HMAS Sydney and the Kormoran

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Recently I read a story about a naval battle that took place on the west coast of Australia early in 1941. During that battle, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney pursued and engaged a German merchant raider named Kormoran, the result of which was the mutual sinking of both ships; while most of the Kormoran's crew survived the encounter, the Sydney was sunk with all hands. This was the largest single loss of life suffered by the Royal Australian Navy during World War 2.


At first glance, it seems impossible. How could such a heavily-armed and armored warship be defeated by a merchant ship? The Sydney was a purpose-built armored warship armed with eight turreted 6-inch guns and numerous smaller-caliber weapons and had already been involved in several battles. The Kormoran was a fast merchant ship that was converted at the outbreak of war to be a commerce-raiding vessel and was armed with six casemated 5.9-inch (150mm) guns, several 37mm and 20mm anti-aircraft guns, mines, and torpedoes; enough to make it deadly as a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing against merchantmen, but a very poor match against a veteran warship like the Sydney.


While on a routine patrol on the west coast of Australia, the Sydney spotted the Kormoran and gave chase, easily catching up to the German ship (Kormoran’s maximum speed was about 18 knots, while Sydney was easily capable of reaching 30-plus knots). Disguised as a Dutch freighter bound for Batavia, Kormoran’s crew readied their weapons and prepared for a fight they knew they would lose, or so they thought. The ruse seemed to be working, but Kormoran, after being signaled by the Sydney to “show your secret sign”, dropped its camouflage, raised the Kriegsmarine (The name of the German Navy under the Third Reich) flag, and fired on the Sydney. The battle begins.


Sydney simultaneously fired back with all eight of its main guns, but like Kormoran's first salvo, all of the shots missed, flying over the Kormoran. The Kormoran, however, then wisely and accurately targeted the Sydney’s bridge, which it immediately destroyed. Many of Sydney’s crewmen were observed outside the ship on the decks and rails up to the very start of the battle, strongly suggesting that they didn’t think the Kormoran presented much of a threat. Because the ships had closed to within 1200-1300 meters of each other, the Germans used their lighter, rapid-firing anti-aircraft weapons to rake the Sydney, killing and injuring many of her exposed crew.


The Sydney, after suffering numerous shell hits and a torpedo strike, finally started to hit and damage the Kormoran, but the confused and disjointed actions of the ship signaled to the German captain that his opening salvos, which destroyed the Sydney’s bridge, were more effective than he at first thought. The German captain, Theodor Detmers, although knowing by this time that his own ship was probably doomed, reacted with alacrity and continued to pour fire onto the Sydney, which was a flaming wreck by this time. Both of the mortally-wounded ships sunk in the wee hours of the late evening and the next morning; Sydney disappeared under the waves, while Kormoran was scuttled.


How could such a sorry fate have been in store for HMAS Sydney? And why did most of the Germans survive? According to the Germans, the Sydney simply got too close to them, which effectively nullified most of the Australian ship’s advantages in firepower, protection, and speed. Although Sydney was a veteran ship with a veteran crew, why did they take such a casual approach to an unknown ship in a war zone, especially as German raiders were assumed to be in the area and were known to be armed with large-caliber guns and torpedoes? Most of the blame lies at the feet of the captain of the Sydney. Something not mentioned was the fact that the Germans have always optimized their weapons for high rates of fire and train their crews accordingly; indeed, the raider crews were an elite of sorts.


Several years ago, both of the ships were discovered, and their location and respective conditions more-or-less squared with the original German accounts of the battle. The Sydney’s bow was separated from the rest of the ship, apparently from the torpedo strike, and there are numerous very tightly-grouped shell hits on the Sydney’s hull, which was a strong sign of good fire control on the part of the Kormoran. Although it was certainly a tragedy, the lesson was learned; from that point on, suspicious ships were dealt with at a respectful distance. Overall, I’d say that a foolhardy Australian captain was the cause of over 640 brave Australian sailors to die in battle. It should have been very much the other way around.


