Sinking of HMAS Sydney II

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On 19 November 1941, the HMAS Sydney [II] was sunk in combat alongside the German auxiliary cruiser HSK Kormoran.

None of the Sydney’s 645 personnel survived, making this the most devastating loss ever experienced by the Royal Australian Navy.

The Sydney was a modified Leander class light cruiser, built in 1935 in Portsmouth, England. Almost immediately after departing Portsmouth she was instructed to join the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet at Gibraltar to help enforce sanctions against Italy relating to the Abyssinian Crisis.

After arriving in Australia in 1936, Sydney spent most of her time on training exercises, until the Second World War began.

Following the declaration of war, Sydney began patrol and escort duties in Australian waters, before heading to the Mediterranean to join the 7th Cruiser Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet.

 

: Group portrait of unidentified officers and crew of the RAN light cruiser HMAS Sydney after the successful action against the Italian Cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni on 19 July 1940
Group portrait of unidentified officers and crew of the RAN light cruiser HMAS Sydney after the successful action against the Italian Cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni on 19 July 1940. Men are crowded on the deck and stand in the rigging. Ships officers are seated three rows from the front and the only clearly identifiable figure is that of a smiling Captain John Collins, in the centre. AWM P00795.001.

 

Sydney’s most important action in Second World War was her involvement in the Battle of Cape Spada in July 1940, where she was crucial in the defeat of the Italian cruisers Bartolomeo Colleoni and Giovanni delle Bande Nere. This performance against the Italian Navy made Sydney the most celebrated ship in the RAN.

After returning to Australia to be refitted, she engaged in a number of patrol and convoy escort duties, visiting Singapore, Noumea, Auckland and Suva in the first half of 1941.

On 19 November 1941 HMAS Sydney engaged the German auxiliary cruiser HSK Kormoran, which had been disguised as the Dutch merchant Straat Malakka.  Sydney was critically damaged in this engagement, sinking with all 645 crew on board.  

While the Kormoran was also lost in the engagement, 318 Germans were rescued.  The fact that no Australian accounts exist of the battle led to many rumours, accusations and conspiracy theories, particularly due to the view that the Kormoran (a modified merchant ship) should have stood no chance against a cruiser.

Some of these theories were finally put to rest when the wrecks of both ships were discovered off the coast of Shark Bay, WA, in 2008.  

To read more about the Sydney, please see the Western Australian Museum website

 

Starboard view of HMAS Sydney at Alexandria
April 1940. HMAS Sydney at Alexandria. AWM 006400.