HMAS Perth (D29)

HMAS Perth (D29)
HMAS Perth in 1940
HMAS Perth in 1940
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Amphion
Builder: Portsmouth Naval Dockyard
Laid down: 26 June 1933
Launched: 27 July 1934
Commissioned: 15 June 1936
Decommissioned: 1939
Fate: Sold to Royal Australian Navy
Career (Australia)
Name: HMAS Perth
Namesake: City of Perth, Western Australia
Acquired: 1939
Commissioned: 29 June 1939
Motto: "Floreat" (Let it flourish)
Honours and
Battle honours:
Atlantic 1939
Malta Convoys 1941
Matapan 1941
Greece 1941
Crete 1941
Mediterranean 1941
Pacific 1941–42
Sunda Strait 1942
Fate: Sunk in action, Sunda Strait, 1 March 1942
General characteristics
Class and type: Modified Leander class light cruiser
Displacement: 6,830 tons (standard)
Length: 562 ft 3.875 in (171.39603 m) overall
530 ft (160 m) between perpendiculars
Beam: 56 ft 8 in (17.27 m)
Draught: 19 ft 7 in (5.97 m)
Propulsion: 4 x Parsons geared turbines
4 x Admiralty 3-drum boilers
4 shafts, 72,000 shp (54,000 kW)
Speed: 31.7 knots (58.7 km/h; 36.5 mph)
Range: 6,060 nautical miles (11,220 km; 6,970 mi) at 22.7 knots (42.0 km/h; 26.1 mph)
1,780 nautical miles (3,300 km; 2,050 mi) at 31.7 knots (58.7 km/h; 36.5 mph)
Complement: 646 (35 officers, 611 ratings) standard
681 at time of loss (includes 6 RAAF, 4 civilians)

8 × BL 6 inch Mk XXIII naval guns (4 x 2)
8 × 4-inch Mk XVI guns (4 × 2)
12 x 0.5-inch machine guns (3 × 4)
10 x 0.303-inch machine guns (10 × 1)

8 × 21-inch Torpedo tubes (2 × 4)
Aircraft carried: one seaplane

HMAS Perth (I29/D29) was a Modified Leander class light cruiser operated by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) during World War II. She was constructed for the Royal Navy (RN), and commissioned as HMS Amphion in 1936. After several years on the North America and West Indies Station, the cruiser was transferred to the RAN in 1939 and recommissioned as HMAS Perth.

At the start of World War II, the cruiser was used to patrol Australian waters, before being sent to the Mediterranean at the end of 1940. There, Perth was involved in the battles for Greece, Crete, and Syria before returning to Australia in late 1941.

In February 1942, Perth survived the Allied defeat at the Battle of the Java Sea, before being torpedoed and sunk at the Battle of Sunda Strait. 353 of the 681 aboard were killed, while all but 4 of the 328 survivors were captured as prisoners of war. 106 died in captivity, while 218 were repatriated after the war's end.


Design and construction

The ship was one of three Modified Leander class light cruisers constructed for the RN. She had a displacement of 6,830 tons, with a length overall of 562 feet 3.875 inches (171.39603 m), a length between perpendiculars of 530 feet (160 m), a beam of 56 feet 8 inches (17.27 m), and a draught of 19 feet 7 inches (5.97 m).[1] The main difference to the previous five Leanders was that the newer ships had their machinery and propulsion equipment organised in two self-contained units (two Parsons geared turbines and two Admiralty 3-drum boilers in each machinery space), allowing the ship to continue operating if one set was damaged.[2][3] The two exhaust funnels, one for each machinery space, gave the modified ships a different profile from the early Leanders, which had a single funnel.[2] To cover the separate machinery spaces, the side armour was extended from 84 to 141 feet (26 to 43 m), negating the weight reduction created by the separation.[4] The machinery spaces produced 72,000 shaft horsepower (54,000 kW) for the four propellers, and could drive the ship to a maximum speed of 31.7 knots (58.7 km/h; 36.5 mph).[3] At top speed, the cruiser could travel 1,780 nautical miles (3,300 km; 2,050 mi), while the more economical speed of 22.7 knots (42.0 km/h; 26.1 mph) produced a maximum range of 6,060 nautical miles (11,220 km; 6,970 mi).[3]

Sailors astride one of Perth's main guns, 1941

The Leanders' main armament was eight BL 6 inch Mk XXIII naval guns, fitted in four twin turrets.[1] During design, it was planned to modify the forward-most and aft-most 6-inch turrets to be fitted with three guns instead of two, but the plan was cancelled when it was determined that the required alterations would cause several negative side effects, including reducing the ship's top speed and causing problems with effective fire control.[5] Secondary armament initially consisted of four 4-inch Mk XVI guns, but these were later upgraded to four twin mounts.[1] For close defence, the ship was fitted with twelve 0.5-inch machine guns in three quadruple mounts, and ten .303-inch machine guns; a mix of Lewis Guns and Vickers machine guns.[3] Eight Mark VII 21-inch torpedo tubes were carried; two quadruple mounts.[3] The ship carried an amphibious aircraft (initially a Supermarine Seagull V, later a Supermarine Walrus) on a catapult.[3] At the time of entry to Australian service, the ship's company stood at 646 (35 officers and 611 sailors), but by the time of her loss, 681 were aboard: 671 naval personnel, 6 RAAF personnel, and 4 civilian canteen staff.[3]

