By the first few months of 1941, the crew of HMAS Sydney II had already served their country well, winning battle honours for bravery in Mediterranean engagements. The grey cruiser had arrived in Sydney to a heroes’ welcome and now, as they sailed off the coast of Shark Bay, perhaps the crew of 645 men could have rightly expected a respite from the heat of battle. Fate had other plans however. Just before 4pm on November 19, the cruiser spotted what looked like a merchant ship off the Gascoyne coast. The mystery boat did not identify itself despite requests from the Australian battleship’s captain. Something wasn’t right; ostensibly this merchant ship was a Dutch ship but it was actually a German auxiliary cruiser, the HSK Kormoran. Sailing under disguise, its mission was to lay mines in the shipping lane and disrupt merchant ships. 

The ensuing battle was brutal and catastrophic for HMAS Sydney II. Just two hours after the HSK Kormoran had been spotted, the Sydney was fatally damaged by sustained firing from Kormoran’s torpedoes and guns and, despite the fact the Australian cruiser far-outflanked the German boat in terms of fire power, HMAS Sydney II sank, taking all 645 hands later that same night. In the battle the Kormoran was also damaged and Captain Theodore Anton Detmers gave the order to abandon the ship and put to sea in five boats and two rafts. Of the original crew of 380 men, 318 survived. The first of the Kormoran survivors to be rescued were a group of 25, picked up by the British tanker SS Trocas on 24 November. More rescues followed, including one lifeboat containing 62 men and Captain Detmers.

Many Kormoran crewmen were held in the Carnarvon Gaol for just two days before walking the One Mile Jetty to join the others aboard the MV Centaur for the journey to Fremantle and, after interrogation, were dispatched to prisoner-of-war camps in WA and Victoria. The location of the remains of both ships were finally found in 2008.

A Walk of Remembrance around Carnarvon’s Fascine was created in memoriam of those who were lost and the names of the Australian crew are etched on a wall, looking seawards near a memorial to HMAS Sydney II and the HSK Kormoran, pointing to the exact latitude and longitude of the wreck. 

ADDRESS 21 Robinson St, Carnarvon, WA 6701
PHONE (08) 9941 1146

The above information was sourced from