1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier - Foreign Service - Australia



See also: History of Australian naval aviation

In 1944, the Australian government suggested that Australian personnel be used to help counteract a personnel shortage in the Royal Navy by manning an aircraft carrier, one or more cruisers, and six destroyers. The Admiralty deemed a Colossus class Light Fleet to be the most appropriate aircraft carrier, and Venerable was initially proposed for transfer to the Royal Australian Navy as a gift or on loan. The plan was deferred on the Australian end until a review of manpower requirements across the entire war effort was completed. The ship manning proposal was revisited in mid-1945, but the surrender of Germany in May meant that British shortages were not as problematic; as a counteroffer, the purchase of the Colossus class Ocean by Australia was suggested. The Australian government decided against the purchase of Ocean in June.

Following World War II, a post-war review suggested that the Royal Australian Navy acquire three aircraft carriers as the core of a new fleet; funding restrictions saw the number of proposed carriers dropped to two. To this end, Australia acquired two Majestic class ships: Terrible, which was commissioned in 1948 as HMAS Sydney; and Majestic, which was upgraded for jet operations and commissioned in 1955 as HMAS Melbourne. While waiting for Majestic/Melbourne to finish modernisation, the Colossus class Vengeance was loaned to Australia from 1952 until 1955, allowing them to operate a two-carrier fleet.

The first aircraft carrier acquired by the Royal Australian Navy, Sydney was deployed to Korea in order to maintain a consistent British Commonwealth carrier presence in the conflict. Operating between September 1951 and January 1952, Sydney was the first carrier owned by a Commonwealth Dominion to see combat. Reclassified as a training ship in 1955, Sydney was decommissioned in 1958 but reactivated in 1962 as a fast troop transport. In her troopship role, Sydney travelled to Vietnam 25 times between 1965 and 1972. She was decommissioned in November 1973, and sold to a South Korean company for scrapping in 1975.

Although deployed to the Far East Strategic Reserve on several occasions, and assigned to escort Sydney to and from Vietnam on three occasions, Melbourne was not directly involved in any conflict during her career. However, she collided with and sank two plane guard destroyers—HMAS Voyager in 1964, and USS Frank E. Evans in 1969—which, along with several minor collisions and incidents, led to the reputation that the carrier was jinxed. Melbourne was sold to China for scrapping in 1985; instead of being broken up, she was studied as part of the nation's top-secret carrier development program, and may not have been dismantled until 2002. There were plans to replace Melbourne with the British carrier HMS Invincible, but Invincible was withdrawn from sale following her service in the Falklands War, and a 1983 election promise to not replace the carrier saw the end of Australian carrier-based aviation.

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