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HMAS Australia In Action

23 SEP 1940: World War II and HMAS Australia begins action against the Vichy French at Dakar, West Africa. On 6 September 1940, HMAS Australia sailed from the UK for Sierra Leone to join the Dakar expeditionary and naval force, which had sailed for Freetown five days beforehand. The large British naval force intended to land some 7000 troops in French West Africa. General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free France movement, accompanied the expedition hoping to persuade the Vichy French garrison at Dakar to transfer its allegiance without bloodshed.

The British would then occupy Dakar and rally local French colonial forces behind General de Gaulle.

During the voyage, Australia encountered three Vichy French cruisers sailing towards French West Africa. The Australian ship was asked to re-direct the three French cruisers, including Gloire, and escort them northwards to Casablanca in Morocco.

The Official RAN Historian, G Hermon Gill reports that Commodore RR Stewart, RN, the vessel’s commanding officer, left the departing French ships as they neared Casablanca by signalling to the captain of Gloire: ‘Bon voyage. Je vous remerci pour votre courtoisie dans une situation difficile.’

Having left the French cruisers, Australia returned to rejoin the British expeditionary force on 22 September at Dakar, the main port of the French colony in West Africa (now Senegal).

There on 23 September 1940, the British overtures met with opposition from the local Vichy French and British attempts to land the 7000 men were initially repulsed.

During the next two days, HMAS Australia was involved in attacks on a number of French vessels, including the sinking of the French battleship L’Audacieux at Dakar. Both the British and the Vichy French lost ships and men during the two days of fighting.

Early on the morning of 25 September, Australia was tasked with engaging enemy warships in Dakar harbour while the British struck at other targets.

The ship’s Walrus amphibian aircraft was launched to help with the attack and Australia moved in to fire from a closer range. Almost immediately she was hit twice by 6-inch shells in the officer’s galley and an engine room store.

There were no casualties from the shelling but minutes later, as the vessel was withdrawing, they saw the ship’s aircraft being shot down. Petty Officer Telegraphist Colin Kenneth Bunnett from Bondi, NSW, RAAF Flight Lieutenant George John Isiah Clarke from Sydney, and Lieutenant Commander Francis Kevin Fogarty from Bellevue Hill, NSW were all lost with their aircraft.

Shortly after noon on 25 September, the British Government called off the operation and the severely damaged British fleet withdrew. HMAS Australia returned to Britain. More;

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