NAVY FOUNDATION DAY "CRESWELL ORATION"
101st ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Address by Rear Admiral Peter Briggs AO CSC
RAN Ret'd on 1st March 2002 - the Australian
Navy's Foundation Day (1st March 1901)
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 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
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
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
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
· 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
· 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
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
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
· 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
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. ***