Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Sep 11 The First Cruiser of Oz
Here we see the Challenger-class protected cruiser HMAS Encounter steaming quietly along the coastline in her wartime grey scheme.
The pair of sisters, Challenger and Encounter were largely built for Australian service. Their Keyham 4-cylinder triple expansion steam engines could push them at 10-knots for well over 5,000-miles before refueling. This made them the perfect ships for showing the flag in far off lands where they would be more likely to have to bombard local native villages than to tangle with first class foreign warships. They were colonial cruisers, mounting eleven BL 6 inch Mk VII naval guns, but having little in the way of armor plate.
Challenger spent eight years on Australian station before returning to the UK to be put up in reserve. During WWI, she was reactivated but only to patrol the African coastline then sold for scrap in 1920. Her younger sister, Encounter, however, had a more interesting career.
Commissioned 21 November 1905, she was sent to join Challenger on the Austrialian patrol before being loaned to the infant Royal Australian Navy in 1912. She was still ‘owned’ by the Brits and flew the same battle flag as the Royal Navy, but she was a RAN ship.
Just eight days after the British Empire entered into war with the Kaiser, this plucky cruiser captured the German merchant steamer Zambezi on 12 August.
The Encounter had the distinction of firing the first Australian shot of World War One on 14 September 1914 when she opened fire in long range bombardment of Toma Ridge, outside Rabaul on New Britain, which at the time was the colony of Imperial German New Guinea. Ashore were 40 German infantry (mainly local colonists who had been activated into the reserves) and 110 policemen led by the 48-year old Governor of the Colony Johann Karl Emil Eduard Haber. This show of force (and the 200 Aussie infantry landed on the island) convinced Haber to surrender and to this day, New Guinea does not speak German.
She later captured another German merchant ship, looked for the raiders Emden, Wolf, and Seedler unsuccessfully, and an away team of hers found a pair of ancient bronze cannons on Carronade Island in 1916 which later helped advance the belief that the Portugese discovered Australia first.
After the war the Brits finally transferred the well-worn 15-year old cruiser to the Australians in December 1919. Renamed the HMAS Penguin in 1923, she continued to serve as a submarine depot ship for another decade before being scuttled off Sydney in 1932. As such she was one of the longest living pre-Tsuhuma British protected cruisers.
She never took a life, nor lost a life, and today is visited as a popular dive site.
Displacement: 5,880 tons standard
Length: 376 ft 1.75 in (114.65 m) overall
355 ft (108.20 m) between perpendiculars
Beam: 56 ft 2.125 in (17.12 m)
Draught: 21.25 ft (6.48 m)
Propulsion: Two sets of four-cylinder, triple expansion steam engines; twelve Durr boilers; twin screws
Speed: 21 knots (38.9 km/h; 24.2 mph)
Complement: RN: 475
RAN: 26 officers, 269 sailors
Armament: As completed:
11 x 6-inch guns
9 x 12-pounder guns
6 x 3-pounder guns
3 x machine guns
2 x 18-inch torpedo tubes
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