Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

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Graeme Sydney
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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Graeme Sydney » 10 Jan 2011 03:36

Thanks Takao,

Although the insight adds to the understanding I still don't think it explains why the Sydney was at 2000m and closing. She didn't have to get that close to achieve a 'cheap' sinking. And it assumes the Sydney was treating the Kormoran as hostile. This is not consistent with Capt D's comments about the Sydney not being ready (apron men on deck).

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Sunbury » 10 Jan 2011 04:59

I posted this in the kriegmarine section orginally, search facilities seemed to be an vastly underutlised faciltiy of this forum, there a quite a number threads on the Sydney. be nice if they were all made into one thread. I have added some minor extra points to this post. The references to "kangaroo: are for that poster in the Kriegsmarine thread.
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This battle intrigues me as well. Simply put Detmer outwitted Burnett and had Burnett place the Sydney close by. Burnett gave up all the advantages and strengths of his ship, he should have under no circumstances moved from being astern. How Detmer achieved this tactical advantage, who knows. It was war and he was fighting for the survival of his ship. He defeated a superior enemy, he deserved his Knight's Cross. Detmer was a professional officer and not a Nazi, pity Burnett was not a professional himself. Just because someone holds rank does not mean they are competent, Burnett replaced the highly experienced Collins, he took over a ship and crew that was combat experienced and lost them both. Discussing what Burentt should/could have done is pointless, Detmer was able to create a tactical advantage for himself and used it brillantly. Thats just war, men die.

Kangaroo's post above is ludicrous, if he did even rudimentry research he would have known the so called Brisbane Line plan did not exist in November 1941. We were not yet at war with Japan, Singapore and Malaysia were where any future battle were to be fought.

Mustard gas was stored in Australia, there were tests of it on Australian troops on Hinchenbrook Island in 1942, it was never used operationally. That is off topic but it also serves as a warning to never volunteer for anything in the Army! Those poor men did volunteer, a bad mistake. I have seen the Army film of the tests, they made me shudder at the gas blisters on those men, one poor bastard had no testicles, just a gas massive blister there.

The most depressing thing about the loss of the Sydney is how so many Australians like kangaroo seek excuses/reasons for her loss. It seems a national trait almost to make excuses rather than accept that Australians were outfought and defeated in battle. I recall an outright forgery of a "Sydney account of the battle" found on a beach in Western Australia, someone took a lot of time and effort to make the document appear authentic. It was constructed to prove one of the conspiracies, pathetic really. A lot of the research groups that sprang up about the loss of the Sydney were little more than those trying to find excuses rather than facts.

When Sydney was found, the damage she suffered tallied exactly to the German accounts of the battle, all the many conspiracy theories were found to be rubbish. Kangaroo has to his credit presented a brand new one with the mustard gas lol. The loss of the crew, came down to the bow breaking off and a rapid sinking, coupled to the fact that the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force were tardy in beginning a search. Nothing sinister, just a lack of urgency from what was largely "peace time" Australia. War with Germany was on the other side of the world not on our shores. We had sent our Divisions, our ships and Squadrons to the far side of the world, war was what happened to other people elsewhere.

There are no mystries left, the Sydney has been found and photographed, the damage she has matches the descriptions given by Detmer and his crew 60 plus years ago. Her crew died working to save their ship and they deserve to be remembered for that, not have their memory cheapened by petulant excuses.

I will finish on two notes. The loss of the Sydney and her crew was the worst loss suffered by Australian Navy in WW2. Sydney was the darling of the Navy with a proud record in the Mediterrian. Her loss to Australia was akin to the loss the British felt about losing the Hood (total shock). Other ships were lost against the japanese, ie. the heavy crusier Canberra at the battle of Savo Island in 1942, The light Cruiser Perth (Sydney's sister ship) at the Battle of the Sunda Strait but the loss of life was much less. To have hundreds of German survivors and no Australian ones, people thought of foul play. "Evil Nazis" must have done an atrocity, the only carley float located from the Sydney "appeared" to have machine gun holes in it. Post war it was found to have been damaged by shell splinters not bullets, but the seed of an atrocity had been planted and some refused to see further.

