Page 89: Still in Geraldton
  Geraldton is known as Sun City. It should be called windy city. The trees in the cathedral garden leaned at about 30° to the vertical, just begging for this photo to be taken.  
     
   
  Variation on a theme. The ground is actually horizontal, it's the trees that grow at an angle due to the constant wind.  
     
   
  Where did Pam decide to have her hair done? Yes, HeadBangers. Note the car registration, too.  
     
  For two or three years I've been searching for a particular T-shirt and in Geraldton I finally found it:-  
     
   
     
  Yet More on H.M.A.S. Sydney  
 

Hey, what a great place the Geraldton museum is. We were made welcome, formed an instant rapport and were invited to attend some lectures that evening on the loss of the HMAS Sydney. We accepted and had a really interesting time.

To be blunt, unless you had a relative on the Sydney you may well feel like I did; 645 Australians lost in one battle was a terrible tragedy. However, seen in the perspective of a major world war, it was only one of hundreds of such tragedies. Ships were lost all over the world and many thousands of sailors died. Why, then, this ongoing obsession with H.M.A.S. Sydney II sixty seven years on?

True, there was the mystery of how it came about and why no one from the Australian ship survived. But again, many ships mysteriously disappeared with all hands during that war. It all took place so long ago - why not let it rest? To try and find the answer to those questions was my main reason for attending the lectures.

I think I got part of the answer but I don't know if  I'm capable of putting it into words. It's very complicated. To a large extent it is a culture thing - all about being Australian. Australia is a small country, population-wise, and Australians are fiercely proud of their country. They are also an extremely competitive people. Consider . . .

• The Germans had given Australia a blood(y) nose by sinking the pride of their fleet which many had believed invincible.
• Worse, they had done it with what was regarded as a very inferior ship - an armed freighter.
• They'd sunk Sydney right on Australia's doorstep.
• Most of the enemy sailors survived to become Australia's 'guests' for the duration of the war.
• Every member of Sydney's crew perished.
• The fact that the Germans were flying a Dutch flag would not sit well with 'fair go' Australians.
• Rumours abounded about a Japanese submarine assisting the Germans. (The Japs were not in the war at the time.)
• A bullet-riddled life raft suggested that the Australian sailors might have been machine gunned in the water.

The Royal Australian Navy believes it has a duty to the lost men, to their relatives, and to all Australians to find the truth. Many others very passionately share that view.

The Story Of What Is Believed To Have Happened.
HMAS Sydney II, a very modern light cruiser, was on patrol off the west coast of Australia when smoke was spotted on the horizon. Sydney altered course to intercept the unknown ship which, in turn, altered course away from Sydney. There followed a pursuit during which Sydney slowly closed the gap until the quarry was seen to be a freighter flying the Dutch flag. Sydney signalled for the freighter to stop but she continued steaming, responding with confusing and incorrect signals. For some unknown reason Sydney closed to within 1.5 km and presented her flank to the freighter which struck the Dutch flag, raised the German battle ensign and opened fire. A battle ensued ending with the loss of both ships. Most of the Germans survived.

As not one man from the Sydney survived it has to be remembered that the only witnesses were the German sailors.

Rumours Abounded.
Following the loss of every single man on board the Sydney there were all sorts of wild theories published:
Was a Japanese submarine involved?
Was the Sydney's crew machine gunned in the water?
Did the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) falsify the time of the battle.
Were radio signals received in Geraldton from the Sydney?
Was she sighted much later in an Asian port?
As the years went by without any answers the saga of the loss of the Sydney took on a life of its own. No less than twenty five books have been written on the subject. To some it became vital to find the wreck and with it some answers.

Most Vital Questions
The Sydney had spotted the Kormoran some hours earlier and had been closing on her while trying to establish communications. The Germans, flying a Dutch flag, responded with unintelligible and confusing signals. The most intriguing question of all is, "Why did a very experienced naval captain place his vessel in such a vulnerable position within range of the enemy's guns?". Sydney's guns had a range of over 22 km. so why did Captain Burnett close to within 1.5 km., presenting his ship, broadside on and moving slowly, to a possible enemy? Why was the Sydney's Albatross aircraft not launched? From the air the Kormoran's guns and a deck full of mines would have been easily visible.

The Battle As Told By The Germans
Kormoran was slowed by a faulty engine. Realising that there was no escape, the German captain ordered his crew to strike the Dutch flag and raise the German battle ensign. The highly trained German crew claimed they could do this and fire the first salvo in six seconds. The German gunners found their range very quickly and began pounding the Sydney which, according to German witnesses, wasn't even closed up for battle. It was at this early stage that the bridge and gunnery control section on the Sydney were destroyed, leaving the ship without a captain.

The Sydney, though already badly damaged, soon began to return fire and it was on for one and all. The Germans fired two torpedoes, one of which struck Sydney in her bow section and from that moment the ship was doomed. She was already aflame from stem to stern.

Sydney's remaining guns scored a hit near the Kormoran's engine room disabling the engines and starting a fire. The fire began burning rapidly towards the deck on which were stored 320 mines which Captain Detmers had planned to lay in the shipping lanes used by Allied troop ships.

