How HMAS Sydney was sunk by a small German cruiser in 1941


Photographs of Shipwrecks discovered off the Western coast of Australia is now shedding new light on a Second World War tragedy in which scores of Australians perished. During a one-on-one battle with the infamous German cruiser Kormoran, in November 1941, contact was lost with the HMAS Sidney and was reported as missing in action. The German cruiser also sank in the battle after getting several hits from ‘Sydney’. A total of 645 crewmembers were onboard the Australian warship, all lost their lives when HMAS Sydney sank.

The final moments of the ship were never known, but now thanks to an expedition conducting surveys on the shipwrecks, new evidence has come to light about the fate of ‘Sydney’.


The Chief Executive of WA Museum, Alec Coles has revealed that new high definition images of the shipwreck show a huge shell hole at the compass platform which penetrated through the platform bridge of HMAS Sydney. The images were taken by cameras mounted on a vessel sent by the Curtin University, which took a number of detailed pictures from a variety of different angels.

There had been a controversy about the sinking of ‘Sydney’, as to how could a fairly modest vessel take out a sound warship so effectively, sinking it so quickly. The new discovery is, therefore, highly significant for war historians and authorities alike. The experts had always suggested that there was a strong likelihood of a strike on the bridge of the ship, but there was no data or evidence to back such claims.


The fact that shell went through the bridge and destroyed the central command unit and controls of the ship, is on its own enough evidence that one fatal blow was more than enough to Cripple and eventually sink HMAS Sydney. The captain of the Koromoran, Theodore Detmers, who survived the battle, had always maintained that HMAS Sydney sank due to a fatal blow to the bridge. However, Australian historians did not pay any attention to Detmers’ claims, since his claims lacked any tangible evidence, the ABC News reports.

Mr. Coles says that all the images taken deep into the sea point towards the fact that Sydney did take single blow to its bridge, which eventually caused it to sink. Coles added that with the modern technology and high definition cameras experts were able to identify the actual causes that lead to Sydney’s demise in the war.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE