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A MUSICAL VOYAGE - Royal Australian Navy

A MUSICAL VOYAGE - Royal Australian Navy

- 194 – I once doubted

- 194 – I once doubted the stature of these important elements but these doubts are no longer necessary. The international reputation of the Royal Australian Navy Band is one for us all to enjoy, and it’s one to be completely proud of. HMAS SYDNEY II The Pride of the Australian Fleet Article by Leading Seaman Esa Douglas The legend of the HMAS Sydney II continues another chapter in both Australian and Military history books with its discovery off the Western Australian coast on March 16 2008 by the ‘Finding Sydney Foundation’. Its infamous battle with the German ship HSK Kormoran, of which the Sydney successfully sank before succumbing to its own watery demise, became Australia’s largest loss of life in a naval battle with all of its 645 crew going down with the ship 67 years ago. The HMAS Sydney II, a 6,830 ton modified Leander class cruiser, had been considered a superior battle ship and the pride of the Australian Fleet. The ship was commissioned at Portsmouth on 24 September 1935, and arrived in Australia on 2 August 1936 where she remained in home waters until the outbreak of World War II. The Sydney II, under the command of Captain John Collins, sailed to the Mediterranean, where she was involved in a number of battles with victorious results and came out mostly unscathed. Sydney returned to her namesake city on 10 February where a public holiday had been granted to the people so all could come to see her and the brave crew parade through the city. Sydney returned to home waters in Western Australia, and on 11 November 1941 now under the command of Captain Joseph Burnett, she sailed from Fremantle to escort the troopship Zealandia to the Sunda Strait. Sydney was due to return on the afternoon of 20 November 1941, and although her absence of return was noted, at that stage there was no immediate concern. It was on her return home, on 19 November 1941, Sydney sighted what appeared to be a merchant vessel approximately 130 miles west of Shark Bay. Signals were exchanged between the two ships to establish who the mystery ship in fact was. The mystery ship identified itself as the Straat Malakka a Dutch merchantman, but on enquiring through flag signals what the secret identification was of the ship, the vessels true identity could no longer be concealed. HSK Kormoran, under the command of Commander Theodor Detmers, ordered the Dutch colours to be struck, and hoisted the German Naval Ensign. They opened fire at approximately 1730 when the two ships were no more than a mile apart from each other. One of the first blows hit the bridge of Sydney, where all communications were cut off and would explain why they were unable to get any messages out. Sydney returned fire simultaneously, although were unable to meet their mark straight away. Kormoran concentrated all their fire power on hitting the bridge, torpedo tubes and anti aircraft batteries. With two of Sydney’s turrets out of action, a third turret opened quickly and accurately hit Kormoran in the funnel and engine room. The fierce exchange of gunfire and torpedoes continued at close range, and at one stage the Sydney appeared to turn quickly as if in an attempt to ram the Kormoran. Sydney, crippled and on fire, steamed slowly to the south at approximately 1825. At around 2000, Detmers gave the order to abandon ship, and set up charges to scuttle the Kormoran. At 0035, the mines exploded and the Kormoran sank rapidly stern first. All accounts from the battle were gathered from the surviving German crewman. 317 of the 380 crewman survived and were rescued from life rafts by passing ships or the rafts washing up along the coast of Western Australia. Their stories and accounts report that the fatal battle lasted no more than half an hour and Sydney was last seen in the distant glare with occasional flickering lights until 2200 when she seemingly disappeared. The success of destroying the Kormoran meant that Sydney had stopped the raider’s plan to lay up to 360 mines across vital shipping lanes. For 66 years, controversy surrounded the Sydney on how and why it sank, and where it was that she lay to rest. Royal Australian Navy Band: A Musical Voyage

- 195 – Many books have been written over the years to try to come to terms with how and why the Sydney sank. The Finding Sydney Foundation, a not for profit group, was established in July 2001 with the intention of finding the location of HMAS Sydney II and to honour all those that had been lost in her. The Directors for the foundation were Ted Graham, Commodore Bob Trotter RAN (retired), Don Pridmore, Keith Rowe and Glenys McDonald AM JP. An active search with the help of shipwreck investigator David Mearns onboard the SV Geosounder, began on 29 February 2008. For the many remaining relatives and friends, the successful outcome of this large undertaking would be an opportunity to put to rest their unanswered questions and perhaps gain some closure. On Wednesday 12 March 2008, an image appeared on the sonar screen of the search vessel SV Geosounder. 26° 05' 49.4" S 111° 04' 27.5" E Approximately 207km from the west coast (Steep Point) of Western Australia, at a depth of approximately 2,560 metres, the location of the HSK Kormoran was discovered. This exciting revelation meant that Sydney must be close by, and the months of searching would perhaps soon have a successful end. On Wednesday 16 March 2008, at the location of 26° 14’ 37” S 111° 13’ 03” E, and a depth of approximately 2,468 metres, HMAS Sydney Its hiding spot was finally revealed as a sonar image on the computers of the Geosounder. On Thursday 17 March 2008, the Prime Minister, Honourable Kevin Rudd, together with the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, the Honorable Warren Snowdon, MP, Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, Vice Admiral Russ Shalders, Chief of Navy and Mr Ted Graham, Chairman of The Finding Sydney Foundation, made the historic announcement the HMAS Sydney II had been discovered. By Thursday 3 April, the first images of Sydney were being taken and delivered to the world. A National Memorial Service to commemorate the Ship’s Company of HMAS Sydney II who lost their lives was held on Thursday 24 April 2008 at St Andrew’s Cathedral. Over 1200 people attended the memorial service, which included almost 1000 relative of the Sydney II crew members. The Sydney detachment supported the occasion with the wind orchestra, ceremonial fanfare team with buglers and the Sea Chanter’s chorus. The bugle players Able Seaman Marcus Salone and Able Seaman Chris Ellis held the Navy Bands military drums that have a battle honours roll displayed of band members lost in the line of service, and performed on bugles that have been dedicated to band members who were on board HMAS Sydney II at the time of its sinking. The service was broadcast live by the ABC, and repeated a short time later on the Sky New Channel. The anniversary of the sinking would indeed be an extra special occasion with its 67 th year being celebrated this year on Wednesday 19 November. Memorial services were attended around the country, with the Royal Australian Navy Band being in attendance for number of the services. The Sydney detachment supported services at the Sydney Cenotaph in Martin Place and the Canberra War Memorial. The Melbourne detachment attended a service at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, and the Queensland detachment attended a Brisbane commemorative service at the Shrine of Remembrance in ANZAC Square. A small element of the Sydney detachment also travelled to Geraldton to supplement numbers of the Western Australian detachment. The first commitment for the group was to attend a service for the burial of the unknown sailor, held at Queens Park and attended by about 150 people. The sailor believed to be the only crew member of HMAS Sydney II was found in a life raft on the shores of Christmas Island in February 1942. DNA testing has ruled out 15 of a possible 16 identifications, the last test is currently being investigated. The unknown sailor has become a symbol for all those who lost family and friend on the Sydney. His remains were laid to rest at the Geraldton War Cemetery. After a brief ceremony including the reading of the Naval Ode and a rendition of The Last Post, a rifle salute rang out as the coffin was lowered. A Commemorative Sunset Service was held at the HMAS Sydney II Memorial at Mt Scott Park. Known as the ‘dome of souls’, the memorial was created by Joan Walsh-Smith in collaboration with the Rotary Club Geraldton, and is certainly an impressive and well thought out structure. It was on 19 November 1998, during the dedication of the HMAS Sydney memorial site that a large flock of silver seagulls flew in formation above the crowd. Royal Australian Navy Band: A Musical Voyage

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