Anti-Limey Added Aug 19, 2018 - 2:08pm
Note: I noticed that WB has some Australians, so I thought I'd put this out there for them.
John Minehan Added Aug 19, 2018 - 5:19pm
HMAS Sidney had eight 152mm guns with probably about a 17.1 km max range. (I'm assuming they had about the range of a Soviet ML-20, a contemporary 152mm gun-howitzer, although they would have been guns with a higher muzzle velocity and a flatter trajectory.)
Was Japan in the war yet?  The Australians were very involved in North Africa and, eventually, they had to get their forces back to fight Japan.  This created a lot of friction with Great Britain.
It is interesting to think of the Nazi German Navy operating that far into the Pacific.  
HpO Added Aug 19, 2018 - 5:35pm
For sinking "HMAS Sydney", the Iron Cross First Classification of "the German captain, Theodor Detmers" was promoted with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The rest of his Kormoran crew became recipients of the Iron Cross First Class or the Iron Cross Second Class. The names of those aboard Kormoran snuffed out by Australia have all been engraved into the Laboe Naval Memorial. The Kormoran name lived on as the namesake of the German Seeadler class fast attack craft Kormoran, commissioned in 1959 by the West German Navy, by then a killing-machine ally of Australia.  YAAY.
Anti-Limey Added Aug 19, 2018 - 5:42pm
@ John M. - Actually, this took place several months before Japan and Australia were at war. For the most part, naval guns are more like "guns" than their land-bound equivalents, except for the Soviet 2S7 Pion 8-incher SP gun, which was a modification of a naval weapon.
Yes, those raiders went far and wide, and most of them racked up some decent scores until, much like the Kormoran, they met spectular ends. This article appeared in Life magazine, when two of their employees were aboard this ship when it was captured by the raider Atlantis:
The most successful raider, the Pinguin, in addition to numerous victims, managed to wipe out the entire Norwegian whaling fleet around the Antarctic and at least managed to seriously damage the British cruiser that ultimately sunk her.
Anti-Limey Added Aug 19, 2018 - 5:43pm
@ HpO - Thanks for that, I'm sure the Krauts would approve, lol.
John Minehan Added Aug 19, 2018 - 6:01pm
"Actually, this took place several months before Japan and Australia were at war. For the most part, naval guns are more like "guns" than their land-bound equivalents, except for the Soviet 2S7 Pion 8-incher SP gun, which was a modification of a naval weapon."
A very good weapon with about a 50 km range. 
The NKPA Koksan 170 mm gun, which fills a similar niche to the 2S7, is also a development of a Soviet Naval Weapon as is the M-46, a 130 mm gun that is almost ubiquitous in both the Soviet model or as the PRC's Type 59-1 with the pepperwort muzzle break.  
Anti-Limey Added Aug 19, 2018 - 6:13pm
John, you know your stuff, but I wouldn't expect anything less, lol. Speaking of long-range artillery, I always wondered why we removed the 175mm M107's, but I'm guessing that MLRS/ATACMS is what replaced them?
Anyway, the seemingly gross mismatch in firepower is something that struck me when I first read the story about these two ships. I think that the high rates of fire achievable with the German guns and crews was obviously the deciding factor. Of course, if only one or two shells from Sydney had struck the Kormoran in its opening salvo, the battle probably would have had a different ending. So much for the "but"'s though.
John Minehan Added Aug 19, 2018 - 6:23pm
The M110A2 with a longer tube and increased range replaced the M107, which had some problems with bursting tubes starting in the late 1970s.  
The M270 SPLL replaced the M110 A2 starting with an MLRS Battery replacing the GS M110 A2/MLRS Battalion back in 1987 or so.
Ryan Messano Added Aug 19, 2018 - 6:30pm
Very informative.  Moral of the story.  Minimize your risk.  The Australian captain assumed, and his grace error cost every man on his ship their life.
Anti-Limey Added Aug 19, 2018 - 6:41pm
@ John M. - That explains it then. I know the Brits and the Israelis used them until fairly recently, but I believe they are all retired and either scrap metal or in museums by now. Before I was active, I spent a weekend with a National Guard unit (2/144 FA I think) at Camp Roberts. The other gun fired a round at loading elevation, which fell WAY short and complicated things, lol. I trained on the M110A2 during AIT. It was raining hard, and it was much fun humping 200lb projectiles through the almost knee-deep mud, lol.
Anti-Limey Added Aug 19, 2018 - 6:42pm
@ Ryan - Thanks Ryan, glad you enjoyed it. I cannot arrive at any other conclusion. What was that captain thinking?
John Minehan Added Aug 19, 2018 - 7:16pm
I remember the Brits having M107 in May 1985 in Graf.  
HpO Added Aug 19, 2018 - 9:08pm
You mean, "What was that captain [s]inking" in "his graCe error", donchanow, Michael B. & Ryan Messano?
