HMAS Sydney

Discussion in 'History' started by hobbit, May 10, 2006.

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  1. After reading the thread on HMS Hood I was reminded of the action in which HMAS Sydney was sunk.Although not an RN ship the sinking of HMAS Sydney remains one of the ponderables of WW2. The vessel was steaming off the coast of Western Australia for those not aware of the event when it encountered the German raider Kormarant. Once the true identity of the raider became known in the following exchange of fire HMAS Sydney was sent to the bottom with the loss of all hands.
    The search continues for the wreck of the ship to this day, presumably to establish why she lost the battle with all the crew. The Kormarant was also sunk but a number of the crew survived. It is an ongoing thing for many Australian ex navy personnel and a mystery I would like to see solved. The big questions remaining for me , how could a raider sink such a well armed and powerful ship with a professional crew. The loss of all hands is another mystery although with HMS Hood the loss of crew was extremely heavy but a hit on the magazine is the ultimate strike I imagine.
    I suppose some things will never be fully accounted for but it seems in those days the battles were savage and decisive and not for the faint hearted. Absent friends
  2. Until 1942, the Royal Australian Navy was the Australian Squadron of the Royal Navy commanded by Rear Admiral John Gregory GRACE RN and Australia's navy was under the control of the Royal Navy in times of war
  3. I was quite sad to read that the Sydney had been sunk. I'm assuming that this was the Sydney which was either built or had a refit here in my home town.
  4. HMA Ship Histories
    Loss of HMAS Sydney
    Sydney sailed from Fremantle on Armistice Day, 11 November, 1941 to escort the troopship Zealandia to Sunda Strait where she was to be relieved by the British cruiser HMS Durban for the last leg of the voyage to Singapore . The voyage was without incident and at noon on the 17 November, Zealandia was turned over to Durban and Sydney then proceeded back to Fremantle where she was expected to arrive on the afternoon of 20 November 1941. She did not arrive as expected and the District Naval Officer, Western Australia , reported accordingly to the Naval Board at 11 a.m. the following day that Sydney was overdue. This did not immediately concern the Naval Board as they had been advised that Zealandia had arrived later than anticipated and it was assumed that Sydney too had been delayed. There was also the possibility that she might have been diverted for another purpose and had not broken radio silence. When however, she had not returned by 23 November, she was instructed by the Naval Board to report by signal. There was no reply.

    The reconstruction of events leading up to Sydney's disappearance relies primarily on information gathered from interrogations of German survivors from the raider HSK Kormoran which Sydney engaged on the afternoon of 19 November 1941. The following is an account of Sydney's final action and subsequent loss based on surviving records.

    Returning from her convoy duties to Java, Sydney was proceeding south along the north west coast of Western Australia when she sighted what appeared to be a merchant vessel at about 1600 on 19 November 1941, some 130 miles west of Shark Bay.

    The ship was in fact the German raider Kormoran, (Commander Theodor Detmers) disguised as the Dutch merchantman Straat Malakka . Sydney challenged the vessel continuously using her searchlight whilst at the same time closing the range between the two ships. Merchant vessels were known to be less efficient at visual signalling and the Germans exploited this knowledge through their actions on their flag deck and by their slow response to Sydney's challenges. Eventually the mystery vessel hoisted the signal letters PKQI identifying herself as the Straat Malakka . At 1700, to further the deception, Kormoran broadcast a 'suspicious ship' message, feigning a cry for help in the name of Straat Malakka .

    Sydney's efforts to establish the true identity of the vessel resulted in her closing the range to a point where she no longer had the advantage of her superior armament. At approximately 1715 Sydney had drawn almost abeam of Koromoran to starboard, less than a mile distant. Both ships were steering West-South-West at about 15 knots. The Australian cruiser was at action stations with all guns and torpedo tubes bearing. Her aircraft was on the catapult with its engine running. She then signalled, both by flags and flashing light; 'Where bound?' Kormoran replied ' Batavia '. The crucial moment then came when Sydney hoisted a two flag signal consisting of the letters 'IK' which the raider could not interpret. They were in fact the two centre letters of the Straat Malakka's four letter secret identification signal. With no reply forthcoming Sydney signalled in plain language 'Show your secret sign'.

    Finally, when concealment of his vessel's true identity was no longer possible, and with the advantage of surprise, Detmers ordered the Dutch colours to be struck, hoisted the German Naval Ensign and opened fire at approximately 1730 with all armament at a range 'somewhat more than a mile'.

    It is likely that the raider's first salvo destroyed Sydney's bridge, with the result that her primary control was immediately put out of action. Sydney's own guns opened fire almost simultaneously with a full salvo that passed over Kormoran without inflicting damage. Kormoran again scored hits on Sydney with two salvos again hitting her bridge and midships section. According to the Germans all of Kormoran's armament was brought to bear on Sydney , concentrating on her bridge, torpedo tubes and anti aircraft batteries.

