The crew of one the US Navy’s newest and most advanced ships will visit its namesake city of Canberra this weekend to conduct a traditional ‘Freedom of Entry’.
The new USS Canberra is the only US Navy ship currently named after a foreign city. It is the second US ship to be named after Australia’s capital and after the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Canberra I, which was lost in action in 1942.
The USS Canberra is visiting Australia to be christened at the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Base East at Garden Island in Sydney on Saturday, before the crew visits Canberra on Sunday.
HMAS Canberra I was a heavy cruiser commissioned in July 1928. The Battle of Savo Island was a major naval battle in what is now the Solomon Islands. It took place overnight on 8 and 9 August 1942 when an inferior allied force defended US Marine Corps amphibious landings on the island of Guadalcanal from an attack by a large Japanese force of cruisers and destroyers.
The allied force was caught by surprise; HMAS Canberra was hit 24 times in the first two minutes of the engagement, and she and three US cruisers were severely damaged. While 84 of her crew, including a US Navy radio operator, were killed, US Navy destroyers rescued a large number from the ship the next morning before she sank. Today, a poignant memorial to HMAS Canberra stands beside Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin near the Carillion.
The Royal Australian Navy has had two other vessels named after our capital. The second was one of six Perry/Adelaide-class frigates commissioned in March 1981. She served until November 2005, and was scuttled as a dive wreck off Ocean Grove in Victoria in October 2009.
HMAS Canberra III, a Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), was commissioned in November 2014. Canberra III and Adelaide III are currently in service as heavy amphibious landing vessels, able to embark 1200 troops, tanks and armoured vehicles, amphibious watercraft, and up to 12 helicopters.
The US Navy’s first USS Canberra was a battlecruiser commissioned in 1943 in honour of HMAS Canberra I. That vessel enjoyed a long career and underwent several major upgrades through the latter years of World War II, the 1950s, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and the Vietnam War. She was decommissioned in 1970, and scrapped in 1980.
Apart from her name, the new USS Canberra II has another major link to Australia. The ship is an Independence class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), designed and built by the US subsidiary of Australian shipbuilder, Austal. The Independence class LCS is an unusual trimaran design powered by pump jets instead of propellors, giving it a top speed of more than 40 knots, and an ability to operate in shallow littoral regions.
The USS Canberra II was launched in 2021 in Alabama and christened by then Australian Ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos. Its commissioning in Sydney will be the first time a US Navy vessel has been commissioned in an international port.
Following the commissioning of USS Canberra II on Saturday, 100 members of the ship’s company will travel to Canberra where it will conduct a Freedom of Entry ceremony on Sunday morning. The crew members, accompanied by 100 members of HMAS Canberra III’s crew, will gather at Veteran’s Park on the corner of Bunda Street and Northbourne Avenue for a Welcome to Country ceremony.
From 10 am they will march south along Northbourne Avenue, and turn left into London Circuit. The parade will stop outside the ACT Legislative Assembly on London Circuit where the ship’s Commanding Officer, Commander Bobby Barber will be ‘challenged’ by the ACT’s Chief Police Officer Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan, and presented a scroll giving him the right to enter the city. US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr will attend the ceremony.
The parade will continue along London Circuit, turn left into Constitution Avenue, and end at the National Convention Centre. The parade should take about 45 minutes.
“The Freedom of Entry ceremony is a wonderful occasion for the community to come out and see the pageantry of the USS Canberra and HMAS Canberra crews parading together,” the ACT’s Commissioner for International Engagement, Brendan Smyth told Region. “I believe this is the first foreign vessel to be given Freedom of Entry to any Australian city.
“The commissioning of USS Canberra in Sydney, and the Freedom of Entry ceremony in Canberra demonstrates the strong partnership and ties between Australia and the US and our respective navies. “We understand that both events are a world first.”
After arriving at the National Convention Centre, the crews will be involved in presentations before visiting the National Museum of Australia and attending a ceremony at the HMAS Canberra Memorial next to the Carillion.
The crews will then tour the Australian War Memorial where six US sailors will have their re-enlistment ceremonies in the Eastern Forecourt next to commemorative plaques to HMAS Canberra I and USS Canberra I. They will also attend the sunset Last Post Ceremony.
The Federation Guard is also expected to attend the visit to Canberra, which coincides with Pozieres Day.