HMAS Sydney

Leander (second group)
Swan, Hunter & Wigham
Richardson Ltd.
Newcastle-on-Tyne, England
Pennant Number:
February 10, 1933
September 22, 1934
Keel Laid:
July 8, 1933 (a)
September 24, 1935
Sunk Nov. 19, 1941 by the German auxiliary cruiser Komoran.

Location: Indian Ocean, 177 miles southwest of Carnarvon, Australia.
(26.14S - 111.13E)

645 crewmen killed, no survivors.
Christened by Mrs. Ethyl Bruce.
Laid down as Phaeton, bought by the Australian Government in 1934 and renamed
Sydney before launch.


24 September 1935
The modified Leander class cruiser HMAS SYDNEY, (Capt. Fitzgerald, R.N.), was commissioned.
HMAS SYDNEY was laid down in the Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Yard, at Wallsend-on-Tyne, England, on 8 July 1933, as HMS PHAETON, and launched 22 September 1934, after having been purchased for the RAN, as HMAS SYDNEY. Mrs. S.M. Bruce, (wife of the Australian High Commissioner), performed the launching ceremony.

31 October 1935
HMAS SYDNEY, was ordered to join 2 Cruiser Squadron in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Fleet was strengthened as a result of the Abyssinian Crisis.

22 January 1936
HMA Ships AUSTRALIA and SYDNEY (cruisers), fired a 21-gun royal salute at sea on the accession to the throne of Edward VIII.

11 March 1936
HMAS SYDNEY (cruiser) joined HMAS AUSTRALIA in Admiral Sir Max Horton's 1 Cruiser Squadron based at Malta.

14 July 1936
HMA Ships AUSTRALIA and SYDNEY, (cruisers) were attached to the Mediterranean Fleet during the Abyssinian crisis once more.

11 August 1937
HMAS SYDNEY arrived in her home port (ie Sydney, NSW) on her maiden voyage after her detachment in the middle east with the R.N. has ended.

03 September 1939
The Declaration of war on Germany was issued. The Imperial war telegram was received in Canberra at 21:50 local time. It read; "Total Germany, repeat, total Germany". At 21:15 in a radio broadcast, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced; "It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that as a result, Australia is also at war".

The strength of the RAN at the commencement of hostilities in WWII was:

2 heavy cruisers, HMA Ships AUSTRALIA and CANBERRA;
4 light cruisers, HMA Ships SYDNEY, HOBART, PERTH and ADELAIDE;
2 sloops, HMA Ships SWAN and YARRA;
1 survey vessel, HMAS MORESBY;
2 armed merchant cruisers HMA Ships MANOORA and WESTRALIA.

Three liners, MORETON BAY, ARAWA, and KANIMBLA, were converted into armed merchant cruisers and manned by Australians, but operated as units of the RN. Eight smaller vessels were requisitioned and equipped as minesweepers.

The permanent naval forces totaled 5440 and the reserve naval forces totaled 4819 personnel.

06 September 1939
Rates of pay in the RAN were:-
Ordinary Seaman 2nd Class, (under 17 years of age), 1/9d per day;
Able Seaman, 7/- per day;
Chief Petty Officer 11/- per day.
Rates for tradesmen were at a higher scale:-
Chief Mechanician 1st Class, Chief Engine room Artificer, and Chief Shipwright 1st Class, 14/6d per day.

A marriage allowance of 4/6d for the wife, and 3/- for the first child, 2/- for the second, and 1/6d for the third and all others, was also paid.

08 September 1939
The British Admiralty asked Australia to send a cruiser and five destroyers for service beyond the Australia Station. The five destroyers, HMA Ships VAMPIRE, VOYAGER, VENDETTA, WATERHEN and STUART were sent to Singapore for intensive training. The cruiser was not to proceed further west than Suez. Later, a request to send all of the ships to the Mediterranean was agreed to.

06 October 1939
The Australian Government agreed to the detachment of 2 cruisers and 5 destroyers of the RAN for service abroad. A proviso in the agreement stipulated that the ships were to be returned if a threat in the Far East developed.

16 November 1939
Captain J. A. Collins, R.A.N. was appointed commander of HMAS SYDNEY after reliving her temp commander T. J. N. Hilken, R.N.. Capt. Collins was the former Cruisers Gunnery Officer and then became the Cruisers XO, he was the first Australian to Command the Cruiser with all her Captains up to this point being RN.

