Navy ships in Sydney Harbour, 1940s

007/77/8 Photograph, Sydney Harbour, paper, photograph by James Hancock, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, owned by Joyce White, Perth, Western Australia, 1939-1945
2007/77/8 Photograph, Sydney Harbour, paper, photograph by James Hancock, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, owned by Joyce White, Perth, Western Australia, 1939-1945. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

In recent years the sight of Sydney Harbour filled with navy ships is not a very common sight, particularly war ships.
On Friday 4th October, 2013 the harbour will again be filled with war ships, this time from 20 nations to mark the centenary of the arrival of Australia’s first fleet of seven warships in 1913.

This aerial photograph was taken by James Hancock who served in the Air force during World War Two (1939-1945). He was injured during active duty after parachuting from a plane and had difficulty walking and dancing. The photograph taken during the war shows a different Sydney, where the impact of World War Two is evident.

“The Australian mainland was attacked for the first time during World War Two. Towns in the north-west of the country were bombed by Japanese aircraft and Sydney and Newcastle were attacked by Japanese midget submarines. Japan entered the war in December 1941 after bombing the United States’ Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. They soon occupied much of south-east Asia and parts of the Pacific. Singapore, a British stronghold, fell to the Japanese in February 1942 and Darwin was bombed 5 days later. After these two events and the impending threat to Australian soil all Royal Australian Navy ships returned to defend Australia from the Mediterranean.

After the fall of Singapore Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbour, became the main shipbuilding and dockyard facility for the Pacific. On the 31 May 1942 Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney Harbour. The presence of Australian and American ships moored on Sydney Harbour would have been a common sight at this time.”1

International Fleet Review which will involve over 40 naval ships from 20 countries and up to 16 tall ships, has been organised to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Australian Navy. Various events are scheduled from 3 to 11 October, with the high point being Saturday 5 October.

1 Cox, Peter, Australian History and Society Curator, Statement of Significance,  Share

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