HMAS Sydney's flying 1sts

Darragh Christie, 1 June 2018 · #

Sydney’s 2-F1 Sopwith Camel (N6822) launching from platform. This photograph is probably of an aircraft that replaced Lt. Sharwood’s (N6783)

After leaving SMS Emden ‘wrecked and done for’ in 1914, HMAS Sydney served with the British North Sea fleet.

HMAS Sydney was involved in some interesting engagements.

Under her innovative commander, Captain Dumaresq, Sydney fought a running duel with German submarines and a Zeppelin in May 1917.

In August 1917 Sydney had an overhaul. She was fitted out with the latest equipment, including a revolving aircraft launching platform (the 1st to be installed on an Australian warship), and a new tripod mast, now a permanent memorial at Bradley’s Head.

floating crane ‘Titan’ Installing the mast at Bradley’s Head after the war

In December 1917, Dumaresq loaned a Sopwith ‘Pup’ fighter from HMAS Dublin.) On Dec.8 the ‘Pup’ was successfully launched with the ship turned into the wind – an Australian naval first. On Dec.17, a 2nd launch was made. This time with the movable platform turned into the wind – a world naval 1st.

Model Of HMAS Sydney (I) at Fleet Air Arm Museum, Nowra. Full view of ship and close-up showing Sopwith fighter on launching platform. Photo taken by the Author

Within 6 months Dumaresq’s advocacy of ship-launched aircraft would be vindicated. In early 1918, Sydney replaced her Sopwith Pup with a modified Sopwith Camel – a 2-F1 ‘Ships Camel’.

On 1 June 1918, 2 German seaplanes were sighted by Sydney diving towards HMAS Melbourne. Both aircraft dropped bombs but no hits were scored.

Within minutes Lieut. A.C. Sharwood from Sydney, and Flight Lieut. L.B. Gibson from Melbourne were strapped into their Sopwith fighters and launched into the wind.

Sopwith F.1 Camel takes off from HMAS Sydney. HMAS Melbourne is in the background.

Sharwood and Gibson climbed rapidly to intercept the enemy. Gibson lost sight of his quarry in the clouds. Sharwood however, continued pursuit for another 60 miles. At 10,000 ft. Sharwood caught up to, and attacked one of the marine aircraft. He observed it shudder after being hit, and dive into the sea.1 Following it down, he was fired on by the other German aeroplane.

Above Hansa Brandenberg and Friedrichshafen 2-seat aircraft. Either type or a variant could have attacked on the day.

Sharwood engaged the float-plane in a dog-fight. 1 gun jammed. The ammo for his other gun was running low. Out of options, he broke from the fight. After losing his attacker in cloud cover, Sharwood tried to find the HMAS Sydney . But Sydney was now over 70 miles away! Almost out of fuel, Sharwood sighted the grey outlines of a warship. As luck would have it – HMAS Sharpshooter. He executed a near perfect water landing, and was rescued from the freezing North Atlantic.

Sopwith Camel (N6783 ?) salvaged from the sea (by HMAS Sharpshooter) A landing of this sort usually resulted in the aeroplane doing a cart-wheel with dire consequences for the pilot. Photo from Horatio J. Kookaburra’s Flickr post.

Lt. Sharwood’s actions proved the value of aircraft in preventing enemy air attacks and intelligence gathering at sea. The ship-launched air battle was yet another world 1st for HMAS Sydney2


1 Full account: AWM First World War Official Histories – Volume IX – The Royal Australian Navy, 1914–1918 9th ed., 1941. p 305 306. retrieved online 21/01/18 The German shot down was a single seater the other a 2 seater. Sharwood was not credited with a victory by the Admiralty.

2 Flt Sub Lt Smart, RNAS, flying a Sopwith Pup from HMS Yarmouth on 21/08/17 had previously shot down Zeppelin L23

This article is an excerpt from: After Cocos: HMAS Sydney’s progress

Follow the Sydney-Emden story

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After Cocos: HMAS Sydney’s progress

After Cocos: Holsworthy Concentration Camp

Sydney v Emden, a century later

HMAS Sydney’s mast dedication, 80 years ago today

Sydney’s mast not destined for ‘Sow and Pigs’