HMAS Sydney (D48)

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Royal Australian Navy
HMAS Sydney
period of service
Builder: Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Limited , Wallsend
Keel laying: July 8, 1933
Launch: September 22, 1934
Commissioning: September 24, 1935
Fate: Sunk on November 19, 1941 after a battle with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran .
Technical specifications
Ship type : Light cruiser
Displacement : 6,830  ts standard
Length: 169 m
Width: 17 m
Draft : 5.8 m
Drive : 4 steam boilers
4 Parsons steam turbines
72,000 WPS on 4 screws
Speed : 32.5 kn
Range: 7,400 nautical miles at 13 knots
1,920 nautical miles at 30.5 knots
Crew : 570
Armament: 8 x 6 inch - guns (4 × 2)
4 x 4 inch (4 × 1)
8 × 21-inch torpedo tubes (2 × 4)
Board aircraft: a Supermarine Seagull

HMAS Sydney (D48) was a light cruiser of the Royal Australian Navy namedafter the Australian city ​​of Sydney . She was one of three modified Leander- class cruisersbuilt for the Royal Navy and handed over to the Australian Navy in the late 1930s. The Sydney sank in 1941 in World War II after a battle with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran . The wrecks of both ships were only discovered in March 2008.



The cruiser was laid down in Wallsend as Phaeton for the Royal Navy on June 26, 1933 , but was bought by Australia during construction and launched as Sydney on September 22, 1934 . On September 24, 1935, the cruiser was put into service by the Australian Navy. It was the last of the modified three cruisers of the Leander class, in which, in contrast to the previous units, the engine and boiler rooms were again arranged in the alternating order customary for warships, which can be recognized from the outside by the two funnels (one per boiler room) was. In the first ships of the class, the boiler rooms were side by side under a single large chimney, followed by the two adjacent engine rooms. The alternating arrangement of the rooms was intended to ensure that a single hit at the interface between two departments or in the chimney could not immediately switch off the entire drive due to the loss of all boiler or machine rooms.

After its commissioning, the cruiser was used in the Mediterranean fleet and was also used in the Red Sea during the Italian-Ethiopian War . On August 2, 1936, the Sydney reached Australia for the first time and remained in Australian waters from then until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. After a few months of patrols and escort missions in Australia and the Indian Ocean , she arrived again in the Mediterranean on May 26, 1940 and there became part of the 7th cruiser squadron of the British Mediterranean fleet.

Mediterranean Sea

On June 21, 1940, the Sydney , commanded by Captain John Collins , had its first combat mission when it, together with other units, shelled Bardia . A week later, on the evening of June 28th, the 7th cruiser squadron encountered three Italian destroyers . After a short skirmish two escaped, the Sydney sank the destroyer Espero , which had already been damaged by other cruisers . After that, the cruiser was assigned to cover a convoy to Malta ; he survived several air raids and took part in the naval battle at Punta Stilo on July 9th . On July 13th he reached Alexandria again , which he left again on July 18 with the destroyer Havock to reinforce the destroyers Hasty , Hero , Hyperion and Ilex, which were operating between Crete and Greece .

The Bartolomeo Colleoni under fire during the Battle of Cape Spada

On the morning of July 19, the British destroyers reported that they had encountered two Italian light cruisers. The approximately 40 nautical miles distant Sydney and Havock then approached the battlefield at top speed and from 8:30 a.m. participated in the sea ​​battle at Cape Spada . The two Italian cruisers Bartolomeo Colleoni and Giovanni dalle Bande Nere turned on arrival of the Sydney and tried to escape the now superior British forces at high speed. The Sydney and the destroyers took up chase. During the persecution, the Bartolomeo Colleoni was severely hit by the Sydney several times ; At around 9:23 a.m., the rudder of the Italian cruiser was destroyed by a hit and it was unable to maneuver. The ship, which continued to fire but could no longer be steered, was sunk at 9:59 a.m. by torpedoes from the destroyers Hyperion and Ilex . At 10:37 am, the Sydney broke off the pursuit of the second cruiser because the ammunition of the front guns was used up to ten shells, and returned to Alexandria for ammunition and rebunker . During the battle, the cruiser itself had only received one hit in the forward funnel. On the way back there were several air raids, with a single hit on the Havock . On July 20, the association reached Alexandria.

In the following months, the Sydney was mainly used to protect convoys to Greece and for operations in the Adriatic . On July 27, she sank the small tanker Ermioni together with the Neptune . Shortly after the successful British attack on Taranto , on the night of November 12th to 13th, 1940, she attacked an Italian convoy in the Strait of Otranto together with the cruisers Ajax and Orion and the destroyers Nubian and Mohawk , with the four cargo ships of the Convoys were sunk. The Sydney narrowly escaped a torpedo from the Italian torpedo boat Nicola Fabrizi . After further escort missions to Greece and Malta in December, the cruiser was relieved of the Perth in January 1941 as part of the 7th Cruiser Squadron and returned to Australia , which it reached in early February.

