HMAS
Sydney
(II) - Part 3

HMAS Sydney (II)
Class
Modified Leander Class
Type
Light Cruiser
Pennant
D48
Builder
Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend on Tyne, England
Laid Down
8 July 1933
Launched
22 September 1934
Commissioned
24 September 1935
Decommissioned
19 November 1941
Fate
Lost in action on 19 November 1941
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 7,250 tons standard
Length 555 feet overall
Beam 56 feet 8 inches
Performance
Speed 32.5 knots
Complement
Crew 645
Propulsion
Horsepower 72,000
Armament
Guns
  • 8 x 6-inch guns
  • 4 x 4-inch guns
  • 12 x 0.5-inch machine guns, in three quad mounts
  • 12 x .303 Lewis guns
  • 4 x 3-pdr saluting guns
Torpedoes 8 x 21 inch torpedo tubes ( in 2 quadruple mounts)
Awards
Inherited Battle Honours
Battle Honours

Sydney Remembered

The loss of HMAS Sydney in November 1941 with all hands came as a tremendous blow to the Royal Australian Navy and the entire Australian community during a particularly dark period of World War II. Her achievements and proud fighting record are perpetuated in the warships named Sydney that have followed her and on memorials and cenotaphs throughout Australia.

Left: Chief Petty Officer Reg Bonner. Right: Petty Officer Allan Buchanan
Left: Chief Petty Officer Reg Bonner. Right: Petty Officer Allan Buchanan
L-R: Leading Seaman Fred Norman and his brother Able Seaman Charlie Norman. Both were lost in the action with HSK Kormoran.
L-R: Leading Seaman Fred Norman and his brother Able Seaman Charlie Norman. Both were lost in the action with HSK Kormoran.
Left: Sydney's aircraft pilot Flying Officer Raymond Barrey. Centre: Assistant Steward Lionel Rothbaum. Right: Able Seaman Richard Perryman
Left: Sydney's aircraft pilot Flying Officer Raymond Barrey. Centre: Assistant Steward Lionel Rothbaum. Right: Able Seaman Richard Perryman
Men from all over Australia served in Sydney. This image captures some of those from Tasmania. Fourth from the left is Stoker Bill Lowenstein.
Men from all over Australia served in Sydney. This image captures some of those from Tasmania. Fourth from the left is Stoker Bill Lowenstein.
Lieutenant Commander Richard Handcock, one of Sydney's engineering officers who joined the RAN as a boy seaman at the age of 16. A commemorative scroll was presented to the families of each of those who were lost in Sydney.
Lieutenant Commander Richard Handcock, one of Sydney's engineering officers who joined the RAN as a boy seaman at the age of 16. A commemorative scroll was presented to the families of each of those who were lost in Sydney.
Left: Chief Stoker Harry Gentles (seen here as a petty officer), Center: Steward Ronald Willis. Right: Stoker Richard Mogler
Left: Chief Stoker Harry Gentles (seen here as a petty officer), Center: Steward Ronald Willis. Right: Stoker Richard Mogler
Left: Petty Officer Cook George Fredrick Quinn (seen here as a leading cook), Center: Ordinary Seaman James Herbert Greenwood. Right: Leading Seaman R. Preston
Left: Petty Officer Cook George Fredrick Quinn (seen here as a leading cook), Center: Ordinary Seaman James Herbert Greenwood. Right: Leading Seaman R. Preston
A group shot of some of Sydney's petty officers. Identified in this photo are: Left rear: Petty Officer Henry Briggs, Left front: Petty Officer George Berry, Centre front: Petty Officer Bill Aylott. Front right standing: Petty Officer Otto Smith, Right rear: Petty Officer Oliver Webb. Petty Officer Richard Curtis can be seen at the rear 4th from the left.
A group shot of some of Sydney's petty officers. Identified in this photo are: Left rear: Petty Officer Henry Briggs, Left front: Petty Officer George Berry, Centre front: Petty Officer Bill Aylott. Front right standing: Petty Officer Otto Smith, Right rear: Petty Officer Oliver Webb. Petty Officer Richard Curtis can be seen at the rear 4th from the left.
Ratings from Sydney ashore in Alexandria in 1940
Ratings from Sydney ashore in Alexandria in 1940
Able Seaman Jack Davenport poses whith one of Sydney's ceremonial life rings prior to the outbreak of WWII (State Library of Victoria)
Able Seaman Jack Davenport poses with one of Sydney's ceremonial life rings prior to the outbreak of WWII (State Library of Victoria)

