For over 500 years, campaign and battle honours have been awarded to naval ships for successful war or warlike service.  The honours were initiated as early as the Amada in 1588 and have continued in the RN since its formation.  Following the granting of the ‘Royal’ title to Australian ships, the tradition was extended to RAN ships. (271)


For the RN and the RAN, campaign and battle honours are said to be a ‘reflection and public presentation’ of the operational history of the Australian nation’s naval forces, with the display of the ‘ornately carved wooden battle boards’ garnering a ‘sense of achievement and esprit de corps within individual units and the Service as a whole’.



A typical carved timber Battle Honour board.  Source: RAN website.


The RAN’s updated Campaign and Battle Honour board (272) includes the campaigns and battles fought by the ships of the Australian navies since the New Zealand campaign in 1860-61.  But there is one battle missing – the Battle of Sydney Harbour – a battle in which twenty-one Australian and British naval personnel were killed by the enemy.  A Battle in which Australian warships and their crews, and in particular the Hollywood Fleet of vessels, put themselves in harm’s way and attacked and destroyed two enemy submarines to avert what could have been a greater disaster.  It is also significant, the Battle of Sydney Harbour (and the subsequent shelling) is the only time in our recent history, when Sydney has been attacked.  It is even more significant for the Navy, that the Battle included five of the world’s largest enemy submarines, three enemy midget submarines and two submarine launched float planes, and included more ships of the Royal Australian Navy, than involved in any other battle fought by the Navy since its inception.  The Battle also included the cruiser USS Chicago and the destroyer escort USS Perkins taking action against the midget submarines, in addition to the actions of allied service personal at the numerous naval and army shore stations and subsequent search actions by the Royal Australian Air Force.


These facts alone, are significant enough to warrant recognition of the Battle on the Navy’s Campaign and Battle Honours board.


But it is now known through documents obtained by Freedom of Information (FOI), that in early 2007, a submission for the Battle to be included, was rejected by the then Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Russell Shalders.  The submission had been prepared by the RAN Naval History Section (273) and had been circulated to members of the Naval History Advisory Committee prior to finalisation.  For the submission of the Battle of Sydney Harbour, the matter had been ‘thoroughly researched’ and the case for recognizing the Battle for the grant of a retrospective award had been presented.  The submission identified that ‘throughout the action numerous RAN vessels were involved in the defence of Sydney Harbour’ and noted ‘this was a determined attack’.  The submission concluded that both sides incurred losses and ‘the award of a Battle Honour SYDNEY 1942 is considered appropriate’.


In October 2019, the Department of Defence in response to further probing regarding the Freedom of Information release, confirmed the brief to Vice Admiral Shalders was ‘comprehensive, reflecting many months of research and analysis’ including ‘sufficient historical information for the then Chief of Navy to make an informed decision’.


Notwithstanding the submission, the Chief of Navy merely scribbled in the margin, ‘Not Agreed.  Not of the same scale, duration or intensity of others’.  And that was that!


At the time of the 2007 submission, the Navy’s own ‘Policy on the Award of Battle Honours for HMA Ships and Fleet Air Arm Squadrons (274) which was attached to the ‘comprehensive’ submission, included the award of campaign and battle honours for ‘Fleet or Squadron Actions’ in ‘engagements, with light enemy forces when both sides incur losses or heavy damage’.  An excellent summary of the Battle of Sydney Harbour!  That Policy had been in place from as early as 1982, applied in 2007 and remains in place today.


Other than Shalders’ scribble in the margin, there was no justification or reasons provided of why he rejected the Navy’s own Policy and reached his conclusion.  There was no explanation of why he rejected the ‘thoroughly researched’ submission from the Navy’s own history experts.  The FOI confirmed there was no evidence of any alternate analysis to assist him to determine his matters of insufficient scale, duration and intensity, and how such factors related to the Navy’s Policy.  There was no disclosure of any alternate information on which he may have relied.  There was nothing!  Just the scribble in the margin, and once again the Battle of Sydney Harbour, the Hollywood Fleet and the actions of Herbert Anderson and HMAS Lolita and Reginald Andrew and HMAS Seamist were again written out of history.  


If approved, the ‘SYDNEY 1942’ battle honour was to be awarded to:


HMAS Bingera

HMAS Bungaree

HMAS Canberra

HMAS Doomba

HMAS Geelong

HMAS Goonambee

HMAS Kuttabul

HMAS Samuel Benbow

HMAS Westralia

HMAS Whyalla

HMAS Yandra

HMAS Lolita

HMAS Marlean

HMAS Toomeree

HMAS Seamist

HMAS Steady Hour

HMAS Yarroma

HMAS Lauriana (275)

That’s a fleet of eighteen commissioned ships of the Royal Australian Navy – the largest fleet of Royal Australian Navy ships ever involved in any single action, and one which resulted in the sinking of two enemy submarines, the loss of HMAS Kuttabul, and the loss of twenty one allied and six Japanese naval officers and sailors!



The RAN’s 2015 ‘Battle Honour Board’ listing all the approved awards to Australia’s Naval Forces.  However, the Battle of Sydney Harbour is missing from the Campaign and Battle Honours roll.  Source: RAN website.

271 See http://www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk/ESCORT/Battle_hons.htm, and, https://www.navy.gov.au/customs-and-traditions/battle-honours

272 Updated in an electronic form following the 2015 Battle Honour Review.  See below.

273Review of RAN Campaign and Battle Honours’ prepared by the RAN Naval Historical Section, 2007

274 The policy had been in place from as early as 1982, and remains in place today.

275 At the time of the Battle, Lauriana was a non-commissioned Naval Auxiliary Patrol (NAP) vessel.  She was later commissioned as HMAS Lauriana.