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Research Guides


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


All Notes

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10

Chapter 1

The Elements of Controversy


1 The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 January 1901, p.5

2 NAA: A5954, 731/1, War Cabinet Notebooks, meeting of 1 December 1941, notes by Shedden.

3 NAA:  B6121, 165P, SydneyKormoran action signals, etc.

4 NAA: A5954, 518/36, HMAS Sydney – Sinking. Replacement fund.

5 Ross, W H, Stormy Petrel: The Life Story of HMAS Sydney, Paterson's Printing Press, Western Australia, 1943; and Taylor, J, Prisoner of the Kormoran: WA Jones' Amazing Experiences on the German Raider, Kormoran and as a Prisoner of War in Germany, Australasian Publishing Company, 1944.

6 NAA: B6121, 165P, Sydney–Kormoran action signals.

7 Prime Ministerial press statement No. 89, 3 December 1941

8 Hermon Gill, G, op. cit.

9 ibid., p453

10 Detmers, T and Brennecke, J, Hilfskreuzer Kormoran, Herford, Koehlers, 1959, republished as The Raider Kormoran. Kimber, London, 1975

11 Scott, G, HMAS Sydney. Horwitz, Sydney, 1962

12 Collins, J, As Luck Would Have It: Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1965, and HMAS Sydney. Naval Historical Society of Australia. Garden Island, NSW, 1971

13 Montgomery, M, Who Sank the Sydney. Cassell Melbourne, 1981

14 Winter, B, HMAS Sydney. Fact, Fantasy and Fraud. Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1984

15 Frame, T, HMAS Sydney. Loss and Controversy. Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney, 1993

16 ibid, p152

17 Hansard, 13 Sep 1945, pp5377–5378

18 NAA: K997, 1/15/2, HMAS Sydney/Kormoran action, November 1941.

19 NAA: B6121, 165P, Sydney–Kormoran action signals etc.

20 Westhoven's account appears in NAA: B6121, 165P, Sydney–Kormoran action signals etc.

21 Prime Ministerial press statement No. 89, 3 December 1941.

22 NAA: A9240, Set 2 Vol 4, Advisory War Council notebooks, meeting of 1 December 1941.

23 Naval Historical Section: B6227, Combined Operational Intelligence Centre – Daily summary of operational intelligence, and NAA: B6121, 775W/1, Weekly summaries of operational intelligence.

24 AWM: AWM69, 228, Official History, 1939–1945 War, series 2 (Navy), vol. 1, chapter12 [Typescript marked 'Master Copy' and some correspondence].

25 NAA: A5954, 813/2, Advisory War Council minute 842, 18 March 1942.

26 NAA: K997, 1/15/2, HMAS Sydney/Kormoran action, November 1941.

27 NAA: MP1185/8, 2026/19/6, Loss of HMAS Sydney – report by Mr F B Eldridge on interrogation of survivors of [the] Kormoran.

28 NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/19/6, Interrogation of German survivors ex raider 41 Kormoran.

29 Frame, T, op. cit., pp. 94–95. Although Frame quotes from the report, he fails to provide a citation. Despite a detailed search of the files referred to in his surrounding citations, the Archives has failed to locate the report. The files searched are NAA: B6121, 164K, B6121, 164L, B6121, 164M, B6121, 164N and MP1185/8, 2026/19/6. All these items are described later in this guide. The only possibly relevant record located was the first page of a document headed 'Report by Commander Deschaineux [sic]', which begins 'The following is a summary of the evidence collected from various sources'. Page 2 and any subsequent pages are missing (see B6121, 164M, above). What appears to be a complete copy of this document is in NAA: K997, 1/15/2 (see footnote 31). A 'dossier of further information obtained between 20th December 1941 and 16th January 1942' appears on NAA: B6121, 164M. Given the date of 16 January, this may have been an attachment to, or source of material for, Dechaineux's report.

30 AWM: AWM69, Official history, 1939-45 War, series 2 (Navy): Records of G Hermon Gill.

31 NAA: K997, 1/15/2, HMAS Sydney/Kormoran action, November 1941.This file also contains a three-page 'summary of the evidence collected from various sources' prepared by Commander Dechaineux on 30 November.

32 AWM: PR88/178, Kormoran (2) – Interrogation reports from the crew of the raider Kormoran.

33 Montgomery, op. cit., p. 122.

34 NAA: B6121, 775W/1, Combined Operational Intelligence Centre – Weekly Summaries of Operational Intelligence, 1941. 'Q' messages (or more correctly QQQQ messages) were distress signals used by merchant vessels to indicate that they were being attacked by a disguised merchant raider.

35 NAA: MP1185/8, 2026/19/6, Loss of HMAS Sydney – report by Mr F B Eldridge on interrogation of survivors of Kormoran.

36 NAA: MP1185/8, 2026/3/453, Recovery of survivors of Kormoran by HT Aquitania.

37 Frame, op. cit., pp. 187–191.

38 Memoirs, 1941–1981 (Manuscript MS7460), National Library of Australia, pp42–51

Chapter 2

The Sydney's Last Voyage


1 The Sydney's last monthly war diary, for October 1941, was signed by Captain Burnett on 5 November, the day the Sydney took over escort of the Zealandia in King George Sound. It is held in the Australian War Memorial as AWM78, 329/1.

2 NAA: B6230, Navy Office War Diary, 1939–43.

3 These books, containing such details as engineering specifications, performance trials and repairs and refits, are held for each major RAN vessel by the NAA as series A4141, Her Majesty's Australian Ships' books and supplements, 1911–

4 NHS: B6226, Daily Narratives, 1939–54.

5 NAA: MP1074/1, Classified outward signals, 1939–64, and MP1074/4, Unclassified inward signals, 1939–64.

Chapter 3

The Search and Rescue


1 Briefing papers submitted by the Chief of Naval Staff to the Minister for the Navy on 24 November and to the War Cabinet on 26 November show that for some reason the Naval Board mistakenly believed that the Sydney was due back in Fremantle on 21 November rather than 20 November.

2 Report by DNO, WA to Naval Board, 11 December 1941, in NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/3/457, Track chart of air searches for HMAS Sydney. This item has a sub-item relating to two maps/charts removed from the main item for preservation reasons.

3 NAA: B6121, 165P – Sydney-Kormoran action signals etc

4 AWM64, 0/2, RAAF Central War Room operations diary.

5 Two days later, on 26 November, the Naval Board sent a signal to CZM requesting him to cover in his air searches the possibility of a severely damaged Sydney proceeding at slow speed to Singapore or Sourabaya where the nearest repair docks were located (AWM64, 0/2, RAAF Central War Room operations diary). The evidence for this possibility is unknown, but it may have been based on the same intelligence reported in the Central War Room's weekly summary of 1 December (No. WS/29), suggesting that HMAS Sydney sent out a weak and corrupt Q distress message under extreme difficulties on 19 November (NAA: B6121, 775W/1, Combined Operational Intelligence Centre – weekly summaries of operational intelligence). Had this occurred, it would have been some indication that the Sydney had survived the engagement but had been badly disabled.

6 NAA: A5954, 2400/21, HMAS Sydney [sinking of by German raider Kormoran].

7 AWM64, 0/2, RAAF Central War Room operations diary.

8 AWM64, 0/2, RAAF Central War Room Operations Diary, 1941–42. Montgomery claims that this could not have been the Uco because her log book shows her to have been elsewhere at the time, pp. 191–92, but this is disputed by Winter (see p. 235).

9 AWM64, 0/2.

10 NAA: A1608, S51/1/6, HMAS Sydney and HMAS Parramatta. Expressions of sympathy.

Chapter 4

The Discussions of the War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council


1 David Horner, Inside the War Cabinet: Directing Australia's War Effort 1939–45, Allen & Unwin in association with Australian Archives, Sydney, 1996, p. 5.