07 December 1939
The Australian War Cabinet considered a memorandum from Vice Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin, the British First Naval Member and Chief of Naval Staff, which advocated that HMA Ships CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA, and SYDNEY, (cruisers), be assigned to protect convoy US-1, (11 fast liners carrying 13,500 Australian and New Zealand troops), from Fremantle to the Cocos Islands.

The Australian Government would not agree to such a depletion of naval forces in Australian coastal waters.

21 December 1939
A cartoon in the Australian Newspaper "The Bulletin", depicted a cruiser with a badly crumpled stern passing the flagship and the Admiral turning to the Flag Captain:- "Send for her Captain Prendercast. I'll teach him to play boomps a daisy". The cartoon alluded to HMAS SYDNEY, colliding with a wharf at Fremantle some weeks previously after arriving at her new War Station.

10 January 1940
The first Australian and New Zealand troop convoy of the Second World War US-1, sailed from Sydney for the Middle East. The escort consisted of HMA Ships CANBERRA and SYDNEY, (cruisers) and HMS RAMILLIES (battleship).

17 January 1940
The first Australian and New Zealand troop convoy of the Second World War, US-1, sailed from Fremantle.

Australia had refused a request to involve HMA Ships CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA, and SYDNEY, (cruisers), for fear of depleting defences in local coastal waters.

22 May 1940
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY, arrived at Aden, en-route to the Mediterranean. During the ship's passage from Sydney, she had struck, and cut in half, a whale, this was seen as something of a act of extreme bad luck to those that may have been superstitious on board ship.

26 May 1940
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY joined 7 Cruiser Squadron operating in the Mediterranean.

10 June 1940
Italy entered the war on the side of Germany. An officer in HMAS SYDNEY at the time of the announcement being made was reported as commenting, "The news came like the proverbial bomb in our midst".

11 June 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, with HMA Ships STUART, VAMPIRE, and VOYAGER (destroyers), sailed at 01:00 westward from Alexandria, Egypt

21 June 1940
HMA Ships SYDNEY, (cruiser) and STUART (destroyer) supported a combined British and French Squadron in the bombardment of Bardia. During the action SYDNEY'S Seagull amphibian aircraft was shot down by three Italian fighters and crashed on landing. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant. T. McB. Price, R.A.A.F., was awarded the DFC for this action.

25 June 1940
France capitulated. Admiral A. B. Cunningham concentrated the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria to contain the French Squadron in the port. RAN ships with the Mediterranean Fleet were HMAS SYDNEY (cruiser) and HMA Ships STUART, VAMPIRE, VENDETTA, VOYAGER, and WATERHEN, (destroyers that were nicknamed by the German's as the 'Scrap Iron Flotilla' due to their age).

28 June 1940
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY participated in the sinking of the Italian destroyer ESPERO in the central Mediterranean.

04 July 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, engaged in the removal of the French fleet from the Mediterranean, records in her war diary, "Situation with French very critical".

07 July 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, was straddled by a stick of bombs while operating with the Mediterranean Fleet. The C-in- C, Admiral A. B. Cunningham, recorded in his journal: "On this day I saw the SYDNEY, which was in company, disappear in a line of towering pillars of spray as high as church steeples, to emerge unharmed".

08 July 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, (cruiser), came under air attack whilst preparing for the Battle of Calabria.

09 July 1940
HMA Ships SYDNEY, (cruiser), STUART, VAMPIRE, and VOYAGER, (destroyers), participated in the Battle of Calabria. The signal, "Enemy battle fleet in sight", was hoisted for the first time in the Mediterranean since the Napoleonic Wars.

The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY, (Capt. J. A. Collins, R.A.N.), returned from the fleet action in the central Mediterranean to Alexandria, was immediately readied for sea again, after being refuelled, ammunitioned, and having a bottom clean.

18 July 1940
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY, (Capt. J. A. Collins, R.A.N.), with HMS HAVOCK, (destroyer), left Alexandria to protect four destroyers which were to hunt down Italian submarines, (HM Ships HYPERION, ILEX, HERO, and HASTY), and to intercept Italian shipping in the Gulf of Athens.

19 July 1940
The cruiser, HMAS SYDNEY, (Capt. J. A. Collins, R.A.N.), sank the Italian ship BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI, (cruiser), off Cape Spada, Crete. BATOLOMEO COLLEONI, and her sister ship GIOVANNI DELLE BANDA NERE, were sighted by the HM Ships HASTY and HERO, (destroyers), 20 miles south of the SYDNEY. The destroyers turned north with the enemy in pursuit. HASTY signalled HERO: "Don't look now but I think we are being followed". Fifty minutes later SYDNEY opened fire at extreme range. By 09:20, the battle was over, with BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI sinking, and GIOVANNI DELLE BANDA NERE withdrawing damaged.

