Allied Warships

HMAS Perth (D 29)

Light cruiser of the Perth class

NavyThe Royal Australian Navy
TypeLight cruiser
PennantD 29 
Built byPortsmouth Dockyard (Portsmouth, U.K.) 
Ordered1 Dec 1932 
Laid down22 Jun 1933 
Launched27 Jul 1934 
Commissioned29 Jun 1939 
Lost1 Mar 1942 
Loss position6° 00'S, 106° 00'E

HMAS Perth was a Modified Leander originally built for the Royal Navy as HMS Amphion.

HMAS Perth (Capt. Hector Macdonald Laws Waller, DSO and Bar, RAN) was sunk in Sunda Strait, off western Java in position 06º00'S, 106º00'E by torpedoes and 8" gunfire of Japanese cruiser force.

On board the HMAS Perth when it was sunk was 4 canteen staff, 6 Royal Austrailan AF personeel, and 676 crew. Only 334 men survived, 105 of which died in captivity.

In October 1936 HMS Amphion joined the Africa Station and was based at Simonstown as the flagship. She entered the Selborne dry dock for the first time on the 6th, being floated out again on the 15th, she was dry docked twice again before her deployment at the Cape was completed. 12 April 1938 was her final docking at the Cape Station.

In October 1938 HMS Amphion arrived at Portsmouth to pay off and commence refitting. After this refit HMS Amphion was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy and commissioned as HMAS Perth on 29 June 1939.

In August, HMAS Perth visited New York for the World Fair, intending to sail for Australia afterwards however, on the outbreak of war Perth was ordered to the West Indies Station to protect the oil installations there.

On 31 March 1940, HMAS Perth was based at Garden Island where a short refit was carried out, she was then employed in the escorting of troop convoys bound for the Middle East. From June until November 1940, she was Flagship, Australia Squadron. In December, after escorting convoy US-7 to Suez, Perth proceeded to Alexandria where she joined the 7th Cruiser Squadron, however shortly after her arrival, she was damaged by near bomb misses in Malta.

In May 1941, HMAS Perth was involved in the battle for Crete, being once again damaged by near misses, and on the 22nd she was hit by a bomb causing damage to one of her boiler rooms which resulted in her being suspended from operations for some months, for repairs to be carried out. In July, she participated in the operations against Vichy French Syria, and on the 15th, she was relieved by her sister ship HMAS Hobart, enabling her to return to Australia. August 12th, she went into the Cockatoo yard for a long overdue refit.

On 22 November 1941, her refit was completed, and Perth was tasked to participate in the Java theatre. On 14 February 1942, she left Australia, and on the 26th, Perth arrived in Soerabaya to join the ABDA Force (American, British, Dutch and Australian) and to become part of the Eastern Striking Force. Three days previously, General Wavell had received orders to leave Java and set up head-quarters elsewhere. He was convinced further defence of Java was futile, and on the 27th Admiral Helfrich reluctantly gave permission for the cruisers HMS Dragon, HMS Danae and HMAS Hobart, and their two accompanying destroyers to withdraw from the area.

