From the time of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) fleet entry into Sydney Harbour in 1913, Sydney has been home to the RAN fleet. However, plans for a naval base on Australia’s western seaboard stretch back as far as 1911 with the commencement of construction of the Henderson naval base at Woodman Point. Construction ceased with the outbreak of World War I and the plan was eventually abandoned in 1921.
The need for a naval base in the west was again recognised during World War II and a number of Australian ships, such as HMASSydney (II), Fairmile motor launches and auxiliaries, were based in Western Australia at various times. Fremantle was also home to a United States Navy submarine base, and Garden Island in Cockburn Sound was used as a training facility for the Allied Boats Section of the Services Reconnaissance Department, better known as Z-Force.
These were all temporary, wartime arrangements, though a permanent training establishment, called HMAS Cerberus (V) and later re-named HMAS Leeuwin, was established in Fremantle in 1942. Between 1945 and 1957, Garden Island was also home to the Fremantle detachment of the RAN Reserve Fleet.
In 1966, the Australian Government commissioned a feasibility study for a new naval support base in Cockburn Sound considering such aspects as safe anchorages, strategic location, communications, support facilities and the availability of existing services. In November 1969 the Government announced the intention to begin the development of a facility on Garden Island beginning with the construction of a 4.3km long causeway from Cape Peron on the mainland to Parkin Point on the Island.
HMAS Stirling was officially commissioned on 28 July 1978 though ships began visiting the facility as early as August 1975. In 1987 the Government announced the ‘Two-Ocean Basing Plan’ with the intention of establishing the RAN as a two-ocean navy capable of deploying major fleet units for sustained operations off both the east and west coasts. Up to half of the RAN’s surface and submarine fleet was to be based permanently in Western Australia. The two main fleet bases on either coast became known as Fleet Base West (FBW at Stirling) and Fleet Base East (FBE centred on HMAS Kuttabul).