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Research Guides

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

10 Replacing the Sydney and Writing the Official History

In the course of compiling this guide a number of records were identified that did not fit logically into the preceding chapters. These records are included here. They cover a wide range of topics and in a number of instances they serve almost as a postscript to the story and aftermath of the Sydney's loss.

The records described here include biographical information about some of the main personalities involved in the wake of the Sydney's loss, the records of the official naval war historian, G Hermon Gill, records about the Kormoran and preliminary arrangements for the Sydney's replacement.

Correspondence files, multiple number series, 1928–58
Series: A816
Quantity: 96.37 metres
Recorded by: Department of Defence Co-ordination (CA 37)
HMAS Sydney, Replacement Fund 1941–42

This item deals entirely with arrangements to find a replacement for the Sydney. The file contains copies of cablegrams between Canberra and London and correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Lord Mayors of Sydney and Melbourne concerning arrangements for the administration of the HMAS Sydney Fund.

A816, 40/301/290
Award of US decorations to Commodore JA Collins, RAN and Captain E F V Dechaineux, RAN (dec'd), 1945–47

In July 1945 the United States Department of the Navy advised the Australian Government of its wish to award to Captain Emile Dechaineux the award of Legion of Merit, Degree of Officer:

for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Commanding Officer, HMAS Australia from March 9, 1944 until his death in action with the enemy. Directing his command with superb seamanship and great professional skill, Captain Dechaineux participated in vital and hazardous operations during this period of intensive hostilities against enemy Japanese forces, fighting his ship valiantly in support of our landing in the Philippines despite severe opposition until the Australia was subjected to a hostile suicide dive-bombing attack in which he sustained wounds which later proved fatal. His splendid leadership and unwavering devotion to duty reflect the highest credit upon Captain Dechaineux and the Royal Australian Navy. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his county.

A posthumous presentation of the award was made to the widow of Captain Dechaineux in Hobart in January 1966.

A816, 66/301/146
Correspondence files, multiple number series, alpha prefix and general prefix 'SC' (fourth system), 1914–50
Series: A1608
Quantity: 50.94 metres
Recorded by: 1939–45 Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
HMAS Sydney Fund, part 1, 1941–43

As early as 1 December, the lord mayors of Sydney and Melbourne contacted the Prime Minister suggesting a nationwide appeal for replacement of the Sydney. Most papers on this file concern donations to, and the administration of, the HMAS Sydney Replacement Fund. Other papers include:

  • proposals to the Prime Minister by the Lord Mayors of Sydney and Melbourne for a nationwide appeal to fund the replacement of the Sydney, and the Prime Minister's reply
  • Prime Minister's press release dated 2 December 1941 concerning the fund
  • Prime Minister's cablegram dated 13 December 1941 to the Australian High Commissioner in London inquiring as to the wisdom of asking the British Government for an early replacement of the Sydney
  • reply by the Australian High Commissioner dated 22 December 1941, advising that the First Lord of the Admiralty was most sympathetic to the idea of an immediate or early replacement for the Sydney, and suggesting a formal approach to the British Government; approach to Treasury and the Department of the Navy by the Prime Minister's Department asking whether appropriate funding and crew can be arranged in the event of a replacement vessel being provided, and replies by the Treasury and the Navy detailing the problems
  • Prime Minister's cablegram to the British Government dated 10 January 1942 seeking a replacement vessel; reply from British Government dated 18 February 1942 advising inability to release a replacement vessel due to shortages, but offering to supply a vessel provided its deployment remained under Admiralty control and its crew was supplied by Australia
  • advice by the Naval Board to the Prime Minister's Department dated 26 March 1942, advising of the difficulties of adequately manning a replacement ship, and suggesting that the replacement of HMAS Sydney should remain in abeyance
  • formal advice to this effect dated 31 March 1942 to British Government
  • Prime Minister's press statement of 14 April 1942 advising of the unavailability of a suitable replacement vessel but that the monies credited to the Replacement Fund would be held in trust for the purchase of a replacement
  • claims for the refund of donations if a replacement vessel is not purchased, and the government's response
  • Prime Minister's press statement of 29 July 1943 advising that the Replacement Fund monies would be temporarily invested.

It appears that 'Part 1' was included in the file title at the time the file was created. There is no evidence that a second part exists.

