World War II Mystery Solved Australian Warship Found After 66-Year Search

The 1941 sinking of the HMAS Sydney was Australia's worst naval disaster ever. For six decades, Australians have been wondering how the pride of its navy could have been sunk by a lightly-armed German cruiser. Now, that mystery might finally be solved.


One of Australia's greatest military mysteries might be solved with the discovery of a World War II ship that sunk with all its 645 crew in a battle with a German vessel. The HMAS Sydney was located off the West Australian coast Sunday, a day after a search team discovered the wreck of the German merchant raider, the DKM Kormoran, which sunk the Australian ship.

The two ships engaged in a 30-minute battle on Nov. 19, 1941, during which both ships were sunk. While most of the German vessel's crew survived, every one of the 645-strong crew of the Sydney went down with their ship -- making it Australia's worst naval disaster ever and the biggest ship to sink during WW II with no survivors.

The find, which was made possible by advances in sonar technology that allow waters more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) deep to be scoured, should offer clues to how the pride of Australia's navy could have been taken out by a lightly-armed German cruiser.

"For 66 years, this nation has wondered where the Sydney was and what occurred to her. We've uncovered the first part of that mystery ... the next part of the mystery, of course, is what happened," the chief of the Royal Australian Navy, Vice Admiral Russ Shalders, said at a press conference Monday.

The HMAS Sydney was found by a $3.9 million (€2.5 million) government-funded sonar research team, which a day earlier had discovered the DKM Kormoran 23 kilometers (14 miles) away. The searchers discovered the ship upright in 2,470 meters (8,100 feet) of water, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Perth.

The mysterious disappearance of the HMAS Sydney has remained a national obsession in Australia. Calls to find the ship had grown in intensity in recent years, as widows of crew members and siblings pleaded for information before they died, news agency AP reported.

Until now, the only source of information about the ship's and its crews fate were the 317 survivors of the DKM Kormoran. The German ship was disguised as a Dutch freighter when it encountered the Australian vessel. According to German survivors, the DKM Kormoran lured the Australian ship, which was more heavily armed, in close and then opened fire with torpedoes and six-inch guns.

For years theories have made the rounds that a Japanese submarine sunk the HMAS Sydney or that the German ship's crew machine-gunned the Australian survivors. Relatives of the dead seamen hope the discovery of the watery grave will finally resolve the mystery.

maw/ap/reuters

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