Address by Rear Admiral Peter Briggs AO CSC RAN Ret'd on 1st
March 2002 - the Australian Navy's Foundation Day (1st March 1901)

(c) Copyright P. Briggs AO CSC March 2002

Birth of the RAN
The Leap From Obsolete Monitor To Battle Cruiser In Four Years
A Periscope Perspective

The ships inherited by the new Australian Commonwealth Navy at Federation in 1901 were tired, old and inadequate even for training. Creswell's report to Minister Playford in September 1905 paints a pretty grim picture:
No new ships or officers for 20 years
Only 2 active and fit Lieutenants on the permanent list of 3!
The service on the verge of collapse and slowly dying When the order was placed 3 years later
.on 8 DEC09 for a Battle Cruiser two Cruisers and two submarines, permanent personnel strength was virtually unchanged from that at Federation, when it was 239 officers and men.
Less than four years later, on 4 October 1913 the Fleet of the newly born Royal Australian Navy enter Sydney harbour:
Battle Cruiser, HMAS AUSTRALIA at 19,200 tons
Light cruisers SYDNEY, MELBOURNE of 5,400 tons
Destroyers PARRAMATTA, YARRA, WARREOO of 700 tonnes - (to an Australian instigated design)
The two submarines AE 1, AE 2, arrived in Sydney on 24 May 1914 to complete the Fleer Unit The RAN strength then stood at 3,800 men, 850 loaned by Royal Navy and 2950 permanent members of the RAN.
This was an enormous Project by any measure.
The story leading up to this extraordinary achievement is the topic of my talk today.
Limitations of Periscopes & My Naval History
Those who have looked through a periscope protruding 2-3 ft above the surface will know the limited field of view and horizon (often the back of the next wave), which is beheld. CDRE Denis Mole who is present will agree.
This is a relatively new area of naval history for me and I am conscious many in the audience will be better versed in it than I!
I have drawn heavily on written work by George Macandie, David Stevens, Peter Firkins, Chris Coulthard - Clark and Michael White. David Campbell has kindly provided critical oversight. However, the analysis and conclusions are mine. If anyone apart from me should attract notice it is John Wilkins for inviting a submariner to speak on such a topic!
I will consider the topic in five parts:
The historical setting
Some of the Strategic factors at play,
The impact of technology changes underway during the period,
What was actually done to bring all this about, and
Finally, take a punt at who was the father for this extraordinary prodigy?

The Historical Setting The Royal Navy had a long history of involvement in Australia's early political and social life. Their perspectives were often cast with the wider world situation in mind - competition with France, Spain and Russia in the nineteenth century, Germany and Japan in the early years of the 20th century The Australian colonies felt their isolation and vulnerability.
The States reacted individually, by establishing Naval forces, erecting fortifications and acquiring a motley collection of vessels for coastal defence.
The Colonial Defence Act of 1865 legitimised these moves. By 1884 Australia hosted 5 separate Naval Forces and the Royal Navy's Austra1ia Squadron. The ageing of the resident Royal Navy's Australia Squadron added to the locals' sense of vulnerability.
Attempts by the first Fleet Officer and Commander in Chief of the Australia Station, RADM Tryon in 1884 to achieve amalgamation failed but did lead to augmentation of the Royal Navy Squadron - the commencement of colonial contributions toward the expenses of these ships.
New Zealand got the best of the deal; their annual contribution was Stg 20.000, cf Stg 106,000 from the Australian colonies. Nothing's changed since!
The debate on the need for an independent Australian naval capability, although very much focussed on coastal defence against raiding cruisers continued. Many in Australia opposed an independent naval capacity. Given the world wide naval supremacy of the Royal Navy, this group felt such proposals anti British, disloyal and unnecessary, The media mocked early attempts to achieve a capability -some things have not changed ! The Admiralty for their part could not understand why anyone could doubt their capacity and commitment to imperial defence.
They argued strenuously at a succession of Imperial Defence conferences for the need for unity of command. They regarded the local forces with disdain and refused to allow any links between them and the Royal Navy. Matters of naval policy were best left to the Admiralty, they felt! At Federation in 1901 the Federal Parliament gained powers to make laws for the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth.