2 ibid, p2

3 op.cit., p22

4 Sir Frederick was also Secretary of the Department of Defence between 1937 and 1956

5 Horner, op. cit., p62

6 Horner, op. cit., Appendix A,'The Work of the War Cabinet Secretariat'

Chapter 5

The Role of the Censor


1 NAA:  A5954, 2400/21, HMAS Sydney – sinking of by German raider Kormoran.

2 NAA: B6121, 775W/1, Combined Operational Intelligence Summary – weekly summaries of operational intelligence; and B6227, DS155, CWR Daily summary of operational intelligence, 3 December 1941 and B6227, DS157, CWR Daily summary of operational intelligence, 5 December 1941.

3 Unless otherwise stated, information and quotations in the introduction to this chapter can be found in AWM124, 4/224, Loss of HMAS Sydney.

4 The relationship of the Navy to the Chief Publicity Censor was that of adviser only. Any requests for prohibition made by the Naval Board had to be submitted, with reasons, to the Chief Publicity Censor through the Department of Information. Gill, op. cit., p. 102.

5 NAA: A9240, Set 2 Vol 4, Advisory War Council notebooks, meeting of 28 November 1941.

6 ibid.

7 NAA: A5954, 518/36, HMAS Sydney – sinking, replacement fund and SP109/3, 357/06 , Suspension of radio stations for breaches of instructions regarding the sinking of HMAS Sydney.

8 AWM: AWM69, 23/64, Surface raider activity, part 2 (research by Mr Ware).

9 NAA: A5954, 2400/21, HMAS Sydney – sinking of by German raider Kormoran.

Chapter 6

The Interrogations, Investigations and Intelligence


1 NAA: AA1969/100, 2/18/INT, Squadrons involved in search for HMAS Sydney.

2 NAA: AA1969/100, 105/30/AIR, HMAS Sydney – search operations.

3 NAA: K997, 1/15/2, HMAS Sydney/Kormoran action, November 1941.

4 NAA: B6121, 165K, Kormoran – translation of diaries.

5 AWM: AWM124, 4/224, Loss of Sydney – duplicate.

6 NAA: B6121, 165K, Kormoran – translation of diaries.

7 Frame, op. cit., pp. 87–88.

8 AWM: AWM69, 228, Records of G Hermon Gill – Official History, 1939-1945 War, Series 2 (Navy): Volume 1 – chapter 12 [Typescript marked 'Master Copy' and some correspondence].

9 Gill, op. cit., p460

10 The reports appear in C E Munyard, HMAS Sydney II & Dr List's Cryptographs, C E Munyard, Ardcross, WA, 1995, p91.

11 Naval Historical Section: B6227, Combined Operational Intelligence Centre – daily summary of operational intelligence; that is, summaries DS134 of 31 October; DS141 of 12 November; DS155 of 3 December; and DS157 of 5 December.

12 An allied armed merchant cruiser which had been fitted out in Australia and crewed mainly by Australian reservists.

13 NAA: MP151/1, 429/201/363, German raider Steiermark.

14 Montgomery, op. cit., pp143–144, 188; Winter, op. cit., pp40–42; Frame, op. cit., pp138–139

Chapter 7

The Casualties


Chapter 8

The Prisoners of War


1 NAA: B6121, 164L, Kormoran: (Raider No. 41) 'G' – German AMC.

2 Gill, op. cit., p456

3 Winter, op. cit., p199

Chapter 9

The Relics


1 DNO WA report to Naval Board on search operations for HMAS Sydney, 11 December 1941. National Archives of Australia: MP1049/5, 2026/3/457, Track chart of air searches for HMAS Sydney.

2 See Frame, op. cit., pp178–185 and Winter, op. cit., pp245–247

3 Ashton, J Challenor, C and Courtney, R C H, The Scientific Investigation of a Carley Float at the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial Technical Paper No. 1 (November 1993)

4 NAA: AA1980/700, NID 194/222 – Carley float and corpse – recovered off Christmas Island.

5 NAA: MP151/1, 474/208/455, HMAS Sydney. Reconstruction of ledger.

6 The Consolidated Orders and Regulations for the Government of the Naval Forces of the Commonwealth 1942, Volume 1, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, February 1942.

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