    For a few seconds after her initial salvo Sydney did not reply. It appears that her forward "A" and "B" turrets were put out of action leaving only her after turrets "X" and "Y" to respond. It was reported by the Germans that Sydney's "X" turret opened fast and accurate fire, hitting Kormoran in the funnel and engine room. " Y" turret is said to have fired only two or three salvos, all of which went over. At about this time one of the raider's two torpedoes struck Sydney under "A" and "B" turrets. The other passed close ahead of the stricken ship, which was subjected to enfilading fire.

    With her stem low in the water, Sydney now turned sharply towards Kormoran as though attempting to ram. As she did so, the top of "B" turret was blown off and flew overboard, the cruiser then passed under Kormoran's stern, heading to the southward and losing way. Kormoran , maintaining her course and speed, was now on fire in the engine room where hits by Sydney's "X" turret had caused severe damage. Smoke from the fire hid Sydney from Kormoran's bridge but the raider continued to engage with her after guns as the range opened to approximately 4,400 yards.

    At about 1745. Sydney fired four torpedoes. Detmers was then turning to port to bring his broadside to bear, however as he did so Kormoran's engines began to fail. The torpedo tracks were sighted, but Kormoran cleared them and they passed astern. Simultaneously the raider's engines broke down completely.

    Sydney , crippled and on fire from the bridge to the after funnel, steamed slowly to the south returning only sporadic fire from her secondary armament. Although by now the range had opened to 6,600 yards Sydney continued to receive steady hits from Kormoran's port broadside. At 1800, at a range of 7,700 yards, Kormoran then fired one torpedo that missed Sydney's stern. Although this fierce action had lasted only half an hour both ships had been dealt mortal blows.

    Kormoran fired her last shot at 1825 at a range of about 11,000 yards. In all, she fired approximately 450 rounds from her main armament and hundreds from her anti-aircraft batteries. With the gathering gloom the form of Sydney disappeared from view and was last seen by the Germans about ten miles off, heading approximately South-South-East. Thereafter, until about 2200, all that was seen was a distant glare then occasional flickerings until midnight at, which time all trace of, Sydney disappeared.

    Of Sydney's total complement of 42 officers and 603 ratings, none survived. The only material evidence recovered from Sydney was an Australian naval type Carley life-float recovered eight days after the action by HMAS Heros and an Australian naval pattern life-belt recovered by HMAS Wyrallah . The Carley float is now preserved in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra .
  5. [​IMG]

    As an Australian, the missing Sydney seems to indicate a small little corner of our maratime hearts lost in the ocean's depths.

    I grew up in Western Australia, a few hours south of where she disappeared without trace. Im now living in Canberra, and at the Australian War Memorial is the only piece of wreckage found, a dinged up, bullet holed Carley float.

    From the head scratching ive done, i'd guess either the magazines went up bloody quickly (preventing the crew getting off) or the German survivors had some fun with small arms.

    There was talk of the bloke who found Titanic and Bismark coming to hunt for her, but he rejected the expedition as too far-fetched. There's a lot of water and only dodgy information as to where she might be.
  6. There has been a development in the HMAS Sydney story. In February 1942, three months after Sydneys loss, a carley float with one body aboard drifted ashore on Christmas Island. The body was unidentified and appeared to have been adrift for some time and was buried in the local cemetery but the exact location had been lost. This body has now been rediscovered and it is hoped that dental records etc may be able to confirm if he was one of Sydneys ships company.

    Lots of theories as to how a merchant raider could sink a light cruiser, and an experienced veteran of the Med, have been put about. Attack by a Japanese submarine making a rendezvous with Kormoran is a popular one, however the most obvious answer is that the Sydneys CO made a mistake in closing so closely with an unidentfied ship. ( the CO and many of the key officers and ratings were fairly new to the ship, the Med veterans having posted off)

    BTW the RAN has never been the Australian squadron of the RN. The RAN was formed in 1911 and replaced the RN Australian squadron, along with the various colonial navies that had formed the Commonwealh Naval Forces.
  7. Yes an interesting development too but the questions remain. How is it possible none of the, I believe many ,German survivors could provide some answers. I believe in the Japanese submarine theory although the surprise element of discovering the true ID of the raider must have been a tremendous advantage for the hun and a savage blow for the Sydney. Sad affair all round for such a proud ship. Such is war,

  8. I guess we can suggest all we like, but the only blokes who can say for sure are no longer in a position of being able to tell us.

    One can easily imagine the Sydney closing far too much, as she was only a few hundred kilometers north of Perth, close to the Australian coastline. That particular part of the Indian Ocean is not somewhere you'd expect to find a GERMAN raider. Easy mistake to close up until its too late, though the raider would have had to put some hard hits in very quick. It would of course make sense, as I cant imagine the German skipper risking his boat against a RAN cruiser unless A) he had no other choice or B) he held the upper hand.

    I read about the body which turned up on Christmas island, skin burned black by the sun, missing ID and the second Carley float. I believe the Japanese occupied or attacked the island so the investigation was cut short and the investigators rushed back to the mainland before adequate conclusions could be reached about who and where the body was/came from.
  9. The survivors of the Kormoran were actually captured by the Aussies and imprisoned as POW's.

