HMAS Adelaide (I) was an improved version of the 'Chatham' group of the British 'Town' Class light cruisers. The ship was of the same basic design as HMA Ships Brisbane (I), Melbourne (I) and Sydney (I). She was originally equipped to burn both coal and oil fuel.
Adelaide (I) commissioned at Sydney on 5 August 1922 under the command of CAPT J.B. Stevenson RAN. After trials and working up practices at Jervis Bay she became an active unit of the RAN and cruised on the Australia Station until 18 February 1924.
She was 462 feet 6 ½ inches in length, 49 feet 9 ½ inches at the Beam and she displaced 5,550 tons. She had a draught of 19 feet 8 inches.
After further cruises around the Australian coast Adelaide (I) paid off into reserve at Sydney on 27 June 1928.
After more than ten years in reserve Adelaide (I) was taken in hand in 1938 for an extensive refit and modernization at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. The refit, which was completed in March 1939, included conversion to burn oil fuel only, involving removal of the two forward boilers, the forward funnel and uptakes, and the construction of additional oil fuel tanks. Several alterations were made to the armament, including removal of one 6-inch gun, the 3-inch anti-aircraft gun and the torpedo tubes. Three 4-inch anti-aircraft guns were fitted and the gunnery control positions were re-arranged. As a result, her new configuration was 8 x 6-inch guns, 3 x 4-inch anti-aircraft guns, 4 x 3-pounder guns, 12 smaller guns and 2 depth charge chutes.
Adelaide (I) re-commissioned on 13 March 1939 under the command of CAPT H.L. Howden RAN, and, after trials and practices proceeded from Sydney to participate in trade defence exercises in company with units of the Australian Squadron, the New Zealand Squadron, mercantile marine and aircraft of the RAAF. These exercises were completed in April 1939. Adelaide (I) returned to Sydney and paid off to reserve on 17 May 1939, her crew being transferred to SS AUTOLYCUS on 15 May, for passage to England to commission HMAS Perth (I).
On 1 September 1939 Adelaide (I) commissioned for war service under the command of CAPT H.A. Showers RAN, and operated on the Australian coast for defence of trade.
On 3 September 1940 while proceeding to Brisbane from Sydney en route to New Caledonia, Adelaide (I) was in collision with SS COPTIC of the Shaw Savill and Albion Line. Although both ships avoided major damage, this collision resulted in a court case in 1947 when the owners of COPTIC sued the Commonwealth for £35,000 damages.
After the capitulation of France, the Vichy Government made a very strong bid to establish a Vichy regime in New Caledonia despite a predominant Free French following amongst the population. Australia was very interested in this move, as the threat of having a hostile population in a covering position on the east coast of Australia was very serious, and one which could not be tolerated.
When the British Commissioner and High Commissioner arrived at Noumea on 30 August they found that the Military Commandant had taken the place of the French Governor, and that the sloop DUMONT D'URVILLE was in port with a pro-Vichy Captain in command. The commissioners found that no De Gaulle Committee had been formed, although the majority of the people were for De Gaulle. Adelaide (I) arrived at Vila (New Hebrides) on 7 September 1940 and remained there until 16 September when she departed for Noumea escorting the Norwegian tanker NORDEN. Aboard NORDEN was the Temporary Governor of New Caledonia, Commissioner-General of Western Pacific and High Commissioner of New Hebrides appointed as such by General De Gaulle.
Adelaide (I) and NORDEN arrived at Noumea on 19 September to find that the pro-Vichy authorities had practically declared martial law, and that the city was full of the De Gaulle supporters. The crowd, which numbered several thousand, marched to Government House and demanded the Governor's resignation in favour of the De Gaulle appointee. The Governor finally agreed to permit the new appointee to land, which he did at noon, and Adelaide (I) withdrew to patrol off the harbour entrance, with the object of inspiring confidence ashore, exercising restraint on DUMONT D'URVILLE, and maintaining mobility.
The crowd escorted the De Gaulle appointee to Government House, and after consultation it was agreed that the pro-Vichy Military Governor would hand over at 1500 on 19 September. After protracted negotiations and much diplomacy, DUMONT D'URVILLE sailed for Indo-China on 25 September 1940 and the situation ashore gradually became normal. Adelaide (I) departed Noumea in October and arrived back in Sydney on 8 October 1940.
From then until May 1942 Adelaide (I) carried out patrols, convoy escort and shipping protection duties on the Australia Station. The ship was under refit at Garden Island from May to July 1942. Work carried out during the refit included the fitting of six 20mm Oerlikon guns. After completion of the refit Adelaide (I) was based at Fremantle for convoy and escort duty in the Indian Ocean. This refit left her 8 x 6-inch guns, 3 x 4-inch anti-aircraft guns, 4 x 3-pounder guns, 6 x 20mm Oerlikon guns, 12 smaller guns and 2 depth charge chutes.
On 28 November 1942 Adelaide (I) together with the Netherlands cruiser HEEMSKERK and the minesweepers HMA Ships Cessnock (I) and Toowoomba (I), was escorting a convoy in position 23° 30´ S, 99° 21´ E (Southern Indian Ocean). Early in the afternoon, Adelaide (I) sighted a strange ship and, with HEEMSKERK closed in to investigate. The ship made distress messages claiming to be TAIYANG, a name that Adelaide (I) could not accept, so 'Action Stations' was ordered at a range of 15,000 yards, pending identification.
The navigating officer of Adelaide (I), a reserve officer with great experience of constructional details of merchant ships, quickly identified her as the German blockade runner RAMSES. She was wearing a Norwegian ensign and had not replied to Adelaide (I)'s challenge, but had hoisted signal letters which could not be distinguished. At 1533 two boats were seen being lowered on the port side, and at 1543 an explosion was observed aft. Adelaide (I) opened fire and hits were obtained on the third salvo. Fire was opened at 1544 and ceased at 1552 when RAMSES suddenly sank. HEEMSKERK who had been firing from the starboard quarter, was then ordered to rejoin the convoy, and Adelaide (I) picked up the survivors. It was learned later that all hands had abandoned ship except the Captain, one officer and the W/T Operator, who completed the scuttling arrangements and sank the ship.
After this incident, Adelaide (I) continued her duties of convoy escort and patrols, operating from Fremantle. This service was interrupted by a refit at Williamstown Dockyard from June to September 1943. The refit included further changes to the armament. Two 6-inch guns were removed from the waist and replaced by four depth charge throwers. One of these 6-inch guns was relocated on the centre-line, above and forward of the quarterdeck 6-inch gun so as to fire over it. This rearrangement enabled the retention of five 6-inch guns on the broadside. The 4-inch anti-aircraft gun displaced by the relocated 6-inch gun was landed. The heavy armoured shields on the 6-inch guns were replaced by a new type of square and comparatively light bullet-proof shields.
On 8 October 1944 the ship left Fremantle for Melbourne and on 4 January 1945 she departed Melbourne for Sydney where she arrived on 6 January, her seagoing service ended. Adelaide (I) paid off on 26 February 1945 but re-commissioned on 19 May 1945 as a tender to the Sydney shore establishment HMAS Penguin. On 13 May 1946 Adelaide (I) finally paid off.
The ship's hulk was sold on 24 January 1949 to Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd, her gear and equipment having been sold in 1947. On 1-2 April 1949 the hulk was towed by the tug HMAS Reserve to Port Kembla, where it was broken up.