The following gallantry awards were gazetted for the action:-

Capt. J. A. Collins, R.A.N.
(seriously wounded 1944 on bridge of HMAS Australia during Kamikaze Attacks which all but crippled the ship and killed her captain and a large majority of her officers with the remainder also wounded badly)

Cdr. T. J. N. (Norman) Hilken, R.N.
(Commanded HMAS Sydney briefly in 1939, survived war deceased 1969, posted off HMAS Sydney July 1941 to shore post. After Loss served in shore posts in Australia, Cairo and Algiers then made Commander of the Carrier HMS Emperor in late 1943 until Jan. 1945 where upon he was made the commander of the RN FAA Shore Station in Ceylon HMS Bherunda a post he held until 1946. By wars end was awarded DSO (1940) Bar (1945) MID (Leadership during Tirpitz Operations March 1944) Bar (Leadership during Operation Dragoon the invasion of southern france August 1944).

Also Commanded HMS Gannett (Shore Station)1946-1947, attended the Imperial Defence College in 1948 and in 1949 was granted Flag Officer rank and became the officer in command of the RN East Indies Fleet on board HMS Mauritius, 1951 made the deputy director of Intelligence with the RN and in 1953 became the Queen's ADC on Naval Matters before retiring in January 1954).

Cdr. (E) L. S. Dalton, R.A.N.
(Killed 19/20 November 1941 - His son's God Father were also killed when HMAS Parramatta was sunk days later (27 November) in 1941 by a German U-Boat off Tobruk with the loss of 138 officers and crew.
David Dalton his son also joined the RAN postwar and had a distinguished career as well. Enlisted RAN 1916 worked his way up through ranks 'highly respected and well liked by all hands' (J. A. Collins words not mine).
Served on HMA Ships Australia, ANZAC, Adelaide, Australia (new cruiser part of her commissioning crew replacing the old "Aussie" as the crew called her), HMAS Albatross, then joined HMAS Sydney in UK as part of her commissioning Crew in 1934, HMAS Adelaide (1937) and finally back to HMAS Sydney in June 1939).

Lt. Cdr. M. M. Singer, R.N.
(Killed 19/20 November 1941 - Gunnery Officer)

Lt. Cdr. E. W. Thruston, R.N.
(Killed 19/20 November 1941- ships XO)

CPO A. P. Prior, R.A.N.
(Survived Retired from RAN 1953 - Gunner)

CPO S. G. Silk, R.A.N.
(Killed 19/20 November 1941 - enlisted 1925)

Chief Ordinance Artificer W. J. Keane, R.A.N.
(Killed 19/20 November 1941 - enlisted 1929)

CS T. Beaumont, R.N.

Stoker E. C. Evans
(Survived - enlisted 1924 and discharged on health grounds December 1941 after being taken off the ship 48 hours before she sailed for the last time..)

Thirteen officers and ratings were awarded MID's.

25 July 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, was painted in camouflage colours at Alexandria.
The effectiveness of camouflage on ships at sea was the subject of controversy throughout the war.

27 July 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, was near-missed by two bombs which caused minor casualties, and damaged the ship's new aircraft (loaned Walrus from RN FAA). Admiral A. B. Cunningham saw the cruiser veiled in spray and signalled: "Are you all right?" Collins replied: "I hope so".

28 July 1940
HMAS SYDNEY and HMS NEPTUNE (cruisers) sink the Italian tanker ERMIOMI in the Aegean Sea.

04 September 1940
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY and HM Ships DAINTY and ILEX, (destroyers), bombarded Italian airfields at Scarpanto. Three Italian E-boats attacked the squadron, but accurate fire from ILEX sank two, and the other withdrew.

25 September 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, patrolled south of Cyprus with HMS PROTECTOR, in search of a Vichy French transport bound for Beirut.

12 October 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, was part of a force that sink the Italian destroyer ARTIGLIERE.

13 October 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, stood by while HMS YORK (cruiser), sank the crippled Italian ship ARTIGLIERE, (destroyer).
The enemy vessel was damaged in a night engagement with HMS AJAX, between Malta and Crete.
AJAX was attacked by a mixed force of destroyers and torpedo boats and is credited with the sinking of the large torpedo boats AIRONE and ARIEL, in addition to immobilizing the ARTIGLIERE. HMAS VAMPIRE, (destroyer), picked up one officer and twenty-one ratings from the destroyer.

