During WW2, HMAS Sydney engaged the German auxiliary cruiser HSK Kormoran—in the battle that followed, both ships were destroyed.



In WW1, the first HMAS Sydney (1) sank the German raider SMS Emden off Cocos Islands, Western Australia. Many Australian Naval Messes still celebrate this victory.

Early in WW2, the second HMAS Sydney (2) successfully operated in the Mediterranean Sea, sinking the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni. However, on the way home to Fremantle in November 1941, it was destroyed by the German auxiliary cruiser HSK Kormoran.

 Key points:

  • Kormoran was a concealed gun, mine laying German auxiliary cruiser disguised as a merchant ship.
  • Unable to ascertain the identity of the Kormoran, Sydney closed to about 1000 metres of Kormoran.
  • Closing to within 1000 metres put HMAS Sydney(2) within range of the Kormoran's guns.
  • HMAS Sydney with its bigger guns could have destroyed the Kormoran without putting itself in range of the Kormoran's guns..
  • The Kormoran’s gunners could de-camouflage and open fire in just 6 seconds.
  • The gun crews concentrated on Sydney’s bridge, the gunnery control tower, the engine room, and the Walrus aircraft.
  • Sydney returned fire, but both vessels were fatally damaged.
  • All of Sydney’s 645 crew perished.
  • One was found deceased in a life raft.
  • In 2021 his identity was confirmed as Thomas Clark.
  • Three hundred eighteen of Kormoran’s 380 crew survived.
  • The theory that a Japanese submarine was involved has been discounted (Japan hadn’t entered WW2 yet).

It is still unclear why Captain Burnet of Sydney closed to within 1,000 metres putting Sydney in range of the Kormoran guns. However, one theory is that Burnett might have come within range of the Kormoran in the mistaken belief that the Kormoran was a lightly armed German supply ship that might have beeb carrying allied prisoners of war.