HMAS Sydney

Dave Moran

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Apr 23, 2002
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I have never placed any credence in the Japanese Submarine Theory.

Consider the following

(1) Not a single survivor from the Kormoran has ever suggested such a thing - not even when their old age approaches and there is a chance to make a bit of money for their surviving relatives does any old salt think " Hey, I know what might generate a bit of income from the Australian media "

(2) check out this superb, nay definitive site - the equivalent of our own dear Encyclopedia Titanica for accuracy and approach

http://www.combinedfleet.com/

Now you will note from the pages on submarines that the most likely suspect would have to be a Junsen type - since these would have the necessary range to reach the Australian coast from Japan.

Most likely one of these

http://www.combinedfleet.com/type_j3.htm

or one of these

http://www.combinedfleet.com/type_c1.htm

Now the scenario would have to run like this -

Sydney approaches Kormoran because she is acting oddly - it's generally agreed that Sydney approached much closer than was prudent, so there had to be something about the way the German ship was behaving that drew Sydney in.

The exotic theory is that Kormoran was in proximity to a submarine - the more prosaic is that Sydney did not realise Kormoran was an armed raider but instead believed she was a supply ship ( Kormoran was notably larger than other German raiders such as Atlantis and Pinguin ) and she was attempting to capture her as a prize.

But let us run with the exotic idea for the moment.

Well, firstly, you have to choose whether the submarine is surfaced, submerged, or submerged as Sydney approached.

If she was surfaced then Syndey would have gone to action stations the moment she spotted the submarine, whatever nationality, and proceeded on the assumption that the submarine was hostile.

Note that a surfaced Japanese submarine has a top speed of 23 knots - but Sydney could do 30 knots. So for the surfaced submarine theory to work, you have to accept that the Sydney did not rely on her superior speed or firepower, but in some way allowed the submarine to move into firing position on her. Not very likely, is it ?

Moreover one shell from Sydney, 6" or 4" guns, puts the submarine out of action thousands of miles from home. No commander, no matter how supposedly fanatical, is going to risk that.

So, let us assume the submarine submerges the minute Sydney appears, or was already submerged.

The commander of the submarine is now aware that a potentially hostile warship that may, or may not, be hunting for him is approaching. However, instead of doing the prudent thing and runing silent, deep and sneaking off - as submarines are wont to do - this commander, whose nation is not yet at war, instead decides to commit his submarine - top speed 8 kts submerged - to an attack on a heavily armed, and presumably closed up, major warship.

He might get lucky and sink the Sydney - he might miss. He might inflict some damage, and not fully sink his target.

Now, as I say, given that the enemy hasn't spotted you - for had Syndey spotted a submerging submarine she would again have acted accordingly, closing up, going to full speed and hauling off to maximum gun range on Kormoran for a start - would you fire ?

Moreover, who is to say whether Sydney is on her own ? She may have other ships in proximity - including destroyers. If you miss, or don't sink her straight away, you might find you have opened up a whole can of whupp ass.

I'm afraid the JST doesn't hold water once you think about it. More likely is the scenario put forward by Wesley Olson in Bitter Victory - Sydney thought she was on the cusp of seizing a major prize, whilst Kormoran played her hand very cooly.

No, sadly, I think they've found the body of some other poor soul here. Treat him with honour, but keep looking, I think.
 

Michael Byrne

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Oct 11, 2006
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Good logic Dave, and great links, thanks.
I agree that JST is far fetched, and unnecessary.

And I agree that Sydney was probably drawn in thinking that Kormoran was an unarmed raider SUPPLY ship, rather than a raider per se because of her size - larger than all the other known German raiders. It's the only rational explanation I can think of, and even then still seems a little imprudent. Doubtless there were other factors that we may never know that tilted Burnett towards the supply ship rationale.

Of the Sydney books I've read recently Olson's is certainly the best and most objective. Detmer's book about the Kormoran only gives a very brief chapter about Sydney which reveals nothing new.

Fascinating :)
Any updates on what's happening with the Mearns proposed search?
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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I've been reading a long article by Ted Gowan, who has been one of the keenest in following up on the mystery sailor. It's plain that the identification of the grave is not certain. The graveyard was not maintained for many years and it's subject to heavy rain, rockfalls and overgrowth.

It's emerged that the person found was shot through the back of the head with a small hand gun, possibly a Japanese 8mm. The bullet lodged in the back of the forehead. This looks decidedly like an execution, as Michael Byrne suggests.

I think the next step is to find out if anybody on Christmas Island recalls Japanese actions during the war.