28 October 1940
Italy invaded Greece, and Greece joined the Allies. HMA Ships SYDNEY, (cruiser), STUART, VAMPIRE, VENDETTA, VOYAGER, and WATERHEN, (all destroyers), were deployed to escort supply convoys to Greece.

06 November 1940
HMAS SYDNEY and HMS AJAX, land troops and equipment at Suda Bay, Crete.

07 November 1940
HMA Ships SYDNEY (cruiser), VAMPIRE and WATERHEN, (destroyers) land troops and stores at Suda Bay Crete.

11 November 1940
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY, joined in a raid into the Straight of Otranto, with HM Ships ORION and AJAX, (cruisers), NUBIAN and MOWHAWK, (destroyers), as a subsidiary raid to the Battle of Taranto. They sink 4 merchant ships, without damage to any of the raiding force.

12 November 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, (cruiser) and HMS MOWHAWK, (destroyer) attacked an Italian convoy of four merchant vessels and two destroyers, north of Otranto. All four merchant ships were sunk, and the destroyers were driven off. When SYDNEY rejoined the Mediterranean Fleet, the C-in-C, Admiral A. B. Cunningham, signalled:- "Did you have a wild Australian night?".

16 November 1940
HMAS SYDNEY, (Capt. J. Collins, R.A.N.), took part in troop transport operations to Greece.

03 December 1940
The Australian Naval Board asked the British Admiralty to redeploy Australian ships in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, to counter the operations of German raiders.

17 December 1940
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY sailed from Suda Bay to join the fleet in the Adriatic Sea.

24 December 1940
HMAS PERTH, relieved HMAS SYDNEY (cruiser) in the Mediterranean Fleet.

18 January 1941
The Australian armed merchant cruiser, HMAS ARAWA sighted searchlight beams and gun flashes from the German raider HSK KORMORAN in the South Atlantic. The raider escaped before HMAS ARAWA could close with her.

05 February 1941
HMAS SYDNEY, arrived in Fremantle Western Australia her Australian War Station after completing her passage back from the Mediterranean.

HMAS SYDNEY arrived in her namesake city and Home Port Sydney NSW, to an enthusiastic and deliriously happy welcome home march and party. The Governor-General Lord Gowrie, thanked the men on behalf of King George VI, and Sydney's Lord Mayor unveiled a plaque on the quarterdeck of the Cruiser commemorating the victory over the Italian cruiser BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI. Every man in the crew received a replica of the plaque that was on board at that time (this plaque was on board when sunk but its unknown if it was taken down or in place at its location).

24 February 1941
The Admiralty informed the Australian Government that "in the event of war in the Far East in the near future no major redistribution of forces is intended other than to send one battle-cruiser, one aircraft carrier, and one cruiser, from Gibraltar to the Indian Ocean and return those Dominion cruisers now serving with Imperial forces to their Dominions".

19 April 1941
The German raiders HSK ATLANTIS and HSK KORMORAN rendezvous in the Indian Ocean. On leaving the rendezvous HSK KORMORAN changed her 'disguise' to the Dutch Flagged Merchantman STRAAT MALACCA.

15 May 1941
Capt. J. Burnett, R.A.N. took over command of HMAS SYDNEY from Capt. J. A. Collins, C.B., R.A.N. Just over 6 months later HMAS SYDNEY was sunk in her ill fated action with the German raider HSK KORMORAN.

17 June 1941
Capt. J. A. Collins, C.B., R.A.N. appointed Assistant Chief of Staff to the C-in-C China Station.

20 September 1941
HMAS SYDNEY was damaged by heavy seas in the Great Australian Bight. A turret was jammed to port, and the training gear was damaged - it is still hotly debated as to weather this may have been a factor in her loss or could explain her closing in the way that she did.

22 October 1941
Capt. J. Burnett, R.A.N., informed the crew of HMAS SYDNEY, that a German raider was operating in Australasian waters. The identity of the raider, STIERMARK, (the original name of the KORMORAN), was known to the Australian Naval Board on 17 October 1941. Captain Burnett concluded his address with an exhortation to his crew that he expected every man to be up to the highest pitch of training.

11 November 1941
HMAS SYDNEY departs as escort to the transport ZEALANDIA bound for Singapore.

17 November 1941
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY handed over the escort of the troop ship ZEALANDIA, to HMS DURBAN in Sunda Strait and turns around to commence her return cruise to Fremantle Aust.

