AUSTRALIA'S FIRST SEAPLANE CARRIER, H.M.A.S. "ALBATROSS"
This cover is unusual in that it appears to be printed to celebrate the christening and launching of the HMAS Albatross on 23 February 1928, but the cover was not posted until 10 years later from SYDNEY/ 4 15 A 11 JL 38. This date is confirmed by the purple rectangular boxed POLICE OFFICE/ 11 JUL 1938/ H.M.A.S. "ALBATROSS" marking. This date probably celebrates its re-commissioning in July, 1938, but it is more likely that an ex-R.A.N. type is remembering the ship's past (Figure 1).
The seaplane carrier was designed by the British Admiralty in 1925 and it was constructed at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney for the Royal Australian Navy, as ship number 106. It was laid down in April 1926, launched on 23 February 1928 by Her Excellency Lady Stonehaven (wife of the Governor-General, Lord Stonehaven), and she can be seen riding side-saddle with his Lordship at Yarralumla, Canberra in 1929 (Figure 2).
The ship was completed on 21 December 1928 and it was the first Australian-built seaplane carrier and the largest warship built in Australia up to that time (its size and weight are described on the cover). The vessel had capacity for nine aircraft, but usually carried only six. Initially there was no catapult, and the launch and recovery of her Seagull III aircraft required the use of the ship's crane. It's horsepower was 12,000, speed 20 knots, and she had a complement of 450, including 6 officers and 24 airmen from the RAAF (Figure 3).
She commenced her sea-going career under Captain Denham Bedford RN cruising south to Tasmania and Victoria as a unit of the RAN squadron. The next four years the Albatross followed the uneventful pattern of a peacetime naval vessel with winter cruises to New Guinea, New Britain and the surrounding islands. There were exercises and training, with long periods in Sydney Harbour. On 26 April 1933 she was placed into the Naval Reserve and for another five years remained at anchor in Sydney Harbour, as an operating base for seaplanes visiting the Harbour. In 1938 she was accepted by the British Admiralty as partial payment for the RAN's new cruiser Hobart. On 11 July 1938 (the date of this cover) she sailed for England, and her role as an RAN warship was at an end.
Shortly before WW II began, the Albatross was recommissioned from reserve and embarked six Walrus I amphibians. As a carrier she served in the South Atlantic, West Africa and Madagascar areas. Once again she was paid off in 1943, but was recommissioned later in 1943, this time as a repair ship. In 1944, operating as a Fleet Repair Ship, she took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy. On 11 August 1944 she was torpedoed off Courselles, with 100 casualties, including 50 killed.
She was later refitted and named the Hellenic Prince and converted to a passenger ship. In late 1949 she was chartered by the International Refugee Organization as a refugee transport and on 5 December 1949 she reached Sydney with 1,000 displaced persons, thus returning to her birthplace after an absence of more than 11 years. The ship's career finally ended when she was scrapped at Hong Kong on 12 August 1954.