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Remembering the deadly Sydney–Kormoran battle

In the newest edition of Traces magazine, we revisit the Sydney–Kormoran battle – a clash between two warships that ended in huge loss and missing wrecks. Both wrecks remained missing until 2008, when a new search uncovered their final resting places – 112 nautical miles off Steep Point in Western Australia, bringing years of uncertainty and speculation to an end.

What actually happened that fateful day? Let’s go back to 20 November 1941 – the HMAS Sydney (II), pride of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) after a series of successful battles in the Mediterranean, failed to return to Fremantle after escorting troop ship Zealandia. After several days and radio silence with no response, a search-and-rescue was launched by a concerned Naval board on 23 November. Little did they know that it would be another 67 years before they would see any trace of the ship again…

While searches were well underway by both the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and RAN, German seamen from the HSK Kormoran, a German Raider, were being discovered by either ships or air searchers. In total, 315 German men were rescued at sea – they would be integral in finding out what happened to the HMAS Sydney (II).

After interrogation of the German seamen, it was established that the Kormoran and the Sydney engaged in battle on the seas on 19 November, leading to the devastating loss of the Sydney’s entire crew. None of the 645 people onboard the Sydney were found – the only thing found was a single inflatable lifebelt. The search was called off on 29 November. The loss of the ship, with its impressive battle record, was a huge blow to Australian wartime morale, equivalent to 35 per cent of all RAN crew losses in World War II action – the mystery of its wreck location a source of grief for all the families of those onboard.

Want to discover more about what happened in this epic battle? Subscribe to receive a copy of Edition 11 of Traces magazine!

Manning the guns at H.M.A.S Sydney II. Image courtesy of State Library Victoria

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