The sinking of SS Ceramic

A black and white photograph of HMAT CERAMIC which was used during World War 1 as a troop carrier. The frame around the photograph containing signatures of soldiers and the date '15.12.15' From this date, it is most likely that the soldiers were part of the 12th Reinforcements for the 4th Light Horse Regiment. They departed Melbourne on 23 November 1915. This Regiment was recruited exclusively Victoria in August 1914. ANMM Collection 00027600.

A black and white photograph of HMAT Ceramic, which was used during World War 1 as a troop carrier. The frame around the photograph contains the signatures of soldiers and the date ‘15.12.15’ –  it is likely that the soldiers were part of the 12th Reinforcements for the 4th Light Horse Regiment. They departed Melbourne on 23 November 1915. ANMM Collection 00027600.

A British liner, a German U-boat, the mid-Atlantic Ocean and the Royal Australian Navy – what do they have in common? The SS Ceramic.

Built by the famous Belfast shipbuilders, Harland & Wolff, SS Ceramic was launched on 11 December 1912 for the White Star Line’s Australian service. For 10 years the ocean liner was the largest ship sailing between Europe and Australia. During World War I was requisitioned for the First Australian Imperial Forces as a troopship with the pennant number A40. Continue reading

War at Sea exhibition travels to Fremantle

Detail from the Fremantle Markets building

Detail from the richly decorated and well restored Fremantle Markets building

During the first week of March a team from the National Maritime Museum went to Fremantle to install the War at Sea – The Navy in WWI exhibition at the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

The museum, overlooking the Swan River mouth, is an outstanding example of a maritime museum. It is perched on the edge of the old heart of Fremantle harbour, still surrounded with operational wharves and port authority buildings, as well sheds and equipment displaying the heritage of the working harbour.

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Anzac Cove from the water: the Gallipoli diary of 2nd Engineer George Armstrong

George Armstrong’s diary

100 years after the Anzac landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, the museum has acquired a rare diary written on board a transport ship lying off Anzac Cove.

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Exploring a diorama: The RAN Bridging Train at Suvla Bay during the Gallipoli Campaign

“These men took pride in the fact they were the only Australian naval unit serving in the European theatre of war … They were therefore bent on proving to the Royal Navy and the Army that they could overcome any difficulties”.
CMDR L. S. Bracegirdle, RN, commanding the Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train at Gallipoli, 16 November 1915

One of the most popular parts of the War at Sea – The Navy in WWI exhibition at the museum is a wonderfully old-school diorama. It has no bells or whistles. You can’t swipe, touch or play with it — apart from a series of buttons that light up various sections. But everyone — even the ‘walk through’ visitor — stops and checks it out.

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‘A crazy dream from Alice in Wonderland’: WWI dazzle, art and fashion

Yvonne Gregory, by Bertram Park, 1919

Yvonne Gregory, by Bertram Park, 1919. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London.

The museum’s current exhibition War at Sea – The Navy in WWI includes several examples of dazzle camouflage—the (mostly black and white) patterning used by ships  to disguise their outline and heading. Perhaps it is because I have been immersed in WWI dazzle research, but it seems to me that the same sort of black and white patterning is everywhere I go around Sydney at the moment.You may have noticed black and white is back in women’s fashion. It is often seen in stripes, but also dazzle-like zigzags. Black and white schemes are painted on cars, on shop fronts, and cafes. Is this merely coincidence? Or is there in fact an historical relationship between dazzle boats of WWI and contemporary art and fashion?

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Surviving Emden

For the anniversary of the Battle of Cocos 100 years ago, the museum is displaying a collection of material associated with the World War I German raider SMS Emden that was destroyed by HMAS Sydney on 9 November 1914.

Objects on display at the museum to commemorate the Royal Australian Navy’s battle cruiser HMAS Sydney defeated the German raider SMS Emden at the Battle of Cocos.

Objects on display at the museum to commemorate the Royal Australian Navy’s battle cruiser HMAS Sydney defeating the German raider SMS Emden at the Battle of Cocos on 9 November 1914.

The items include a German military songbook from 1912, a Reich Pass or travel document, two photographs of Emden crew with a model of their vessel, a small purse, a pair of glasses, and several hand-carved wooden decorative picture frames and skittles  games. Importantly, the material includes first-hand accounts by German sailors of ‘The Raid of the Emden’ and the Emden’s battle with HMAS Sydney.

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Dazzle ship models

Dazzle pattern on a merchant vessel during WWI.  ANMM Collection

Dazzle pattern on a merchant vessel during WWI. ANMM Collection

Towards the end of World War I large numbers of merchant ships were brightly painted in bizarre geometrical patterns known as ‘Dazzle Painting’ later known as dazzle camouflage. The aim was to thwart German U-boat captains who had been destroying large amounts of shipping. The colour scheme was designed to confuse and deceive an enemy as to the size, outline, course and speed of a vessel by painting sides and upperworks in contrasting colours and shapes arranged in irregular patterns. The idea, in essence, was to confuse U-boat captains by making it difficult to plot accurately an enemy ship’s movements when manoeuvring for an attack, causing the torpedo to be misdirected or the attack to be aborted.

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A dazzling connection with WWI

A painted wooden waterline ship model created during WWI to test dazzle paint schemes. Imperial War Museum Collection

A painted wooden waterline ship model created during WWI to test dazzle paint schemes. Imperial War Museum Collection

On a visit to the Maritime Museum you will undoubtedly walk past the modelmakers’ bench on the way to the main displays. Many people stop and admire the painstakingly slow and intricate work of the museum’s volunteer model making crew. Seeing the process of sanding, cutting, glueing and painting ship models from scratch is a rare and wonderful experience. Their work – finished and in progress – sits on display behind the bench.

Usually, the modelmakers work on historic wooden ships – famous vessels or their own particular favourites. However at the moment you might see something a little different. During the exhibition War at Sea – The Navy in WWI some of the modelmakers are creating dazzle paint scheme waterline models of WWI ships. Continue reading

The ‘triumphant procession’ of the ANMEF

troops of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, marching on Randwick Road

Contingent of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, marching on Randwick Road, 18 August 1914.
Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

On this day, 100 years ago, a contingent of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) marched through Sydney for final embarkation. Fourteen days after Britain declared war on Germany, the ANMEF contingent made their way through streets flooded with tens of thousands of well-wishers. It would be the start of many marches to come throughout the war, and one of the many photographer Samuel J Hood captured with his Folmer and Schwing Graflex camera. Yesterday, a service was held at Government House and re-enactment of the march took place. As Royal Australian Navy (RAN) cadets marched down a soggy Macquarie Street, they paid homage to the ‘khaki clad contingent’ who had taken the same steps a century before under a clear blue sky. Continue reading

Black Sailors – Indigenous service in the navy during WWI?

Black Sailors on HMAS Geranium in 1926.  National Library of Australia

Black Sailors on HMAS Geranium in 1926. From an album compiled by crew member Petty Officer A A Smith. National Library of Australia nla.pic-an23607993

NAIDOC Week (celebrating National National Aborigines and Islanders Day) is held every second week in July. The NAIDOC theme for 2014 is ‘Serving Country: Centenary & Beyond.’ The theme honours all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have fought in defence of country.

While we are starting to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who fought as Black Diggers during World War I, what do we know of any Indigenous sailors?

The image above shows Aboriginal sailors on HMAS Geranium when it was conducting a mapping survey of waters across the north and west of Australia in 1926. They may well have been recruited for their intimate knowledge of the area. The title ‘Black Watch’ – while a reference to the famous Scottish regiment – may also refer to their role and skills in surveillance. Continue reading

Silent Anzac – Inside submarine AE2 for the first time in 100 years

Officers and crew on deck of the newly commissioned submarine AE2 at Portsmouth, England, 1912  ANMM Collection

Officers and crew on deck of the newly commissioned submarine AE2 at Portsmouth, England, 1912 ANMM Collection

The Royal Australian Navy submarine AE2 was scuttled in deep water in the Sea of Marmara on 30 April 1915 after it had run the gauntlet of Turkish minefields, warships and forts in the Dardanelles Straits. AE2 was behind Turkish lines the night before the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli.

Last month, for the first time in almost 100 years the conning tower hatch of submarine AE2 was opened. High definition cameras and imaging sonar were inserted through the opening and an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) surveyed inside the submarine.

AE2 has remained underwater relatively untouched since Commander Stoker ordered the crew to dive overboard and left the hatch slightly ajar to assist in quickly scuttling the vessel. It has since been a home to marine growth, fish and a large conga eel.

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The ‘Devil fish’ and Empire Day 1914

AE1 off Balmain

As the sun rose over Sydney Harbour on Empire Day 1914, two sinister-looking, cigar-shaped vessels glided along behind their escort vessel HMAS Sydney. The radiant May sunshine glinted on the grey steel of the vessels that sat only a few feet above the water. Noone had seen anything like these craft in Australian waters. The first two submarines of the new Australian navy had arrived.

In October 2013 Sydney Harbour saw a grand celebration for the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the other elements of the new Royal Australian Navy – the warships. But on the 24th of May this year, 100 years to the day of the RAN’s first submarine arrival, there will be little fanfare.

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An expedition of conquest – Australia and the south west Pacific in WWI

Rewa River

Rewa River, Fiji. This image was taken by a Royal Navy officer while serving with the Australia Squadron in the Pacfic, just before the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy in 1910.

On the afternoon of ANZAC Day this year I didn’t do the usual two-up game in a crowded pub. Instead, I went to a seminar at Sydney University on Australia and the Pacific in WWI. The final in a Sydney Ideas series, three speakers outlined their research into various aspects of what has been described as a ‘neglected war’.

As curator of the upcoming War at sea – The Navy in WWI exhibition, I thought the seminar might provide some valuable insights into a theatre of the war where the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was to expend much time and effort. From September 1914, combined Australian naval and infantry forces swiftly took over several under-defended German territories across the south west Pacific region. While it was a relatively minor theatre of war and quickly overtaken by events in Europe, there were some important and long lasting legacies from Australia’s period of occupation from 1914 to 1921.

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