Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

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Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by jwsleser » 15 Nov 2010 14:48

I apologize if this has been posted before, but a search of the forum didn’t find any mention of this report.

The final report on The Loss of HMAS Sydney II can be found on-line HERE. The report was released in July 2009. Excellent information on the fight, the methods used to recreate what happened, and great background data on German raider operations. Well worth reading.

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Alanmccoubrey » 15 Nov 2010 14:54

Oddly enough I was passed this link just this morning, I had no idea that Kormoran had the LS on board.

http://www.defence.gov.au/sydneyii/SUBM ... 0163_R.pdf
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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by jwsleser » 16 Nov 2010 14:51

Alan

I was sent the link on Saturday. I almost posted it to the forum then, but notice the date. I wasn’t sure if someone had posted the link before so wanted to check.

I feel the report answers all the questions, especially on the topic of the lack of survivors from the Sydney. Before I always assumed Sydney had been hit by about forty rounds. The study of the wreck shows over 80 hits. That is some very impressive shooting by the Kormoran. Given only four guns could bear at any one time and a fight of about 30 minutes, the Sydney was pummeled. And this doesn’t include the damage done by the 37mm and 20mm weapons. The wreck also confirmed the torpedo hit. Once the shooting started, the Sydney didn’t stand a chance. One must consider the Sydney was lucky that two of the three hits she scored proved fatal to the Kormoran. If one of those hits was anywhere else, the Kormoran likely would have survived. A very one-sided fight.

The other interesting piece is that the report documents the procedures Sydney likely used to identify the ship. Once we accept the fact the CAPT Burnett initially decided the merchant ship was ‘innocent’, the rest of the story unwinds in a predictable manner. The danger created by the problem of identification were understood and predicted just this sort of situation happening. What was eye opening was the time it took to work through the identification process.

The other aspect of the report I liked is they went through the trouble to either vindicate or condemn CAPT Detmers and the German actions that day. By making the effort to validate/disprove the German accounts, they put to rest the allegations of any crime.

The link with the discussion of the use of the LS 3 is interesting reading. A lot of speculation there.

In all, a very complete report that should put to rest the question of what happened.

Jeff
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Re: Loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Kangaroo » 16 Nov 2010 15:31

Hi, I am a military history researcher here in Perth, Western Australia. Recently I have just released a book titled "In The Shadow Of The Eagle" documenting all the German raiders and U-boats that operated off the WA coastline and in the Southern Ocean during WWII. During this I did a fair bit of research on the Sydney and Kormoran affair. I did an interview with gentleman who's father once served aboard the Sydney, but posted off before the battle on November 19 1941. Nevertheless, he proposed an interesting argument that the Sydney - why there was no survivors was that she was carrying a secret store of poisonous gas - mustard or otherwise. When one of Kormorans torpedoes hit near front bow, it penetrated this secret storage releasing the gas to permeate throughout the ship - killing the remainder of her crew. The Sydney received this supply onboard from the British cruiser HMS Durban after handing over escort duty of the SS Zealandia to her in the Strait Of Malacca. The gas was to be brought back to Australia and stored as part of the Brisbane Line defence plan. Interesting new theory - hey?

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Xavier » 16 Nov 2010 16:48

has the wreck of the LS been found?
or at least the general zone where it was scuttled identified?
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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by jwsleser » 16 Nov 2010 19:09

Xavier

The LS 3 was likely destroyed durng the action. The boat wasn't used during the fight, so it should have been in its storage compartment near the stern of the Kormoran. The aft part of the Kormoran was pretty well destroyed from the sinking and the explosion of the mines. Only the fore section of the wreck up to the bridge is intact. What is left of the LS 3 is scattered over the bottom in many small pieces.

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Xavier » 16 Nov 2010 19:42

ok, excellent, my mistake in the request,
I just took the link mentioned above (www.defence...) as a fact..
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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Graeme Sydney » 18 Nov 2010 10:44

A wordy report but it doesn't move me any closer to answering the question 'why did the Sydney approach so close without being at action stations - all guns manned and trained on the ship to be investigated'?

To me it doesn't just point to an error of judgment by Burnett but a lack of policy/drills/tactics/discipline of the R.A.N./R.N.

