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Sydney file photo [7216]


Ship ClassLeander-class Light Cruiser
Hull NumberD48
BuilderSwan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend on Tyne, England, UK
Laid Down8 Jul 1933
Launched22 Sep 1934
Commissioned24 Sep 1935
Sunk20 Nov 1941
Displacement6,830 tons standard
Length562 feet
Beam56 feet
Draft19 feet
MachineryParsons geared turbines, single reduction geared 4 shafts
Bunkerage1,767.91 tons fuel oil
Power Output72,000 shaft horsepower
Speed32 knots
Range7,400nm at 13 knots, 1,920nm at 30.5 knots
Armament8x6in guns, 4x4in guns, 3x4x0.5in machine guns, 12x .303in Lewis guns, 2x4x21in torpedo tubes


ww2dbaseThe greatest tragedy in Australia's maritime history occurred during the Second World War: the disappearance of the HMAS Sydney and her full compliment of crew on 19 November 1941, an event tinged with mystery, was greeted with sorrow by Australians at the time, and has intrigued Australians ever since.

ww2dbaseBy the time the Second World War had ended, in 1945, there had been two ships named HMAS Sydney in the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) short history. The first had been a Chatham class cruiser that served during the First World War. She lay claim to fame when she was victorious as the first RAN vessel to engage an enemy warship. On 9 November 1914 she intercepted and destroyed the German light cruiser, Emden, in the Cocos/Keeling Islands.

ww2dbaseThe second ship named HMAS Sydney, the object of the mysterious tragedy, served in the RAN during the Second World War with comparable honour and distinction. Her wartime service began with equivalent success to the previous ship that bore the name HMAS Sydney. The light cruiser later to become Sydney began her existence in the Royal Navy, having been originally christened HMS Phaeton when she was launched five years prior to the declaration of war, then she was then transferred to the RAN and rechristened the HMAS Sydney. She was dispatched to the Mediterranean under the command of Captain J. A. Collins, where she participated in the first cruiser duel of the war, off Cape Spada along the coast of Crete. Sydney destroyed the Italian light cruiser Bartolomeo Calleoni, and damaged Giovanni Delle Bande Vere, attaining an equal fame achieved by her predecessor back in her homeland. After such a rush of adrenaline, she was ordered to return to the much safer waters of the Australia station, where she performed the less interesting, routine tasks of acting as a training vessel, patrol and escort duties. At 1340 on Rememberance Day, 11 November 1941, the HMAS Sydney departed Freemantle under the command of Captain Joseph Burnett, escorting the 8th Division aboard the Zealandia, bound for Malaya, to the Sunda Strait. There, Sydney rendezvoused with the British cruiser, HMS Durban on 17 November, handing Zealandia over to her care for the remainder of the trip to Singapore. Burnett turned his ship back to Freemantle, but by the afternoon of 20 November she had not returned to the Western Australian port. The District Naval Officer in Freemantle, Charles Farquahar-Smith, dispatched a routine signal to the Navy Office in Melbourne at 0940 on 21 November that said "HMAS Sydney has not yet arrived". The senior officers in the Navy Office were not concerned, the Zealandia had arrived a day late in Singapore, so Sydney might not arrive until that afternoon. When Sydney had not arrived after this, worry set in. On the evening of 23 November, Sydney was instructed to break radio silence in order to report its estimated time of arrival, with no reply. Hudson bombers assigned the task of reconissance were dispatched from the RAAF base near the Western Australian city of Pierce the following day, but no trace of the missing ship, or her full compliment of crew, was found. The Australian Navy Office in Melbourne, however, had received indirect information about HMAS Sydney. Nearly three hundred German Kriegsmarines had been found by the Australian ship, Aquitania, floating in liferafts in the Sunda Strait-Freemantle shipping lane. They later claimed that their ship had been sunk by a cruiser. Their ship, the auxillary cruiser, Komoran, had caught alight and had to be abandoned, but not before firing upon the attacking cruiser with shells and torpedoes, setting it alight. The RAN authorities determined that the cruiser in question was the HMAS Sydney, and she evidently ignited so quickly that her full compliment of crew failed to launch the lifeboats, accounting for the lack of versions of the action from the Australian viewpoint. The HMAS Sydney and HSK Komoran, as ships, were not just opposing warships belonging to belligerent nations in what was to be the final action for both ships, but Sydney and Komoran had diametrically opposed careers, the former achieved the greatest fame of all the RAN warships during the Second World War, especially after the action off Cape Spada, whereas the Komoran shunned the limelight. Converted from a freighter, Komoran's missions required a high level of secrecy, she would be out to sea in little known corners of the globe, for months at a time, hunting unsuspecting merchant shipping. To fulfil this task, Komoran often went in disguise so only the closest scrutiny could tell she was not as she seemed, when Komoran was sighted by Sydney, she was disguised as the Dutch merchant ship, Straat Malakka. The recently appointed Australian prime minister, John Curtin, was reluctant to further aggrieve family members of the unlocated crew of a HMAS Sydney whose fate was based was based on an educated guess, so he did not announce the disappearance of Sydney until 1 December. This delay, as well as the lack of accounts from the Australian viewpoint of the action, and even the confusion evident in the German accounts have fuelled speculation and doubt over the official retelling of the action. This has been evident since the first history, in 1957, of the Sydney-Komoran action, when the Australian naval historian, G. Hermon Gill, reconstructed a history of the action from German accounts, but wondered why Sydney's commanding officer, Captain Burnett, did not use his ship's aircraft, or keep his distance and take advantage of Sydney's superior speed and armament.

