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The Search for and Discovery of

HMAS SYDNEY and German raider KORMORAN

 both lost 19 November 1941

HMAS Sydney (Navy Photos/Bruce Constable, click to enlarge)

In 2008, Jim Eagles recently sent me information on the search for HMAS SYDNEY. The full account can be found at  and if further information is required, you can contact the liaison officer Patrick Flynn at


To give visitors some idea of the sequence of events leading up to the finding of her and German raider KORMORAN that sank her, the contents of the emails Jim sent me follow:






Sent: Thursday, March 13, 2008 3:18 PM

Subject: HMAS Sydney search update



David Mearns


A few days ago I wrote about the rhythm of a search expedition - how a good rhythm consists of a search line followed by a turn to the next line repeated many times over with monotonous regularity. We are finally starting to get into such a rhythm and this bodes will for the location of Sydney. Excluding the time lost to technical problems and Cyclone Ophelia we have only been searching for less than 4 days so we are still in the very early stages of a search that I expect could take 30 to 35 days, possibly more.


One of the most exciting aspects in any shipwreck search, but particularly this one, is that the wreck(s) in questions can be found at literally any time. we have three different image processing computers and monitors displaying the sonar imagery in real time, in addition to one very large screen that we mounted in the survey room especially for this expedition. So everyone can easily monitor the results of the search and there is no chance any important targets can be missed. But just to be safe, we also review the images on our two off-line systems at the end of each line to be absolutely sure.


For a number of reasons I favoured the eastern side of the search box, which is why we are concentrating our efforts there first. We will be spending the next week searching there before shifting to the less fancied western side of the box. Unfortunately, the weather gods are still being uncooperative and we are expecting a surge of 25 to 30 knot winds tomorrow. We can't afford to lose any more time because of bad weather but we will just have to see the cards we are dealt tomorrow.


John Perryman


Yesterday was a good day, during which we received some tantilizing underwater side-scan imagery of contacts which were later assessed as being geological features. We completed our south-north run in the early hours of this morning and with our tow-fish streamed astern of us on approximately 4500 metres of cable, we then commenced our long turn in order to position ourselves for the next run down line number 9. Each of the survey runs are recorded and scrutinised at least twice by both David Mearns and an analyst from the Williamson crew to ensure that no contacts of interest have been missed.


Historical anecdote


HMAS Sydney's main armament consisted of eight 6-inch Breech Loading Mark XXIII guns, mounted in four twin barrelled mark XXI turrets. Two of these turrets were mounted forward of Sydney's bridge and main superstructure and were designated 'A' and 'B' turrets. The remaining two turrets were mounted aft of Sydney's main mast and were designated 'X' and 'Y' turrets. These guns had a maximum range of 24,800 yards at a maximum elevation of 60 degrees. In layman's terms they could fire a projectile weighing approximately 51 kilograms almost 22 kilometres which is roughly the distance from Central Station in Sydney to the city of Parramatta.



Glenys McDonald


Yesterday after our fire drill, I spent many hours looking at sonar screens. For a novice it was fascinating watching the geology, fault line and depressions as they appeared more than 3000m below us. We had a few heart stopping moments as interesting geology was scrutinised and dismissed.


The fact that we are out here searching is of paramount importance. We are here because of the hard work of the HMAS Sydney relatives and researchers who have kept this story to the forefront of the nation's conscience. We are also here because the Finding Sydney Foundation (FSF) Directors never gave up.


I think it only fair to acknowledge the amount of work the five volunteer Directors of FSF have put in, particularly since the Commonwealth funding was signed off in Otober 07, especially our chairman Ted Graham.


I know when I joined FSF I had no idea of the workload, and I'm a bit of a workaholic. it was with great relief when we welcomed our Project Manager, Patrick Flynn on board in mid November. The complexities of the tender process and the awarding of numerous contracts all had to be finalised expeditiously to enable us to be in the water in the optimum search weather window of the first quarter of 2008.


