View Full Version : The sinking of HMAS Sydney.

08-14-2007, 08:00 PM
The sinking of HMAS Sydney:

One-third of the RAN’s officers and men lost during the war were lost on 19 November 1941 when the Sydney sank with all hands. The German raider Kormoran, heavily disguised as the Dutch freighter Straat Malakaa, apparently lured the technologically superior warship Sydney into range of its guns and torpedoes. Both ships were critically damaged and sank after the action. The loss of the Sydney and of all 645 men – 635 RAN, six RAAF and four civilian canteen staff – on board has generated not only enormous grief but a lot of controversy in the years since.

The sudden loss of the Australian cruiser with all her crew; the fruitless searches for both shipwrecks and our dependency on the German survivors for eyewitness accounts of the battle have made it very difficult for many families to accept their loss. As well, allegations of a ‘cover-up’ by the Australian Government and the RAN, alleged breaches of the Geneva Convention by the German crew, and a number of unsubstantiated rumours have continued to fuel public speculation about the demise of the Sydney.

The final hours of the Sydney and the fate of the 645 men on board remains controversial. The Kormoran survivors have consistently maintained that the ship drifted off into the distance and that the final flickerings of the burning Sydney disappeared about midnight.


Rising Sun*
08-15-2007, 02:22 AM
There's a lot of debate and myth surrounding the Sydney's loss.

Here's a short version of the findings of a detailed inquiry

Here's the long version

A group looking for the Sydney

Some people who think they've found it in the past week or so, but who experts doubt.


Some recent scientific work on the only known person to escape the Sydney
http://www.hmassydney.com/ Use link in "They've found him" panel.

08-15-2007, 05:13 AM
Oh so dramatic story , i didn't hear about Sydney's sinking
Nobody survived it's really starge. I think at least one boat with sailors could reach the coast.

Rising Sun*
08-15-2007, 05:59 AM
Oh so dramatic story , i didn't hear about Sydney's sinking
Nobody survived it's really starge. I think at least one boat with sailors could reach the coast.

Mate, every aspect of it has been analysed by experts and gifted amateurs and plain idiots.

Lifeboat drift, and sailing, depends where she went down, because of different current and wind patterns at different possible points. For all we know, she sailed on at a few knots for a few days before going down.

Nobody knows anything that leads to any definite conclusions.

Here's one expert drift analysis of the Kormoran's lifeboats. http://www.navy.gov.au/spc/history/archives/kormoran/lbworkshop.html

It's speculated that Sydney's lifeboats were all destroyed during the engagement and subsequent fires. Or maybe the final explosion. If there was one. Maybe she just went down slowly.

There is evidence that the crew was lost because of incompetence by the RAN in keeping to radio schedules and not recognising Sydney's distress calls, so that the search and rescue efforts weren't initiated until too late.

I spent a bit of time a few years back trying to work out what happened, and read various reports and books. The end result is that I have no idea how it ended, and no reason to choose one or other of the competing theories as the most likely.

08-15-2007, 06:43 AM
The sinking of HMAS Sydney:

alleged breaches of the Geneva Convention by the German crew,
There is not a single piece of evidence, that the crew of the German raider broke the Geneva Conventions in any form.
The conduct of German disguised merchant raiders during WW2 was notable in that while they used every form of trickery in the book, their treatment of captured allied sailors was exemplary, and a credit to their nation.

Rising Sun*
08-15-2007, 07:18 AM
There is not a single piece of evidence, that the crew of the German raider broke the Geneva Conventions in any form.

Probably the biggest problem with the Sydney's loss is that the only surviving witnesses were the survivors of the Kormoran.

Given the unusual total loss of such a large crew not too far off the Australian coast when most of the Kormoran's crew made it to land, it's not surprising that there have long been suspicions that the German crew made up a story to cover up various speculative possibilities, such as opening fire before identifying itself and machine gunning Sydney survivors to the last man in the water.

Some analyses of the German crew's testimonies point to inconsistencies, others find them to be consistent.

Like everything else about Sydney's loss, there's plenty of room to manoeuvre on speculation, including ostensibly attractive but factually impossible stories about the Sydney really being torpedoed by a Japanese sub before the commencement of hostilities with Japan, but no evidence of the Sydney's last moments apart from the German crew's version(s), which have the burning Sydney steaming over the dark horizon at a few knots.

08-15-2007, 11:45 AM
Thanks for the links RS.

There is not a single piece of evidence, that the crew of the German raider broke the Geneva Conventions in any form.

One form wich was discussed in a old HC documentry was that the Kormoran shot a torpedo to the Sydney, when the torpedo was in his way they show the kriesmarine flag, in that way they (teorically) broke the war laws.

Rising Sun*
08-15-2007, 03:57 PM
Here's a good site for original source documents


To the extent that I have any view about what probably happened, the best speculations might be that the Sydney's captain made some mistakes and / or was the victim of orders I can't remember precisely about not sinking raiders or suspect ships or boarding them - something vaguely along those lines which I'll post if I can find.