I've periodically looked for news on the search, but I've seen nothing recent. Some time ago, a would-be searcher consulted me about the navigation of Kormoran. I pointed out the limitations of the methods of the day. The position of the action is very vague and the position of the Sydney wreck even vaguer. Maybe Mearns simply gave up through lack of data.
 

Michael Byrne

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That IS a revealing titbit - the fact that this unfortunate person was shot in the BACK of the head - I think this does indeed look like an execution. I suppose it's just possible that a man on a Carley float could be shot in such a manner, but he'd pretty much have to be face down/away from the gunman. And of course my suicide scenario above makes no sense at all. I agree with Dave Gittins above that this looks like an unfortunate person who's been executed.

There's also an update on Science Network WA

http://www.sciencewa.net.au/science_news.asp?pg=21&NID=897

which quotes:
"The dental characteristics of the remains are very distinctive, including a number of fillings and missing or extracted teeth."
which doesn't sound much like the reported "perfect teeth" from the 1942 examination.

I think they have the wrong body unfortunately.
 

Michael Byrne

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>>I seem to recall that the body taken from the raft was missing part of an arm. I wonder if the skeleton >>being examined is complete.

I think (if I remember right) it was just flesh missing from bones of the arm......
I took from this that perhaps after death the arm had dangled in the water. Must have a re-read !
 

Dave Gittins

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David Mearns is now talking of searching late next year. This has been going on a bit too long.

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,20741311-2,00.html

Michael is right about the damaged arm. Today I checked out the government inquiry of 1999. It shows that much of the evidence is contradictory. For instance the items in the raft were a pair of shoes, a canvas shoe or a pair of boots. The name on the footwear was possibly a firm that supplied the navy, rather than the name of their owner. It's all rather unsatisfactory,
 

Michael Byrne

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Oct 11, 2006
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I have to agree with you about the 'fairy tale' Dave - kinda reminds me of the "Alleged letter of proceedings - HMAS Sydney" that was supposed to have been washed up on the shores some time back. I can't believe quite a few people stayed silent over all these years about supposed burials, and nothing leaked out until now - especially with all the controversy over the years.
Hopefully the story should be easy to prove/disprove - 80 to 100 bodies in a 150m trench should be a lot easier to find with modern technology than the single body of the poor Christmas Island sailor.

The story mentions that a 2nd bullet has been found in this body (gives a reference to 'page 12' but no link - anyone have the details?), which kinda reinforces my thinking that perhaps this isn't the sailor's body. I'm doubtful that the initial 1942 examination of the body could miss 2 bullet wounds - at least one to the head, but I guess we don't really know much about it's state of decomposition at the time.

Fascinating stuff. Sounds like David Mearns is still looking for sponsors. Shame most of the World's millionaires don't share our fascination.

What do people think about Sydney's ultimate fate after the battle?

I think the lack of survivors points to a very quick "terminal event" causing rapid sinking. The two most obvious candidates I think would be a large magazine explosion or a rapid capsize after becoming unstable. At the moment I lean towards the capsize theory, even though the Sydney was pretty much ablaze amidships when last seen. My thinking is this: Since Sydney did not return fire with it's aft turrets after passing behind Kormoran (fore turrets already being rendered u/s), this would seem to indicate that all 4 primary turrets were out of action at this point. Although some smaller calibre fire and torpedoes were exchanged, the crew's intention was to disengage and the ships were pulling out of each other's range. Under this scenario - with the ships pulling out of range, firing no longer a priority and with Sydney's midships seriously on fire, I would think that the crew's utter priority would have been to flood the magazines to prevent such an explosion. And we know that they did have some time in which to accomplish this as Kormoran survivors say they saw "glowing" towards the horizon for several hours as they were abandoning ship themselves. This implies that although still ablaze, she hadn't exploded (yet??!!).
 

Michael Byrne

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Oct 11, 2006
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Mmmmm - thanks for the link Dave.

I still think we need to be very cautious about the identity of the body exhumed - in the context of whether it IS actually the body of the "Christmas Island Sailor". So far, as I read it (correct me if I'm wrong), we just have a grave position linking the exhumed body to the buried sailor, but it seems to me we have circumstantial evidence which casts some doubt on the match. As I mentioned above, even though the 1942 examination reports of the examination of the body have been lost, I feel that surviving contemporary reports mentioning the recovery would have alluded to "the sailor shot in his head" or something similar. But no mention.
My 2p worth.
 