With Raiders known to be in the area to me the ship is either 'proven friendly' or 'assumed hostile', nothing in between. And until proven friendly it is be treated hostile - you either don't approach in range of known weapons or you 'have the drop on them'.

If the ship had been proven friendly to the satisfaction of Burnett why continue the pursuit/intercept/investigation?

And from description in the report Sydney never had a positive ID of the ship (by profile).

To me, the old Pongo Grunt, Sydney's behaviour is totally against Self Preservation 101. Maybe the Pussers or better informed amongst you can correct and enlighten me, and thus redeem the reputation of the R.A.N./R.N.

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Tim Smith » 18 Nov 2010 16:40

Graeme Sydney wrote:A wordy report but it doesn't move me any closer to answering the question 'why did the Sydney approach so close without being at action stations - all guns manned and trained on the ship to be investigated'?

To me it doesn't just point to an error of judgment by Burnett but a lack of policy/drills/tactics/discipline of the R.A.N./R.N.

With Raiders known to be in the area to me the ship is either 'proven friendly' or 'assumed hostile', nothing in between. And until proven friendly it is be treated hostile - you either don't approach in range of known weapons or you 'have the drop on them'.

If the ship had been proven friendly to the satisfaction of Burnett why continue the pursuit/intercept/investigation?

And from description in the report Sydney never had a positive ID of the ship (by profile).

To me, the old Pongo Grunt, Sydney's behaviour is totally against Self Preservation 101. Maybe the Pussers or better informed amongst you can correct and enlighten me, and thus redeem the reputation of the R.A.N./R.N.
I think in the 1940's most navies operated an unspoken, unwritten policy - "The Captain Is Always Right".

If Captain Burnett's expressed opinion on the bridge of Sydney was that the 'Straat Malaaka' was probably friendly - then it would take a very brave officer to express a contrary opinion, or (even worse) to 'tell the Captain his job' by suggesting openly that his Captain was not following procedures to the letter.

I refer to the movie "Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan":

SAAVIK: Sir, may I quote General Order Twelve, 'On the approach of any vessel, when communications have not been established...
SPOCK: Lieutenant, the Admiral is well aware of the Regulations.
SAAVIK: Aye sir.

Despite being fictional, this is a very true-to-life depiction of what happens in most navies when a junior officer attempts to second-guess a superior.

So it's very understandable that Burnett's bridge crew would follow his lead without question, even if they harboured grave doubts.

(And like HMAS Sydney, the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 was put at enormous disadvange in the forthcoming battle....)

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by jwsleser » 18 Nov 2010 19:45

Graame
To me, the old Pongo Grunt, Sydney's behaviour is totally against Self Preservation 101. Maybe the Pussers or better informed amongst you can correct and enlighten me, and thus redeem the reputation of the R.A.N./R.N.
You have hit on the key question. The report continually highlights that we will never know what CAPT Burnett was thinking that day. What the report brings out is that once you accept that Burnett (for whatever reason) decided that the ship was initially ‘innocent’, the survivor accounts and physical evidence are consistent with the procedures Sydney should have followed under Case A (innocent). If Burnett had considered the ship initially ‘suspicious’, Sydney should never have closed if the crew had followed Case B (suspicious). So the evidence indicates that either Sydney though the ship was 'innocent', or possibly initially ‘suspicious’ but then changed to ‘innocent’. Any other possibly implies that Burnett violated the standing orders.

Tim

I disagree that the other officers wouldn’t have spoken up if they had cause. The possibility you offer is more in character of a martinet. I have not read anything that indicated the CAPT Burnett would act in this manner.

I believe that the officers simply didn’t know and didn’t have any information to make a decision. It was late in the day and that might have rushed things. The weather wasn’t great, and combined with the late hour, impacted the decision on whether to use the aircraft. The merchant ship acted correctly in accordance with the latest Admiralty guidance. At this point it is a 'what do you do now Ranger'?'

The report details all the challenges for a warship to obtain a correct identification. In all, it wasn't easy. The time of day limited options. Radioing for confirmation (like Devonshire did) might have required too much time (if it was even considered as an option). Staying at range likely might have delayed even more the time needed to make a positive ID, especially given the known problems merchant crews had when complying to the instructions.