There were obviously many high priority issues and with 80% of customs and excise monies going to the States for the first 10 years there were few funds available for Defence. Those funds available were heavily biased toward preparing military forces.
Creswell's report to the Minister of Defence in September 1905 argued the strategic folly of preparing the Army in preference to naval forces for the defence of Australia.
He complains of a 15:1 ratio of expenditure in favour of the Army.
He argued, for the Army to have been called into action, it follows that the Navy would have first had to be defeated at sea.
Since that defeat was inevitable (because the Navy was inadequate) it was logical to invest in an Army. Some would say that the Alice in Wonderland appeal of that argument survives to this day.
The Federal Parliament seems to have been in constant turmoil. There were ten Defence Ministers between 1901 and 1910 - the brief for the incoming Minister must have been well polished!
The Naval Agreement Acts of 1902-03 extended the Royal Navy role, increased the capacity of the Royal Navy's Squadron based on Australia ports, but left control solely with the Admiralty. Some locals were trained and three drills ships, to be manned as far a possible by locals, were planned. Eight cadetships were offered annually for Australians to be trained as officers with the Royal Navy.
Following his appointment as The Director of Naval Forces in December 1904, Captain Creswell tabled the first of his plans in June 1905.
He recommended a navy based on
3 x 3,000 ton destroyers,
16 x 550 ton torpedo boat destroyers and
13 torpedo boats.
The focus was on coastal defence.
At the same time, following the arrival of Jackie Fisher as the First Sea Lord, the Admiralty had shifted its stance. It advised the Committee of Imperial Defence not to oppose the establishment of an Australian Navy. Progress! However, the Foreign and Colonial Office overruled this new found pragmatism.
Annual contributions grew to Stg 200,000. The locals grew more unhappy and nervous.
The Strategic Setting
The reason for this growing concern in Australia lay with international developments in Europe and, more particularly their impact in the Pacific. The German East Asiatic Cruiser Squadron based in China was modem and more capable than the Royal Navy Australian Squadron.
The growing power of Japan was also a major concern in Australia. Japan's navy had been trained by the Royal Navy and modernised with British designed ships. The likely interruption of maritime trade in the event of hostilities was viewed with concern in Australia. This was accentuated by the Admiralty recall of all its battle ships tom the China Station and downgrading of several of its ships on the Australia Station.
The USA became a Pacific power and the visit of the Great White Fleet in April 1908, at the invita1ion of Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, made a great impression on the local populace. It was a strategic pointer to the future.
In March 1909, the First Lord of the Admiralty rose in the House to point to the accelerated battle shipbuilding programme of Germany, which meant the Royal Navy would lose numerical superiority by 1912. Alarm spread through the Empire. Germany had usurped France and Russia as the British Empire's most likely foe.
The Changing Technology of Naval Warfare
The period at the turn of the century and establishment of the Commonwealth coincided with rapid changes in Naval technology. The Germans were rapidly overhauling the British at the forefront of naval technology and out building them. The arrival of Jackie Fisher as First Sea Lord in October 1904 galvanised the Admiralty and accelerated the changes underway to introduce modern technologies into the Royal Navy.
This was focussed on big gun battleships; greatly improved rates of fire, longer range guns and developments in fire control, which gave greatly improved accuracy. The Dreadnought class battle ships epitomised these developments, They were quickly followed by the higher sped but more lightly protected Battle Cruisers.
The move from coal to oil fired turbine driven ships started in destroyers and spread quickly to the battle ships, with consequent increases in speed and endurance in these ships. Adoption and development of radio proceeded at a pace akin to the internet today. Mobility and gun power were the new measures of capability.
Many existing Fleets were rendered obsolete overnight by these changes.
The submarine emerged as a future weapon system -
Reliability and technology were limitations in the early years
The standard role envisaged by the Royal Navy for the SM appears to have been in coastal defence, or as a mobile mine field in advance of the battle fleet.
Both tactics failed in WW 1.
The German Navy, not for the last time, demonstrated an ability to develop the capability, technology and tactics required for submarine operations and apply it with great effect in the strategic sea denial operations undertaken during WW1
I should reflect on the foresight and boldness of those who acted against the traditionalists of the day and bought two submarines.