FWIW the Sydney wasn't Australia's worst maritime loss of life in WWII. That sorry honour goes to the Montevideo Maru, with 1,050 Australian lives lost. Every Australian on board, but some Japanese survived. Odd, isn't it? http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/remembering1942/montevideo/

If you want to get into conspiracy theories, don't overlook the Montevideo Maru. There are arguments / claims that not as many Australians were on board as commonly reported; no Australians were on board; that the ship wasn't anywhere near where it supposedly went down; and even that the ship never existed.

See Margaret Reeson, A Very Long War: The Families Who Waited, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, 2000


Rising Sun*
08-15-2007, 04:12 PM
The latest (today - 16 August 2007) on the supposed find of the Sydney.

Now the alleged finders won't tell the RAN where it is, because they have an agreement with the media. Do I detect the scent of $$$$$$$?


Rising Sun*
08-15-2007, 06:19 PM
... was the victim of orders I can't remember precisely about not sinking raiders or suspect ships or boarding them - something vaguely along those lines which I'll post if I can find.

Here's more

4.90 To say that Captain Burnett did not follow orders is simplistic. He had, only a few weeks prior to his encounter with Kormoran, received instruction from the replacement Assistant Chief of Naval Staff, Captain Getting, that 'if any suspicion exists, the ship should be boarded'.121 Captain Burnett had many things to consider when faced with an unidentified ship. In addition to the recent instances where Allied commanders had been criticised for wasting ammunition,122 Captain Burnett also had to consider the possibility that there may have been Allied prisoners aboard the ship, and he did not want to be responsible for their deaths. There may also have been an opportunity to send an anti-scuttling party, which could have retrieved valuable documents for the Allies. As Mr David Kennedy pointed out:

... Captain Burnett had all signs of encouragement to go in and board. He had been training anti-scuttling parties on his convoy duty up to the Sunda Strait. He went in on the quarter ... If Captain Burnett had wanted to board, as Admiralty instructions suggest, then he was in the right position to do that.123 http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/jfadt/sydney/Sydch_4.htm

I think my recollection probably comes from Barbara Winter's book (borrowed, so I don't have it to check), cited at reference 121 in the quote, as I recall reading more detail about those orders.

08-15-2007, 06:35 PM
Now the alleged finders won't tell the RAN where it is, because they have an agreement with the media. Do I detect the scent of $$$$$$$?

Happen all the time.


Rising Sun*
08-18-2007, 05:19 AM
Looks like it hasn't been found.

Navy scuttles Sydney claim
August 18, 2007

A ROYAL Australian Navy ship has found "nothing of interest" at a wreck site off the West Australian coast that newspapers last week claimed was the resting place of HMAS Sydney.

Navy sources confirmed that HMAS Leeuwin, a hydrographic survey ship with sophisticated scanning and sonar equipment, had completed its sweep through an area off Dirk Hartog Island, 800km north of Perth, and had reported its findings to Canberra last night.

Fairfax newspapers, the Seven Network and The West Australian claimed last week a group of local enthusiasts had discovered the wreck of the Sydney, which went down in November 1941 with all 645 crew.

But inquiries by The Weekend Australian raised questions about the group's claim that the Sydney rests in 130m of water 20 nautical miles off the island.

It is believed the Leeuwin may have detected a vessel about 30m long and four or five metres high. Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Billson is expected to make an announcement about the find -- or lack of it -- over the weekend.

The vessel may be an old barge that was sunk off the island in the 1940s, locals believe.

Last night, British-based marine salvage expert David Mearns -- who is expected to lead a federal and state government-backed search for the Sydney early next year -- said it was a lesson to all.

"To be blunt, they didn't know what they were doing," he said from Italy. "They made a grave mistake both at sea and in how they dealt with it in the media.

"It serves as a lesson to everybody -- including journalists -- that these things should bedone in a proper and professional way.

"I heard it ended up on the front page of a broadsheet (The Sydney Morning Herald) and I find it amazing they don't check their facts properly, or try to contact experts to get a balanced opinion or verify something as important as this.

"I'm sure the editors will have a lot of egg on their faces today."

Pondering the location of Sydney has been a popular pastime on the shipwreck-littered stretch of Gascoyne coast where the light cruiser and the German raider the Kormoran fought to the death in November 1941.

Marshall Hipper, former deputy shire president of Shark Bay, was told years earlier by the state museum that a bolt his sons Dion and Adrian fished from a wreck on the ocean floor in September 2001 came from a wooden vessel -- not the Sydney.

But the 71-year-old never stopped believing the wreck was the long-lost war grave and he wanted others to believe him too, his widow, Midge Hipper, told The Weekend Australian.

A small group of enthusiasts led by Graham and Phil Shepherd from his home town of Denham believed him, and last Saturday -- seven months after Hipper's death -- newspapers burst into print with celebratory banner headlines, including a front-page declaration in The West Australian screeching: "FOUND".

In the following days, maritime experts expressed their disbelief, as well as disapproval at the certainty with which the group and the media organisations proclaimed their find.

Bruce Teede, 79, of Carnarvon, was one of the locals who scoffed, saying: "Codswallop."