Severely crippled, the Sydney turned away, still under German fire. On Kormoran Captain Detmers ordered explosive charges to be laid to scuttle the ship and the crew to take to the life boats. Detmers was in the last boat to leave and was lucky to survive the explosion when the charges and the 320 mines exploded sending Kormoran straight to the bottom.

Sydney was limping back towards Geraldton, her crew still at their stations when the ship went down. It probably sank very quickly because the crew did not have a chance to launch the life boats. This part of the story is supposition as the Germans could no longer see the ship, just a glow in the distance.

One man did escape, however, and his body was washed up on Christmas Island three months later, where his remains were buried.

It is unfortunate but people were not prepared to believe the German testimony, even to disregarding Captain Detmers' co-ordinates for the wreck of his ship. Recent discoveries support almost everything the Germans said.

Finding The Wrecks
As the years rolled by all sorts of misleading statements continued to be put forward regarding the location of the battle and 'sightings' of the wrecks. Some were purely malicious, some were from loonies and others from well-meaning people believing they could help. Each served to keep the saga alive but further muddied the water.

Only recently did the technology become available to locate sunken ships deep below the surface. The big question was, where should the search begin? So many theories, so many locations.

As we know now, the co-ordinates of the Kormoran's remains had been known all along. Only a man called David Mearns, it seems, was prepared to believe the German captain. Fortunately it was to David Mearns, a wreck-finder of some renown, that the organisations dedicated to finding the Sydney had turned.

Equipping the ship S.V. Geosounder with a deep-tow sonar unit and a Remote Operated Vehicle equipped with cameras, he started his search scan around the German captain's co-ordinates. Before too many hours had passed he located the Kormoran and her condition verified the witnesses' statements - the mines had exploded and blow the ship to pieces.

Next, following the course that the Sydney had reportedly taken, David Mearns came across a 'debris site' which he rightly guessed was the where the battle had taken place. Continuing on, before too many more hours had passed, he found the bow section of the Sydney and further on still, the remainder of the ship. She lay in 2,468 metres of water. The bow had broken away as the ship sank.

A Remote Operated Vehicle equipped with cameras was lowered to the wrecks and sixty hours of high quality video plus 1,435 still photographs were obtained. It became clear that the German reports we almost entirely correct. Sydney's bridge and gunnery control section had been destroyed, killing Captain Burnett and leaving the gunners to operate independently. An examination of the wreck revealed the extreme accuracy of the German gunfire. Sydney, too, had fired two torpedoes, both of which missed. One of Sydney's 21" quadruple torpedo tubes was photographed on the ocean floor with two of the four torpedoes still in place.

From the evidence of the surviving German crew, supported by what SV Geosounder discovered, there is no doubt of the heroism of Sydney's crew. Despite their ship being crippled and ablaze, under withering fire from the enemy and their captain dead, they stayed at their posts.

The One That Got Away
The grave of the unknown sailor who was washed up on Christmas Island was recently located, though not without difficulty, and the body exhumed. Forensic, dental and DNA matching has now eliminated every crew member except one. That sailor's relatives have proved difficult to trace and the search is continuing in the U.K. His remains are to be reburied with full military honours in Geraldton's War Grave Cemetery today, 19th November 2008, - the 67th anniversary of the battle.

The 67th Anniversary
Geraldton has built a beautiful new memorial to the Sydney's crew on Mount Scott which overlooks the city and the Indian Ocean (see pictures on the previous page). Two naval vessels have arrived in port for the occasion, one being the latest HMAS Sydney - Sydney IV I believe. There will be much ceremony and doubtless many tears as the unknown sailor is again laid to rest, for this is still a surprisingly emotional issue.

The pictures from the ocean floor are amazing and I found myself being drawn in by the excitement of the final chapter in this sixty seven year old story of mystery, intrigue and false trails. For many there has always been hope and a belief that the mystery would one day be solved. Their faith has been justified.

A Commission of Inquiry, led by Terrence Cole QC, is already underway to put this story 'to bed', once and for all. The Cole Inquiry is meticulously examining every scrap of 'evidence' that has ever been produced, genuine and otherwise. They have already been to Germany to examine documents and speak to all remaining members of the Kormoran's crew. Once the inquiry is over and its findings published, maybe HMAS Sydney II and her crew can finally rest in peace.

 
     
  One of two naval ships (possibly HMAS Sydney IV) steaming out of Geraldton en route to the wreck site of HMAS
Sydney II for a wreath laying ceremony. Lining the rails were relatives and former shipmates of the long lost crew.
 
     
  The end.  
     
  Just a couple more photos from windy - but nice - Geraldton.  
   
  Horizontal traffic lights. See? Windy.  
     
   
  Geraldton's own cone breeding programme. Oh, and that's the courthouse in the background with the cop shop beyond.
Pity about the different coloured bricks, rather spoils the look of the building.
 
     
  That's it for page 89, folks, but I would appreciate your feedback. I've had to make some corrections to the site due to an error I made way back when. If you come across a 'link' that does nor work, would you email me with details so that I can rectify it, please? Thanks a million. The email address (not a hyperlink) in on the index page.