1945-1955 |series=Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs (No. 1) |year=1996 |month=October |publisher=Sea Power Centre |location=Canberra |isbn=0642259070 |id=ISSN|1327-5658 |oclc=36817771
*cite book |last=Frame |first=Tom |title=Where fate calls: the HMAS Voyager tragedy |year=1992 |publisher=Hodder & Stoughton |location=Rydalmere, NSW |isbn=0340549688 |oclc=
*cite journal |last=Hobbs |first=Commander David |year=2007 |month=October |title=HMAS "Melbourne" (II) - 25 Years On |journal=The Navy |volume=69 |issue=4 |pages=5-9 |id=ISSN|1332-6231
*cite book |author= |coauthors= |editor=Stevens, David & Reeve, John |title=The Navy and the Nation: the influence of the Navy on modern Australia |year=2005 |publisher=Allen & Unwin |location=Corws Nest, NSW |isbn=1741142008 |oclc=67872922
*cite book |author=Stevens, David et al. |editor=Stevens, David |title=The Royal Australian Navy |series=The Australian Centenary History of Defence (vol III) |year=2001 |publisher=Oxford University Press |location=South Melbourne, VIC |isbn=0195541162 |oclc=50418095
**cite book |last=Cooper |first=Alastair |title=The Royal Australian Navy |chapter=The Era of Forward Defence
*cite book |last=Weaver |first=Trevor |title=Q class Destroyers and Frigates of the Royal Australian Navy |year=1994 |publisher=Naval History Society of Australia |location=Garden Island, NSW |isbn=0958745633 |oclc=33162899
*cite book |last=Wright |first=Anthony |title=Australian Carrier Decisions: the acquisition of HMA Ships Albatross, Sydney and Melbourne |origyear=1978 |edition= |series=Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs (No. 4) |year=1998 |month=June |publisher=Sea Power Centre |location=Canberra |isbn=0642295034 |id=ISSN|1327-5658 |oclc=39641731

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