The Memorial to HMAS Sydney II is situated at Mount Scott in Geraldton, four and a half hours north of WA’s capital Perth. The multi-award-winning national memorial commemorates the loss of HMAS Sydney II and the ship’s company of 645 men on 19th November 1941. Those lost included six Royal Australian Air Force members, eight Royal Navy personnel, and four civilian canteen staff.
The loss of HMAS Sydney II was the greatest single tragedy in Australian Naval History. The cruiser was lost in action with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran off the Western Australian coast. None aboard the Sydney survived and the Kormoran was also sunk in the action. This beautiful memorial is dedicated to the lost crew of HMAS Sydney II and their families.
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HMAS Sydney, named after the capital of New South Wales, was one of three modified Leander-class light cruisers operated by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN.) Successful in battle in the Mediterranean, notably sinking the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, HMAS Sydney (II) and her crew of mostly young men were celebrated upon their return to home shores in February 1941.
Her next task was to escort troopships to Southeast Asia along the west coast of Western Australia, following an Indian Ocean route. On 19 November 1941, on her return trip from one of these missions, she encountered German Raider HSK Kormoran disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel approximately 106 nautical miles off Dirk Hartog Island.
The Sydney approached the unknown vessel and once within range, Kormoran brought all its armament to bear. A battle ensued and both vessels were destroyed, sinking to the 2,500-metre-deep ocean floor, and creating a decades-long mystery.
HMAS Sydney II’s disappearance left a legacy of uncertainty and controversy for 66 years. The Kormoran survivors - 318 of the 399 onboard - were the only witnesses and were dismissed as unreliable.
Searches were conducted after Sydney failed to return to port. Debris was found, but no survivors. Life vessels carrying Kormoran survivors were recovered at sea, while others made landfall north of Carnarvon.
Renewed efforts to find the Sydney came in March 2008, when a small group of Australian volunteers from the Finding Sydney Foundation, discovered the wreck shortly after locating the Kormoran, approximately 100 nautical miles off the WA coast. Another expedition in 2015 produced new photographic evidence, finally solving the mystery.
The Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides Association offers a daily tour of the HMAS Sydney II Memorial, taking in the five elements steeped in symbolism and explaining to visitors the story behind the Memorial.
HMAS Sydney disappeared almost without a trace on 19 November 1941 with all 645 crew onboard. It was the largest loss of life in the history of the Royal Australian Navy and the largest allied warship lost with all hands during World War II. The disappearance struck a major blow to Australian wartime morale. The disappearance remains one of the most intriguing mysteries of Australia's wartime history.
The project to build the HMAS Sydney II Memorial was initiated by the Rotary Club of Geraldton. Work began through their HMAS Sydney Memorial Steering Committee on July 1, 1998. The Rotary Club was joined by the City of Geraldton, the Shire of Greenough, the Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association, and the Mid-West Development Commission.
The Memorial was dedicated on 18 November 2001 and the Eternal Flame lit the following day, exactly 60 years after the tragic loss of 645 men aboard HMAS Sydney II.
The HMAS Sydney II Memorial was designed by Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith of Smith Sculptors and manufactured by Fondex Constructions. The interior concave side of the Wall of Remembrance bears the names of all 645 men who lost their lives.
The centrepiece is a dome surmounted by seven pillars, representing the seven states and territories of Australia. The dome is made up of silver gulls forming a filigree canopy and the Stele is stainless steel and represents the bow of the HMAS Sydney II.
Joseph Burnett (1899 – 1941) was a Royal Australian Navy officer and captain of the light cruiser HMAS Sydney when it went into battle with HSK Kormoran.
A fire aboard the Kormoran delayed the launch of lifeboats, and at midnight the last boat cast off. One large rubber lifeboat sank, and 40 men drowned. Of the 380 officers and men, 318 survived and were held in prisoner-of-war camps until the end of the war.
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