Tactical Ships Surface

Why a US Navy ship is named after Australia’s capital city

On June 5, 2021, the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Canberra (LCS-30) was christened in Sydney, Australia.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
USS Canberra
(U.S. Navy)

Modern U.S. Navy Independence-class littoral combat ships are almost all named for American cities. Previously, Los Angeles-class fast attack nuclear submarines were named after cities. The practice is long-established, dating back to 1862 when U.S. Code dictated that certain ships be named “after the principal cities and towns.” However, two American warships have been named after Australia’s capital city, Canberra.

ship at kings wharf
Canberra at Kings Wharf in New Zealand (Public Domain)

No, Sydney is not the capital of Australia. It is, however, the country’s most populous city and the capital of New South Wales. Canberra is located 154 miles southwest of Sydney in the Australian Capital Territory. As the seat of the Australian Government, the city holds great significance to the Australian people. Unsurprisingly, the sailors who crewed the Royal Australian Navy heavy cruiser, HMAS Canberra (D33), took great pride in their vessel.

canberra guns
Canberra fires her powerful 8-inch guns (Public Domain)

Canberra was a Kent sub-class of the Royal Navy’s County-class heavy cruisers. Built in Scotland in the mid-1920s, she was commissioned in 1928. When WWII broke out, Canberra patrolled Australian waters and escorted convoys between Australia, Sri Lanka and South Africa. After Japan entered the war, the cruiser was reassigned to the waters of New Guinea, Malaysia and Java. Sailing with the U.S. Navy as part of Task Force 44, Canberra took part in the Guadalcanal Campaign and the landings at Tulagi.

USS Blue and USS Patterson
U.S. destroyers USS Blue and USS Patterson rescue RAN sailors as Canberra burns in the background (U.S. Navy)

At 0145 hours, in the early morning darkness of August 9, 1942, Canberra and USS Chicago (CA-29) came under attack by five Japanese cruisers and a destroyer. Although Canberra evaded the initial spread of Japanese torpedoes, she received the brunt of the enemy’s shellfire. The first two salvos were catastrophic. Her bridge was damaged and several senior officers were killed or wounded, both engine rooms were disabled, her 4-inch gun platform was damaged and the 8-inch magazines flooded. Just two minutes into the engagement, Canberra was hit 24 times.

hmas canberra
HMAS Canberra slips beneath the waves, August 9, 1942 (U.S. Navy)

Immobilized, listing to starboard, burning and with 20% of her crew dead or wounded, the Australian cruiser was out of the fight. At 0330 hours, allied orders were issued giving Canberra three hours to regain mobility or be abandoned and sunk. The RAN sailors fought valiantly to save their ship, but to no avail. Despite their best damage control and repair efforts, Canberra could not get back underway by the 0630 deadline. Her crew abandoned ship and she was sunk by U.S. vessels.

USS Canberra warship
USS Canberra was the first American warship named for a foreign capital city (U.S. Navy)

In recognition of the valor of Canberra‘s crew, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt directed that an American ship be named in her honor. The Baltimore-class heavy cruiser, USS Pittsburgh (CA-70), was selected and renamed USS Canberra (CA-70). On April 19, 1943, she was launched by Lady Alice Dixon, the wife of Australia’s Ambassador to the U.S., Sir Owen Dixon. The American Canberra fought at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and supported the Okinawa and Taiwan campaigns. She was later converted to a guided missile cruiser and participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis blockade and supported Hue during the Tet Offensive before being decommissioned in 1970.

USS Canberra san diego
The second USS Canberra is home-ported in San Diego, California (U.S. Navy)

On June 5, 2021, the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Canberra (LCS-30) was christened. She was sponsored by Marise Payne, Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. The ceremony was also attended by Arthur Sinodinos, Australia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Canberra was commissioned on July 22, 2023, at the RAN’s Fleet Base East in Sydney, Australia. She is the U.S. Navy’s first ship to have its commissioning ceremony performed overseas in an allied country.