We are funded by many individuals and relatives of the crew, but obviously we would not have made it to sea without the enormously generous support of the Commonwealth Government and the Western Australian and New South Wales Governments.


Frequently Asked Questions


Where is the area that the engagement between Sydney and Kormoran is believed to have taken place ?


Exhaustive research by, but not limited to, The Finding Sydney Foundation, ship-wreck investigator Mr David Mearns and Captain Peter Hore RN, RAN Sea Power Centre - Australia, the University of Western Australia and the Western Australian Maritim Museum, favours a search area off Western Australia's Coral Coast. The search area will encompass over 1800 square nautical miles of ocean in approximately 2,000 m to 4,000 m water depth some 120 nm offshore from Australia's most westerly point, Steep Point.


Upon what sources is this conclusion based ?


In 2001 the Sea Power Centre - Australian sponsored a seminar to determine the most likely area in which the battle took place. Despite some disagreement amongst those in attendance, the northern position emerged as the most likely area for the engagement to have taken place.


To arrive at a search area of high probability David Mearns and Peter Hore conducted extensive research of existing primary sources regarding the battle. These included Captain Detmer's account of the battle and interrogation records of Kormoran survivors following their capture.


There are many theories about where the engagement between Kormoran and Sydney took place, however, the search area chosen is the only one that has any supporting evidence. It is for that reason that it has been chosen as the area that is to be searched.


What is the depth of water that the wrecks are thought to be lying in ?


The depth of water is very deep, somewhere between approximately 2,000 and 4,000 metres.


Why is the search focused on locating the Kormoran first ?


The search for the wreck of Sydney can only be conducted after the wreck of Kormoran is found. The simple reason for this is that the navigational coordinates recorded by Kormoran's Captain Detmers, and other physical clues such as the location of floating debris recovered by Australian ships days after the sinking, are all referenced to the position of Kormoran and not Sydney. While there is reasonable information about where Sydney may have sunk and thus where to begin the search for her wreck, this information is relative to the final position of Kormoran and thus dictates that the wreck of Kormoran is found first.

Once Kormoran is found the serarch for Sydney can begin in earnest.


What are the chances of finding Sydney ?


As with any search of this nature there are absolutely no guarantees of success. The best case scenario is that the search will be executed and the wrecks will be located. the worst case scenario is that nothing is found but the search field is narrowed having eliminated one of the most likely battle areas.


Why was the Finding Sydney Foundation selected as financial beneficiary of this grant ?


The Finding Sydney Foundation (FSF) is a not for profit group which was established as a foundation to raise funds with the sole interntion of locating the wreck of Sydney and honouring those lost in her.

Their alliance with the highly successful ship wreck investigator Mr David Mearns has seen them emerge as a group with the wherewithal necessary to mount a search operation.


What role is Navy taking in the search for Sydney ?


During the search the Royal Australian Navy will be represented by Lt John Perryman, who will be present on board as an observer and advisor on historical aspects of the action.

Up to and throughout the search, Navy will continue its close engagement and support through the Seapower Centre - Australia, which monitors the progress of the Foundation and advises Navy Headquarters of its progress. Supplementary weather support is also being provided to the search vessel by the Royal Australian Navy's meteorological section based in Fleet Headquarters in Sydney.


What does the search process involve ?


The search is to be carried out in two phases. The first phase involves using deep tow side scan sonar imaging equipment to sweep the seabed for any wreck site indicators such as debris fields, other seabed anomalies or the wreck itself. Should any of these indicators be found a more detailed sonar imaging process will be implemented that will more accurately identify the anomalies of wreckage fields discovered.


Subject to budget, phase two may commence. This involves deployment of a remotely operated vehicle to investigate and confirm the sites and to record video and photographic records of the wreckage field(s).


In the cast of Kormoran, the submersible will only be used to sufficiently identify the ship to maximise the search time for Sydney.