The ship was laid down as HMS Amphion for the RN at Portsmouth Dockyard on 26 June 1933.[3] She was launched by the Marchioness of Titchfield on 27 July 1934, commissioned into the RN on 15 June 1936, and completed on 6 July 1936.[3]

Operational history

RN service

During her RN career, Amphion saw service in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Pacific as part of the North America and West Indies Station.[3] The cruiser also saw service as flagship of the Africa Station.[6]

Australian acquisition

Perth arriving in New York in 1939

In 1939, Amphion was sold to the RAN: she was renamed HMAS Perth on 10 July 1939 by Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent, and was commissioned into RAN service on 29 June 1939.[3] Perth was the last cruiser ever acquired by the RAN.[7] Most of the ship's company departed Australia in May 1939 aboard 1939 New York World's Fair.[3] While in New York, there was a mutiny aboard.[8] The instigation was orders that sailors ashore for leave would have to return to the ship at 18:00 and change from white uniform to blue uniform, although the overall treatment of the sailors by the officers had been an issue since the cruiser was taken over by the RAN.[8] Over 60 sailors gathered on the ship's foredeck; they were confronted by officers with sidearms (the first time RAN officers had been armed to deal with a mutiny) and ordered below decks, but disobeyed.[9] The ship's commanding officer, Captain Harold Farncomb, then approached the sailors and informed them that if they did not follow orders to disperse, he would treat their actions as a mutiny.[10] The standoff could be seen from the wharfside, and a heavily armed force of New York Police were dispatched, but did not intervene.[10] Farncomb successfully diffused the situation by making the offer that any sailor wanting to wear blue uniform all day ashore could do so after asking permission; an offer taken up by almost every sailor taking shore leave.[10]

World War II

While still en route to Australia, Perth was sailing off Venezuela when World War II started, and immediately began to search for German shipping in the Caribbean and western Atlantic, initially as the only Commonwealth warship in the region.[11] The cruiser did not reach Australian waters until 31 March 1940, having sailed via the Panama Canal at the start of the month.[12] On arrival, Perth was assigned to convoy escort and patrol duties along the Australian coast.[3] This continued until November 1940, when she was sent to the Mediterranean Theatre to relieve sister ship HMAS Sydney.[3][13] Perth reached Alexandria on 24 December, and was assigned to the 7th Cruiser Squadron.[14]

During January 1941, Perth performed patrols of the Aegean Sea and supported convoys to Malta; the cruiser survived air attack on several occasions.[14] February saw the cruiser patrolling around Greece and Crete, then during March, she supported the Allied reinforcement of Greece by transporting soldiers from Alexandria to Piraeus.[14][15] On the night of 28–29 March, the ship played a major role in the Battle of Cape Matapan.[15] The cruiser was involved in the subsequent evacuation of Allied forces from Greece in April.[3] The cruiser was also involved in the Battle of Crete during April and May, and was bombed on 30 May, with four personnel and nine of the 1,188 embarked soldiers killed when a bomb exploded in 'A' boiler room.[3][16][17] During June and July, the ship fought against Vichy French forces in Syria, and on one occasion avoided a friendly fire attack by Allied bombers.[14] The cruiser was relieved by sister ship Hobart, and returned to Australia for upgrades to her anti-aircraft armament and a general refit in August.[14] After the refit, the ship resumed convoy escort duties in home waters until early 1942.[3]

Perth underway in 1942

On 14 February 1942, Perth sailed with a convoy of empty oil tankers to the Netherlands East Indies: the Allies wanted to retrieve as much oil as possible before the Japanese could invade the islands.[3] En route, the tankers were ordered back to Australia, and Perth was sent to join the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) fleet.[3] She reached Tanjong Priok on 24 February, then proceeded to Surabaya the next day, where she met the ABDA fleet (which consisted of four other cruisers and nine destroyers).[3] On receiving reports that a Japanese convoy of eight cruisers, twelve destroyers, and thirty transports was heading for Surabaya, the ABDA ships sailed to meet them.[3] The Japanese ships were located on the afternoon of 27 February, and the Allied ships opened fire, with Perth setting a Japanese cruiser on fire with her second salvo.[3] Later in the engagement, the Australian cruiser successfully fired on a Japanese destroyer.[14] The forces broke apart after the British cruiser HMS Exeter was disabled, then later reengaged; during this, the Dutch cruisers De Ruyter and HNLMS Java were torpedoed and sunk.[3] Perth and the United States cruiser USS Houston were the only large Allied ships to survive the Battle of the Java Sea, and retreated to Tanjong Priok, where they arrived on 28 February.[3] The two ships attempted to resupply, but fuel shortages meant that Perth took on only half her normal fuel capacity, and a lack of shells left the cruisers with the little ammunition they had left over from the previous day.[18] Perth, Houston, and the Dutch destroyer Tjilatjap via the Sunda Strait.[18]


