A lot of you will know this story, but for those who don’t we will give you a brief overview.
The loss of HMAS Sydney II and it’s 645 crew members on the night of 19th November 1941 is still regarded as Australia’s greatest naval tragedy.
HMAS Sydney II was the pride of the Australian Navy Fleet and, although only 6 years old, she had already had many successful battles, including famously sinking the Italian cruiser, Bartolomeo Colleoni. After a heros welcome back to Australia in February 1941, she was then given the job of escorting troop ships to South East Asia, following an Indian Ocean route along the west coast of Western Australia.
Photo taken in Alexandria, Egypt after sinking the Italian cruiser, Bartolomeo Colleoni in July 1940.
It was on the return from one of these trips that the Sydney encountered the German Raider HSK Kormoran. To hide their identity, the Kormoran was disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel. When the Sydney tried to signal them and ask them to identify themselves, they purposely got it wrong and stalled in an attempt to appear that they didn’t know what was going on, as it was a widely held belief that merchant seamen were poorly trained.
During this time the Sydney had cruised so close to the Kormoran that it had lost its advantage of heavy armour and gun range. The Kormoran on the other hand was able to now catch them by surprise and at 5.30pm was said to have hoisted the German flag, dropped its disguise and begun firing, all within 10 seconds. Their first shots basically took out the bridge and command posts on the Sydney.
Within 5 minutes of battle both ships were mortally wounded, but the battle continued. The Kormoran ceased firing around 6.30pm and they watched the wounded and ablaze Sydney head off to the south, until it was seen as just a glow on the horizon. The Kormoran was also severely wounded and the captain ordered his crew to abandon ship and it sank about 12.30am.
Although neither ship survived, the Sydney lost all its men, but the Kormoran (a much smaller ship) had more than half of their men survive. Their men were subsequently picked up and kept in prison here until after the war, when they were sent home.
At the time of the sinking, the Australian Government apparently kept it a secret for 12 days before the Prime Minister finally made they announcement and the nation went into mourning.
For years the only people who knew the true story were the survivors from the Kormoran, but generally they were dismissed as being unreliable. Finally years after the battle, in 2008 the Sydney and Kormoran wrecks were found just off the coast of WA, 120 nautical miles west of Shark Bay in 2468 meters of water. It was found that these wrecks laid exactly within the area told by the Germans. The Sydney was found just over 12 nautical miles south east of the Kormoran.
Finding the wrecks would have brought closure to the families who never knew exactly how or where their loved ones had died. On 16 April the HMAS ANZAC took up position over the wreck of the HMAS Sydney II, carrying relatives of the lost crew members, for a special dawn service.
HMAS SYDNEY II MEMORIAL (Geraldton)
This memorial was constructed in honour of all the lives lost on that fateful night. The Sydney was very special to the people of Geraldton, having visited a few times during her career. The last visit to Geraldton was for R&R from 18-20 October 1941, just a month before she was lost.
These cleats had been used to tie the Sydney to during her visits to Geraldton.
This whole memorial is probably the best we have ever seen. The thought that has gone into the structure and the eerie set of circumstances surrounding a few things is very fitting for such an important part of Australian history. You can’t help but get emotional when you visit this place.
The memorial is set in a circular plan, symbolising totality, wholeness, infinity and eternity. It is set out in separate sections, all with their own meaning as shown below.
The Wall of Remembrance – These two walls are at the front of the memorial where you walk through. They are engraved with the names of all 645 men who lost their lives. This is a semi-circular shaped wall to symbolise the ‘encircling arms of the Nation’ welcoming home it’s lost loved ones.
The inscription in the black granite says “IN MEMORY OF THE MEN LOST ON HMAS SYDNEY II 19TH NOVEMBER 1941. LEST WE FORGET”
A ships propeller takes pride of place in the centre and is used as a ceremonial wreath laying altar. Above this hangs the eternal flame, in red and green, representing the ship’s Port and Starboard lights.
This museum has a great area dedicated to the HMAS Sydney II.
1:400 scale models of the Sydney (the larger one) and thr Kormoran
Some of the stories told in the museum make you realise just how short life is and just how much these brave men sacrificed for our freedom.
This was given to families after a loved one was lost
~Lest We Forget~