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Research Guides

The Sinking of HMAS Sydney: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records

Appendix 1: Chronology of events



5 Feb

The Sydney arrived in Fremantle from the Mediterranean.

2 May

The Kormoran moved into the Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope.

14 May

Captain J Burnett flew to Perth to take command of the Sydney.

26 Sep

Kormoran sank her last victim before her engagement with the Sydney (the freighter Stamatios G Embiricos).

Wed 5 Nov

Sydney took over escort of the troopship Zealandia from HMAS Adelaide in the Great Australian Bight.

Tue 11 Nov

Sydney departed Fremantle at 1.40 pm escorting the Zealandia to the Sunda Strait.

Mon 17 Nov

Sydney transferred escort of the Zealandia to HMS Durban on schedule and turned south, headed for Fremantle.

Wed 19 Nov

About 4 pm Kormoran sighted the Sydney and turned away. Sydney followed and requested Kormoran to identify herself – which she did as Straat Malakka. When asked for her secret call sign Kormoran dropped her camouflage, hoisted the German ensign and opened fire. Battle lasted from approximately 5.30–6.25 pm. Both ships crippled and on fire. Sydney steamed slowly south south east, still ablaze. Kormoran drifted for approximately 5 hours before being scuttled by her crew with explosive charges.

Thu 20 Nov

15 fishermen on Dirk Hartog Island reported sighting a destroyer 7 miles away steering south at high speed and on fire. This was later said by the authorities to be the tug Uco but this has been disputed.

Fri 21 Nov

District Naval Officer, WA signalled Navy Office, Melbourne – HMAS Sydney has not yet arrived.

Sun 23 Nov

The liner Aquitania recovered a raft with 26 German sailors about 100 nautical miles off Carnarvon.

In evening, Sydney instructed by Naval Board to report her ETA.

Mon 24 Nov


The Chief of Naval Staff reported to the Minister for the Navy that radio contact with Sydney had been lost.

Commander in Chief, China Station confirmed that Sydney had transferred escort of Zealandia to HMS Durban on 17 November, on schedule.

All high power radio stations in Australia instructed to call Sydney continuously.

Air and sea searches commence.

MV Trocas picked up 25 Germans in a rubber raft about 120 nautical miles north-west of Carnarvon.

46 men reached the coast at 17-Mile Well north of Carnarvon.

Tue 25 Nov

57 men landed on the coast at Red Bluff north of Carnarvon.

60 men recovered by the Centaur from a boat under the command of the Kormoran's captain.

Wed 26 Nov

31 men recovered from a boat by the Koolinda.

Lieutenant Commander Rycroft, Staff Officer (Intelligence) aided by an interpreter commence the interrogations in Carnarvon.

Thu 27 Nov

72 men recovered from a boat by HMAS Yandra.

Aircraft reported sighting three pieces of white timber 15 or 16 feet in length about one mile apart.

HMAS Wyrallah picked up an inflated RAN type lifebelt with OTRC 11/39 stencilled on the rubber fittings.

The Aquitania notified the Wilson's Promontory signal station that on 23 November she had recovered a raft with 26 German sailors.

Fri 28 Nov

A RAN Carley life float damaged by shell fire and containing an empty lifebelt recovered by Heros. A green box resembling a dog kennel also found drifting.

HMAS Wyrallah picked up a partially burnt foreign kapok lifebelt and two small metal Carley floats tied together, one containing the body of a German.

Oil sighted by Catalina flying boat but nothing found when investigated by HMAS Wyrallah.

Commanders Dechaineux and Salm arrive in Perth to help coordinate the interrogations on behalf of naval intelligence.

Sat 29 Nov

Final searches conducted.

Sun 30 Nov

Admiral Crace sent to Fremantle to take charge of the interrogations.

Prime Minister's announcement of the loss released for publication the next day.

3 Dec

Prime Minister releases a reconstructed account of the battle.

9 Dec

Interrogations completed in Western Australia.

13 Dec

The first German prisoners leave for POW camps in Victoria.



16 Jan

Commander Dechaineux's report of investigation into the loss of the Sydney submitted to the Naval Board [no copy of this report can be located].

6 Feb

A Carley float containing a body recovered off Christmas Island.

28 Feb

Mr F B Eldridge submits his report to the Director of Naval Intelligence, reviewing all the evidence obtained in the interrogations.


Carley float recovered by the Heros presented to the Australian War Memorial.



19 Mar

A lifebuoy from HMAS Sydney found near Comboyuro Point in NSW.




Encoded diary seized from Captain Detmers upon his recapture after an attempted escape from Dhurringile POW camp.


Expedition to Red Bluff with Dr List in an attempt to find the camera he had hidden there four years earlier containing film of the SydneyKormoran battle.



21 Jan

The German POWs from the Kormoran departed Port Melbourne for repatriation to Germany.




Captain Oldham, Director of Naval Intelligence, concluded that after investigation the Christmas Island Carley float was not from the Sydney.




Publication of The Royal Australian Navy 1939–42. Volume 1. Official History of Australia in the War of 1939–45.




Forensic examination of the RAN Carley float undertaken by the Australian War Memorial finds no evidence of damage by small arms fire, and attributes the extensive damage to the float to have been caused by particles of shrapnel from at least one high explosive shell.




Report on the Loss of HMAS Sydney by the Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.




Location on Christmas Island of grave containing body of sailor found in Carley float in February 1942.




Discovery of the wrecks of both the Kormoran and HMAS Sydney off the Western Australian coast.




Report of the HMAS Sydney II Commission of Inquiry, 12 August 2009.