AE -1 and 2 for the embryonic RAN. The Australian boats were amongst the first fitted with radios - a capability which was to play a small, but critical part in the Gallipoli campaign.
The Birth of The RAN
In September 1906, Deakin announced an initial 3 - year programme of 8 coastal destroyers and 4 torpedo boats - following Creswell's recommendations. The plan made little progress.
In December 1907, following discussions at the Imperial Conference Deakin announced that the force structure had been modified to include 9 small submarines and 6 coastal destroyers. CresweIl protested vigorously and voiced angry complaints of Deakin's foolishness in matters of naval strategy. Commanders Colquhoun and Clarkson carried out a ship building study, visiting shipyards in Japan, USA and the UK.
In the UK, they engaged the services of Professor John Biles to design a fast oil-burning destroyer, which was to become the River class. These were a considerable advance on the equivalent vessels then being built for the Royal Navy. From the beginning, our need to adapt the stock European designs to our requirements was recognised. Deakin set aside Stg 250,000 for a naval construction programme prior to losing office in November 1908.
Creswell reiterated his plans for a navy based on destroyers and torpedo boats to provide coastal defence to the incoming Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, who announced a 3-year plan based on 23 destroyers.
Finally, action! Tenders were called for construction of 3 - 700 ton River class destroyers, PARRAMATTA, YARRA and WARREGO in February 1909, using the funds set aside by Deakin.
The first ship, PARRAMATTA was launched on a bleak day in Scotland in February 1910. The Admiralty appears to have been unimpressed by these Ships, the launching was not attended by any member of the British cabinet and apologies were received from the First Lord of The Admiralty and First Sea Lord! Of course, one should not read too much into this, Battle Ship launchings were common place at this stage of the build up to war.
Meanwhile the mounting alarm over German naval expansion and financial stringencies at home stirred the Admiralty into action. Britain called an Imperial Conference in 1909 to consider the whole question of imperial defence.
The First Sea Lord, Jackie Fisher, seized on offers from New Zealand and Australia to fund construction of a Battle Ship. He argued for a tactical unit formed around a Battle Cruiser, with 3 cruisers, 6 destroyers as scouts and 3 submarines. This tactical unit would form the nucleus of an Australian Navy.
He proposed to transfer responsibility for naval defence of the Australia Station to Australia.
The Commonwealth delegation was unprepared for the pace of change or the urgency, which now infected the Admiralty. Creswell argued against Fisher's Fleet Unit proposal, suggesting instead using the funds to develop the foundations of naval infrastructure, rather than spending money on a battle cruiser.
Fortunately, the Admiralty carried the day, by offering to:
Pay any capital costs in excess of Stg 500,000,
Hand over control of the Australian station, and
Transfer to the Commonwealth all imperial dockyards and shore establishments.
Their motives were not entirely altruistic. Even with the offered subsidy, the establishment of an Australian Navy, with responsibility for the defence in this area of the Pacific would allow withdrawal of the Royal Navy's Australia Squadron (which was already well advanced under pressure of obsolescence and funding shortfalls). The moves would save the Admiralty Stg 500,000 per year plus the cost of running the Garden Island Dockyard.
In Australia. Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, promptly agreed the Admiralty's proposal. Deakin had earlier negotiated a full interchange between Australian and British naval personnel. This proved to be fundamental to the successful and rapid build up of personnel.
The first contingent travelled to England in 1910 and completed their courses with impressive grades.
The Deakin Government ordered the battle cruiser in December 1909 as it lost government. The incoming Government of Andrew Fisher adopted the plan. Prime Minister Fisher refused the British offer of funds and the purchase was funded entirely from the Commonwealth budget.
The Australian Naval Defence Act of 25 November, 1910, provided the legislative cover.
The Naval Board was reconstituted in March 1911 with Creswell promoted and knighted as the first Naval member.
The King approved the title Royal Australian Navy and the right to fly the white ensign on 10 July 1911, and the Australian Commonwealth Navy became the Royal Australian Navy.
After Jackie Fisher retired as First Sea Lord in 1910, the level of cooperation dropped significantly. Any move toward greater independence for the RAN was rapidly overtaken by the onset of WW 1, when the Fleet was placed under Admiralty control.
