HMAS Sydney

HMAS Sydney was a Chatham class light cruiser built for the new Royal Australian Navy in 1911-13. She is best known for defeating the German raider Emden in a gun battle off the Cocos Islands.

At the start of the First World War the Sydney was in Australian home waters. While most of the Australian fleet made for a rendezvous close to Port Moresby, Sydney was sent to Brisbane, with three destroyers. From there she launched a raid on Simpson Harbour and Rabaul, which failed to find either German ships or radio equipment. She was then used to escort Australian troop ships to Port Moresby, in preparation for an attack on Rabaul.

At the end of September 1914 the three best Australian ships, the battlecruiser HMAS Australia, and the two cruisers HMAS Melbourne and Sydney were allocated to the escort the first major Australian and New Zealand troop convoy on its way west. In the event Australia was replaced by the cruiser HMS Minotaur before the convoy sailed. At this early stage in the war the Germans still had powerful cruisers at large, including Admiral von Spee’s Pacific Fleet, whose location was then unknown.

One 6in gun on HMAS Sydney
HMAS Sydney - 6in gun

It was originally planned to send the convoy to Britain via Egypt and the Suez canal. However, the start of the war triggered a rebellion in South Africa, and on 25 October it was decided to send the convoy via the Cape of Good Hope, in case the troops were needed to deal with the rebels. On the same day the main rebel force was defeated, and the convoy was able to return to its northern route.

The convoy sailed on 1 November. On the same day von Spee’s squadron won its famous victory at Coronel on the western coast of Chile. The threat to the troop convoy was significantly reduced, and on 6 November it was decided to detach the Minotaur, leaving Sydney , Melbourne, and a powerful Japanese cruiser.

On 9 November the German cruiser Emden attacked the Cocos Islands. The islands contained a wireless station and were a link in the cable network. As the Emden approached the wireless station sent out a call for help, which was received by the British. Sydney was dispatched to intercept the raider.

At 9 am the Sydney approached the island. The Emden had to make to sea without part of her crew, left on the island. She was outgunned by the Sydney and during the battle was 4kts slower than her opponent, despite a normal top speed only 1kt slower than the Sydney . At 9.40am the Emden opened fire from 9,500 yards. Her fire was accurate but not damaging, and the captain of the Sydney was able to use his speed to control the battle. By 11.20 am the Emden was so badly damaged that she was forced to run aground on North Keeling Island. Sydney lost 4 dead and 12 wounded, while the Emdensuffered 115 dead and 56 wounded.

HMAS Sydney from the right
HMAS Sydney from the right

After the battle the Sydney escorted the convoy into the Mediterranean. She was then sent to Malta, and finally into the Atlantic. It was decided to concentrate the three Australian cruisers at Jamaica, under Vice-Admiral Sir George Patey. In the event Patey and the Australia never arrived, being diverted to the Grand Fleet. The Sydney and the Melbourne spent the next two years on the North America and West Indies Station, guarding against German commerce raiders.

After the battle of Jutland both ships were posted to the Grand Fleet, to improve Jellicoe’s fast scouting forces. The Sydney joined the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron.

After the war Sydney returned to Australia, departing in March 1919. From 1924-27 she served as the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, before being paid off in 1928.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

Trial speed 25.7kts


4,500 nautical miles at 16kts

Armour – deck

1.5in – 3/8in

 - belt

2in on 1in plate

 - conning tower





Eight 6in guns
Four 3pdr guns
Two 21in submerged torpedo tubes (beam)

Crew complement



29 August 1912


June 1913

Sold for break up



Captain J. C. T. Glossop (1914, 1915)

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 October 2007), HMAS Sydney ,

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