Finally the Sydney was not the greatest loss of Australian lives at sea in WW2, the Montevideo Maru , a transport filled with Australian prisoners from the Fall of Rabual holds that record. An American submarine sank it over 1000 Australians died as the ship went down. The Japanese abandoned ship, letting the prisoners drown, locked below. That callousness by the Japanese on leaving POW's locked below was repeated throughout the Pacific War. US Submarines sinking transports filled with POW's, no one blames the the US crews, they had no idea of what was in the ships, it was a tradegy of war.
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Some additional thoughts, Australia had three Leander Class light cruisers, (1) Sydney sunk by Detmer, (2) Perth went down with the heavy crusier USS Houston, both fighting against overwhelming Japanese odds at the Battle of the Sunda Strait. (3) Hobart had her stern blown off up in the Islands but survived. The heavy crusier Canberra was lost at the Battle of Savo Island along with 3 US Cruisers. Various corvettes and sloops were also lost in 1942-43 period, war came with a real vengenace to the navy in those years. But Sydney was the loss that Australia could never accept. It was a good thing she was finally found.

Edited for my typo and grammar errors
Who discovered we could get milk from a cow? and come to think of it what did they think they were doing at the time? Billy Connolly

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Polar bear
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Re:

Post by Polar bear » 10 Jan 2011 09:02

hello,
Graeme Sydney wrote: ... you are wearing your apologist rose tinted glasses.
...
If you can't see that or concede that I'm not going to waste my time explaining.
...
thank you to Mark and Sunbury (from Australia)

Graeme, I you take up such a position as quoted I agree that further discussion will be fruitless.

once more greetings to "Down Under",

the pb
Peace hath her victories no less renowned than War
(John Milton, the poet, in a letter to the Lord General Cromwell, May 1652)

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Re: Re:

Post by Graeme Sydney » 10 Jan 2011 10:23

Polar bear wrote:hello,
Graeme Sydney wrote: ... you are wearing your apologist rose tinted glasses.
...
If you can't see that or concede that I'm not going to waste my time explaining.
...
thank you to Mark and Sunbury (from Australia)

Graeme, I you take up such a position as quoted I agree that further discussion will be fruitless.

once more greetings to "Down Under",

the pb
Nice purposeful and misleading mis-quote :roll: . Thanks for your objectivity and contribution.

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Sunbury » 10 Jan 2011 12:42

I sincerely hope this thread does not degenerate into name calling.

Detmer dropping the Dutch Flag seconds before opening fire is no different to what British Q-Ships did against German U Boats during WW1. It is legal, Ruse de guerre is the term I believe and ships have done it to each other for centuries. It would be simplistic and naive to believe that flags were dropped before guns were fired in every case, but there is no reason to doubt Detmer's version of events for the Sydney battle.

Very few Kriegmarine Officers were Nazi's, I believe. I have argued about their unwillingness to risk their ships and the scuttling of their own vessels before but I have never believed that Nazism took a strong hold in the German Navy. There is the famous picture of Admiral Lutjens giving Hitler the Naval Salute while other Officers gave the Nazi Salute.

I have a "passion" for HMS Glowworm and her fight against the Admiral Hipper. Two things that need to be stressed about that are. (i) Captain Helmuth Heye of the Hipper, hove to and picked up the British survivors at a time Hitler had ordered no German ships should do so. He acted out of humanity and respect for his enemy, a true professional sailor. The second was that Lt Commander Roope's Victoria Cross was recommended by Heye, the first time in the Royal Navy's History that an enemy had made the recommendation. http://www.squidoo.com/hms-glowworm
The first Victoria Cross earned by the Royal Navy in the Second World War, Lieutenant Roope's Victoria Cross is unique because of the circumstances under which it was obtained.