A1608, Y55/1/2
The Shedden Collection – two number series 1901–71

This series contains records collected by Sir Frederick Shedden during his career within the Department of Defence. It also contains material collated after his retirement in researching and writing a book on the history of Australian Defence Policy. The manuscript of this book remained unpublished at his death on 8 July 1971.

Drafts of this work are held in this series together with copies of departmental correspondence, files, reports and press cuttings. Copies of War Cabinet and Advisory War Council records are also held. This series is the major part of a larger accumulation of records the remainder of which, including the manuscript of the history, formed part of Sir Frederick Shedden's personal estate.

Series: A5954
Quantity: 201 metres (smaller quantities in other Archives' offices)
Recorded by: 1937–71 Sir Frederick Geoffrey Shedden, KCMG, OBE (CP 320); 1939–42 Department of Defence Coordination, Central Office (CA 37); 1942–71 Department of Defence, Central Office (CA 46)
HMAS Sydney – sinking, replacement fund, 1941–49

This item is one of two files of papers accumulated by Frederick Shedden, who was Secretary of the Department of Defence Co-ordination and Secretary to the War Cabinet (the other file, A5954, 2100/21 is described in chapter 5). This file contains copies of many of the higher level briefing notes, cablegrams and Cabinet papers dealing with most aspects of the Sydney's loss, some of which appear on other files. Because it contains such a variety of papers, it is not easily classified under any of the earlier chapter headings.

Its contents include:

  • a brief chronology of the events and searches for the Sydney conducted between 21 and 25 November, prepared for the War Cabinet
  • requests by the press to be permitted to publish the names of the Sydney's crew and other information; briefing material dated 27 and 28 November for the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Navy
  • a brief history of the Sydney and biographical details of its senior officers
  • a description of the action by the survivors of the Kormoran
  • recovery by the HMAS Wyrallah of two Carley floats, one Royal Australian Navy lifebelt and one foreign lifebelt on 28 November
  • the Prime Minister's press statements concerning the loss, a reconstruction of the action leading to the loss, and the intention to seek a replacement vessel (including details of the HMAS Sydney replacement fund)
  • pressure from the press to release more information and the Lord Mayor of Sydney's request for permission to launch a public appeal for funds to replace the Sydney
  • the Prime Minister's cablegram to the British Government, expressing concern at the 'premature' disclosure of information to the BBC and the British press
  • a cablegram from the Prime Minister of New Zealand expressing embarrassment and concern at the public release in Australia of information that New Zealand authorities had been asked not to disclose
  • launch of the Lord Mayor's replacement fund
  • expressions of sympathy from various foreign governments
  • the Prime Minister's cablegram dated 13 December 1941 to the Australian High Commissioner in London inquiring as to the wisdom of asking the British Government for an early replacement of the Sydney
  • the Prime Minister's press statement of 14 April 1942 advising of the unavailability of a suitable replacement vessel but that the monies credited to the replacement fund would be held in trust for the purchase of a replacement
  • the Prime Minister's press statement of 29 July 1943 advising that the replacement fund monies would be temporarily invested
  • the Acting Prime Minister's statement of 27 April 1944 advising that the £426 899 in the fund might not be spent on a new cruiser
  • a press article in The Argus of 24 September 1944, claiming to provide new evidence of the action based on an eyewitness account published on 10 August in theVoelkischer Beobachte, 'the official Nazi organ', by a returned survivor of the Kormoran; an article in the Melbourne Herald of 19 November 1949 recounting the action.
A5954, 518/36
Official History, 1939–45 War, Series 2 (Navy): Records of G Hermon Gill, c1914–72

This series consists of papers created by Gill during the writing of the two volumes of Series 2 (Navy) of the official history of Australia in the war of 1939–45. It includes correspondence, books, journals, manuscript and typescript notes, pamphlets, photographs, reports, research files and manuscripts and transcripts of chapters for the two volumes. Most printed material has been transferred to the Research Centre's Printed Records Collection.

