HMAS Sydney (II) - Part 3
Modified Leander Class
Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend on Tyne, England
8 July 1933
22 September 1934
24 September 1935
19 November 1941
Lost in action on 19 November 1941
|Dimensions & Displacement|
|Displacement||7,250 tons standard|
|Length||555 feet overall|
|Beam||56 feet 8 inches|
|Torpedoes||8 x 21 inch torpedo tubes ( in 2 quadruple mounts)|
|Inherited Battle Honours|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Additional information on the Sydney - Kormoran engagement can be found at the following links:
- HMAS Sydney and Kormoran Documents - This link provides digital images of original documents relating to the HMAS Sydney / Kormoran engagement of 19 November 1941.
- Report on the Loss of HMAS Sydneywww.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=/jfadt/Sydney/Sydch_4.htm - This is a link to the Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney submitted by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to the Senate on 22 March 1999 and to the House of Representatives on 29 March 1999.
- Research Guide for HMAS Sydneywww.naa.gov.au/collection/a-z/hmas-sydney.aspx - This link to the National Archives of Australia provides further assistance to those interested in researching the loss of HMAS Sydney.