For the Victoria Cross to be issued the citation must be issued by an officer of regimental level and supported by three witnesses. No British officer of that rank survived. Instead the details of the action and suggest for decoration were received by the British Government through the Red Cross, sent by Captain Helmuth Heye of the Admiral Hipper.

It was the first and so far the only Victoria Cross ever awarded at the recommendation of an enemy officer
Detmer obviously used some kind of ruse to allay any fears in Burnett's mind and to get him alongside. The German accounts state the Sydney's Walrus was on its catapult and washing was on the stern. What Detmer did no one exactly knows, he was never specific, but he suckered in a more powerful warship and sank it. If he had been British there would be comparsions to Grenville and the Revenge http://www.bartleby.com/42/646.html
God of battles, was ever a battle like this in the world before?
He is German and so many Australians (my countrymen) somehow believe he must have "cheated" how else could we have lost our warship? War is about killing, he out thought his enemy and defeated them. Burnett in effect offered the Sydney up on a platter to Detmer, it is he who is to blame for the loss of her.
Who discovered we could get milk from a cow? and come to think of it what did they think they were doing at the time? Billy Connolly

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Mark V » 10 Jan 2011 16:38

Sunbury wrote: Detmer dropping the Dutch Flag seconds before opening fire is no different to what British Q-Ships did against German U Boats during WW1. It is legal, Ruse de guerre is the term I believe and ships have done it to each other for centuries. It would be simplistic and naive to believe that flags were dropped before guns were fired in every case, but there is no reason to doubt Detmer's version of events for the Sydney battle.
Hello.

I think that main difference of Graemes point of view, and your and mine, is that he has an opinion that use of false flag in naval arena is somehow degrading, suspect, and hints to generally lower morale of side using such tactics.

Like you mentioned, such ruses are fully legal conduct of war. It is no different in morality point of view than for example rifle company advancing to flank of enemy force, all the time under camouflage, and making from such advantageous position an surprise attack. Such tactics are as long as warfare, and above mentioned naval tactics were/are universally accepted, absolutely normal way of naval warfare. The fact that in modern times opportunities to use such tactics are less makes no difference.

All the trawlers moving today in world oceans are not exactly what they pretend to be - now it is more about intelligence gathering, not merchant raiding... but in times of crisis they could give targeting info for aircarft/submarines, and carry special force teams...

Kormorans crew, like any crew of raider, would know the drill in their sleep. Captain ordering action would involve automatic process of fast slashing of false colours, raising war flag, lowering the camouflage in front of armament, and opening fire.

Regards

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Re:

Post by Mark V » 10 Jan 2011 17:01

Graeme Sydney wrote:There is a difference between a Nazi naval officer and a Weimar naval officer or a Federal Republic naval officer. There is also a difference between Raider naval officer and a Fleet naval officer.
May i ask what are these differences ?

Especially when same person served:
- Imperial Navy, Reichmarine, and Kriegsmarine
- Kriegsmarine and Federal German Navy
- or other combination of them...
- did someone serve in all four eras ?? Hmmm... there might have been few of them. Oh - i remember one - the notorious raider Bernhard Rogge !! You know, the captain of Atlantis. Later Bundesmarine Admiral, and NATO area commander.

Regards

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Polar bear » 10 Jan 2011 17:41

hello, sunbury,
Sunbury wrote:I sincerely hope this thread does not degenerate into name calling.
...
It was the first and so far the only Victoria Cross ever awarded at the recommendation of an enemy officer
thanks again for your deescalation post(s) and I concur with your hope.

everything else I have on my mind has been said by you and Mark, and well, too.

with regard to the VC, however, I would like to point out - we are a history forum, after all - that there were two more awarded due to the recommendation by German officers, namely to
- Thomas Frank Durrant, British Army, participation in the St.-Nazaire-raid, March 1942
- Lloyd Allan Trigg, NZAF, sinking U 468 in the South Atlantic in August, 1943 (the only one based solely on German recommendation as there were no Allied survivors)

greetings, the pb
Last edited by Polar bear on 10 Jan 2011 17:48, edited 1 time in total.
Peace hath her victories no less renowned than War
(John Milton, the poet, in a letter to the Lord General Cromwell, May 1652)

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Mark V » 10 Jan 2011 17:42

Takao wrote: To add fuel to the fire, from "Ahoy - Mac's Web Log"

At that time, Captain Burnett, was Deputy Chief of Staff; at Navy Office, he had seen, and appended his initials to the correspondence about "Canberra" and her Captain's actions, and knew what Board members had thought and said. He then went off to take command of H.M.A.S."Sydney," and was faced with the same sort of situation when meeting "Kormoran." "Did prior knowledge have any bearing on his actions, on that occasion? Of Course we will never know."
http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/MaraudersWW2/16Pinguin.html
Very interesting point. Do you know did Burnett express his opinion about the matter, or more spesifically, was such opinion documented in written form ?

If, and big if, but such thing can really change mans behaviour.


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Graeme Sydney
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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Graeme Sydney » 10 Jan 2011 20:02

For whatever reasons you guys have misread what I wrote or purposely used every ruse of debate to ignore the question; "If you want to disprove what I say tell me that the Sydney's position as reported was consistent with the ID'ing mission and not a preparing to board position."

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Sunbury » 10 Jan 2011 22:30

Many thanks PB on the other VC winners, I knew of them but had not thought of the circumstances of how they could have been adwarded.

I will put out my theory as the why Detmer was able to lure Burnett close aside. The only thing to me that makes sense is that Detmer was able to give the Straat Malacca's secret code by radio. If so he would have kept quiet about it for security reasons. The Germany Navy did breach Royal Navy Codes at times as did the Royal Navy's theirs. If Detmer did give the right codes, then Burnett may have simply have been passing him when attacked. Of course that begs the question of any need to attack at all, again the only explanation is Detmer's ship disguise may have been only for long distance and not a short range examination.

Like all theories its floated to be shot at :)
Last edited by Sunbury on 11 Jan 2011 03:26, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Takao » 11 Jan 2011 02:32

Graeme Sydney wrote:Although the insight adds to the understanding I still don't think it explains why the Sydney was at 2000m and closing.
The only explanation that would suffice would come from the officers of the HMAS Sydney, anything else is speculation. Personally, I believe that Burnett was done in by his own shortcomings. What combat experience did he have? IIRC, I only noticed some combat service during WWI & for the most part, he and Sydney were performing escort duty during his stint as CO.

Graeme Sydney wrote:I still don't think it explains why the Sydney was at 2000m and closing. She didn't have to get that close to achieve a 'cheap' sinking. And it assumes the Sydney was treating the Kormoran as hostile. This is not consistent with Capt D's comments about the Sydney not being ready (apron men on deck).
From what I have read the HMAS Sydney had her main guns and port torpedo tubes trained on Kormoran for some time and from a fairly good distance too. I'm sorry, but that is not how "friendly" ships greet each other. Training you main guns and torpedo tubes, implies that the unknown ship is "hostile." Having crewmen out on deck, when the main guns are trained out, indicates a lack of due diligence on the part of the captain and crew of the HMAS Sydney. Also, IIRC, the Sydney was preparing to launch her spotter aircraft, during this time, was she not?

As for flying a false flag, say Norwegian, as some have speculated. Then why did Kormoran send out the "QQQ Straat Malakka" that was received at Perth? A Norwegian ship transmitting a signal identifying herself as a Dutchman? It doesn't make sense. As does much of what transpired that day, which is why this mystery endures for so long.

Graeme Sydney wrote:"If you want to disprove what I say tell me that the Sydney's position as reported was consistent with the ID'ing mission and not a preparing to board position."
If the Sydney was truly "preparing to board", and the captain was still unsure of her nature, a stern approach would be the most reasonable and safest approach. A wise captain would have figured the vessel as "hostile" until proven otherwise. Coming in from the stern gives Sydney the advantage, as the least amount of weaponry could be brought to bare in that direction. The Sydney also has the speed advantage, since the Kormoran can not simply "head over the hill," nor can she turn away, since the Sydney can swing in the opposite direction and give her "what for." From a position astern, the Sydney is in a far better position to dictate terms and effect a boarding. Whereas, approaching a possibly hostile target broadside opens her up to...Well, we know what it opened her up to.

