Australia's single worst naval disaster
The sinking of the HMAS Sydney in 1941, and the loss of her 645 crew members, shocked Australians deeply. Lack of information and wartime censorship helped foster rumours about the ship's fate.
In 1999 the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade conducted a detailed inquiry into the loss of the Sydney. It found little evidence to support the most controversial theories.
New evidence was uncovered with the discovery of the Sydney off the coast of Western Australia in March 2008. Drawing extensively on records in the National Archives' collection, a subsequent commission of inquiry examined the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Sydney.
The Archives' research guide, The Sinking of the HMAS Sydney, was first published in 1999. It provides a detailed survey of Commonwealth government records relating to Australia's single worst naval disaster. Some of these records are displayed below. Click on an image to view the enlargement.
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The HMAS Sydney was sunk on 19 November 1941 after a battle with the disguised German raider Kormoran. On 24 November, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to contact the ship, a wide sea and air search was organised. Other than two lifebelts and a Carley float, no trace of the Sydney was found. Two days later, survivors of the Kormoran provided the first definite account of the Sydney's fate. Further interrogation of the raider's crew enabled Australian authorities to piece together the details of the battle. With many rumours circulating, the Prime Minister confirmed on 1 December that the Sydney had been lost.