HMAS Sydney (II) - D48 WW2 "Stormy Petrel" motto "I take but I Surrender"

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About This Unit

HMAS Sydney (II) WW2

HMAS Sydney was the second ship to bear the name and one of a series of Light Cruisers armed with eight six-inch guns and built to the Royal Navy's Leander Class specification.  Other ships in the class in RAN service were HMAS Perth and HMAS Hobart and they were among the Royal Australian Navy's principal capital ships of World War II. 

Originally laid down as HMS Phaeton in 1933, it was launched as the HMAS Sydney in 1934.

It distinguished itself in the Middle East / Mediterranean theatre early in the war, notably at Cape Sparda where it played the principal role in the destruction of the Italian Cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in company with several Royal Navy destroyers.  A full account of operations is contained in the excellent HMAS Sydney Virtual Memorial which is attached as a link.

Its loss with all hands under mysterious circumstances in a duel with the German raider Kormoran, off the West Australian coast on the 19th November 1941, was a major shock to Australia and had a serious negative impact on the morale of the nation.  It also began a period in which the RAN sustained a string of major ship losses while fighting the Japanese who entered the war less than a month after the loss of the Sydney.

The ship's fate remained a mystery for nearly 60 years as both ships were lost, although there were survivors of the Kormoran.  The circumstances leading up to the engagement were not dissimilar to that of the Sydney v Emden battle in 1914, but the result was far different.

The fate of the light cruiser HMAS Sydney and her 645 crew was the cause of decades of anguish among relatives and speculation among searchers.  It represented a very large proportion of all RAN KIA casualties in WW2.

Only one body was ever found — a dessicated corpse in a sun-bleached life raft washed ashore on Christmas Island. The burial site was lost during the Japanese occupation of the island in World War II and not re-discovered for many years.  Until the advent of DNA testing, nobody was certain it had come from the missing warship.

The search for the Sydney was large, increasingly desperate and as time went on, despondent when it became apparent that she had gone to the bottom with all hands.  The mystery spanned decades until 2008 when the wrecks of Sydney and Kormoran were discovered 19km apart on the ocean floor off Western Australia.

South Australians lost on the HMAS Sydney (II) are commemorated on a memorial at Birkenhead near Port Adelaide.

Follow this link.  Birkenhead HMAS Sydney Memorial (  These names will be activated as part of a subsequent phase of the development of this site.


© Steve Larkins 27 Mar 2014 



75th Anniversary of the Sinking of HMAS Sydney - Nic Egan

The HMAS Sydney was a light cruiser operated by the Royal Australian Navy from its commission in 1935 until its sinking in the 19th of November 1941.

In the early days of the Second World War in late 1939 and early 1940, HMAS Sydney along with several other Australian ships was involved in the unsuccessful hunting for the German Pocket Battleship, the Admiral Graf Spee and the transportation of convoys through the Suez Canal.

Later the ship sailed to the Mediterranean to join the British and French navies in their fight against their German and Italian counterparts following the German invasion of Western Europe and the Italian declaration of war. For being a part of these operations HMAS Sydney was awarded the “Mediterranean 1940” battle honours. During its 8 month deployment, only one sailor was killed.

HMAS Sydney returned to Australian waters and carried out a number of duties including transporting representatives of all 3 branches of the Australian Military to Singapore for a secret conference between the British Commonwealth, the Netherlands East Indies, and the United States of America in April 1941.

On the 19th of November, the HMAS Sydney was off the coast of Western Australia heading towards Fremantle when at 15:55 a Merchant ship that identified itself as the Dutch ship Straat Malakka was spotted. The HMAS Sydney pulled up alongside the apparent Dutch ship and ordered it to show the secret call sign. Unfortunately, the Straat Malakka was not a Dutch ship at all but was in fact the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran in disguise and promptly opened fire upon the Sydney.

The two ships exchanged fire and both suffered damage. The HMAS Sydney was hit by a German torpedo as well as other gunfire and the crippled burning ship slowly sailed south, away from the Kormoran. Observers aboard the German ship reported seeing the burning Australian ship until 22:00 that night. At some point during the night, HMAS Sydney lost buoyancy and sank killing all 645 sailors on board.

Sydney's shells had crippled the Kormoran; the German sailors abandoned ship after it was determined that below-deck fires could not be controlled and that the ship would sink. 82 German sailors were killed in the battle, the rest were captured and taken to Fremantle for interrogation.

Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin officially announced the loss of the cruiser during the afternoon of 30 November. The destruction of Sydney with all on board was a major blow to morale: it was the largest loss of life in the history of the Royal Australian Navy, and made up over 35% of RAN naval personnel killed during the Second World War. HMAS Sydney was the largest Allied ship to be lost with all hands on board during the war.

The shipwrecks of both ships lay undisturbed until they were rediscovered in March 2008. They were placed on the Australian National Heritage List in 2001.

© 2016 Nicholas Egan


Emergency Response

The alarm was raised on November 21, 1941, the day after HMAS Sydney was expected to arrive at Fremantle.
No signals had been received. Nor had Sydney been seen by any other ships in WA waters.
She did not respond to radio messages asking for a status report.
Concern was growing for the light cruiser, which had become Australia’s most famous warship after a resounding victory over the Italians a year earlier.
Radio silence was an imperative and it was not unheard of for ships to be a day or two late..
But on November 23 a life raft — full of German sailors — was spotted by the troopship Aquitania. The ship did not stop, and was also running under radio silence for security.
The unexplained prompted a search, so six RAAF Hudson bombers set out from the RAAF Pearce air base. They flew out along the expected track of the cruiser as far as their fuel would allow — 480km.
Fast currents and strong winds were rapidly dispersing any floating debris .
But then news was received that German survivors had been pulled from a raft by the tanker SS Trocas. They reported having been in a fight with an Australian cruiser.
Two Catalina flying boats were diverted to WA to assist.
The next day the search was ramped up: At daybreak seven aircraft were dispatched along a corridor some 290km wide by 650km deep.
Nearby ships were directed to help in the search and were ordered to follow HMAS Sydney’s expected course.
Nothing was seen of heard of HMAS Sydney or her crew.
More Germans, however, were found in life boats or after making their way ashore.
The search would last until the evening of November 29.
By then it appeared the worst had happened. Sydney had been lost with all hands.

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