HMAS Sydney

Aydan D Casey

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Oct 1, 2005
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I also raise another possibility. Assuming Burnett and the Officers survived even if Sydney sunk, what fate would have awaited these men on land after suffering the ignominy of losing one of the RAN's best performing vessels to what was, in essence, a converted cargo ship. In addition, would I be right in suggesting Burnett's lack of command experience in wartime (Sydney was his first command) would have been detrimental to him. Also, how do we think the Sydney-Kormoran action would have played out if Captains Collins had been in command, instead of Burnett??
 

Michael Byrne

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Oct 11, 2006
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Dave - good summary of the arc to be searched and I agree with your take except for the upper range limit estimate of 25-30 miles. Presumably you're supposing here that Sydney sank around the time the Germans lost sight of the glow towards/on the horizon. As detailed in at least one of the better books, the time of the last Sydney sighting more or less coincides with the final abandonment of the Kormoran. The Germans would then be leaving the relatively high vantage point of the Kororan's deck and going into the boats at more or less sea level. Since the weather wasn't perfect, sea swell alone could account for the fact that no further Sydney/glow sightings were made after this time. And Sydney was last see headed away at approx. 150 deg. at 5-7knots. If her speed and course remained constant for the next 2 1/2 hours (until 22:00) it would place her 14-20 statute miles from Kororan - that's gotta be pretty close if not over the horizon to an observer at low level in a small boat.
Additionally, it's likely the Germans were far more occupied (and thus less observant of Sydney) in the small boats after abandoning Kormoran than than those observers who later reported Sydney's 'glow' towards the horizon while still on Kormoran.

All this is a round about was of saying - just because they lost sight of Sydney, doesn't mean she sank more or less then and there.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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G'day, Michael B!

I've taken the view that the flare-ups observed by the Germans were explosions on Sydney and very likely marked her end. The complete absence of survivors suggests to me that her end was very sudden and violent, like that of HMS Hood.

On the other hand, you may be correct. Perhaps Sydney lasted until she was simply too far away to be observed, especially from the height of a boat.

It's going to be fun to find out which of us, if either, is right. Let's hope we don't have to wait too long.
 

Michael Byrne

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Oct 11, 2006
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Hi Dave

Yes - the flare-ups could well have marked the end of Sydney, but I still lean slightly towards the sudden capsize theory, although it's pretty much speculation based on flimsy evidence:-

If the fires had reached the main magazines my thinking is that you'd probably see a single massive explosion (a la Hood). My guess is this would probably be seen and described as something more dramatic than a 'flare-up' by the Germans - although obviously distance may have reduced the spectacle and of course there might be differences in emphasis in the translation of 'flare-up'. Another point is that sinking due to magazine explosion is a very messy business - you'd expect to see large oil slicks and a lot of floating debris. This would certainly be dispersed by the currents to some extent over the following days but you'd have thought more would be visible than found at the time of the search.

It'll be very interesting to see what condition she's in when she's eventually found.
 

Michael Byrne

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Oct 11, 2006
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Great news.
I'll be following this with interest.
If and when the Sydney is found there'll be many interesting issues that hopefully the state and position of the wreck will be able to resolve - the accuracy of German reports, ultimate cause(s) of the sinking (our speculations above) and how far she made it from Kormoran before whatever transpired happened.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Here's an article about David Mearns and the search, complete with a section of the dictionary in which Detmers recorded the details of the battle.

http://www.postnewspapers.com.au/20071124/news/002.shtml

Detmers actually intended to try to get his account to Germany, perhaps with a released POW. The message was not just hidden in the dictionary, it was in cipher also. The dictionary was found and confiscated, but a verbal version of the report reached Germany when Kormoran's doctor was released in a prisoner exchange.