    The basic mistake emphasised was that Sydney came too close and still had her main armament not fully manned.totally off guard and recieving salvoes from Kormoran who was armed almost better than the Sydney .

    The Kormoran was a big ship and had well trained gun crews. The skipper was a gunnery specialist. Initial range was about 900 yards which is almost flat trajectory for aiming points.

    C'est la Guerre
  10. Greenie is correct. Kormoran was really a 6 inch gun cruiser with no armour. Her 5.9's would have been deadly, plus also her underwater tubes.

    1) Latest - Remains of survivor from Island now being DNA tested.

    2) About 20 years ago, ABC Radio in Sydney broadcast interview with a Guard from POW camp. He said Kormoran survivor made a 'Deathbed Confession' in camp to clear guilt. They had all been made to swear to hold to a common story on sinking; but real story was of treachery and of Sydney survivors being killed etc. Rather gruesome stuff.

    3) Sydney sinking occurred on eve of Japanese attack; the fog of war obscured investigation. In reality if not sunk then, she probably would have gone down at 'Battle of Java Sea'; biggest Sea Defeat of WW2.
    Not many realise that IJIN was the largest and most efficient Navy in the World at this time.

  11. Given that there were some 300 survivors from Kormoran, it is not likely that so many men could have kept a conspiracy secret for so long. The damage to the carley float held by the War Memorial was assessed in the 1980s to have been caused by splinters, not gunfire and examination of Japanese records after the war showed no Japanese submarines operating in the area at the time and no evidence of any planned rendezvous with Kormoran.

    The only possible cause for contoversy is whether Kormoran opened fire while still showing Dutch colours. This is a possiblity. Only a small number of the survivors would know the answer and would have good reason to keep quiet about it. Kapitan zur See Detmers was adamant the he showed his true colours and that Kormoran and Sydney opened fire simultaneously. Who knows?
  12. It was a legit engagement--although the Kormoran had barely got her Dutch ensign down and German one hoisted!!
    Book I have is dated 1955 and gives a fairly good account of the contest. Sydney returned fire after Kormorans second salvo --must have been in local control due to the damage from the first salvo aimed at the bridge .
    A and B turrets were disabled return fire was from Xand Y .
    Hits on Kormoran disabled the engine room and wireless office caused a major fire from a burst oil tank-- she was a diesel driven vessel ,electrical generation was destroyed also.

    The crew abandoned ship due to the fire getting close to the mines carried on board the lifesaving gear was damaged so the germans had to make do . Kormoran blew up and sank just after midnight .
    Kormoran had 80 casualties killed or drowned.
  13. A LEANDER Class would be fortunate to survive just one torpedo hit beneath the forward turrets. The only people who would know why she closed to that range seem to have been lost on the bridge very early in the action. Whatever the reasoning was, a brave show. May they rest well.

  14. Jack77 underestimates the discipline exerted in an isolated POW camp among Kreigsmarine survivors. Survivors were told their hopes of returning home depended on a united front.
    Remember, at that time and for some time after, 'they' were winning; also the victories by their Japanese Allies, must have been heartening to them.
    I was serving in that area and remember how it was; but do agree that, in the end, the broadcast story was just that, unsubstantiated.

    Can assure Passed_over_Loggie that they do rest well, if the Memorial on the WA coast at Geraldton, is any guide. Seeing it at sunset with the gulls wheeling overhead, affected us oldies. Not many ships have such an impressive memorial.

  15. At the time maybe Kriegsmarine discipline, coupled with the fact that they were winning, could have kept the survivors quiet if there was anything dodgy about the action. However, in the 60 odd years since, and human nature being what it is, I reckon someone would have talked had there been something to hide.

    Much as we may not like to admit it, the best explanation is that Capt. Burnett made a mistake and it cost him and his men dearly.
  16. The Sydney WAS an RN ship, thats why she had HMAS on the fcuking cap tally. Her Majesties Ship is what it stood for, Australian or otherwise. Good fcuking grief. :roll:
  18. Jack77

    The best explanation? or is it the one that needs the least thought. The fact is that none of us know. I do find it distasteful that we can happily lay blame on a, probably, brave and skilled seaman. How often have air accidents been credited to pilot error when the poor sod is no longer around to explain the true events? A Chinook on a certain Scottish Island springs to mind. If we don't know, lets not assume at the expense of someone's good name
  19. Loggie the Sydney obviously sank --no known survivors. Last sighting and details of events were supplied by the adversary -the enemy.
    In this case I think that Jack77 is stating the obvious -----the CO is always held responsible for the actions of his crew and loss of one of HM ships!!

    As for Dabs posts --------- :roll: :roll: :roll:
  20. I don't recall calling into question Capt. Burnetts courage and skill. All we have to go on is the statements by the German survivors and unless there is some new evidence to suggest some other reason for Sydneys loss then it would appear that Sydney made a mistake in closing an unidentified ship.

    If there is any new, more plausible explantion then I would be keen to hear it.

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