Heroic Hobart (I)

Published on John Perryman (author), Navy Archives (photographer)

Topic(s): Naval History, Naval Heritage and History, Commissioning

Imagery Scanned from Navy Historic Archive (photo: )
Imagery Scanned from Navy Historic Archive

In the lead-up to the commissioning ceremony of the first of the Royal Australian Navy’s new destroyers on 23 September, we look back upon ships who have previously carried the name HMAS Hobart.
Hobart (I) was a modified Leander class light cruiser originally commissioned in the Royal Navy as HMS Apollo on 13 January 1936.
She served on the North American and West Indies Stations and was due to transfer to the Royal Australian Navy as HMAS Hobart on 6 October 1938 at Devonport. However, owing to the mobilisation of the British Fleet on 28 September in response to the Munich Crisis, she commissioned on that date under the command of Captain Robert Stewart, Royal Navy.
She arrived in Australia at the end of 1938 and made her first visit to the Tasmanian city of Hobart from 17 to 28 February 1939. She was engaged in various patrols and exercises, and at the outbreak of the Second World War was on patrol in Bass Strait.
On 14 October 1939 Hobart sailed for service on the East Indies Station. She performed escort duties in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea and fired her first shots of the war on 12 June 1940 when she engaged three Italian aircraft conducting a raid on Aden.
She landed British reinforcements at Berbera, British Somaliland, on 1 August 1940 and acted as the operational headquarters for the evacuation of Berbera two weeks later. She also landed a 'Quick Firing 3-pounder Hotchkiss' gun and three-man crew for service with the Army as an anti-tank gun-crew.
Hobart carried out escort and patrol duties in the Red Sea until October 1940, returning to Australian waters in December. She performed further escort duties until June 1941. Hobart joined the Mediterranean Fleet in August 1941 where she was engaged in support of the campaign in the Western Desert, the reinforcement of Cyprus, operations against Syria and in a series of Mediterranean sweeps.
Hobart transferred to Far East waters after Japan’s entry into the war where she withstood some of the heaviest bombing of her career. On one occasion when operating as a unit of a combined strike force, Hobart and her consorts were attacked 13 times. Her commanding officer, Captain Harry Howden, wrote of the encounter:
"The bombs fell close enough for me to see the red flash of their burst and to feel the heat of their explosions across my face."
A bombing attack prevented her from taking part in the disastrous Battle of the Java Sea, but she did participate in the Battle of the Coral Sea where she was targeted by eight Japanese torpedo bombers and 19 heavy bombers on 7 May 1942.
The naval force she was part of was without fighter cover but escaped damage by evasive action, shooting down three of the enemy aircraft. She later formed part of the cruiser covering force for the American landings at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands in August 1942.
On 20 July 1943, Hobart was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine while en route to Vanuatu. Thirteen officers and sailors were killed and another seven injured. She made it to Espiritu Santo under her own power the following day and was later escorted to Sydney. She arrived on 26 August for extensive repairs which kept her out of service until December 1944.
Hobart rendezvoused with the British Pacific Fleet at Manus in February 1945 and was part of the force covering the Allied landings at: Cebu, Philippines, in March; Tarakan, Borneo in April; Wewak, New Guinea, in May; Brunei in June; and Balikpapan, Netherlands East Indies, in July. She was among the Australian ships present for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on 31 August.
Following the end of hostilities, Hobart spent three periods in Japanese waters in support of the Commonwealth Occupation Forces. She returned to Sydney in August 1947 and paid off into reserve on 20 December 1947.
From 1953 to 1956 she underwent an extensive refit and modernisation at Newcastle State Dockyard to convert her to a training ship, but was not again brought into seagoing service.
On 5 February 1960 it was officially announced that she had been added to the list of obsolete Royal Australian Navy ships for sale as scrap. On 22 February 1962, Hobart was sold to a Japanese firm for breaking up.
For more information on this ship called Hobart visit the Navy website at http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-hobart-i.