19 November 1941
The cruiser HMAS SYDNEY is lost with all hands in an engagement with the German raider HSK KORMORAN approximately 130 miles off the coast of WA. The full circumstances of the cruiser's loss are still not known.
HSK KORMORAN sank soon after the battle, but her captain and 314 other crewmen survived.

26 November 1941
Capt. Theodor Detmers claimed the last signal hoisted by HMAS SYDNEY was the two flags IK:- "You should prepare for a hurricane or a typhoon". The signal was not understood.

27 November 1941
The sloop HMAS PARRAMATTA, (Cdr. J. H. Walker, R.A.N.), was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-559, while on passage to Tobruk. Of the ships complement of 162, there were only 24 survivors.
21 were picked up by HMS AVON VALE (destroyer), while another three managed to swim ashore to the Libyan coast and were rescued by advancing British troops.

HMAS HEROS recovered a Carley type lifefloat and two lifebelts, 160 miles north-west of Carnarvon, WA.
They were believed to be from HMAS SYDNEY.

28 November 1941
The Commanding Officer of the German raider KORMORAN, (Capt. T. Detmers), was interrogated at Carnarvon Western Aust. Only hours earlier HMAS HEROS found a Carley float from HMAS SYDNEY. The float had been badly damaged by shell fire, and was the only substantial wreckage ever recovered from SYDNEY. The float is now on permanent display in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

29 November 1941
Admiral A. B. Cunningham, C-in-C, Mediterranean, signalled: "I deeply deplore the loss of HMAS PARRAMATTA.
This fine little ship had built up for herself a splendid standard of efficiency and achievement fully in accord with the record of the Australian ships in the Mediterranean".

30 November 1941
The Australian Naval Board announced that six boats and two rafts, carrying a total of 315 German survivors from the raider KORMORAN, had been either picked up at sea, or found on the WA coast. On the same day the Prime Minister, Mr. J. Curtin, announced the loss of HMAS SYDNEY to the Country.

01 December 1941
An RAN interrogation team, consisting of Capt. Farquar-Smith, R.A.N., Cmdr. Dechaineaux, R.A.N. (KIA HMAS Australia when Collins is wounded), Cmdr. Ramage, R.A.N., and Lt. Cmdr. Salm Royal Netherlands Navy, questioned prisoners from the German raider HSK KORMORAN. Capt. H. B. Farncomb, R.A.N. conducted a separate inquiry into the loss of HMAS SYDNEY.

06 February 1942
A Carley float containing the remains of a corpse was discovered off Christmas Island. The body was brought ashore and buried in the European Cemetery at Flying Fish Cove. It was believed at the time that the float and the body were from the cruiser HMAS SYDNEY, sunk the previous November, but the evidence could not be verified. Christmas Island was taken over by the Japanese in March 1942 and the Carley float and all records concerning it and the body were destroyed during the war. A search conducted by the RAN for the grave site in the late 1990's failed to find the grave and thus the mystery remains.

11 January 1945
Twenty German POW's escaped via a tunnel from the officers' POW camp at Dhuringle in Victoria Aust.
One of the escapees was Capt. Theodore Detmers, who was the Commanding Officer of the raider KORMORAN.
Detmers was recaptured on 20 January 1945, some 32 km from the camp. He was sentenced to 28 days solitary confinement in the camp's 'Cooler'.

02 November 1945
Capt. Theodore Detmers, of the German raider KORMORAN, informed the Commandant of his Australian POW camp, of the whereabouts of film taken in the German raider at the time of the sinking of HMAS SYDNEY.
The film was not found despite extensive efforts made to locate it both now and after the war.

24 August 2001
A team of RAN and RAAF personnel were deployed to Christmas Island, to conduct a search of the Old European Cemetery, to find the remains of a sailor buried there in February 1942. The remains floated ashore in a Carley float in early February 1942, and are believed to have come from HMAS SYDNEY. Despite an extensive search of a portion of the cemetery, no remains were found, and the search party departed on 7 September 2001.

18 November 2001
A memorial to HMAS SYDNEY which was sunk in the action with the German raider HSK KORMORAN was dedicated at Mount Scott in Geraldton Western Australia. The memorial consists of a dome formed by 645 interlocking metal seabirds, one for each of SYDNEY's complement. The memorial dominates the Geraldton skyline, and has sweeping views of the Indian Ocean where the wreck of SYNDEY still lies.

16 March 2008
The wreck of HMAS SYDNEY is located and identified.
HMAS Sydney history provided by Stephen Clifford
© 2010 Stephen Clifford all rights reserved

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