What was actually done to bring all this about, this transformation from moribund to modern fleet?
Personnel was the obvious major challenge:
The Fleet Unit required 2500 men, with another 900 ashore (no sea: shore ratio in those days!)
They needed an additional 3,160 officers and men! The strategy sounds familiar: New pay rates
Expand Williamstown training depot
Commence the TINGlRA training ship scheme
Activate the Senior Naval Officers in the states as recruiters
Invite Australians in the RN to transfer
Recruit retired ex RN Pos, and
Borrow the balance from the RN The breakdown on 1 Jun 1913 was:
RN loan 900 Ex RN retired 480
Australians transferred back from the RN 360
Recruited and trained in Australia 1660 1,660 in say 3 years, was an extraordinary feat from a standing start.
On the logistics front the fledgling Navy was very fortunate to have the services of Paymaster-in-Chief Eldon Manisty RN (later Rear Admiral), as the Finance and Civil member of the Naval Board.
The Board had three years to prepare for the reception, support and administration or the new fleet.
The Naval Secretary, George Macandie remarks that Manisty's thorough knowledge of the needs of a modem navy, his legal qualifications as a barrister and his untiring energy, enabled him to push on with preparations which caused the Fleet Unit to be in a state of readiness for the war which occurred on 4 August 1914.
Of course the RAN inherited a substantial legacy from the RN -a first class naval dockyard in Sydney and a comprehensive infrastructure of victualling yards, ammunition depots. But there was much more to be provided fast a modem fleet and the Henderson Report of 1911 had laid this out - the establishment of the Naval Board itself: naval bases and so on.
TINGIRA was commissioned for boys' training in April 1912.
The cruiser ENCOUNTER was borrowed from the RN for crew training before BRISBANE, then building at Cockatoo, became available.
The cruiser PIONEER was also borrowed, this time for gunnery training. Recruit training was undertaken at Williamstown Naval Depot.
Soon recruits were coming in faster than could be handled. By March 1913 there were 1,004 men under training. Schools were established for wireless telegraphy, signalling, gunnery and torpedo training. These were later transferred to Flinders Naval Base.
These matters are easy to trivialise but in the aggregate, they amounted to a stupendous administrative achievement for which Manisty deserves full credit. The other key personality in this process was Captain, later Vice Admiral, Sir William Clarkson. Clarkson was a trained naval architect and engineer, who accompanied PROTECTOR to Australia in 1884 as the second engineer. He served with Creswell in South Australia and saw active service in PROTECTOR during the Boxer rebellion in China. He was heavily involved in the design and construction of the 3 River Class destroyers and was highly regarded by various Ministers of the day, who commissioned him to purchase and establish the small arms factory at Lithgow. This was in addition to his naval duties; he was appointed as the third member of the Naval Board at its establishment in 1911.
The initial term of the Naval Board was not a happy one, Clarkson fell out with Creswell over the siting of bases arising from the Henderson Report and the establishment of Cockatoo Island as a shipbuilding dockyard. I must say history has borne out the wisdom of Clarkson's stances.
At the outbreak of War, Clarkson was appointed by the Government to oversee shipping and maritime transportation in addition to his duties as third naval member, which included a very successful shipbuilding programme.
This was the beginning of a series of high exposure postings to controversial and contentious public duties for Clarkson. His success was rightly recognised by his knighthood and promotion to Engineering Vice Admiral - the RAN's first (and possibly only such promotion).
It is hardly surprising and perhaps typical of the dysfunctional Board that preparations for the two submarines arrival were lacking. Two months before their arrival the Naval Board was discussing where to base them; less than 3 weeks before their arrival it was decided to advertise for suitable depot ship. Perhaps CresweIl's earlier opposition to submarines fostered an air of antipathy amongst many Senior officers.
So who was the father?
Rear Admiral George Tryon as the first Flag Officer and C-I-C of the Australia Station deserves an honourable mention as one of the grand fathers.
Creswell is traditionally viewed as the professional father of the RAN. However the impression I develop in reading the records and his correspondence is of a man with strongly held views, which dated from his experiences as a junior Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and who did not move with the political, technology and strategic factors, which were so rapidly shaping the environment.
