Wednesday 19 March 2008 by Mal Booth. 64 comments

The discovery of HMAS Sydney

The recent reported discoveries of the wrecks of HMAS Sydney and the German raider Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia have fulfilled the hopes of many people who for years have grieved, waited and wondered about exactly what happened to these two ill-fated naval ships.

002434 HMAS Sydney crew members look at photographs (July 1940)

The sinking of the Sydney is the most terrible loss ever suffered by the Royal Australian Navy. It occurred on 19 November 1941 after a sudden and disastrous battle with the Kormoran. None of Sydney's complement of 645 men survived. The Kormoran was also sunk, and 80 of its crew died. 317 survivors of the Kormoran's crew were picked up in the days following the battle.

With the deaths of all on board the Australian cruiser, the only accounts of the action are from some of the Kormoran's survivors. These circumstances have led to the circulation of many rumours, accusations and conspiracy theories. Perhaps the physical evidence recently found on the ocean floor might put some of these to rest.

At the Australian War Memorial the loss of life on the Sydney is commemorated primarily through the Memorial's Roll of Honour. The Australians who died are remembered alongside more than 102,000 others who died in the Australian armed forces in time of war.

In its collections, the Memorial holds records, artefacts, photographs and works of art that help tell the story of HMAS Sydney and its final battle. The most haunting of these is a life raft, known as a "Carley float", which was recovered empty 300 km off Carnarvon a week after Sydney was sunk. The Carley float it is so far the only piece of the Sydney recovered after the battle.

The Carley float on display in the Memorial’s Second World War Gallery.

It was presented to the Memorial in 1942 and has rarely been off display since then. It can be seen today in the Second World War gallery, along with other records and artefacts associated with the Sydney, the Kormoran and the men who served in them.

HMAS Sydney and the Roll of Honour

When HMAS Sydney was sunk on 19 November 1941, all 645 men on board died. However, a ship's complement usually consists of a mixture of personnel. In the case of HMAS Sydney in November 1941, 629 of these men were serving with the Royal Australian Navy, and their deaths are commemorated on the Memorial's Roll of Honour under the name of their ship. A further six men on board were serving with the Royal Australian Air Force, their job being to fly and maintain the ship's aircraft. They are commemorated on the Roll under the name of their squadron, No. 9 Squadron RAAF.

There were four civilians, men who staffed the ship's canteen. Three of these were Australian and they appear on the Memorial's Commemorative Roll. This is a form of commemoration which can include Australian civilians who have died as a result of wars or warlike operations in which Australians have been on active service. The fourth canteen worker was British.

There were six men on board who were serving with the British Royal Navy. Their names are commemorated elsewhere as they were not serving as members of the Australian Military Forces.

Further reading:

My thanks to Anne-Marie Condé, Wendy Gadd and Jennie Norberry who developed all the content for this post. Mal


Graham Silk

I would like to contact Geoff Berry regarding information about Stanley George Silk as he is a relation of mine.

Andrew Foster

To Leisa Tocknell Hi I'm Andrew Foster. Roy was also my uncle. I would like to catch up with family members as well. There aren't many of us left now.

Brad Henry

Hi Stephen, I have been communicating with the Minister of Defence regarding the Supermarine Walrus on the Sydney II, and received a response about it's final resting place. I have a bit of knowledge about that aircraft, and about Walrus aircraft in gereral. My father was in the Aircraft crew of HMAS Australia, and visited the Sydney on occasion. I have quite a few books with details of Walrus craft, and also stories my father shared with me. Before the attack, the Sydney thought about launching the Walrus to take a look at the Kormoran, and doing that would have discovered the Kormoran's disguise and saved the Aussie ship. They decided against it and instead went in closer to investigate the Kormoran and that sealed the Sydney's fate because it lost the advantage of both it's superior firepower and initiative. I know that during the attack, the Walrus almost immediately suffered a direct hit, and burning aircraft fuel spilled over the deck, causing a lot of damage. Parts of the aircraft have been discovered 300 metres from the Sydney, including the engine and forward part of the fuselage. The Minister confirmed that the remains of the Walrus are protected under the Historic Shipwreck Act. I can confirm that L2177 was the plane that was lost on 19 November 1941. L2177 had originally joined Sydney on 23 September 1940, was landed at Rose Bay on 21 February 1941 for repairs before re-joining Sydney on 1 March 1941 and was lost in Syney's action against the German raider Kormoran. I am happy to answer any other questions you have... I might also post this in the discussion Forum. I also have an interest in the Krait and operation Jaywick, as my dad's cousin (Andrew Huston) was on the boat during the raids on Singapore. Regards, Brad Henry...

Brad Henry

I am sure Ray and my father would have known each other and chatted during his visits to the Sydney II. My dad, Ron Henry, was a fitter/armorer on the HMAS Australia's Walrus, number 9 Squadron. Unfortunately my dad died just a few years back of Asbestos cancer, aquired from the HMAS Australia.

Michael McDonough

Stephen, I am the youngest son of Allen Vernon McDonough. He and Ray were very close during their training. Being both South Australians, and being in the Number 1 Course of the EATS both qualified for seaplane training. Dad spoke very highly of Ray. I believe Dad was the only RAAF Walrus pilot to survive the war, although being captured by the Japanese after the sinking of HMAS Perth, and working on the Burma-Siam Railway. He past away in 2004, 4 months after his 90th birthday, in Adelaide. I have other details if you wish, so feel free to contact me. Kindest regards, Michael.

