|List||National Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (14/03/2011)|
|Place File No||9/04/001/0035|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
The naval battle fought between the Australian warship HMAS Sydney II and the German commerce raider
HSK Kormoran off the Western
Australian coast during World War II was a defining event in Australia’s cultural history. HMAS Sydney
II was Australia’s
most famous warship of the time and this battle has forever linked the stories
of these warships to each other. The tragic loss of HMAS Sydney II along with its entire crew of 645 following the battle
with HSK Kormoran, remains as Australia’s
worst naval disaster and sent shockwaves throughout the Australian community in
The battle between HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran had far reaching consequences for the development of the process of the defence of Australia. The loss of HMAS Sydney II was the first and most significant in a succession of Australian naval losses that directly threatened the security of Australia and the surrounding seas, having occurred only 17 days before the Japanese launched their attacks in Southeast Asia and the Northern Pacific. The aftermath of the sinking of HMAS Sydney II and subsequent warship loses was a major shift in Australian military and political doctrine from defending Australia through defence of the British Empire to that of direct defence of the Australian mainland and the development of a defence alliance with the United States.
The discovery and inspection of HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran in 2008 has enabled reconciliation of theory and known historical fact concerning the battle with the archaeological evidence present in the remains. This evidence was pivotal to the findings of the 2009 HMAS Sydney II Commission of Inquiry (Cole Inquiry) by providing physical evidence that allowed some circumstances of the loss of HMAS Sydney II to be better understood. It has also enabled the study of unique technological features that allowed HSK Kormoran to avoid identification as a warship when approaching HMAS Sydney II until reaching point blank range for the contemporary weapons of the period. The surprise achieved through use of these technologies was a major contributing factor in the subsequent destruction of HMAS Sydney II.
Most importantly of all, the discovery of HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran has highlighted the ongoing importance of these shipwrecks and their stories to the wider Australian community. The stories of HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran are not only valued by the family and friends of the servicemen who died but also by veterans, defence personnel and the Australian community in general. The location, interpretation and memorialisation of these shipwrecks also provides some closure for the grieving families.
The two areas that make up the place are located
approximately 290 kilometres West South West of Carnarvon and 211 kilometres
off the coast of Western Australia. The shipwrecks of the HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran are within the place and are located on the sea bed
approximately 22 kilometres apart. The place includes the surface of the seabed
and includes both the water column above the seabed and the airspace above the
Sonar and photographic imagery of HMAS Sydney II reveals a largely intact hull, sitting upright on the seabed adjacent to a field of debris measuring about 320 metres wide and containing two or three other large pieces. The approximate measurements of the shipwreck are 184 metres long, 18 metres wide and 16 metres high at the highest point. The location of articles is recorded at a depth of approximately 2470 metres
Sonar and photographic imagery of HSK Kormoran indicates there are four large pieces of hull structure. The two largest pieces are located hundreds of metres from the main debris field and approximately 1200 metres from each other on a line running roughly north-south. The largest piece of hull measures approximately 106 metres long by at least 20 metres wide and has been identified as the forward half of the ship that extends roughly from the engine room to the stem. It is sitting upright on the seabed with a height of approximately 13 metres. The location of articles is recorded at a depth of approximately 2560 metres.
The battle between
HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran on 19 November 1941|
The following account of the battle is quoted from the following official history by G Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1939–1942, Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series 2 (Navy), Vol. I (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957): 450–60.
“On the afternoon of 19 November 1941 the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran (Commander Theodor Detmers) was steaming on a north-easterly course off the coast of Western Australia, approximately 150 miles south west of Carnarvon. Just before 4.00 pm a warship was sighted and Commander Detmers turned the Kormoran west into the sun, increasing speed to 16.5 knots, the maximum available. A broken piston rod was soon to reduce this to 14 knots.
