Commemorating Navy’s WWI achievements

Published on MIDN Aaron Wischusen (author), Unknown (photographer)

Location(s): Sydney, NSW

HMAS Sydney (I) which defeated the German Cruiser SMS Emden.
 (photo: Unknown. Image scanned from Navy Historic Archive.)
HMAS Sydney (I) which defeated the German Cruiser SMS Emden.

An exhibition showcasing the efforts of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in World War One (WWI) has been unveiled at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
 
The travelling exhibition titled War at Sea: The Navy in WWI will be on display at the Sydney based museum until May 2015, and highlights the Navy’s role in the war, which was vital but far less publicised than the land campaigns.
 
The Royal Australian Navy’s historian, Dr David Stevens, said the exhibit was important as it highlights a number of significant achievements for Australia and the Navy.
 
“The Navy achieved a number of firsts during the early months of WWI, not the least of which included our first victory at sea, our first joint operation and our first combined operation,” Dr Stevens said.
 
“Almost eight months before the landings at Gallipoli, an expeditionary force from New Zealand, escorted by British, French and Australian ships, and commanded by an Australian admiral, conducted a joint and combined operation to seize what was then 'German Samoa'.
 
Following the recruiting and training of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force in September 1914, Australian warships took charge of the operation to occupy German New Guinea.
 
“In terms of commanding and deploying a balanced maritime task group for a defined mission, an operation comparable to the occupation of New Guinea in 1914 would not be repeated by Australian forces until 1999 in East Timor,” Dr Stevens said.
 
The landings on 11 September 1914 also saw the first loss of servicemen from the Australian Forces.
 
The Royal Australian Navy's efforts in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, including the destruction of the German cruiser Emden and the capture of German colonies, disrupted German communications and supplies and prevented their plans to attack allied trade.  
 
“In a matter of months, and at the cost of a handful of lives, Australian sea power had removed the only immediate threats to Australia’s security,” Dr Stevens said.
 
The War at Sea: The Navy in WWI exhibition was launched at the Australian Maritime Museum on 11 September, the same day a service was held to honour William ‘Billy’ Williams at the Bradley’s Head memorial, Sydney.
 
Williams, a member of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, was one of the first Australian servicemen killed in WWI when he was shot following the landing at Rabaul.
 
Dr David Stevens recently completed the most comprehensive account of the Australian Navy’s involvement in WWI in his book entitled In all Respects Ready, which will be released in November this year.