HMAS Sydney and Kormeran found
March 16, 2008 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Sailing from Sumatra back to Fremantle in November 1941, the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney encountered a Dutch freighter off the West Australian coast. The freighter turned out to be the disguised German mercantile raider Kormoran. After an ensuing fight, the Sydney went down with all hands, the reasons for which have been debated ever since. First the Kormoran, then over night the Sydney have been found by research organisation, Finding Sydney Foundation.
posted by mattoxic (21 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This was like "news of the day" this morning, which revealed my ignorance of the whole matter, as it seems finding the HMAS Sydney is something Very Important. So I'm gonna use your post to discover exactly why...
posted by Jimbob at 4:16 PM on March 16, 2008

Yeah, I was kind of ignorant on the whole importance of this issue too. I read a bit, and as I see it, it's important because it was one of our naval ships that went down fighting the good fight and dissapeared with all hands on board.

Yes, one of our ships went down while fighting the evil enemy and as a result we lost all our sons and daughters on board, and we can't even find them and give them a proper send off. I can see how that would be very important to many people, especially any surviving relatives.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:21 PM on March 16, 2008

This is one of the great unsolved mysteries of World War II. Finding the Sydney is something like finding Jimmy Hoffa's grave. For a good introduction to the story, check out this series of posts by Rob Farley: Part I, the Sydney; Part II, the Kormoran; Part III, the battle and Part IV, the aftermath.
posted by Zonker at 4:54 PM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

One of the great unsolved mysteries of World War II?!??

It's the freaking Sydney!

The sailors were obviously too busy discussing real estate; or how they saw a celebrity hairdresser whilst sipping a kaffir lime caiparinhajito at that minimalistic thai fusion restaurant where they to the *best* baby garlic & virgin pomegranate aioli pad thai risotto; or else fabulously dressed up & lip synching to Abba to notice that pesky little German ship sneaking and firing at them - you know, out of jealousy or something.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:35 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

For all you Xenobobe Aussiephobe Americans:

The whereabouts of Sydney is sorta on a par with Flight 19. Er, without the abducted-by-UFOs angle. Which, as we all know, is what actually happened to Flight 19.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:37 PM on March 16, 2008

I'm having fun playing Spot the Moron these last few days. Self important people on the TV and radio who pronounce "Kormoran" "cormorant" as in the bird.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:40 PM on March 16, 2008

Cor, morons!
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:05 PM on March 16, 2008

V.good, I'll pay that.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2008

uncannyo - it's the little icon like this [+]
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:27 PM on March 16, 2008

The Wikipedia article mentions conspiracy theories, but doesn't really list any different theories as to what might have happened to the Sydney. Can anyone fill me in?

It seems like the Sydney was surprised, got hit at close range with rapid-fire anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, and then took a couple of torpedoes. The ship caught fire and blew up.

Besides her final whereabouts, what's the mystery?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:51 PM on March 16, 2008

This happened on 19 November 1941? Nonsense, the war didn't start until the month after. </XAA>
posted by dhartung at 9:54 PM on March 16, 2008

Wow. I never realised just how huge this was at the time.

He says the loss of the Sydney came at a time when the war was not going well for Australia or Britain.

"To lose what was then probably the most famous ship in Australian history, the most famous warship - she'd done so much wonderful work in the Mediterranean during 1940, had come back to Australia, and within 10 months the pride of the Australian Navy had been lost with all hands," he said.

"It was just a huge shock to the Australian nation. And to lose it so close to shore so to speak, 100, 120 miles off shore, and then have no survivors - it was just mind-boggling."

Besides her final whereabouts, what's the mystery?

None really. Although the above article asks "why did the Captain screw up and get so close to a suspicious ship?"
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:59 PM on March 16, 2008

Oh, interesting -- it turns out there actually is a theory that Japan helped sink the ship despite not being at war yet. My quip wasn't far off, then.

I think there's some legitimate mystery here. It may possibly be explained by a combat-inexperienced commander failing to order abandon ship before his vessel was consumed by the flames, obviously unsatisfying to Australians. I think the history of the Kormoran does not bear out a deliberate execution of the crew, particularly given their own dire situation, leaving questions as to what they did with the bodies. (There is only one confirmed instance of that Nazi-movie staple, the machine-gunning of an Allied (Greek) crew in their lifeboats, and that figured into the infamous Laconia order.) So I think we're left with a mystery of how the RAN crew acted the way they did, both in the approach of Kormoran and afterward.
posted by dhartung at 10:26 PM on March 16, 2008

There's some mystery / conspiracy stuff regarding the possibility that a Japanese sub was involved (before Pearl Harbor); or that the Kormoran violated the rules of war (false surrender & disguising herself as a merchant vessel); and / or that survivors were gunned down in cold blood to prevent anybody telling about these alleged deceptions.

It is a little suspicious that there wasn't one single survivor from a crew of 645, especially so close to the coast. Wikipedia reports that "Sydney was...the largest vessel of any country to be lost with no survivors during the war"
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:36 PM on March 16, 2008

None really.

Woops. I take that back, then. UFOs I tells yuz!

One thing that did strike me as odd. Not a mystery, but more just annoying... The other day when the German ship was found, Mr Professional Wreck Hunter said something very similar to: "We always knew the mystery in finding the Sydney lay with the Kormoran. Find the Kormoran, and we know the Sydney will be close by."

The fah?

Why not just find the Sydney first? Sounded like total bumph to me. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sydney was already found when he was babbling that to the TV crews.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:07 PM on March 16, 2008

The reason Mearns said the key to finding the Sydney was to find the Kormoran was because a pretty good position was known for the Kormoran from the surviving members of her crew, particularly the captian, Detmers. The Kormoran's engine was out and they decided to scuttle the vessel, so they (the crew) had a pretty good idea where they were. They also gave consistent stories as to the Sydney's condidtion after the battle stopped (she was on fire from bow to stern, the bridge was completely gone, she'd been torpedoed and was down at the bow, limping away to the Southeast). So given a fairly good position for the Kormoran and a guess as to how far and in what direction the Sydney was headed, it was always to the goal to find the Kormoran first, and use that as a starting position to then look for the Sydney. Which worked according to plan.

/I'm posting from on board the Geosounder, as part of the sonar crew who found both vessels. And there's a great historian on board named John Perryman, as well as author Glenys McDonald, who has filled us all in on the details that are known. It's a fascinating story.
posted by Kaigiron at 4:52 AM on March 17, 2008 [24 favorites]

Thanks, Kaigiron, nothing like news from the source!
posted by Zonker at 6:17 AM on March 17, 2008

Where's the necklace?
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 8:26 AM on March 17, 2008

/I'm posting from on board the Geosounder, as part of the sonar crew who found both vessels.

Don't back chat me. I know boats.

What I really meant to say was: wow, thanks.

That first line was from a King Gee TV commercial. Too obscure?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:54 PM on March 17, 2008

Yeah, no worries. I just wanted to clear that up, as the media never seems to get anything right, and there's already enough controversy and confusion surrounding the loss of the Sydney.
And a lot of answers should be forthcoming with the ROV camera work coming up. It should put a few more pieces of the puzzle in place. But we can already say that the general story from the Germans was correct. And as I said, it's a fascinating story. A raider meant for taking out shipping vessels shouldn't have been able to sink a cruiser like the Sydney. But it did. And that's a large part of why there's so much controversy about it. That and why Sydney's captain took her in to close range with the Kormoran, who should have been quite suspicious.
posted by Kaigiron at 10:29 PM on March 17, 2008

Those Germans must have been hoch-funfing each other for the rest of the war.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:49 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

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