The battle with the cormorant

Arrived in Australia, Captain Collins was replaced by Captain Joseph Burnett . Under its new commander, the cruiser was used from now on for patrols and escort tasks around Australia. The Sydney's last job was to escort the Zealandia troop carrier on its way from Fremantle to Singapore . Due to the rapidly increasing tensions with Japan , troops were moved to Malaysia to protect it from a feared Japanese attack. The Sydney escorted the Zealandia from Fremantle to the Sunda Strait , where on November 17, 1941 the cruiser Durban took over the transporter for the rest of the route, while the Sydney returned to Fremantle, where it should arrive on November 20.

Auxiliary cruiser Kormoran

In the late afternoon of November 19, 1941, the cruiser came across a suspicious ship on the northwest coast of Australia, about 130 nautical miles west of Shark Bay . It was about the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran , commanded by Captain Theodor Detmer , who was camouflaged as the Dutch freighter Straat Malakka .

The cormorant tried to avoid Sydney , which was far superior in terms of combat power, at top speed, but the ship had been sighted on the Australian cruiser. The Sydney caught up with it at her greater speed. The Germans responded slowly and laboriously to the cruiser's inquiries about the ship's identity and destination, in order to keep the distance to the rapidly approaching cruiser as small as possible if the camouflage should be seen through and a fight should become inevitable. After the cormorant had identified itself as Straat Malacca and indicated Jakarta as the port of destination , the Sydney requested the freighter's secret identification code. Captain Detmers then realized that his attempt to deceive the Sydney had failed and ordered fire to be opened at around 5:30 p.m. The Sydney had come to this point at 1,500 meters and was therefore the 2-cm and 3.7 cm in the area Flak enters. Then the cormorant opened fire.

Within five minutes, the auxiliary cruiser scored around 50 hits with its 15 cm guns and numerous more with the 2 cm and 3.7 cm AA guns. The bridge of the cruiser and the fire control station were destroyed with the first hits and the aircraft on board hit, the leaking gasoline of which led to a large fire amidships. After the first volley of answers, the Sydney's two front 6-inch gun turrets also failed ; the rearmost turret Y also fell silent after only three salvos with which it scored no hits. In addition, at least one of the cormorant's two torpedoes hit the cruiser at the bow.

The cruiser's last operational turret X , however, fired quickly and accurately; Hits hit the chimney and engine room of the cormorant and triggered devastating fires. The cruiser turned towards the Kormoran and countered course to deploy its starboard torpedoes. However, the four torpedoes passed just behind the auxiliary cruiser. At the same time, the Kormoran's engines collapsed and the ship was unable to maneuver. The rear guns fired until 18:25 at Sydney, which was retreating to the south and scored several hits, then the auxiliary cruiser had to be abandoned due to the out-of-control fires that were nearing the mine dump, among other things.

The survivors of the cormorants could see the heavily burning Sydney until 10 p.m. in the south and saw flames break over the horizon for another two hours now and then. None of the cruiser's 645 crew members could be saved.

Find the ship

A note dated November 26, 1941 from Secretary of State Frederick Shedden to the Prime Minister of Australia, John Curtin , expressing concern that HMAS Sydney was sunk.

The absence of the Sydney caused little concern at first in Fremantle. There could be many reasons for a delay, and since warships operate under radio silence during war , it was not to be expected that such a thing would be reported over the radio. It was also known that the Zealandia had also arrived late in Singapore, so there must have been a delay on the way. It was only later that it became known that the delay of the transporter was caused by an event after separation from the Sydney .

On November 24, the tanker Trocas reported that it had rescued 24 German survivors who reported a battle with an Australian cruiser. When the Sydney did not answer, despite the request to break the radio silence, the Australian Navy began to search for the ship. During the search operation 317 survivors of the total cormorant rescued, but one week after the fall of 300 kilometers from the cruiser Carnarvon just a single damaged Carley- liferaft found. The raft is now in the Australian War Memorial .

In February 1942, another life raft of the same type was found with the body of a white man on Christmas Island , 2,500 kilometers from the scene of the battle. It is generally assumed that this must have been a crew member of the Sydney , since, taking into account the current conditions, the raft type and the time of the find, no other ships are possible. In March 1943, a Sydney lifebuoy was found near Moreton Island , Queensland .