The approaching warship, the light cruiser HMAS Sydney, had sighted the Kormoran and increased speed to intercept her. She quickly began to overhaul the raider, approaching on a slightly converging course off the German's starboard quarter and flashing the signal NNJ ("You should make your signal letters") on her searchlight. It was not Kormoran's business to fight warships except as a last resort, as her best hope for survival was to convince the Sydney that she was an innocent merchantman. If fighting became unavoidable, however, the raider was best served by luring her opponent as close as possible before revealing her concealed armament. To this end, when replying to Sydney's signal, the raider's flag hoist was deliberately fumbled and then hoisted in a position where the flags would be obscured by the funnel and difficult to read. The Sydney repeatedly demanded that the signal be hoisted clear, and, when the Kormoran eventually complied, the letters PKQI could be discerned. This was the call sign of the Dutch freighter Straat Malakka.
While this was taking place the range was steadily closing. By 5.00 the Sydney was off the Kormoran's port quarter and drawing abeam to a position where the raider's armament could be used to maximum effect. Still hoping to pass as a Dutch ship Straat Malakka, the raider began to broadcast QQQQ ("suspicious ship sighted"). This message was received faintly, in garbled form, by the tug UCO and the wireless station at Geraldton, and, presumably, by the Sydney.
Sydney next signalled: "Where bound?", to which the Kormoran replied: "Batavia". Captain Burnett must have been still suspicious as the Australian cruiser's next signal was "IX". To the Germans this signal made no sense as, according to the code book, it meant "You should prepare for a cyclone, hurricane or typhoon". The letters were in fact the middle letters of the secret call sign of the real Straat Malakka (IIXP) and the correct response was to send the outer letters. This, of course, the Kormoran could not do.
It was 5.30 and the ships were steaming parallel on south easterly courses at 14 knots, the Australian cruiser abeam of the raider at a range of 1500 metres, a perfect target. The Sydney's fate was sealed when she flashed to the Kormoran: "Show your secret sign." Detmers now had no choice but to fight. The Kormoran hoisted the German ensign, uncovered her armament and opened fire. Two ranging shots pitched short and over respectively then a full salvo hit, smashing into the Sydney's bridge structure and director tower. Simultaneously, the Kormoran fired two torpedoes. Her automatic 2-centimetre anti-aircraft guns and rapid firing 3.7-centimetre anti-tank guns played onto the cruiser's bridge and also amidships, where the two port four-inch guns of the secondary armament and the torpedo tubes were mounted.
The Sydney replied with a salvo from her six-inch guns that tore over the Kormoran. However, the cruiser's forward turrets were knocked out by the raider's third and fourth salvoes, then the fifth caught the Sydney's aircraft on the catapult, wrecking it and spreading burning fuel over the ship amidships. About this time the Sydney's after turrets came into action, firing in local control. Y turret fired two or three unsuccessful salvoes before falling silent but X turret opened a rapid and accurate fire which hit the Kormoran in the funnel, engine room and electrical installations, starting uncontrollable fires. Shortly after this, one of the raider's torpedoes hit the Sydney abreast her forward turrets. Within five minutes of the commencement of the action both ships were mortally wounded.
The Sydney, down by the bow, turned sharply to port onto a southerly course as if to ram the Kormoran or to bring her starboard torpedo tubes to bear. She passed close astern, under fire from the raider's after guns At 5.45 pm, as the range opened, the cruiser fired her four starboard torpedoes at the raider, all of which narrowly missed astern. About the same time the Kormoran's engines broke down.
As the Sydney struggled off to the south she was hit repeatedly by the Kormoran's port side guns and at 6.00 the raider fired a torpedo from her port underwater tube which missed. The Kormoran continued to fire at the Sydney until 6.25, by which time her own engine room was wrecked and uncontrollably ablaze. As a raider she was finished and, mindful of her full cargo of mines, Detmers ordered her abandoned. As the crew left the Kormoran scuttling charges were set. They were fired at midnight when the last of the crew had departed. At 12.30 the mines exploded and the Kormoran sank. Of her crew of 393 officers and men, 78 lost their lives, either in the action or the sea afterwards. Two captured Chinese were also killed. The Sydney was last seen about ten miles away, well ablaze and limping off into the gathering evening. Her glare could be distinguished until 10.00 and then only occasional flickering which had ceased by midnight”.
