HMAS Sydney 11


HMAS Sydney 11 – Modified Leander Class Light Cruiser

11cm x 12cm x 31cm



The battle between the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney and the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran was a single ship action that occurred on 19 November 1941 off the coast of Western Australia. Sydney with captain Joseph Burnett commanding and the Kormoran, under Fregattenkapitan (Commander) Theodor Detmers, encountered each other approximately 106 nautical miles off Dirk Hartog Island. Both ships were destroyed in the half hour engagement.

From 24 November, after Sydney failed to return to port, air and sea searches were conducted. Boats and rafts carrying survivors from Kormoran were recovered at sea, while others made landfall north of Canarvon: 318 of 399 personnel on Kormoran survived. While debris from Sydney was found, there were no survivors from the 645 strong complement. It was the largest loss of life in the history of the Royal Australian Navy, the largest Allied warship lost with all hands during World War 11 and a major blow to Australian wartime morale. Australian authorities learned of Sydney’s fate from the surviving Kormoron personnel, who were held in prisoner of war camps until the end of the war. The exact location of the two wrecks remained unverified until 2008.

Controversy has often surrounded the battle, especially in the years before the two wrecks were located in 2008. How and why the purpose built warship like Sydney was defeated by  a modified merchant vessel like Kormoron was the subject of speculation, with numerous books on the subject, as well as two official reports by Government inquiries (published in 1999 and 2009 respectively). According to German accounts – which were assessed as truthful and generally accurate by Australian interrogators during the War, as well as most subsequent analysis – Sydney approached so close to Kormoran that the Australian cruiser lost the advantage of heavier armour and superior gun range. Nevertheless several post war publications have alleged that Sydney’s loss had been the subject of an extensive cover-up, that the Germans had not followed the laws of war, that Australian survivors were massacred following the battle, or that the Empire of Japan had been secretly involved in the action (before officially declaring war in December). No evidence has been found to support any of these theories.

Modified Leander Class Light Cruiser

Commissioned                                  24 September 1935

Nicknames                                          “Stormy Petrel” and “Grey Gladiator”

Length                                                  171 m

Displacement                                    7198 Tons

Complement                                     33 Officers and 557 Sailors and 4 RAAF

Aircraft                                                 1 x Supernarine Walrus


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