Wreck of H.M.A.S. Sydney Found Off Western Australia
Saturday, August 11, 2007 at 08:33AM
Malcolm Lambe

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HMAS Sydney
From The National Archives of Australia - On 19 November 1941, following a battle with the German raider HSK Kormoran, in the Indian Ocean off the Western Australian coast, the light cruiser HMAS Sydney disappeared, almost without trace. The loss of the Sydney with its full war complement of 645 remains to this day Australia's worst naval disaster and one of its greatest wartime mysteries. The only confirmed relics found were a lifebelt and a Carley life float damaged by shellfire. Of the Kormoran's crew of 397, 317 were rescued.

For twelve days the government maintained the strictest secrecy, issuing 11 censorship notices preventing the publication of details. When the Prime Minister made the first of two public announcements on 1 December 1941 he did little more than confirm the widely circulating rumours that the Sydney had been sunk. For the public the shock of the loss was accompanied by bewilderment that such a disaster could occur. A suspicion that information was being concealed was strengthened by the delay in making the official announcement despite widespread public rumour, by the lack of any real explanation when the announcement did come, and by the secrecy which surrounded the official investigation of the disaster.

Little information was officially released until 1957, when the official history of the RAN in World War II was published (G Hermon Gill, The Royal Australian Navy 1939–42. Volumes 1 and 2. Official History of Australia in the War of 1939–45, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1957). Despite the history's assertion that the story of the Sydney's last action 'was pieced together through exhaustive interrogation of Kormoran's survivors' and that 'no room was left for doubt as to its accuracy', its failure to answer important questions confirmed for some the suspicion of an official cover-up.

The controversy over the loss of the Sydney continued to trouble many Australians and in 1997 the Minister for Defence asked the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the loss of the vessel. The Committee, which was assisted by a historical adviser, received in excess 400 submissions, and took evidence at hearings held in most Australian capital cities. In its report, which was tabled in Parliament in June 2000, the Committee placed on the public record for the first time the findings of a major inquiry into the Sydney disaster.

A copy of the report is available at aph.gov.au/house/committee - it makes for fascinating reading. Amongst its conclusions are -

* although some believe that Sydney may not have been at her optimum state of battle readiness, the Committee felt that it was not demonstrated that Sydney was any more unprepared for battle than other ships of her class. The Committee found no documentary evidence to support the claim that Sydney was in need of major repair on 19 November 1941.

How the Sydney was Sunk
At about 4pm on November 19, somewhere west of Shark Bay, Western Australia, Sydney sighted a merchant ship about 20 kilometres away and challenged it. The other ship identified itself as the Dutch ship Straat Malakka. It was, in fact, the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran. According to survivors from Kormoran, Sydney closed to within 1,000 metres, and was surprised and overwhelmed when the crew of Kormoran opened fire with concealed artillery and torpedoes.
Kormoran was also badly damaged in the ensuing battle and had to be abandoned. Survivors from Kormoran reported that Sydney was last seen, heavily on fire and down by the bow. The ship and its 645 crew members were never seen again.

The 66-year search for the wreck of HMAS Sydney is almost certainly over.

A group of West Australians using just a grappling hook and an underwater camera last weekend found what they are sure is the Sydney. Their video film shows scenes of tangled wreckage over a vast expanse of deck, much longer than any other vessel known to have sunk in the area.

The search team believe a series of details clearly visible on their video - decking bolts, extensive radio aerials, steam tubes and signs of massive damage - all point to the Sydney. The wreck is off Cape Inscription on the northern end of Dirk Hartog Island in about 150 metres of water.

More here in The Sydney Morning Herald - a fascinating story.

BTW The Federal Government intended to announce this week a $2.9 million grant to a Perth-based group, HMAS Sydney Search Pty Ltd, to help find the missing wreck. If this wreck really is the Sydney, some of that money may go to this new group.

Update on Monday, August 13, 2007 at 08:34AM by Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe

From The Sydney Morning Herald this morning (and after watching the video footage I tend to agree - this mob haven't identified anything) - A wreck sighted off the West Australia coast is unlikely to be HMAS Sydney, sunk in a World War II sea battle, a deep sea salvage expert says.

David Mearns, who found the wreck of the British battleship HMS Hood, also sunk in 1941, said the sighting by amateur researchers last week was 65 nautical miles east of the site where the Sydney was badly damaged.

The location of the wreck and video footage of the sighting made it too soon to assume the researchers had found the Australian cruiser, he said.

"They've looked at a very, very small portion of a ship and there isn't anything that is specific or characteristic in the video imagery for us to say exactly what it is," Mr Mearns told ABC Radio today.

"I think it's a bit early for anybody to be speculating that it could be HMAS Sydney or the German wreck - Kormoran."

On November 19, 1941, the Sydney and the disguised German commerce raider Kormoran engaged in battle more than 100 nautical miles off the West Australian coast.

Both ships sank but none of the Sydney's 645 crew survived.

Survivors of the Kormoran last saw the Sydney moving away slowly, on fire and riding low at the bow.

Mr Mearns said it was unlikely the Sydney could have limped 65 nautical miles before sinking, and if so, he questioned why none of the crew survived under such circumstances.

"It doesn't make much sense that Sydney would have had a battle with this German ship, then after the battle limped away and steamed for another sort of 65 miles," he said.

"It just doesn't make much sense that in that sort of circumstance nobody got off the ship alive if they were fearful she would sink."

Mr Mearns said he often found other wrecks before locating the one he was searching for.

"This is a sort of shipping route off that coastline, so it's not unusual to find other ships that people haven't paid much attention to."

Update on Thursday, August 16, 2007 at 09:22AM by Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe

"Wreck Hunter" furious with Australian Government - here at The Sydney Morning herald

Update on Saturday, August 18, 2007 at 12:59PM by Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe

Voila! as reported in the Sydney Morning herald The Australian Navy has surveyed the wreck and say it's not the wreck of the Sydney. Told you so. For one thing it's only 30M long. So much for the claims of the West Australian wreck-hunters. Bunch of bloody amateurs. Don't they look silly now.

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