Of HMAS Sydney’s total complement of 645 officer and men, none survived. The only material evidence known to have been recovered from Sydney at the time was an Australian naval-type Carley life raft recovered eight days after the action by HMAS Heros, and an Australian naval-pattern lifebelt recovered by HMAS Wyrallah. The Carley float is now preserved in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra
After the battle - Kormoran survivors
With the situation hopeless due to raging fires within his ship, Detmers gave the order to abandon ship and the first wave of boats left HSK Kormoran between 2000 and 2100 hrs. At that time all accessible lifesaving equipment in the fire-free portion of the ship was put overboard. During this phase a large rubber boat, carrying many of the German wounded was overturned, throwing some 40 men into the sea and drowning all except two. Almost all the officers and enough ratings to man the guns (around 120 men) waited on board while scuttling arrangements were made. Remaining lifesaving equipment consisted of two steel boats located forward in number two hold, but loss of power on board HSK Kormoran required them to be raised by hand, delaying their launch. At midnight, with smoke increasingly heavy on the mine deck, the scuttling charge was set and the last boat cast off. Half an hour later the charge detonated and the 300 plus mines carried by HSK Kormoran exploded and she sank rapidly, stern first.
At 1700 hrs (Western Australian time) on 24 November 1941 the British tanker Trocas, bound Palembang for Fremantle, reported by W/T (wireless telegraphy) the rescue of 25 German seamen from a raft sighted some 115 miles west-north-west of Carnarvon. This was the first positive evidence of a possible naval engagement involving the overdue HMAS Sydney II. Naval authorities immediately dispatched Royal Australian Navy (RAN) auxiliary craft with armed guards on board to rendezvous with Trocas. At the time of receipt of the signal from Trocas, air searches seeking HMAS Sydney II were already in progress. Unknown to the naval authorities, the transport Aquitania had also sighted a raft and rescued 26 Germans the previous day (23 November). Maintaining W/T silence, her command passed on no information of this until 27 November, when she informed the signal station at Wilsons Promontory in Victoria of her discovery. The air searches produced their first results early on the morning of 25 November. At 0700 hrs a lifeboat was sighted north-north-west of Carnarvon. Further sightings during the day revealed up to five boats in the area at that time. Two boats came ashore unaided on Quobba Station at the 17 Mile Well and Red Bluff some 50 to 60 miles by rough track north of Carnarvon. Alerted by stockman Ahmat Doo to their presence, Keith Baston the station manager informed the authorities and land parties were dispatched to apprehend these groups during the afternoon of their landing. The steamer Koolinda picked up a third boat, Centaur picked up one (containing Detmers) and HMAS Yandra another.
The fate of the Sydney and all her crew remained a matter which could not be easily closed and especially with no knowledge of its whereabouts and final fate. This uncertainty fuelled the creation of many theories about the fate of the Sydney and these are recorded in many books which have been written on the topic.
Finding the Sydney
On 17 March 2008 the Australian Government announced that the wreckage of both HMAS Sydney II and the German raider HSK Kormoran had been found, approximately 112 nautical miles off Steep Point, Western Australia. HSK Kormoran was lying at a depth of 2,560 metres and HMAS Sydney II was located approximately 12 nautical miles away and in 2,470 metres of water. At the press conference for the announcement the Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, made the following statements:
“This is a historic day for all Australians, and it's a sad day for all Australians, as we confirm the discovery of HMAS Sydney. Last night, the Deputy Chief of Navy Admiral Crane informed the Minister for Defence, Science and Personnel that the HMAS Sydney wreck had been found. I'm advised the HMAS Sydney was found some 12 nautical miles from the Kormoran, some eight nautical miles from the scene of the principal battle site, and at a depth of some 2470 metres. I'm advised that the hull of the HMAS Sydney, based on initial sonar findings, has been determined to be largely intact.