Perth and Houston sailed at 19:00 (Evertsen was delayed), with the Australian warship leading.[18] The Allies believed that Sunda Strait was free of enemy vessels, but a large Japanese force had assembled at Bantam Bay.[7][18] At 23:06, the two cruisers were off St. Nicholas Point when lookouts on Perth sighted an unidentified ship; when it was realised that she was a Japanese destroyer, the Australian ship engaged.[7][18] However, as this happened, multiple Japanese warships appeared and surrounded the two Allied ships.[7][18]

The painting HMAS Perth fights to the last, 28 February 1942, by official war artist Murray Griffin. It was painted circa 1942–43 at Changi Prison, Singapore, where Perth survivors and Griffin were held as prisoners of war.

At midnight, with ammunition running low, Captain Hector Waller ordered his ship to try to force a way through.[18] Just as Perth settled on a new heading, four Japanese torpedoes hit the cruiser in the space of a few minutes.[7][18] The first hit on the starboard side and damaged the forward engine room, the second caused a hull breach near the bridge, the third impacted in the starboard aft area, and the fourth struck on the port side.[7][18] Waller gave the order to abandon ship after the second torpedo impact.[7] After some further close-range fire from the destroyers, Perth heeled to port and sank at 00:25 on 1 March 1942, with 353 killed: 342 RAN (including Waller), 5 Royal Navy, 3 RAAF, and 3 civilian canteen workers.[18] Houston was torpedoed and sank about 20 minutes later.[19]

Of the 328 survivors, four died after reaching shore, while the rest were captured as prisoners of war.[19] 106 died during their internment: 105 naval and 1 RAAF, including 38 killed by Allied attacks on Japanese 'hell ships'.[20] The remaining 218 were repatriated after the war.[19]

The cruiser's wartime service was later recognised with the battle honours "Atlantic 1939", "Malta Convoys 1941", "Matapan 1941", "Greece 1941", "Crete 1941", "Mediterranean 1941", "Pacific 1941–42", and "Sunda Strait 1942".[21][22]


  1. ^ a b c Cassells, The Capital Ships, p. 92
  2. ^ a b Frame, HMAS Sydney, p. 15
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Cassells, The Capital Ships, p. 93
  4. ^ Frame, HMAS Sydney, pp. 15–16
  5. ^ Frame, HMAS Sydney, p. 16
  6. ^ Bastock, Australia's Ships of War, p. 126
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Bastock, Australia's Ships of War, p. 128
  8. ^ a b c Frame & Baker, Mutiny!, p. 145
  9. ^ Frame & Baker, Mutiny!, pp. 145-6
  10. ^ a b c Frame & Baker, Mutiny!, p. 146
  11. ^ Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, pp. 149–50
  12. ^ Bastock, Australia's Ships of War, pp. 126-7
  13. ^ Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, p. 160
  14. ^ a b c d e f Bastock, Australia's Ships of War, p. 127
  15. ^ a b Goldrick, in Stevens, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 117
  16. ^ Goldrick, in Stevens, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 118
  17. ^ Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, p. 161
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cassells, The Capital Ships, p. 94
  19. ^ a b c Cassells, The Capital Ships, p. 95
  20. ^ Cassells, The Capital Ships, pgs. 95, 103–6
  21. ^ "Navy Marks 109th Birthday With Historic Changes To Battle Honours". Royal Australian Navy. 1 March 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2010. 
  22. ^ "Royal Australian Navy Ship/Unit Battle Honours". Royal Australian Navy. 1 March 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2010. 


  • Bastock, John (1975). Australia's Ships of War. Cremorne, NSW: Angus and Robertson. ISBN 0207129274. OCLC 2525523. 
  • Cassells, Vic (2000). The Capital Ships: their battles and their badges. East Roseville, NSW: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0731809416. OCLC 48761594. 
  • Frame, Tom (1993). HMAS Sydney: Loss and Controversy. Rydalmere, NSW: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0340584688. OCLC 32234178. 
  • Frame, Tom (2004). No Pleasure Cruise: the story of the Royal Australian Navy. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1741142334. OCLC 55980812. 
  • Frame, Tom; Baker, Kevin (2000). Mutiny! Naval Insurrections in Australia and New Zealand. St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1865083518. OCLC 247938372. 
  • Goldrick, James (2005). "World War II: The war against Germany and Italy"; "World War II: The war against Japan". In Stevens, David & Reeve, John. The Navy and the Nation: the influence of the Navy on modern Australia. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1741142008. OCLC 67872922. 

Further reading

  • Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War Two. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0870214594. 
  • Lenton, H.T. & Colledge, J.J (1968). British and Dominion Warships of World War Two. Doubleday and Company. 
  • Brendan Whiting (1995). Ship of Courage: The Epic Story of HMAS Perth and Her Crew. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1863736530. 

External links

Coordinates: 05°51′42″S 106°7′52″E / 5.86167°S 106.13111°E / -5.86167; 106.13111

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