ww2dbaseThe next time the second HMAS Sydney was located was 17 March 2008. The Australian government announced that the wreckage of the Komoran and Sydney were found approximately 112 nautical miles off Steep Point, Western Australia, Sydney's final resting place being twelve nautical miles from the German raider that sunk her.

ww2dbaseW. Olsen, Bitter Victory: The Death of HMAS Sydney, The Australian War Memorial, The Royal Australian Navy, T. Frame, HMAS Sydney: Loss & Controversy.

Last Major Revision: Jan 2009

Light Cruiser Sydney (D48) Interactive Map


Aerial starboard view of cruiser HMAS Sydney, circa 1940Royal Australian Navy Captain John Collins aboard HMAS Sydney, 22 July 1940
See all 5 photographs of Light Cruiser Sydney (D48)

Sydney Operational Timeline

10 Nov 1932 The final design for HMS Phaeton was approved.
10 Feb 1933 HMS Phaeton was ordered.
28 Mar 1934 The British Naval Board suggested that HMS Phaeton, currently under construction, should be transferred to Australia to replace the aging cruiser HMAS Brisbane. It was recommended that the ship was to be renamed HMAS Sydney.
20 Apr 1934 The British Cabinet approved the 28 Mar 1934 proposal from the Naval Board, which suggested the transfer of HMS Phaeton, currently under construction, to Australia as HMAS Sydney.
22 Sep 1934 HMS Phaeton was launched at Wallsend on Tyne, England, United Kingdom, sponsored by Mrs. Ethel Bruce, the wife of the High Commissioner of Australia to the United Kingdom Stanley Bruce.
2 May 1935 Aging Australian cruiser HMAS Brisbane was recommissioned for the purpose of transferring a crew to Britain for operating the future cruiser HMAS Sydney (currently HMS Phaeton). Brisbane departed for Britain later on this day.
12 Jul 1935 Aging Australian cruiser HMAS Brisbane arrived in Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom with a crew for operating the future cruiser HMAS Sydney (currently HMS Phaeton).
24 Sep 1935 In Britain, newly constructed British cruiser HMS Phaeton was commissioned into Australian service as HMAS Sydney. Aging Australian cruiser HMAS Brisbane, which had brought HMAS Sydney's crew to Britain, was decommissioned from service and was prepared to be sold to Thomas Ward and Company for scrapping.
19 Nov 1941 HMAS Sydney was intercepted by German raider Kormoran 140 miles west of Shark Bay, Australia, with Kormoran firing the first shot at 1730 hours. Both ships were heavily damaged after the 20-minute battle.
20 Nov 1941 HMAS Sydney sank some time after midnight from the damage sustained in the engagement with German raider Kormoran; all 645 aboard were lost. Kormoran, likewise heavily damaged, was abandoned at 1900 hours and was scuttled three hours later; 81 were killed and 318 survived.
6 Feb 1942 A Carley float containing a dead body of a HMAS Sydney crewman was spotted off Christmas Island.
17 Mar 2008 The wreck of HMAS Sydney was found in the Indian Ocean west of Australia.
18 Mar 2008 Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the discovery of the wreck of HMAS Sydney.
14 Mar 2011 The wrecks of HMAS Sydney and German raider Kormoran were placed on the Australian National Heritage List.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. SHANE STEIN says:
15 Dec 2009 01:57:36 AM

looking for infomation on abel seaman 22350 william john bain if you can help he was my nan s bother
2. Ken Ireland says:
26 Apr 2010 05:23:26 AM

Looking for information on cpo Roy stafford,my grandfather
3. Bruce Brown says:
24 Oct 2017 07:45:50 AM

I am interested to discover if there were any Aborigines on the Sydney when she was sunk by the Kormoran?

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Light Cruiser Sydney (D48) Photo Gallery
Aerial starboard view of cruiser HMAS Sydney, circa 1940Royal Australian Navy Captain John Collins aboard HMAS Sydney, 22 July 1940
See all 5 photographs of Light Cruiser Sydney (D48)

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