This left the Dutch Admiral Doorman with his own flag-ship HrMs De Ruyter supported by the cruisers HrMs Java, USS Houston, HMS Exeter and HMAS Perth. He had four American, two Dutch and three British destroyers at his disposal. Reconnaissance had reported a large heavily escorted convoy headed south towards Sourabaia. The Striking Force was to intercept it and destroy it. As the fleet was getting underway De Ruyter collided with a tug and water barge sinking both of them, this caused some delay and affected the spirits of the men, it was dark when the force finally cleared the channel and the minefields off Soerabaya Strait. American bombers had attacked a convoy near Barwean Island, but Doorman received no inkling of this until four hours later, and then the fleet altered course to intercept. Perth remained closed up at action stations the whole night. By morning her radar revealed aircraft prowling above the cloud layer, and later a single aircraft dropped a stick of bombs between the cruisers and destroyers, and they were shadowed continually. That afternoon at 1600 the destroyer HMS Electra made an enemy report back to the ABDA Forces, she reported two modern cruisers, one four funnelled cruiser and destroyers, These turned out to be the 8-inch cruisers Haguro and Nachi and a Jintsu class cruiser, accompanied by a destroyer flotilla, Sixteen minutes later the Japanese heavy cruisers opened fire on Exeter and Houston. Perth opened fire on the enemy destroyers, she was soon scoring hits, and her second salvo hit a destroyer, which then disappeared into a smoke screen, the Japanese were by now scoring hits on the American and Dutch cruisers. Perth now came under intense fire from one of the heavy cruisers, and the fall of shot was seldom more than a cables length away. At 1714, Exeter was hit in the boiler room and could only achieve 15 knots, Perth immediately made smoke to screen the stricken cruiser, until the destroyers took over. The Allied line was thrown into considerable confusion as De Ruyter circled, presumably to protect Exeter. The lack of tactics became most obvious. The captains of individual ships were continually left guessing at the Admirals intentions. Signals were made in plain language by hand lamp or radio. The Japanese made a destroyer attack to finish off Exeter, Perth then engaged a cruiser supporting the attack and drove her back into the smoke for cover and also succeeded in driving the destroyers back. Exeter was now ordered back to Soerabaya with the Dutch destroyer HrMs Witte de With who had damaged her stern with her own depth charges as a result of torpedo tracks and a submarine she had sighted. Darkness was drawing on, Houston reported to Perth that all 8-inch ammunition of her number one and two turrets were expended, all she had left was the remaining ammunition in the damaged number three turret. This had to be transferred from aft to forward, an arduous and slow task with projectiles weighing some 250 pounds each. By now no enemy ships were in sight, his strength was still unknown because of continuos air-surveillance they could play hide and seek over the horizon. At 1927 the Japanese attacked again, and unfortunately the destroyer HMS Jupiter blew up, not through enemy action but ironically from a Dutch mine laid that afternoon, headquarters had failed to inform the fleet. HrMs Java was hit and seriously damaged, she lay stopped, heavily hit and on fire, then within minutes HrMs De Ruyter just ahead of Perth went up in an appalling explosion of flame. Perth only narrowly avoided disastrous collision by the swift action of Captain Waller. Now of the 14 ships that had steamed out of Soerabaya only 2 remained in a condition to fight, they broke off the engagement and steamed for Tandjong Priok.

On the 28th, in the afternoon Perth in company with Houston tied up alongside the deserted quay where the Perth managed to take on only 300 tons of oil fuel as operations were being made by army sappers to blow up the harbour installations prior to the advancing Japanese army. The 2 cruisers then received their orders from Admiral Helfrich to proceed to Tjilatjap, where he was planning to assemble the remaining Allied Forces. Shortly after 1900, the 2 cruisers slipped and started out travelling at moderate speed to conserve fuel. At 2300 a vessel was sighted 5 miles ahead, close to St Nicolas Point, it turned out to be a Japanese destroyer, and before long she was joined by heavy Japanese units. Houston was hit first and caught fire around the bridge and shortly after this all her main armament ammunition was expended, eventually her 5 inch secondary armament was down to firing star shell at the enemy, not long after this torpedoes slammed into her hull and she slowly heeled over, 87 torpedoes were loosed at the 2 Allied cruisers in that hour, and one struck the Perth between the forward engine room and boiler room. All the personnel in these compartments were killed including the Chief Engineer. The damage control office and crew were all wiped out. The second torpedo hit the ship in the forward magazine, the magazine was empty but the explosion jammed the hatches of the 4 inch magazine trapping the men within. Order to abandon ship was given and a third torpedo slammed into her stern. shells were now falling all around the survivors in the water, killing many of them. Perth was still underway and was swinging in a smooth wide turn to starboard, then a salvo of shell hit the base of the director tower killing the Captain. After the fourth torpedo hit, the starboard list came off her and she heeled slightly to port. Then with the way still on, her bows gently dipped to the surface. Three of the shafts were now broken, but the forth was still turning, “she went down as if steaming over the horizon”, was the comments made by the survivors.

Former nameHMS Amphion

Commands listed for HMAS Perth (D 29)

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1Capt. Harold Bruce Farncomb, RAN29 Jun 19396 Jun 1940
2Capt. Philip Weyland Bowyer-Smith, RN6 Jun 19401 Sep 1941
3A/Cdr. Charles Rupert Reid, RAN1 Sep 194123 Oct 1941
4Capt. Hector Macdonald Laws Waller, DSO, RAN24 Oct 19411 Mar 1942 (+)

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Notable events involving Perth include:

4 Oct 1939

Convoy KJ 3

Convoy from Kingston, Jamaica to the U.K.
Departure date: 4 October 1939.
Arrival date: 28 October 1939.