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Mark V » 12 Jan 2011 20:14

Hi,
Takao wrote:Having crewmen out on deck, when the main guns are trained out, indicates a lack of due diligence on the part of the captain and crew of the HMAS Sydney. Also, IIRC, the Sydney was preparing to launch her spotter aircraft, during this time, was she not?
= spelling it out loud - this kind of sightings signals loudly to professional opponent that the ship is not in high state of readiness for surface combat, instead guns are trained just for show (= gun blast damage avoidance prevent such deck activity when preparing for battle).
Takao wrote:As for flying a false flag, say Norwegian, as some have speculated. Then why did Kormoran send out the "QQQ Straat Malakka" that was received at Perth? A Norwegian ship transmitting a signal identifying herself as a Dutchman? It doesn't make sense. As does much of what transpired that day, which is why this mystery endures for so long.

A wise captain would have figured the vessel as "hostile" until proven otherwise.
Instead Burnett chose, in view of all evidence, that "that ship is harmless with all propability", and Sydney went with that initial estimate till it was too late. Considering the battle power, and value of his cruiser, choosing to accept the danger makes no sence. From here propably comes most of the conspiracy theories. To me he just made serious mistake, being not the first naval commander to do that, and not the last either.

The report brings little that is really new, but it is good summary of information that is available today. One point that comes to my mind is that Detmers all through his cruise acted very, very conservatively (his war diary). His assesments of observing enemy merchant ship behaviour, the proximity of own assets/virgin operating areas, enemy shore based airpower, etc.. *** all the time keeping on top of his mind that any bigger and faster enemy merchant could be an AMC - being determined to avoid battle with one. Those were also his orders. He was no stranger to refuse battle if there was unnecessary danger by his estimate, and he had freedom of making the decision. Detmers clearly valued as the main importance of raider of its continued being at large, not the actual sinkings per se, and was clearly not seeking "gunfight a la OK Corral". When cornered, and by his estimate was unable to flee or fool his opponent, he did bite determinedly, also strictly with his orders.

Some other raider captains would propably had chosen differently in several situations along the cruise = more aggressive approach. Detmers was very junior among raider captains, coming straight from command of fleet destroyer (someone said that there is difference between fleet officers and raider officers :-), having most modern and biggest raider ship under his command - he may have been more likely to follow the general orders to the letter than some other, much more senior captains, that held rank, or 2 higher. One of the more senior captains did recommend that Kriegsmarine high command should stuff their operations area orders to where the sun don't shine - ofcourse not with so many words because communications safety - but the message being the same - and getting away with it !

I dare to say, that without Sydney encounter, Kormorans captain would had been estimated by Kriegsmarine command as being bit too wary. Cause being really heavy responsibility for his experience and age. I am not damning the man - he being 5-10 years older when in action, he may have contested the best, and as it was, he trained his crew extremely well and built/maintained fighting spirit, and acted with great determination and courage when he was measured - you need big brass things hanging in your trousers to call "action" against full fledged enemy cruiser abreast at little over 1000 metres, having not an single sheet of proper armour plate in whole ship - when there is always the opportunity to speed up, turn away, shoot couple shots to give "resistance" (and couple Iron Crosses later on), and after shots were away, immediately ordering the seacocks opened, mines rigged for explosion half an hour later, and ship abandoned, making sure opponent knowing that we are going for boats... I would had done that :-) - but i have too much imagination what 6 inchers of that cruiser could do to my person, and non what so ever sence of duty or honour.


Regards


*** Hey. He did plan to plant his long carried mines eventually in Shark Bay of all the places !! That is backwater, and in context of Australian continent backwater is really in .... outback :-). Kormoran still carrying its mine load almost an year after her departure being another clue of commanders conservative approach (closing coast/narrows possible for planting the mines being very dangerous), though it carried risk of its own - tens of tons of explosives aboard.