Series: AWM69
Quantity: 2.7 metres
Recorded by: Australian War Memorial (CA 616)
Surface raider activity, part 1 (research by Mr Ware), undated

This file consists of a typewritten research paper prepared by Mr Ware for the Official War History on German and Japanese raiders. It contains details of raider operations, tactics, aircraft and cooperation with U-boats (including instructions issued to the Kormoran for cooperation with U-boats). It gives the specifications of each of the German raiders, their voyage history and the ships they sank. This item, like many of the Official War History records, is in a Naval Intelligence Division file cover. The top page of the paper carries the note:

The following files have been perused in the course of research into surface raider activity during World War II. Note: These files have been made up from all raider material available. There are no further documents in existence in Navy Departments other than Naval Historical Research Section.

Of the files listed, those that appear to be relevant to the Kormoran are: Aquitania (185A), Kormoran Survivors (185), Loss of the Sydney (237), Raider G (Kormoran) No. 41 (208W) and Translation of Kormoran';s diaries (206G).

The list of files is then followed by the note: 'The above files have been made up by the Research Worker from all material available in Naval Records at Navy Office Melbourne. Except where otherwise stated all the data [contained in the research paper] is contained within these files.';

From the numbering it would appear that these files originally belonged to the Naval Historical Records series registered by the Archives as B6121 (previously MP1587/1). It appears that none of these files has come into the Archives'; custody nor are any held by the Naval Historical Section. One file from this series, number 237 is held, but is titled 'Convoy – United States 9, 1940–41';.

AWM69, 23/63
Surface Raider Activity, Part 2 (research by Mr Ware) [undated]

This item consists of a typewritten research paper prepared by Mr Ware for the Official War History. It gives detailed notes on the specifications, activities and history of German raiders, with a small body of notes on Japanese raiders. The notes on Raider (G), No. 41 (the Kormoran), include:

  • a chronology of the Kormoran's voyages and activities
  • significant dates in the ship's cruise
  • notes on the sinking of the Sydney
  • the Kormoran's supply by Japanese ships [this merely states 'Dr Habben of the Kormoran stated this was a common practice']
  • a translation from Detmers' diary of the Action Report and Engine Room Log at the time of the engagement with the Sydney.

A copy of the translated Action Report and Engine Room Log also appears on item AWM69, 23/20 ('Official History, 1939–45 War: Recordsof G Hermon Gill. Typescript. 'Operations, German and Japanese Armed Merchant Cruisers, 1939–45').

AWM69, 23/64
Manuscript and typescript notes for Naval War History, 1939–50 [mainly events of 1941–42]

This file contains rough handwritten notes assembled by Gill in preparation for the writing of the official history, mainly covering events of naval interest during 1941 and 1942. Included in the file is a minute dated 7 September 1945 from Gill (then Naval Historical Records Officer) to R B M& Long, the Director of Naval Intelligence, submitting an 'analysis and comparison of reports of the final action of HMAS Sydney with the raider Kormoran.'

The attachment is a seven-page assessment of information obtained from the interrogated prisoners of war from the Kormoran, and a comparison of this with what appears to be information contained in the Kormoran's own action report. In addition the information submitted includes two hand-drawn track charts of the ships' movements during and after the action. Among Gill's conclusions were that:

Sydney's A and B turrets were put out of action in the opening phase of the action…it is also apparent that, making a recovery from the initial staggering blows delivered by the Kormoran the Sydney's X and Y turrets put up a good fight as long as was possible. X turret in particular appears to have...fought well, and to have been responsible for the ultimate destruction of the Kormoran.

The file also includes transcriptions of War Cabinet minute 1521 and Advisory War Council minute 566, both of 26 November 1941, and a copy of a Sydney Morning Herald article published on 29 July 1950, titled 'The Sydney was hit by six to seven hundred shells', relating the account by Karl Ropers, one of the survivors of the Kormoran.

AWM69, 28/5
Official History, 1939–1945 War, Series 2 (Navy): volume 1, chapter 12 [notes and manuscript, no date]

This file contains what appears to be the first handwritten draft of chapter 12 of volume 1 of the official history. It carries many corrections and amendments. In it, Gill deals with the SydneyKormoran engagement (see pp. 71–93 of the manuscript). The file also contains background notes, not part of the manuscript, about the activities of the Kormoran and the Sydney prior to 19 November 1941.

AWM69, 227
Official History, 1939–1945 War, Series 2 (Navy): Volume 1, chapter 12 [Notes and manuscript, no date] [2cm]

This is a typed master copy of the version of the draft of chapter 12 described in AWM69, 227. Gill obviously referred the draft for comment to Gavin Long, the General Editor of the Official History, and to R B M Long, the by-then retired Director of Naval Intelligence.