The Australian Government hopes that the discovery of HMAS Sydney brings some closure to the families of the 645 Australian Defence Force personnel who lost their lives bravely in this naval action in World War II. The Australian Defence Force have also informed me that they'll be using their own communications systems to make sure that the surviving family members of the crew of HMAS Sydney are informed of this discovery as soon as is practically possible.
This will be a hard day for family members associated with the Sydney. This is over 65 years ago, but pain and family loss, even at 65 years removed, is still pain and very deep pain. So, on behalf of the Government, I would say to all those members of the families of the brave members of the crew of the HMAS Sydney that the Government extends to them our condolences for the loss of these brave young men. Further, I wish to confirm that under the Historic Shipwrecks Act, that the Minister for the Environment has informed me that he is in the process of issuing an interim protection declaration in relation to both vessels; that is, the German vessel, Kormoran and the HMAS Sydney.
And again, I would thank the Finding Sydney Foundation and the crew members of the Geosounder, together with the Royal Australian Navy, for the support that they have provided to the very detailed and complex task which this has involved. I conclude by saying this, this is a day of - which begins a process of closure for many families of the crew of the Sydney. It's also a time for the nation to reflect on the bravery of all of those who gave their lives in defence of their country in this particularly bloody and brutal naval engagement.
Can I say, it's important - I mean, I wanted to have those who are conducting the search to respond to that first. It's very important to understand that this is a tomb, and there are 645 Australian soldiers - Australian sailors entombed there, and they include within their ranks six members of the Royal Australian Air Force. And I think the good thing about Australians is that we treat our war dead with respect and these war dead will be treated with complete respect. During the course of the week, we intend to, with our friends in Defence and elsewhere, look at how best the brave crew of the Sydney are best further commemorated as a consequence of this discovery. And we will make a subsequent announcement on that, because it's very important that we also deal with surviving family members and how these things are best done with decency, in a proper way.
Because the Kormoran obviously is a German raider, the Government advised our embassy in Berlin over the course of the weekend to ensure that the German Government would be appropriately informed. And as I understand it, those communications were made. Furthermore, yesterday morning, as an added precaution, we advised the German Ambassador to Australia of the same”.
Following the finding of the HMAS Sydney II and HSK Kormoran the Department of Defence established the HMAS Sydney II Commission of Inquiry (Cole Inquiry) into the loss of HMAS Sydney II. The Inquiry was briefed to answer the Australian public’s questions about why and how the Sydney was lost and with all her crew.
|Condition and Integrity|
The remains of the two ships have been found with
substantial damage resulting from the battle.
The remains of HMAS Sydney II
are relatively intact except for the bow section of the vessel that detached
during the sinking. Most of the major fittings and equipment of the vessel are
either still attached or are located in the surround debris field. In the case of the HSK Kormoran it is known that the ship was deliberately scuttled by
The place is made up of two areas approximately 22
kilometres apart, which are of equal size and cover a total area of 400
hectares. The place is located approximately 290 kilometres West South West of Carnarvon, Western
An area within which the historic shipwreck HMAS Sydney II is located, being an area bounded by an imaginary line forming a circle with a radius of 797 metres the centre of which is at the intersection of the parallel 26 degrees, 14 minutes and 39 seconds South latitude with the meridian 111 degrees, 12 minutes and 48 seconds East longitude as defined using GDA 94 datum and as consists of Australian waters or waters above the continental shelf of Australia.
An area within which the historic shipwreck HSK Kormoran is located, being so much of the area within the Indian Ocean contained within and bounded, and as consists of Australian waters or waters above the continental shelf of Australia, as follows *:
(i) commencing at the point of latitude 26 degrees 5 minutes 18 seconds south, longitude 111 degrees 4 minutes 10 seconds east;
(ii) thence east along the parallel of latitude 26 degrees 5 minutes 18 seconds south to its intersection with the meridian of longitude 111 degrees 4 minutes 38 seconds east;
(iii) thence south along the meridian of longitude 111 degrees 4 minutes 38 seconds east to its intersection with the parallel of latitude 26 degrees 6 minutes 36 seconds south;
(iv) thence west along the parallel of latitude 26 degrees 6 minutes 36 seconds south to its intersection with the meridian of longitude 111 degrees 4 minutes 10 seconds east; and
(v) thence north along the meridian of longitude 111 degrees 4 minutes 10 seconds east to the point of commencement.