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by Dachhase » 08 Dec 2011 06:09

Anyone still following this post? Lot of quick comments.
@ Sunbury: I am not saying that you are wrong, but I would be interested in your source for mustard gas tests on Hinchinbrook Island in 1942. The first evidence that I have found is Atherton Tablelands, 1943, although both mustard gas and phosgene bombs were delivered to Sydney (the town, not the ship) late 1942 by Birchbank, Nigerstroom and Idomeneus.
Burnett's attitude to dissent: He was very averse to adverse comment if he did not ask for opinions. He apparently "tore a strip off" one of the highly experienced bridge officers for expressing reservations about something that he did while Sydney was on escort duty in the Great Australian Bight several months before the sinking. From memory, the victim was Lt-Comm. Edmund Thruston, but I am not sure about that.
Sydney's return of fire: it was very prompt. On one occasion - I could not now identify the location - Detmers said that the initial salvos might even have crossed in mid-air. The point was that Sydney's broadside m i s s e d. But not by much. One shell was so close that, without detonating, it sent splinters of superstructure over Kormoran's No. 3 gun, killing one of its crew but not putting the gun out of action. Another shell - not sure if it was from the broadside, or was a later single shot - hit the leading edge of the funnel, trashing the No. 1 wireless room, killing and wounding many of the occupants, and wounding in the back the navigator, Kpt-lt Karl Meyer, who was on the bridge beside Detmers. But a miss is as good as a mile, and those couple of metres determined the outcome of the battle.
Brisbane Line: The military analysis on which this story was based was compiled in November 1941 and submitted for consideration on either 7 or 8 December. (My memory fails me here.) In military terms, it was exemplary; in political terms, it would have been suicide, so it was never approved. The accusation was publicised by Eddie Ward (Labor Party member for East Sydney). The egregious Ward had been about to take on as his press secretary a journalist by the name of Jack Sleeman, until Military Intelligence has a word with him about Sleeman's unsavoury history of corruption and bribery. Even MI might not have known at that time that Sleeman was being paid - through the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Sydney - a monthly retainer of sixteen guineas to influence political opinion in favour of Japan.
One thing that it was virtually impossible to get the naval men on various inquiries to realise was that Kormoran was not firing broadsides. That is standard naval practice, as a broadside fired at a distance increases the chance that at least one shot will hit, and maximises the impact. As there is necessarily an interval of 8-10 seconds between broadsides, there is a small interval when it is safe to run across the deck. Under the circumstances of the Sydney-Kormoran battle, it was more effective to go to individual firing. (Detmers gave the order: "Feuer frei". The gunnery control personnel have confirmed repeatedly that this was so. The gun crews were allotted an aiming point, and ranges were updated, but they fired just as quickly as they could, individually. Aboard Sydney, this meant that one could never count on a gap of more than two or three seconds between impacts.
Time to lower the Dutch flag and raise the German flag: there have been objections that one man could not possibly have lowered one flag, raised another, then gone to tell Detmers that the war ensign was raised, all within six seconds. Of course not. It is silly to imagine that this is what happened. Two men at the stern hauled in the Dutch flag. Two men at the mainmast hauled up the German flag. One man on the wing of the bridge relayed to Detmers that the ensign was flying clear. (Only just.)
Finally: this story about Sydney having taken on mustard gas from Durban is a new one, even to me. And it is just as lunatic as the story that she took aboard from several Dutch submarines the gold reserves being evacuated from Hong Kong. Then there was the story that Sydney was towed to Japan by some Japanese vessel. But it would be hard to beat the claim that the ship and crew had been abducted by an alien spaceship. I think that the person who made this claim was quite in earnest, and, strangely, was not in a lunatic asylum.

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Re: Report on the loss of HMAS Sydney II

Post by PF » 03 May 2014 19:01

Postscript
HMAS Sydney "John Doe" Seaman report
http://www.smh.com.au/national/mystery- ... 309df.html

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