Dave Moran

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Apr 23, 2002
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Dear Michael

re:-

I think the lack of survivors points to a very quick "terminal event" causing rapid sinking. The two most obvious candidates I think would be a large magazine explosion or a rapid capsize after becoming unstable. At the moment I lean towards the capsize theory, even though the Sydney was pretty much ablaze amidships when last seen. My thinking is this: Since Sydney did not return fire with it's aft turrets after passing behind Kormoran (fore turrets already being rendered u/s), this would seem to indicate that all 4 primary turrets were out of action at this point. Although some smaller calibre fire and torpedoes were exchanged, the crew's intention was to disengage and the ships were pulling out of each other's range. Under this scenario - with the ships pulling out of range, firing no longer a priority and with Sydney's midships seriously on fire, I would think that the crew's utter priority would have been to flood the magazines to prevent such an explosion. And we know that they did have some time in which to accomplish this as Kormoran survivors say they saw "glowing" towards the horizon for several hours as they were abandoning ship themselves. This implies that although still ablaze, she hadn't exploded (yet??!!).

Michael

I don't have my copy of Raven and Roberts British Cruisers of World War 2 to hand but from memory British light cruisers of the 1930s had one fatal flaw in their design which hadn't been noticed at the time - mostly as a result of the speedy re-armament that was going on.

Basically, there were wing spaces at the sides of the ships' engine rooms, very small compartments which by themselves, if flooded, would not have done much to endanger the ship. However, if the ship were already flooded elsewhere and then these spaces also became inundated with water they could massively affect the ships stability. What tended to happen was that after the initial damage the ship in question would take on a slight, not terribly dramatic, list and hang there for some time, long enough for a ships company to be evacuated or, more dangerously, for an unwary captain to believe his ship wasn't in immediate danger of sinking. Then the wing compartment would flood and there would be a speedy capsize of the ship. The lack of survivors and wreckage leads me to think this is probably what happened to Sydney.

Here's a report on the loss of the Perth which is illuminating -http://www.navy.gov.au/spc/history/ships/perth1.html .

What is interesting to note is how unstable she is after the third torpedo hit - she begins to go over to starboard, the side that was hit, by the first three torpedoes, but then one hits the port side, she rights herself and then goes over to port, where there would be less damage per se. I think we're seeing the same effect of a small degree of damage massively affecting stability, because that fourth torpedo hit a sensitive spot.

Note also the difficulty the crew had in abandoning ship - much of this is put down to the effect of enemy fire but I wonder how difficult it was to abandon a ship that was lurching from one side to the other.

Several other modern cruisers succumbed to this sort of sudden loss of stability during the war - the Dido class light cruisers, Fiji, Manchester and the like.

So in short, I agree with you, a sudden capsize overwhelming the crew's attempts to save their ship. Actually, that's another point that may have contributed - RN tradition was to make every effort to save the ship rather than abandon her ( viz Exeter after the River Plate battle ) and this sometimes ( HM submarines Thetis and Alacrity) contributed to the loss of life being higher than need be should the ship finally succumb. Recall my point above about cruiser commanders not believing their ship was in any immediate danger.

Thus the irony may be that the Germans survived because they abandoned their ship, whilst the Australians tragically perished because, as in the traditions of the service, they stuck with theirs.

warmest regards

dave
 

Michael Byrne

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Oct 11, 2006
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Some very good points Dave - I'd had no idea about the instability problem with British ships of that era when partially flooded. Certainly lends weight to the capsized theory - although it's still all speculation until (if?/when?) the wreck's found.

The state of the wreck should certainly yield a few clues - it's general 'intactness' would probably differentiate between our two explosion/capsize theories - although it's entirely possible some other circumstance brought about the Sydney's eventual sinking.

Anyone heard anything more about Mearns recently?
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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I've got a Google alert out for HMAS Sydney but there's nothing new. One article said Mearns is two million dollars short of having enough funds. I'll believe in his expedition when I see it.
 

Michael Byrne

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I think you were right in the comment that you made on the other Sydney thread DaveG - the 'certainty' factor is very low for success in any Sydney search and any potential sponsors are probably put off by this since their 'payback' for sponsorship is to ride high on intensive positive publicity should Sydney be found. Too long odds perhaps.
 

Dave Gittins

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In The Australian on 4 December, it was reported, "Families of some of the 645 men in Australia's worst maritime disaster are outraged at a corporate fund raising campaign which asks sponsors to 'adopt' a seaman's name in return for a $2,000 donation."

It goes on to say that the company concerned is HMAS Sydney Search Pty Ltd, which is trying to raise $4,000,000 for the search. Some relatives are complaining that the arrangement was made without consulting them. The article is not online, except by subscription.

The more I think of it, the more I think that the search will never be made unless the Australian government pays for all or most of it. People like David Mearns have to show a profit for their work, in the form of TV shows, books, etc. Products about a successful search would sell, though the story might only interest a fairly small, mostly Australian, audience. A TV show called How I Failed to Find Sydney is not going to make dough. Given the navigational uncertainties, I don't blame Mearns for not rushing into action.