There is an old saying in the military that a good officer doesn’t take the easy option when making a decision, even if it might seem correct, when there is an element of risk involved. ‘Better safe than sorry’. But taking the hard choice all the time does wear on a unit/crew, especially if it is proven time over time to be unnecessary. There is no way to know how Burnett judged the situation. The tendency is that once an assessment is made, it is human nature to require a lot of evidence before you reverse it. To reverse it is admitting you were wrong. Given the reconstruction of events by the board, Burnett made his initial decision (innocent) and by the time he had enough information to clearly see he was in danger, it was too late.

Just my thoughts.

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Graeme Sydney » 18 Nov 2010 22:33

Tim Smith wrote:I think in the 1940's most navies operated an unspoken, unwritten policy - "The Captain Is Always Right".
The Boss is always right - that's true of all military by character, necessity and regulations - two or more subordinates 'making common representation' is mutiny :milwink: . But it is a particularly strong characteristic of all ships captains for maritime reasons as much as military reasons.

Tim Smith wrote:If Captain Burnett's expressed opinion on the bridge of Sydney was that the 'Straat Malaaka' was probably friendly - then it would take a very brave officer to express a contrary opinion, or (even worse) to 'tell the Captain his job' by suggesting openly that his Captain was not following procedures to the letter.
The openly is the key word here. There are plenty of subtle ways an officer can influence decisions, jog or remind. Notwithstanding there are other ways an officer can prepare the ship without contradicting the Captain. For example the divisional officers can get their men to close up without a 'battle stations' general alarm. Even senior P.O.'s could do something in this regard. They may not have been able to position the Sydney tactically but they could have been in position to return effective fire. But there seems to be total surprise and general complacency and incompetency on the bridge and in the crew. Why?
Tim Smith wrote:So it's very understandable that Burnett's bridge crew would follow his lead without question, even if they harboured grave doubts.
There is a difference between following orders and following his lead (thinking). In my experience, being informed and thinking two ranks above your position was considered essential and expected.

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Re: Loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by abc123 » 04 Dec 2010 13:21

why there was no survivors was that she was carrying a secret store of poisonous gas - mustard or otherwise. When one of Kormorans torpedoes hit near front bow, it penetrated this secret storage releasing the gas to permeate throughout the ship - killing the remainder of her crew.


Yep................just saw a pig fly by as well, oh hang on here come some more

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Beatnik » 05 Dec 2010 09:44

I served with Lt. John "Baldy" Eaton, now deceased, in the R.A.N . He was ex R.N. and was a P.O. Telegraphist during WW2.
He always maintained that the actions of Capt. Burnett of HMAS Sydney resulted from the practice of the R.N. cruisers patrolling the South Atlantic on anti commerce raider missions early in the war.
These cruisers approached any suspicious vessel from dead astern whereby they presented the smallest target whilst permitting the two forward turrets to be trained on the suspect ship.
This often resulted in frantic and panicked SOS radio transmissions by the merchant ships that an unknown warship was menacing them.
In so doing this revealed the respective positions not only of themselves but that of an R.N. cruiser to German U Boats and raiders.
Finally the Admiralty ordered that the R.N. cruisers approach in a manner that would reveal that they were British warships in an effort to reduce their location being being made to the Germans by these radio transmissions.
Lt. Eaton maintained that Capt. Burnett was following this procedure.
This procedure and its operational change never seems to get an airing at the relevant enquiries. Is the Admiralty covering it up?

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Re: Loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Tim Smith » 08 Dec 2010 14:16

Kangaroo wrote:Interesting new theory - hey?
No.

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Re: Loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Takao » 09 Dec 2010 01:22

Considering that most poisonous gas is heavier-than-air, any gas would likely collect in the bottom of the ship, thus the men topside would be safe. However, if the HMAS Sydney suddenly capsized, than there it is likely that there would be very few survivors. The Japanese lost several ships with no survivors, and the Americans also lost a few with no survivors and none of these were carrying "mysterious" cargoes of poisonous gas.

So, while this may well be a "new" theory, it is not very interesting.

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