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USS ASTORIA visits Sydney

At 9am on 15 August 1934, the United States Navy’s Astoria-class (later New Orleans-class) heavy cruiser USS ASTORIA arrived in Sydney for its shakedown cruise of the Pacific. A shakedown cruise tests the performance of a new vessel before it joins regular service. Under the command of Captain Edmund S Root, no official ceremony was conducted as the vessel entered Sydney Harbour and proceeded to its moorings at the number one buoy in Farm Cove.

Numerous events were held in their honour as well as a range of baseball games in which the crew of ASTORIA participated. Captain Root paid official calls on Lieutenant-Governor Sir Philip Street and Lord Mayor Parker. A luncheon was also held at the Millions Club on Rowe Street. The four seaplanes on board ASTORIA were intended for a catapult display over the city, however, the event was cancelled due to poor weather conditions. During the visit, the vessel was also open for public inspection. ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ reported that thousands of people turned up for a tour of the cruiser and in the end, many had to be turned away.

On 25 August, the battle cruiser departed Sydney Harbour for the voyage back to San Francisco. One member of the crew reportedly ‘liked Sydney so well’ he failed to turn up when the vessel commenced its return voyage. The sailor was ordered to board the next mail steamship available. Another member of the crew had also reportedly married while in port and stated that his wife would arrange to be on the next ship sailing for America.

Returning to San Francisco in September 1934, ASTORIA operated as a unit of firstly the Cruiser Division 7 and then CD6 undertaking peacetime manoeuvres. In 1939 the cruiser was assigned to Pearl Harbor. During the Japanese attack in December 1941, ASTORIA was steaming towards Midway as part of reinforcements of outlying US bases and so avoided the initial Japanese onslaught.

ASTORIA took part in other operations including the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. It was severely damaged and sunk in the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942. Final reports counted 219 men either missing or killed during the conflict.