Public interest after the war

The loss of the Sydney was an enormous shock to the Australian Navy and the general public . Until then, the war was far away and was playing out in Africa and Europe - but now a converted merchant ship had sunk one of Australia's most modern cruisers right off its own coast. The Sydney was widely known for its successes in the Mediterranean; their disappearance after the battle, practically without a trace, aroused great interest in the fate of the ship, which continues to this day. The 645 fallen are one-third of the Australian Navy's total casualties in World War II and the Australian Navy's largest loss in a day to date. In the town of Geraldton , which is near the position of the battle, a memorial today commemorates the cruiser and its crew.

conspiracy theories

After the war ended, several conspiracy theories about the annihilation of the ship emerged based on the fact that all accounts of the battle are from the surviving Germans, whose credibility has been questioned. It has been doubted that a seasoned commander like Captain Burnett would get as close to a suspect ship as survivors reported. Also that there were no survivors from the Sydney , while 317 of 398 crew members of the auxiliary cruiser survived, seems highly questionable to the doubters. They found it unbelievable that a modern cruiser like the Sydney could be sunk by a ship as far inferior as the Kormoran . However, the armament of the Cormorant was on par with the Sydney, at least at a short range. According to conspiracy theories, the Sydney might have caught the cormorant by surprise while meeting a Japanese submarine in connection with preparations for Japan's imminent attack on Southeast Asia . When the cruiser then effortlessly sunk the auxiliary cruiser, it was sunk by the submarine itself. In order to conceal the Japanese involvement, all surviving crew members were then murdered. Among other things, this led to the fact that the life raft in the museum was x-rayed in order to examine it for any remains of ammunition, but nothing was found.

In 1997, a committee of inquiry from the Australian Parliament also dealt with the issue. He concluded that there was no serious evidence to support the conspiracy theories. The committee also recommended that the government should support any attempt to find the wreckage of the Sydney and the Cormorant , including with naval units and should this clash with other priorities of the fleet. On March 12, 2008, the wreck of the cormorant was located as part of the search, with significant participation of the American oceanographer David Mearns . The search for the Sydney was soon successful; it was found on March 16, 2008.

In addition, the corpse was to be exhumed on Christmas Island and subjected to a DNA analysis . However, since numerous documents were lost during the Japanese occupation of the island , it was extremely difficult to find the tomb. Apparently this succeeded in October 2006; however, the results of the DNA analysis are not yet known.

Discovery of the wrecks

The wreck of the cormorant was discovered on March 12, 2008 by a search team from "The Finding Sydney Foundation" at a depth of 2,560 m and about 241 kilometers from Shark Bay on the west coast of Australia in the Indian Ocean (coordinates 26 ° 5 ′ 49.4 ″  S , 111 ° 4 '27.5 "  O ). The site of the battle between the cormorant and the Sydney was identified on the basis of pieces of debris scattered on the seabed ; it is located about 4 nautical miles from the place where the cormorant was found . Shortly afterwards it was finally possible to find the wreck of the Sydney . It is a 12 nautical miles from the Kormoran at a depth of about 2 km on position 26 ° 14 '31 "  S , 111 ° 12' 48"  O coordinates: 26 ° 14 '31 "  S , 111 ° 12' 48"  O .

The discovery of the two wrecks was announced on March 16 ( Cormorant ) and March 17 ( Sydney ), respectively, by a formal announcement by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd . The damage that can be seen in the available underwater photos of the wreck corresponds to the detailed descriptions of the German survivors.

Both wrecks were added to the Australian National Heritage List on March 14, 2011 as national monuments .

Investigation report

Memorial in Geraldton

In August 2009, the Australian government's official three-volume investigation report into the sinking of the Sydney was published. It expresses a clear lack of understanding that the Sydney was so approaching the cormorant that the clear superiority of the armament and the speed of the Sydney could no longer be played out. In addition, the commandant of the Sydney should have classified the camouflaged Kormoran as a suspicious ship, as it was known that possibly camouflaged German warships, so-called "Raiders", were west of the coast of Australia in the Indian Ocean.

See also

Web links

Commons : Sydney  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. The Sydney Morning Herald, newspaper report Cracking a 70-year puzzle (accessed August 5, 2009)
  2. Official report of the Australian Parliament Completed Inquiry: The loss of HMAS Sydney (accessed August 5, 2009) ( Memento of October 3, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Newspaper report, The New Zealand Herald ID for sailor's remains getting closer (accessed August 5, 2009)
  4. Homepage of the search foundation
  5. Spiegel online article on the discovery
  6. ^ Announcement by the Australian Premier
  7. ^ Wreck of HMAS Sydney found ( April 1, 2008 memento in the Internet Archive ) - ABC News
  8. Article on Spiegel Online
  9. : HMAS Sydney II and the HSK Kormoran Shipwreck Sites , in English, accessed October 30, 2011
  10. The Loss of HMAS Sydney II final report of the official inquiry commission of the Australian government ( Commission of Inquiry Concerning matters related to the loss of HMAS Sydney II )