James Oglethorpe

To Don Hill and others who have asked about the possibility of a Japanese submarine being involved. - If you examine the Sydney wreck photos you will see that they show every sign of the warship being sunk by naval gunfire and the torpedo strike from the Kormoran, consistent with the secret German battle report. The excellent book "Bitter Victory" (Olson) is the one to read to sort out the many red-herring theories that have been circulated over the years. - I can put one red herring to rest myself. In the 1998 Senate Inquiry (, evidence was presented that "When Kormoran left Truk, a Japanese submarine accompanied it". Very sadly, this evidence was presented (in good faith) by a reputable researcher who had received faked information created by the NZ author James MacKay. (I have published a paper in The Journal of Military History on some of MacKay's other forgeries, so I was able to recognise his fingerprints, despite the fact that he was not mentioned in Hansard as the source.) The researcher, Dr McArthur, later confirmed for me that MacKay was the culprit.

Gillian Lewis nee Diews

My Uncle Bernard Albert Diews was lost on HMAS Sydney. Does the memorial have a photograph of him? I also donated some HMAS Sydney items to the AWM in December 1994.The receipt no. was FR1803 file 93/0295. Items of particular interest were the HMAS Sydney 1940 Christmas Day menu and an original diary recording HMAS Sydney's daily activities from April 1940 to January 1941. Do you know if those items are on display at the museum? Also can you tell me what date the famous crew photo was taken?


For Gillian: The Memorial does hold a photograph of your uncle, Bernard Albert Diews, which can be viewed on our website at The items you kindly donated are not currently on display. However, The diary and Christmas Day menu can be viewed by visitors to the Research Centre of the Memorial. It typically takes about 30 minutes for Research Centre collection items to be retrieved. The group portrait of the ships company of HMAS Sydney after the successful action against the Italian Cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni was taken circa July 1940. The photograph can be viewed at


My Husband was a nephew of Lindsay Thomas Rowe Stokr Second Class W1813 and we are trying to locate a photo of him in his uniform if any can assist please contact us on Regards Leeanne

Nina Craske

Hello, I am related by marriage to one of the crew of the Sydney lost so many years ago. His name was Benjamin "Jack" Craske. He was my father-in-law's brother. I remember visiting Nan Craske and seeing a photo of Jack on her wall and being told about him and what happened. I'm sad to say that Nan passed away years ago and that she never got to know what happened, it was a sadness for her as for all the boys of the Sydney. I got to visit Geraldton and also Carnarvon during my touring time around Australia and it was just at the time that there was the beginning again of interest in the location of both the Raider and the Sydney. I'm glad for all the families that the answer has finally come. My children know a bit of their family history. We have the bood The search for the Sydney and it has sparked an interest in the rest of the family. Nina Craske.

Lyn Parkinson (nee Melandri)

My grandfather, Percy Ernest Vincent Melandri, was a Bandsman on the HMAS Sydney II at the time of her sinking. Does anyone know what the duties of a Bandsman were on a day-to-day basis and what the role of the band would have been generally ie I assume they would have played on ceremonial occasions but as this wouldn't be an everyday event I am interested to know what other duties bandsmen would have performed, including what duties they would have had during battle/action stations and where they would have been located at this time. I have a photo of seven band members, including my grandfather, posing with Captain Collins. Five band members are holding guitars, one a ukelele and one a cello. My grandfather is holding a guitar. Would these have been the usual instruments played by band members or would these have just been used for a particular occasion? I am also interested to know whether the AWM has any other photos of band members or any single photos of my grandfather as the above photo is one of only two that I have of him. Finally, I note that in several publications on the Sydney he is listed as 'Perty' Ernest Vincent Melandri. I am not sure where this spelling came from but it is incorrect. Hopeful of a response... Lyn Parkinson

jim roche

Hi I would like to contact Louise Genge Re. Lieut. Commander Genge I have written an article on him and the HMAS Sydney His older brother married my mothers first cousin I have a photo from Sydney Morning Herald Dec 1941 Regards Jim Roche

Helen T

I have a smokers stand - hardwood stand about a metre high, with a circular top holding a heavy bronze ashstray. It has a bronze tag on the wooden edge around the ashtray, on which is embossed 'HMAS Sydney Destroyed Emden 1914'. How does an artefact like this come into existence? Would they have been made to commemorate this first win for the RAN and to allow others Australians to share in the glory? Therefore, is it likely that such a piece of furniture is fairly common? I can't imagine it would have come off the ship itself. Its been in my family for over 50 years at the very least, and I am curious about its provenance.

Dianne Rutherford

Hi Helen, it sounds like you have one of the souvenirs made from wood from HMAS Sydney I. HMAS Sydney was paid off in 1928 and broken up in 1929 and sunk off Sydney Heads. Numerous souvenirs - from fruit and nut bowls, ash trays, match holders, tobacco jars and paperweights to specially framed prints of the Sydney - were fashioned from teak and other wood fittings salvaged from the Sydney before she was sunk. I am not sure how common the smoker's stand was. The Memorial bought the bulk of the teak from the Sydney to make these souvenirs, which were sold to the public in the 1930s. The money raised would have contributed to the building of the Memorial here in Canberra.