Finding HMAS Sydney

During the many years following Sydney’s loss, conjecture and debate surrounding her fate intensified rather than abated. Public interest was such that on 26 August 1997 the Australian Government requested the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding the sinking. In March 1999 the Committee published its report, with one of the primary recommendations being that the RAN sponsor a seminar aimed at establishing the likely area of the battle and hence the location of the wrecks of Sydney and Kormoran.

The Sea Power Centre – Australia (SPC-A) subsequently convened a Wreck Location Seminar in Fremantle on 16 November 2001. Regrettably the aim was not achieved as the seminar served primarily to highlight the many differing theories on where the wrecks might lie. Here the matter might have rested were it not for a volunteer group known as the Finding Sydney Foundation (FSF). Intent on conducting an in-water search for Sydney and Kormoran the FSF established their credentials with the SPC-A, RAN and ultimately the Australian Government. Confidence in the foundation was further inspired through its alliance with notable shipwreck investigator David Mearns, who had a successful record in locating deep-water shipwrecks including that of the famous Royal Navy battle-cruiser HMS Hood. This alliance aided the FSF’s objectives considerably and in August 2005 the foundation obtained partial funding for a search from the Federal Government. Other sizeable donations were obtained from the State Governments of Western Australia and New South Wales, and from members of the general public. The proposed scope of the search still exceeded the available funds, but after further lobbying an additional commitment by the Federal Government in August 2007 brought total funds up to $4.2 million.

Finding Sydney Foundation Directors L-R: Mrs Glenys McDonand, Mr Keith Rowe, Mr Don Pridmore, Commodore Bob Trotter, RAN (Retd) and Mr Ted Graham.
Finding Sydney Foundation Directors L-R: Mrs Glenys McDonand, Mr Keith Rowe, Mr Don Pridmore, Commodore Bob Trotter, RAN (Retd) and Mr Ted Graham.

With sufficient funding in place, detailed planning for the in-water search could begin in earnest with early 2008 set as the objective. David Mearns was confirmed as the search director while the Norwegian company, DOF Subsea, secured the contract for the search vessel, the SV Geosounder. The vital deep-water side scan sonar equipment needed to find the wrecks was provided by an American firm, Williamson and Associates.

Left: The search vessel MV Geosounder (Courtesy DOF Subsea). Right: Search director Mr David Mearns (Courtesy D.J. Perryman)
Left: The search vessel MV Geosounder (Courtesy DOF Subsea). Right: Search director Mr David Mearns.

The search team mobilised from Geraldton, Western Australia in February 2008 and sailed in early March to begin searching an area of seabed equivalent in size to the Australian Capital Territory. The first objective was to locate the Kormoran which could then be used as a reference point to find Sydney. Despite setbacks caused by equipment malfunctions and the influence of a tropical cyclone, the defined search box proved accurate and wreck of Kormoran was identified on 12 March. This discovery enabled David Mearns to further refine his search box. Four days later at 11:03 on Sunday 16 March the wreck of Sydney was found at a depth of roughly 2500 metres. News of the discovery was quickly communicated ashore and an official announcement was made by the Prime Minister, the Honourable Kevin Rudd, on Monday 17 March. What has been described as Australia’s most enduring maritime mystery had been solved.

With the location of both wrecks identified, the search vessel Geosounder returned to Geraldton where the search team began mobilising for Phase II of the search, obtaining imagery of Sydney and Kormoran using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Geosounder was fortunately equipped with a suitable vehicle which was soon being prepared for this crucial part of the expedition.

Left: The Geosounder's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) housed in the Tether Management System, or garage, from which it was lowered to depth before being deployed. (D.J. Perryman) Right: The front of the ROV showing its camera and lighting array (D.J.Perryman)
Left: The Geosounder's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) housed in the Tether Management System, or garage, from which it was lowered to depth before being deployed. Right: The front of the ROV showing its camera and lighting array.