The following merchant ships were part of this convoy;
tanker Acavus (8010 GRT, built 1935), cargo ship Amakura (1987 GRT, built 1924), tanker Appalachee (8826 GRT, built 1930), tanker Athelbeach (6568 GRT, built 1931), tanker British General (6989 GRT, built 1922), tanker Calgarolite (11941 GRT, built 1929), tanker Canadolite (11309 GRT, built 1926), tanker Caprella (8230 GRT, built 1931), cargo ship Chauncer (5792 GRT, built 1929), tanker Conus (8132 GRT, built 1931), tanker Drupa (8102 GRT, built 1939), cargo ship East Wales (4358 GRT, built 1925), tanker Erodona (6207 GRT, built 1937), cargo ship Fresno City (4955 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Gryfevale (4434 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Iddesleigh (5205 GRT, built 1927), cargo ship Imperial Valley (4573 GRT, built 1924), tanker Iroquois (8937 GRT, built 1907), tanker Laristan (6401 GRT, built 1927), tanker Luminetta (6159 GRT, built 1927), tanker Montrolite (11309 GRT, built 1926), tanker Pellicula (6254 GRT, built 1936), cargo ship Redgate (4323 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Ridley (4993 GRT, built 1937), cargo ship Royal Crown (4367 GRT, built 1927), Sacramento Valley (4573 GRT, built 1924), tanker San Arcadio (7419 GRT, built 1935), tanker San Demetrio (8073 GRT, built 1938), tanker San Eliseo (8042 GRT, built 1939), tanker San Emiliano (8071 GRT, built 1939), tanker San Roberto (5890 GRT, built 1922), tanker Schluylkill (8965 GRT, built 1928), cargo ship Sheaf Holme (4814 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Somme (5265 GRT, built 1919), tanker Sovac (6724 GRT, built 1938), cargo ship Star of Alexandria (4329 GRT, built 1928), tanker Telena (7406 GRT, built 1927), cargo ship Uffington Court (4976 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Umberleigh (4950 GRT, built 1927).

tanker Champagne (9946 GRT, built 1938), tanker Frimaire (9242 GRT, built 1930), cargo ship (6419 GRT, built 1920), tanker Roussillon (9967 GRT, built 1936).

Escort was provided by the following warships;
4 October to 7 October 1939 by the licht cruiser HMS Orion (Capt. H.R.G. Kinahan, RN).

4 October to 15 October 1939 by the light cruiser HMAS Perth (Capt. H.B. Farncomb, RAN).

8 October to 15 October 1939 by the heavy cruiser HMS Berwick (Capt. I.M. Palmer, DSC, RN).

15 October to 26 October 1939 by the light cruiser HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN).

22 October to 24 October 1939 by the light cruisers HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) and HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN).

On 23 October and 24 October 1939 by a French force made up of the battleship Dunkerque (Capt. M.J.M. Seguin), light cruisers Georges Leygues (Capt. R.L. Perot), Montcalm (Capt. P.J. Ronarc’h), large destroyers Le Malin (Cdr. G.E. Graziani), Le Triomphant (Cdr. M.M.P.L. Pothuau) and L'Indomptable (Capt. P.T.J. Barnaud).

From 24 October to 28 October 1939 by the destroyers HMS Verity (Lt.Cdr. A.R.M. Black, RN) and HMS Wolverine (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, RN).

From 25 October to 28 October 1939 by the destroyers HMS Versatile (Cdr.(Retd.) T.A. Hussey, RN) and HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. H. Gartside-Tippinge, RN).

From 25 October to 26 October 1939 by the destroyers HMS Glowworm (Lt.Cdr. G.B. Roope, RN RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, RN).

25 Feb 1942
At 1500 hours, HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) departed Batavia for Surabaya where they were to join Dutch Rear-Admiral Doorman's Eastern Striking Force.

HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, CBE, RAN) was also ordered to sail with these ships but she had not completed fuelling yet as the oiler RFA War Sirdar (5542 GRT, built 1920, (master) Cdr. M.W. Westlake, RNR) had been damaged in a Japanese air attack. (1)

26 Feb 1942
At 0330 hours, HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) arrive at Surabaya from Batavia where they joined Dutch Rear-Admiral Doorman's Eastern Striking Force. (1)


  1. ADM 199/1185 + ADM 234/346

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

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