* All geographic coordinates are expressed in terms of the Geocentric Datum of Australia 1994 (GDA94) as described in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette GN35 of 6 September 1995.
Cole, T. (2009). The Loss of HMAS Sydney II – Volume 1: Evidence and Conclusions. Attorney Generals Department, Barton, Canberra.
Cole, T. (2009). The Loss of HMAS Sydney II – Volume 2: Evidence and Conclusions. Attorney Generals Department, Barton, Canberra.
Cole, T. (2009). The Loss of HMAS Sydney II – Volume 1: Frauds, conspiracies and Speculations. Attorney Generals Department, Barton, Canberra.
Gill, H. (1957). Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Series 2 – Navy - Volume I – Royal Australian Navy 1939–1942. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Gill, H. (1968). Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Series 2 – Navy - Volume 2 – Royal Australian Navy 1942–1945. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Gill, H. (1965). Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Series 4 – Navy - Volume I – The Government and the People 1939–1941. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Gill, H. (1970). Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Series 4 – Navy - Volume 2 – The Government and the People 1942–1945. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
McCarthy, M., Ed. (2010) HMAS Sydney (II). Western Australian Museum, Welshpool.
Means, D. (2009). The Search for the Sydney. Harper Collins Publishers, Pymble, Sydney.
Accessed 17 March 2010
Accessed 17 March 2010
Accessed 18 March 2010
Accessed 18 March 2010
Accessed 18 March 2010
Accessed 29 March 2010
Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1940.
Canberra Times, 22 July 1940.
The Argus, Melbourne, 22 July 1940.
Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 1940.
Canberra Times, 23 July 1940.
The Argus, Melbourne, 23 July 1940.
The Argus, Melbourne, 24 July 1940.
Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1940.
Canberra Times, 26 July 1940.
Canberra Times, 27 July 1940.
Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 1940.
Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1940.
Canberra Times, 16 September 1940.
The Argus, Melbourne, 16 September 1940.
The Argus, Melbourne, 7 November 1940.
The Argus, Melbourne, 3 December 1940.
The Argus, Melbourne, 6 December 1940.
The Argus, Melbourne, 30 December 1940.
Sydney Morning Herald, 1 January 1941.
Canberra Times, 2 January 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 2 January 1941.
Canberra Times, 10 February 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 10 February 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 10 February 1941.
Canberra Times, 11 February 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 11 February 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 11 February 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 12 February 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 12 February 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 15 February 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 13 March 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 17 May 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 24 May 1941.
Canberra Times, 5 July 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 22 October1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 27 October 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 6 November 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 10 November1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 10 November 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 1 December 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 1 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 1 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 2 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 2 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 3 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 4 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 5 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 3 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 4 December 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 4 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 5 December 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 6 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 8 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 9 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 9 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 10 December 1941.
Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 11 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 13 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 15 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 15 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 17 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 23 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 27 December 1941.
Canberra Times, 29 December 1941.
The Argus, Melbourne, 10 January 1942.
The Argus, Melbourne, 22 January 1942.
Canberra Times, 24 January 1942.
Canberra Times, 14 March 1942.
Canberra Times, 26 February 1942.
Canberra Times, 14 March 1942.
Sydney Morning Herald, 12 March 1942.
Canberra Times, 14 March 1942.
Sydney Morning Herald, 16 March 1942.
Canberra Times, 16 March 1942.
The Argus, Melbourne, 16 March 1942.
Sydney Morning Herald, 17 March 1942.
Report Produced Mon Sep 22 09:41:22 2014