The bombshell announcement forced the federal Government to investigate, and meanwhile postpone more than $2 million in funding for the non-profit HMAS Sydney Search, which was preparing to conduct a deep-sea scan of an area it and many others believe is the most likely resting place of the two legendary warships -- about 150 nautical miles off Carnarvon.

Since 2002, and with the backing of independent experts, HMAS Sydney Search has used decoded German notes and other official sources to decide on the search area, which it will scan early next year.

This week's events angered Mr Billson, whose attempts to have the navy verify last weekend's claims were initially frustrated when the group refused to reveal the co-ordinates.

Leeuwin arrived yesterday at the site where the group was hovering over the wreck. Sources said the men were having trouble getting their equipment powered and asked the navy for help.

But there was a chance their gear could have corrupted the navy's equipment, and the request was refused. The Leeuwin is expected to be in the area for another few days while it examines at least two other wreck sites.

West Australian Museum director of maritime archeology Mike McCarthy told Hipper in 2002 the copper bolt his sons found at the site could not be from the Sydney.

Dr McCarthy said he heard from people who thought they had discovered the Sydney about every six months.

He said he understood the interest because its loss, and the Government's inadequate response over many decades, had an effect on the national psyche.

"We lost boys and men from every city," he said.

The Shire of Shark Bay had known of the wreck for years and had found it to be far smaller than the Sydney -- 30-36m compared with 170m. This compares favourably with the shape and substance of what the Leeuwin has found. The shire is embroiled in a legal squabble with the WA Museum over maritime archeological objects in the coastal fishing town of Denham's new interpretive centre, which the shire wants to keep as it positions itself as the place tourists visit to learn about the Sydney and other wrecks.

Mrs Hipper said her husband, who lived for 33 years in Denham, could never get the media traction for his find the Shepherds achieved.

Last year while in treatment for lung cancer at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Hipper made calls to regional TV station Golden West Network claiming he had solved the 66-year-old mystery of the Sydney.

"They were promising to come round and interview him but he was slurring his words a little bit and they probably thought 'Silly old thing, doesn't know what he's talking about'," she said. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,22264668-31477,00.html?from=public_rss

08-23-2007, 06:14 PM
The other side, the Hilfkruiser kormoran:


Contruction Data
Laid down: Germaniawerft Kiel, 1938
Launched: 15.09.1938
Commissioned: 09.10.1940 as auxiliary cruiser
Fate: sunk on 20.11.1941

Technical Data
Size: 19900 t
Length: 164 m
Beam: 20,2 m
Draft: 8,5 m
Armament: 6 x 15 cm;
1x 7,5 cm;
2 x 3,7 cm ( manually loaded)
5 x 2 cm;
6 x torpedo tubes, 2 x Arado Ar 196 float planes
1 x Small Fast Attack boat LS3; 360 Mines

Performance:16000 shp diesel electric drive, 18 kn

The Kormoran was the biggest auxiliary cruiser used by the Kriegsmarine in World War II. Besides this, it was the only one which
was able to sink a major warship in a direct battle. The ship left Germany on 03.12.1940 and entered the North Atlantic through the Denmark Street. Until April of the following year, the ship operated in the North Atlantic, after that it sailed into the Indian Ocean. On 19.11.1941, the auxiliary cruiser was detected by the Australian CL Sydney . Unaware that the Kormoran was armed, the Sydney close-up to the German ship which opened fire form very close range. The Sydney was badly damaged and on fire when it was last seen by the German ship and sunk after the battle. The Kormoran was so heavily damaged in this battle that it had to be abandoned and blown up.

Rising Sun*
08-30-2007, 03:50 AM
A postscript on the Kormoran's captain, Theodor Detmers, from Australia's national archives. The captured notebook has been the basis of a lot of different interpretations about the Sydney's fate.

Escapes from German POW Officers’ Camp, Dhurringile – Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry assembled at Dhurringile on 15, 16 and 17 January 1945 [5cm, 11 January – 14 March 1945]

On the night of 10/11 January 1945 Captain Detmers with 19 others escaped from Dhurringile camp through a 120 metre tunnel they had excavated from a music room. This file deals with the Army court of inquiry that was convened on 15, 16 and 17 January to investigate the escape, and with official action following the recovery of the escapees. The file contains three copies of the proceedings of the court of inquiry, including exhibits (eg witness statements, sentry instructions and standing orders). Detmers was among the last to be recaptured, being detained at Shepparton on 18 January. The escapees were given punishment of 28 days detention.

The file records the confiscation from Detmers on his recapture of a ‘notebook’ containing entries in German cypher which were photographed by the Commonwealth Security Service and sent to the Navy for decoding. The cypher, the method of its decryption and a translation of its contents (purporting to be the deck and engine room logs of the Kormoran) appear in series B5823 described in Chapter 6.

Seven days after his recapture and whilst in detention Detmers sought and was granted an interview with the Swiss consul during which he complained about his accommodation, the lack of light in his cell, and the refusal of his request for a daily issue of fresh fruit. The file records the consul’s representations to the Army and their response.