Who will manage the wreck sites should they be found ?


The wreck sites will be managed by the Dept of the Enviroment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) in accordance with the Historical Shipwreck Act 1976 (the Act).


What protection does the Historical Shipwreck Act 1976 offer ?


A wreck that is declared an historic shipwreck under the Act is granted legal protection. This means the wreck itself, any human remains, and its relics are protected from damage, disturbance or removal.


in addition, to further protect the site the Act allows the Minister to declare a protected zone of up to 200 hectares. It is an offence to engage in any underwater activity within the protected zone. The penalty for breaching the Act is a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for a period of up to five years,


Will the search team be taking any artefacts from Sydney ?


The Royal Australian Navy is the recognised legal owner of the wreck of HMAS Sydney. It is not planned at this stage to removed any artefacts from the wreck of HMAS Sydney II or HSK Kormoran. If removal of artefacts is considered, the appropriate approvals would need to be sought from the Dept of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA).





Sent: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 12:05 PM

Subject: HMAS Sydney discovery ?


While every congratulation should be made to the FSF group in their well publicised discovery we are a little concerned that an announcement has been made apparently on the basis of the SM30 images, the least sonar able to give a good image and before even the SM60 had been deployed for more higher resolution images became available or the ROV pictures being taken. I sincerely hope that the announcement has not been made solely because something was expected to be found there and there was something, without other possibilities being investigated or better images obtained.


The attached image - part of the sonar scan from the FSF, has what looks very much like a lifeboat at the bottom centre of the image. If the top of the image is the bow of the Kormoran then this lifeboat, if that's what it is, should surely have been either used by the crew, burnt in the fire after the battle or destroyed when the mines exploded. Other images published so far, few as they have been, also show a number of odd characteristics.


Let us hope that they are correct in their identification, but more accurate and detailed sonar images would be of great benefit in establishing the validity of the wrecks.






Sent: Monday, March 31, 2008 5:41 PM

Subject: Commission of Inquiry



CPA 078/08 Monday, 31 March 2008



The Acting Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard, and the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, today announced the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into the loss of HMAS Sydney II. As foreshadowed by the Prime Minister, a Commission of Inquiry has been established to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of HMAS Sydney II. The Hon. Terence Cole, AO, RFD, QC has been appointed President of this Commission of Inquiry. With the aid of additional information likely to become available as a result of the discovery of the Sydney II shipwreck, the Commission of Inquiry will seek to determine the circumstances surrounding the tragic loss of Sydney II with its entire crew in November 1941, following an engagement with the German raider HSK Kormoran. The wrecks of Sydney II and the Kormoran were recently discovered off the West Australian coast by The Finding Sydney Foundation. Acting Prime Minister Gillard praised the Chief of the Defence Force for establishing the Commission of Inquiry which would examine the 66 year mystery of how Sydney II was lost with all hands. “More than 600 of our nation’s finest sailors and airmen lost their lives and we still don’t know exactly how Sydney II met her end,” she said. “I hope that through this inquiry we have a better understanding of what happened on that fateful day. In particular, I know that this Inquiry will have special significance to the families of those who lost loved ones on Sydney II.” Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said Mr Cole was eminently qualified to preside over one of Australia’s greatest maritime mysteries. “I am extremely pleased that Mr Cole has accepted this appointment. He has a wealth of judicial experience and is very capable of undertaking this important task,” he said. “During his distinguished career he has presided over two Royal Commissions, served as a NSW Supreme Court Judge, Judge of the NSW Court of Appeal and has held the position of Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force.”


Media contact: Kimberly Gardiner (Julia Gillard): 02 6277 7320 or 0434 159 842

Defence Media Liaison: 02 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664 DEFENCE MEDIA RELEASE Issued by Coordination and Public Affairs, Department of Defence, Canberra, ACT Phone: 02 6265 3343, Fax: 02 62656946





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