Responding on 28 April 1953 Gavin Long told Gill that 'the story of the end of the Sydney (was) finely done'. R B M Long's reply of 23 November 1953 stated that chapter 12 (the chapter in which Gill deals with the loss of the Sydney) 'is the best one you have done so far'. The full text of Long's remarks on chapter 12 is given in the introduction to chapter 6 of this guide.

AWM69, 228
Official History, 1939–1945 War, Series 2 (Navy): Volume 1, chapter 12 [Typescript copy, no date]

This appears to be a carbon copy of the typed draft of chapter 12 described in item AWM69, 228.

AWM69, 229
official history, 1939–45 war, biographical files, 1939–80
Series: AWM76
Quantity: 3.6 metres
Recorded by: c1947–c1968 Official History, 1939-45 War (CA 7040)
Official Historian 1939–1945 War, biographical files –Dechaineux, E F V [et al], 1947–68)

This file contains a request from Gavin Long, the General Editor of the Official War History, to Dechaineux's next of kin to supply biographical information to assist with the compilation of the official history.

AWM76, B137
Naval historical collection, 1872–1974

This series comprises original records and other material created and acquired by the RAN and collected in the Naval Historical Records Section and its successors in Navy Office.

Series: AWM124
Quantity: 28 metres
Recorded by: 1943–74 Navy Office, Department of the Navy (CA 38)
Naval historical papers, viz: – HMAS Yarra; The Coast Watcher; MTB [Motor Torpedo Boats]; Vendetta Comes Home; Swan and her Forebearers; Sea Lore; Anzac Day; End of an Enemy Convoy [WW2]; Tingira; How Cormoran Sank the Sydney [1.5 centimetres, 1944–1960]

With the exception of the paper on the Kormoran, these papers are narrative histories prepared by the Archives Branch, Navy Office, in 1959 and 1960. Most of the articles were prepared for submission to the Navy News. The item on the Kormoran is a copy of the translated article from the German newspaper Volkische Beobachter of 13 August 1944.

AWM124, 2/4
Naval Biographical Files, Alphabetical Series, 1892–1993
Series: B6161
Quantity: 0.72 metres
Recorded by: 1943–1959 Navy Office, Department of the Navy (CA 38)
Eldridge, FB [Frank Burgess], c1947

This file consists of a short career biography of Mr Frank Burgess Eldridge prepared at the time of his retirement in 1947 from the position of Master of the Royal Australian Naval College. It was Eldridge who completed the report on the loss of the Sydney in February 1942 (see chapter 6), although Eldridge's role in this is not mentioned in the biographical notes.

B6161, Eldridge, FB
Dechaineux, Emile Frank Verlaine, by 1943 – by 1994

This file consists only of undated biographical notes.

B6161, Dechaineux, EFV
General correspondence files, 1923–50
Series: MP151/1
Quantity: 132.17 metres
Recorded by: 1939–50 Navy Office, Department of the Navy (CA 38)
HMAS Sydney – settlement of mess debts, 1942–44

This file contains correspondence between the Treasury and the Department of the Navy concerning mess debts still owed by the Sydney to R Walker & Co., Fremantle, a chandler's firm, and the settlement of credits still held by another firm on behalf of deceased crew members.

MP151/1, 447/201/1057
General correspondence, 1943–51
Series: MP742/1
Quantity: 162.48 metres
Recorded by: Department of the Army (CA 36)
German raider Kormoran, 1941–44

This file consists of correspondence and cables between the Australian Red Cross Society, the German Government through the Swiss Legation and Australian officials concerning the whereabouts of Australian survivors of merchant ships sunk by the Kormoran. There is also subsequent correspondence from the German Government, again through the Swiss Legation in London, concerning the whereabouts of survivors of the Kormoran. Information about the Kormoran's survivors does not appear on the file.

MP742/1, 175/1/103
Correspondence files (general), 1923–50

This series is described in chapter 3.

Series: MP1049/5
Quantity: 59.82 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1950 Navy Office, Department of the Navy (CA 38)
Sinking of SS Mareeba, 1941–45

This file is of interest because of the involvement of the Kormoran in the sinking of the SS Mareeba. The file is concerned with the Mareeba's sinking and with the fate of its crew.

