A joint Curtin University and WA Museum Museum Foundation expedition to survey the historic World War II shipwrecks of HMAS Sydney (II) and the German raider HSK Kormoran has just returned with a treasure trove of 3D imaging, an acoustic survey and scientific data. According to Deborah Terry, Curtin’s Vice-Chancellor, the imaging technology developed by Curtin is throwing new light on the historic site. When the wrecks were found in 2008 the shell hole was not obvious, presenting as a shadow in the photographs taken at the time.

Lying off the coast, about 200 kilometres west of Steep Point (Shark Bay), in 2,500 metres of water, in Western Australia (WA), the footage confirmed why Sydney was so quickly disabled leading to catastrophic damage and the loss of everyone on board.

The subsequent discovery provided support to the theory that within the first 30 seconds of the battle, Sydney’s bridge was destroyed, her command structure lost and her ability to fight back severely disabled.

ROV captures wreck of HMAS Sydney (II) (Via Curtin University)

The wrecks of both ships were lost until 2008. Kormoran was rediscovered on 12 March and Sidney on 17 March. Sydney‍ '​s defeat is commonly attributed to the proximity of the two ships during the engagement, and Kormoran‍ '​s advantages of surprise and rapid, accurate fire. Prior to the discovery of the wrecks in 2008, the cruiser's loss with all hands compared to the survival of most of the Germans have resulted in controversy, with some alleging that the German commander used illegal ruses to lure Sydney into range, that a Japanese submarine was involved, and that the true events of the battle are concealed behind a wide-ranging cover up.

Close-up of previously unseen 15cm shell hole through the bridge (Via Curtin University)

HMAS Sydney was a light cruisers operated by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran (HSK-8) was a Kriegsmarine merchant raider, she was the largest merchant raider operated by Germany during World War II.

Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney in 1940 (Via Wikipedia)

Kormoran in 1940 (Via Wikipedia)

On 19 November 1941, both ships were involved in a mutually destructive engagement off Western Australia . Sydney was lost with all 645 aboard, without any survivors, while Kormoran, whose damage sustained during the battle prompted her scuttling, was lost with just 81 aboard of 399 sailors.

The $2.4 million survey expedition was supported by the Australian Government, Curtin University, DOF Subsea, the WA Museum Foundation, GMA Garnet Group, the Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in WA Torsten Ketelsen, and Prospero Productions.

The project has the support of the Royal Australian Navy and the Naval Association of Australia, representing veterans' interests.

More information about this project in Curtin University


Western Australian Museum (Youtube) | blogs.curtin.edu.au | en.wikipedia.org | navaltoday.com

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