Anti-Limey Added Aug 20, 2018 - 8:34pm
Yes, what was I sinking! Actually there was an incident when a U-boat that was being blasted sent a message that was bad grammar but yet crystal clear: "We are sunking."
HpO Added Aug 21, 2018 - 6:58am
You're out of touch with the real Australia. Hence this article. Otherwise you'd be able to sum up for readers the difference between the geo-politics of the Australia of the "HMAS Sydney and the Kormoran" era and that of the Australia of the Post-9/11 era.
Anti-Limey Added Aug 23, 2018 - 12:20am
@ HpO - I don't recall any attempt to be "in touch" with Australia, or anywhere else, you fucking dildo. Too bad one of your forebears wasn't on the Sydney, lol. Why don't you "sum up" the bullshit you're talking about your own self, you semi-Limey dickhead.
The Burghal Hidage Added Aug 25, 2018 - 8:35am
Those 20mm and 37mm cannons (yes, they were converted AA guns) were lethal at that range. These weapons were adapted into a variety of mobile infantry uses in every theater of the war. These were mercilessly deployed upon companies of the British 1st Airborne in the battle of Arnhem
The Burghal Hidage Added Aug 25, 2018 - 8:37am
Michael! thats no way to talk to our cousins! You hopeless vulgarian!
James Travil Added Aug 25, 2018 - 6:49pm
Nice historical article Michael, I really enjoyed reading it. Clearly the captain of the better ship let his ego get the better of him. 
Ward Tipton Added Aug 27, 2018 - 10:41am
Very interesting. I have always had a passion for history. 
Anti-Limey Added Aug 30, 2018 - 12:11am
@ TBH - You clearly do your homework, lol. Actually, I thought it was the combined firepower of two SS divisions that made the whole Arnhem thing "a bridge too far."
BTW, the fucking limey fucking cocksucking, fag-puffing fucking cunts deserve all of the fucking abuse they fucking get, and then fucking some, the fucking limey faggot fucking fucks, lol!
As usual, thank you for your intelligent and insightful comments!
Anti-Limey Added Aug 30, 2018 - 12:11am
@ James T. - Thank you James, I'm glad you enjoyed it! The evidence seems to be overwhelming in this case - the Captain fucked up.
Anti-Limey Added Aug 30, 2018 - 12:11am
@ Ward T. - Yes, history is chock-full of such lopsided encounters. I think it's an object lesson in complacency.
Ken Added Aug 30, 2018 - 12:25am
Very interesting.  I had no idea the Germans were ever in the pacific arena at all. And now today's maritime laws won't even allow freighters to carry guns, not even crews.  That is why Somalian pirates and others face virtually no resistance
The Burghal Hidage Added Aug 30, 2018 - 3:16am
Yes there was the matter of that pesky SS Panzer Division.....
" Oh, I shouldn't worry about those reconnaissance photos, old cock! Those tanks probably aren't even operational. Oh, and did I mention, we're putting your lot down 9 kms from your objective? XXX Corps will have no troubles bashing up that one lane road from the Belgian frontier in just a couple of days!"
There was soooo much wrong at Arnhem. Those boys in that 1st Airborne, Michael B, were not a bunch of crumpet crunchers. By that stage of the war the age of the average US soldier was, as in Nam, 19. Among their British counterparts? 33
Nearly 10,000 men dropped.....fewer than 2000 made it out. Though doomed to failure, the stand of Major John Frost's men at the north side of the bridge stands as one of the greatest feat of arms on the western front
The Burghal Hidage Added Aug 31, 2018 - 6:29pm
totally off topic Michael....
Sorry, I'm being lazy. Somewhere back you posted a narrative detailing your pox infested journey through online dating. It occurred to me that I might offer some kindly advice from a man of more advanced years.
Very simple. If you want to enjoy a really great blowjob make sure that you have some Rod Stewart cued up on your playlist. Something about Rod Stewart sends that weak 1/4 hp Kenmore into a state of the art Dyson. Trust me on this one. Try it, you wont be disappointed.
Anti-Limey Added Aug 31, 2018 - 10:20pm
@ TBH - Rod Stewart? I guess he would be a role model for cum-catching, lol. Actually, I've hated him since early childhood. If I ever wound up with a chick who liked him, I'd probably break this one out, although it would probably put a damper on my amorous activities, but you never know.
"Saggie Mae":
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 1, 2018 - 1:35am
I know you are younger....maybe some generational stuff there? Nah! I'm not that fucking old! Perhaps if you are a passive participant in the act you could make a trade:  She gives you head, you give her headphones.
Earbuds are ok, as headphones may become cumbersome.  Then again, if the gal requires a sack the headphones are helpful in securing said sack.
Asked a blond once "What is the definition of cumbersome?"
She said " IDK......I guess that means you don't spit it out when you're done?"
Anti-Limey Added Sep 1, 2018 - 10:53am