MP1049/5, 2026/10/1855
Historical records files, 1875–
Melbourne (NHS Canberra)

A fuller description of this series is given in Chapter 2.

Series: B6121
Quantity: 23.81 metres
Recorded by: 1944–73 Navy Office, Department of the Navy, Historical Section (CA 38)
HMAS Sydney II Replacement

This file, held by the Naval Historical Section, consists mainly of newspaper reports and extracts from Hansard related to the June 1948 Parliamentary debate about the HMAS Sydney Replacement Fund.

B6121, 141O
SS Mareeba, sinking of (German AMC Kormoran) – casualties – POW experiences, 1941–47

This file, held by the Melbourne office of the National Archives, contains reports published in the Newcastle Morning Herald on 14 August 1943 and 21 August 1945 of two Australian merchant seamen's experiences as prisoner survivors on board the Kormoran from 26 June to October 1941 after the Mareeba's sinking. The file also contains information supplied to the naval historian regarding the SS Mareeba engagement and the SS Macumba. There is also information supplied to the Repatriation Department on the fate of the crew of Mareeba.

B6121, 153H
Kormoran: (Raider No. 41) 'G' – German AMC [Armed Merchant Cruiser]. Translation of Log, Voyage, 1940–1943

This item consists entirely of a translation of German naval publication no. 601, which was book 10 in a series titled 'Operations and Tactics: Evaluation of the Important Events in Naval War', published in December 1943 by the Supreme Command of the Navy (Department of War Science) in Berlin. It is written by Detmers and titled The Voyage of the Auxiliary Cruiser 'Ship 41' ('Kormoran'). Chapters are titled: 'Preface'; 'Details of officers and crew'; 'Details of ship's armaments'; 'Commissioning operation order'; 'Voyage to Norway'; 'The break-through of the straits of Denmark'; 'Operations in the Atlantic'; 'The battle of the cruisers in the Indian Ocean'; and 'Battle with the cruiser Sidney (sic) – the sinking of both ships'. Attached are six appendixes and two folded charts showing the routes taken by the Kormoran in the Atlantic and the Pacific.

B6121, 164N
Royal Australian Navy ships' history files, 1872–

A fuller description of this series is given in Chapter 3.

Series: B6255
Quantity: 0.09 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1959 Navy Office, Department of the Navy (CA 38)
Kormoran 1940–41

This file is an unnumbered folder simply titled Kormoran. It contains the following typed original notes (none of which is dated), which by their appearance were probably compiled from various sources by the Naval Historian after the war:

  • specifications of the Kormoran and details of its operations and cruises 1940–41 (19 pages, undated)
  • a list of significant dates in the cruise of the Kormoran (three pages)
  • notes on the sinking of the Sydney (two pages)
  • a translation of Detmers' diary concerning the SydneyKormoran action (two pages) and of the Kormoran's engine room log (two pages)
  • notes on the recovery of the Kormoran's survivors – a list of the original officer crew (one page); and a summary of the recovery of the survivors (two pages).
B6255, Kormoran
General Correspondence, 1925–57
Series: SP338/1
Quantity: 4.5 metres
Recorded by: 1938–42 Captain in Charge (from 1939, Commodore in Charge), HM Australian Naval Establishments, Sydney (CA 4339); 1942–1945 Naval Officer in Charge, Sydney (CA 4340)
HMAS Sydney – replicas presented to ship's company, 1940–43

Late on the evening of 10 February 1941 HMAS Sydney returned to Sydney after its tour of duty in the Mediterranean. The next day an estimated crowd of 200 000 welcomed the officers and men of the ship when they marched through the city. This file deals with arrangements for the Sydney's arrival at Circular Quay, for a civic reception on 11 February at the Town Hall, and for the presentation to the ship by the people of Sydney of a plaque in commemoration of Sydney's sinking of the Bartolomeo Colleoni in the Mediterranean on 19 July 1940.

The file includes letters from relatives of the crew both before and after the Sydney's loss in November 1941, seeking presentation of replica plaques to those crew unable to collect them on the day of the presentation. Navy Office's advice was that unpresented plaques had been placed in the Sydney's safe and had therefore been lost with the ship.

SP338/1, 691/19