Sunday, April 06, 2008

HMAS Sydney update

As the original reports from German survivors indicated, it was devastating fire from the "Kormoran" which sank the "Sydney" with loss of all hands

Gripping, crystal-clear new pictures of HMAS Sydney reveal the devastating bombardment by the Germans - but are also testament to the heroics of Aussie gunners who never gave up. Shipwreck investigator David Mearns said the images were remarkable for their clarity and their documentation of the punishment suffered by Sydney and its crew. "I have studied many historical accounts of the battle between Sydney and Kormoran, but none of these could fully prepare me for the enormous damage withstood by Sydney,'' he said.

One of the new photos shows a cluster of four large-calibre shell hits on Sydney's starboard side. "The truly amazing aspect of this picture, however, is that each of the four shells -- undoubtedly fired separately, but by the same gun on Kormoran -- all hit within a cluster only 20ft (6m) high,'' Mr Mearns said. "This image illustrates with terrifying reality the rapidity and deadly precision of the German gunnery.''

Another picture brings to life the courage of a group of Sydney's gunners who fired the shells that sunk the Kormoran. "The image speaks volumes for the bravery of Sydney's own gunners closed up in `X' turret,'' Mr Mearns said. "Because Sydney's bridge and director-control tower were destroyed at the start of the battle it is now clear that the men in `X' turret must have been shooting independently in local control. "Our pictures of `X' turret not only show it pointing forward, frozen in its final shooting position, but they also reveal the turret's two forward hatches swung wide open, possibly to allow better aiming and firing by the gunners inside.'' The battle in November 1941 claimed both ships and their wrecks now lie in water almost 2.5km deep off Shark Bay. All 645 crew on the Sydney were lost.

Senior naval historian John Perryman, who is aboard the discovery vessel, said the pictures gave a sobering insight into Sydney's final hours. "That some of Sydney's crew were observed by their German opponents to be fighting to the last is no small wonder and a testimony to their courage and determination to press on,'' he said. "One can only guess the desperateness of Sydney's situation following such severe punishment.''

Mr Mearns said the new pictures also revealed serious damage to Sydney's stern, which would help explain the final sinking scenario. He believed the trigger for Sydney's sinking by the stern was the moment its bow broke away from the hull on the surface. "The next important task for us on our upcoming dive is to locate Sydney's bow, the position and condition of which should tell us far more about the sinking,'' Mr Mearns said.

Glenys McDonald, a historian and author who is also observing the filming, said the extent of the damage could be distressing for some families of the deceased. "I was horrified at the extent of the shell hits to this (starboard) side of the vessel,'' she said. "Several areas of the ship also bore the scars of terrible fire damage. "It was a very emotional and long day; so much destruction, so little chance of survival. "HMAS Sydney gave up many of her secrets today; may she now rest in peace.''


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