Consequently, his political masters frequently ignored his advice. He argued courageously, but to no effect against my Lords of the Admiralty, with whom he became persona non grata. His letter to Deakin protesting the latter's decision to order submarines in 1907, Deakin having rejected Creswell's earlier arguments against the purchase, was, in my opinion, a classic example of a letter which should be left in the bottom drawer overnight, and then never sent;
Prime Minister's are not noted for changing publicly announced decisions on such matters.
Creswell had after all, also achieved his major goal - purchasing 6 destroyers, after years of political vacillation.
Experience with AE-l and AE-2 indicates that his technical concerns over mobility and sea keeping were vastly over stated. AE-2 steamed 30,000 in its first 12 months in commission without incident, although there were some challenging engineering feats needed to achieve this record. He gets full marks for determination and persistence - for his unwavering advocacy for an independent Australia Navy and infrastructure necessary to defend the Ports and sea borne trade.
Once the decisions were taken on acquiring & the River Class and Fisher's Fleet Unit his role as First Naval Member, on the Naval Board overseeing war preparations, intelligence, ordnance, fleet operations and naval works should have been crucial to the successful outcome. However the Board appears to have been largely ineffectual.
A review in 1915 of the Department of Defence's financial and business operations functions, conducted by a respected businessman commented critically on Creswell, who he found to be: "an exceedingly pleasant old gentleman", but with "only the foggiest idea of modern management" and "and expensive luxury in his present position".
The Minister of the day, Jensen, who chaired the Board, must bear the majority of the blame; he failed to lead and appeared determined to exploit for his own advantage any disunity. Couldn't happen today I hear you say!! This is hardly the setting for the successful birth of a navy!
Looking behind the numerous conferences, committees, plans and proposals to those who made the decisions, I would suggest that Deakin and Jackie Fisher shared the honours for conception.
Deakin's involvement began with his leadership of the Australian delegation at the 1887 Naval Agreement Conference. He continued to provide this leadership in various roles as Minister and Prime Minister, for the next 31 years. He settled on the strategic objective of an independent Navy, controlled by the Commonwealth Government, from the earliest. He correctly recognised that this could only be achieved with the wholesale support of the Royal Navy and resisted efforts to proceed ahead of such agreement. When the opportunity came he acted with alacrity.
Jackie fisher was the other half of the duo, who initiated this journey. He displayed the courage to back his convictions and a drive, which brooked no bureaucratic delays in the Admiralty.
The decision made, the Royal Navy was unstinting in providing talented personnel to support the endeavour.
The colonial sceptic would say that the strategic and financial circumstances facing Britain provided the mother of necessity.
Finally, I suggest the successful result relied heavily on the individual efforts of Manisty and particularly, Clarkson to achieve the end result.
Paymaster-in-Chief Eldon Manisty, RN as the logistician and Engineering Captain William Clarkson as the engineer on an otherwise dysfunctional Naval Board must be regarded as the midwives, without whom the successful birth would not have been achieved.
It is a fascinating period of our history.
I could not help but note the familiar themes:
The lack of trust between the politicians and the naval professionals - both operating with great dedication, but to different agendas. ( I wrote those words some weeks ago!).
The misguided influence of the partly informed media.
The well-intentioned but badly informed vocal minority of citizens.
The failure to recognise the contribution of the logistician and engineering specialist and their role at the strategic leveI of management - which continues today.
At the end of the day, the ability at the sharp end to get on and make things happen, despite all the aforementioned negative assistance.
As a result, in less than 4 years Australia had a Navy, albeit one commanded by Royal Navy Officers for some years to come In my opinion.
Creswell's reputation as the professional father of the RAN must be tempered by his limitations in managing the political and strategic issues. Without Deakin's vision the drive of Jackie Fisher, responding to the press of Strategic circumstances, the Royal Navy's unstinting support and the individual efforts on Manisty and Clarkson the story would have been quite different. ***









































































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