On 28 March the Geosounder sailed again from Geraldton and returned to the wreck sites. Both wrecks were now protected under the provisions of the Historic Shipwrecks Act, 1976 and as such permission had first to be sought before the Geosounder could re-enter the area. Again the expedition was dogged with bad weather and further technical difficulties which had to be resolved at sea with only the expertise available onboard. These setbacks were eventually overcome and the ROV obtained its first images of Sydney at 15:10 on 3 April when its powerful underwater lighting illuminated one of the cruiser’s MK XXI 6-inch gun turrets.

The view from the ROV operator's control room when the first glimpse of HMAS Sydney (II) was relayed back to Geosounder from the ROV. Seen here for the first time in 66 years was Sydney's  'X' turret.
The view from the ROV operator's control room when the first glimpse of HMAS Sydney (II) was relayed back to Geosounder from the ROV. Seen here for the first time in 66 years was Sydney's 'X' turret.

The wreck was upright, and as the ROV was maneuvered along Sydney’s port side it became clear that, in spite of obvious battle damage, she was in a remarkably well-preserved state with little marine growth. The extreme depth and darkness in which Sydney lies is, and will continue to be, her greatest protector.

The FSF’s objective to locate both wrecks was achieved. More importantly the crews of both ships were commemorated by the search team with short services being conducted over the site of each of the wrecks.

Left: A number of cities around Australia have erected memorials to those lost in HMAS Sydney (II). The 'waiting woman' is a poingnat component of the Mount Scott Memorial in Geraldton, WA. Middle: Lieutenant D.J. Perryman, RANR casts a wreath from the stern of the Geosounder over Sydney's wreck. Right: Following the completion of the search expedition the RAN provided an opportunity for relatives of those lost in Sydney to pay their respects over the site of the wreck. There a brass shell casing, inscribed
Left: A number of cities around Australia have erected memorials to those lost in HMAS Sydney (II). The 'waiting woman' is a poingnat component of the Mount Scott Memorial in Geraldton, WA. Middle: Lieutenant D.J. Perryman, RANR casts a wreath from the stern of the Geosounder over Sydney's wreck. Right: Following the completion of the search expedition the RAN provided an opportunity for relatives of those lost in Sydney to pay their respects over the site of the wreck. There a brass shell casing, inscribed with the names of the 645 who died in Sydney, was ceremonially cast overboard as a permanent marker and memorial.

The data and imagery collected by the FSF was forwarded to a Commission of Inquiry into the loss of HMAS Sydney II, presided over by the Honourable Terence Cole. The Commission was appointed by the Chief of Defence Force to investigate and report the circumstances surrounding the loss of Sydney and consequent loss of life. Special commemorative services were also held around Australia on 19 November 2008, to mark the 67th anniversary of her loss.

Part 4 of HMAS Sydney's ship history showcases a selection of images provided to the RAN courtesy of the Finding Sydney Foundation that were taken during the ROV investigation of Sydney's wreck. These are presented, along with imagery of HMAS Sydney II that was taken during her commission, in order to place them in context and aid in their interpretation.

The Finding Sydney Foundation's discovery of the wrecks revealed much about the battle and lent support to the generally accepted version of events as recorded in The Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942 by G. Hermon Gill, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1957. Photographic evidence and video footage was subsequently analysed by experts during the course of the official Australian Defence Force inquiry into the loss of Sydney led by Commissioner The Honourable Terence RH Cole, AO, RFD, QC. Loss of HMAS Sydney II Inquirywww.defence.gov.au/sydneyii/.

The Finding Sydney Foundation is providing a unique experience accessible globally for those wanting to learn more about the human loss of HMAS Sydney II and honour the memory of the individual sailors through shared stories and images. The website located at Sydney Memorial (external link) features an Honour Roll with individual pages of information for each of the 645 sailors lost. Families are invited to submit stories, images and other related content to feature on each sailor’s pages.

The website also houses HMAS Sydney II historical information and an extensive set of archival photographs courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian War Memorial. Video footage can also be viewed. It includes previous commemorations; the search for the wreck; scenes of the ship and crew in Egypt (Jul 1940) after the successful engagement with the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni; the triumphant ceremonial welcome home march in Sydney (Feb 1941) and scenes aboard the ship taken during the months before her loss.

More Information

Additional information on the Sydney - Kormoran engagement can be found at the following links: