HMAS Sydney II and unknown sailor at Christmas Island

25th August 2007, 23:22
Have been following with interest the recent press coverage of the search for the wreck of HMAS Sydney (II), lost in the Indian Ocean off West Australia in 1941 after its encounter with the German raider Kormoran. Good to hear the government has committed more funds.

Parallel to that, there's also the attempt to identify the unknown sailor recovered off Christmas Island in February 1942 in a Carley float and buried on the island until recently recovered (last November) and moved to, I think, Sydney for testing.

In attempting to identify the sailor as belonging to HMAS Sydney, the focus has been on what was reported as white overalls material found with the remains, which tends to suggest that the deceased may have been an officer. I've noticed, however, that several reports elsewhere refer to the overalls or boilersuit as having been blue but faded white by the elements.

From the NAA's guide "The Sinking of HMAS Sydney", in Chapter 9 "The Relics":

"According to the eyewitness accounts the corpse was wearing a blue boiler suit which had been bleached white by exposure.."

"The Director of Victualling’s response to the Director of Naval Intelligence was ambiguous. While the boiler suit worn by the body did not coincide with the type issued to RAN ratings, a rating may have worn such a boiler suit even though it was not official uniform. RAN officers purchased their own or had them made privately, but they were white or brown in colour."

From the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Report on the Loss of HMAS Sydney, Ch. 7 "The Unknown Sailor":

"The body was partly decomposed and clothed in a blue boilersuit which had been bleached white by exposure."

"While it appears that the boiler suit did not coincide with the type stocked by the RAN, Defence has acknowledged that the 'fact that the overalls may not have been of naval origin does not preclude the possibility that the body was. Sailors were, and are, renowned for buying their own non-standard items of clothing. The RAAF did use a blue coverall' and there were 6 RAAF personnel on Sydney."

An Intelligence report on NAA "Carley float and corpse - Recovered off Christmas Island [and thought to have been from HMAS SYDNEY]", (AA1980/700, NID 194/222), includes a statement by Mr. J. W. Brown, who in 1942 was the Sergeant of the Christmas Island Platoon:

"They [the look outs] had reported submarines at various times and one evening reported what they thought was another. Examination through the binoculars proved it to be a raft with apparently someone on board. The pilot boat put off and towed it to the jetty. It was a Carley raft with one body on board, the body of an engine room rating in blue overalls very much decomposed."

Perhaps they should be focusing on those aboard HMAS Sydney who may have been wearing blue overalls, e.g. the six RAAF personnel. Does anyone know if any particular type of R.A.N. rating wore blue overalls as standard uniform at action stations in WW2?


27th August 2007, 21:29
Here is the same Minister, Bruce Billson, saying in October 2006 (shortly before the remains of the unknown sailor were removed from Christmas Island, I believe) that the sailor wore blue overalls:

"Another confounding factor was the coveralls - the overalls - that were on the remains, appeared to have been blue, but bleached white from the elements. Now that's also a confounding factor, because that's not normally the kind of overalls navy personnel would wear."

One of his more recent media releases (in August 2007) stated that "Australian War Memorial (AWM) analysis of cloth fragments caught within press-studs resulted in the assessment that the man had been buried wearing white coveralls."

I haven't been able to locate any other reference to the AWM analysis but it looks like they now put less store in the observational skills of Mr. J. W. Brown, the Sergeant of the Christmas Island Platoon and an eyewitness to the recovery of the body, who said that the dead sailor wore blue overalls.

I'm certainly no expert in the area but wouldn't it be possible that the overalls were originally white and dyed blue so that, if examined, a small amount of material between the press studs might still be white?

I have been told by a friend who served in the RAN in WW2 that ratings did in fact have blue overalls. I don't know if it's feasible but I think they may need to widen the search.


27th August 2007, 21:40
Facinating - lets hope that the mystery can be solved in both the identity of the sailor and the position of the wreck. This could then perhaps bring some kind of closure to the many living relatives of those lost.

It must be very saddening not to know what happened to your loved one and where their remains now rest, a discovery of the wreck site could well ease that sadness.


1st September 2007, 22:27
I couldn't agree more, Chris. Here's hoping on both counts. I've emailed the AWM asking them about the analysis done on the unknown sailor's overalls and if they can clarify why their conclusion (that the overalls were white) is at odds with the statement by an eyewitness to the recovery of the body, Sergeant Brown, who said they were blue. Will post back here if I hear anything.


16th September 2007, 07:15

A bid to identify the remains of an unknown sailor, almost certainly from the HMAS Sydney II, with DNA testing of samples provided by the relatives of three short-listed sailors has been unsuccessful in finding a match.

Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence Bruce Billson said while the tests had not achieved a match with the three sailors initially short-listed through research and some educated assumptions, the fact useable DNA had been extracted from the remains of the unknown sailor meant further testing could be conducted in a bid to find a match with other remaining possibilities.

The sailor's remains were recovered from Christmas Island last November. Since that time the Royal Australian Navy has overseen a painstakingly thorough and methodical forensic and historical investigation in an attempt to identify the remains.

Last month Minister Billson announced that a short-list of three possible HMAS Sydney II officers had emerged as potential matches.

Those officers were Lieutenant Allen James King, Lieutenant Allan Wallace Wilson and Sub-Lieutenant Frederick Harold Schoch. While relatives for all three of these officers were located, none of their DNA samples were matches for the remains. Lieutenants King and Wilson and Sub-Lieutenant Schoch have therefore been excluded as possible matches.

They join more than 500 of the crew of HMAS Sydney II who have now been excluded as matches on the basis of forensic dental and anthropological analyses. HMAS Sydney II was lost with all 645 crew in November 1941 off the West Australian coast following a World War II engagement with the German raider Kormoran.

Following the latest developments, there remains over 100 crew members who have not been categorically excluded on scientific grounds as potential matches. To reduce this number to a manageable level for the purposes of DNA testing, the outcomes of analyses conducted on artefacts found with the remains in the grave were also considered.

In particular, Australian War Memorial (AWM) analysis of cloth fragments caught within press-studs resulted in the assessment that the man had been buried wearing white coveralls. While initial historical research by the AWM and the Navy's Sea Power Centre-Australia concluded that the sailor was most likely to be an Officer or Warrant Officer from one of the technical categories, DNA testing has shown that this may not be the case.

"The DNA matching process was a test of the set of assumptions we had made in coming to the short-list," the forensic team leader, Commander Matt Blenkin, said. "The personnel initially identified as the most likely candidates for a match against the remains have now been ruled out, and we must now widen the net slightly to consider the next most likely."

The next phase of the search will concentrate on the 11 officers and Warrant Officers who have not already been excluded on dental or anthropological grounds. This short-list has been arrived at on the basis that only officers and Warrant Officers were entitled to wear white coveralls. Additionally, two civilian canteen workers will be considered as potential matches due to uncertainty as to what they would have been wearing during battle stations.


14th February 2008, 23:41
"The long-awaited official search for the wreck of HMAS Sydney is due to begin by the end of this month."

28th February 2008, 00:30
Search for HMAS Sydney to begin tomorrow:,21598,23285351-2761,00.html

Steve Woodward
29th February 2008, 00:06
Lets hope for success and an end to the mystery

16th March 2008, 12:25
Yes, Steve. It's looking promising - they've located the German raider Kormoran:
Kormoran wreck found off WA (
Search crew hopeful of finding HMAS Sydney (


17th March 2008, 05:36
They have just found the Sydney and Kormoran

18th March 2008, 09:23
HMAS SYDNEY II IS FOUND The wreck of missing Royal Australian Navy cruiser HMAS Sydney II has beenfound. HMAS Sydney II was tragically lost in November 1941 off Western Australiawith its entire crew, following a fierce engagement with the German raiderHSK Kormoran. The discovery was announced today by the Prime Minister, the Hon. KevinRudd; the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, the Hon. WarrenSnowdon, MP; Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston; ViceAdmiral Russ Shalders, Chief of Navy; and Mr Ted Graham, Chairman of TheFinding Sydney Foundation. "I would like to congratulate The Finding Sydney Foundation and the RoyalAustralian Navy on this memorable discovery which will bring some peace tothe relatives of the brave crew who gave their lives while serving ournation," said Mr Snowdon. "It is now hoped we may be able to piece together the events of that darkday in World War II when we lost 645 of Australia's finest." The search first focused on finding the German raider Kormoran which waslocated on 12 March approximately 112 nautical miles off Steep Point,Western Australia lying in 2,560 metres of water. The discovery of the main battle site, less than four nautical miles southof Kormoran's position, was then used to direct the team's effort insearching for Sydney. The wreck of the Sydney was confirmed late last night, approximately 12nautical miles off Kormoran, under 2,470 metres of water. Mr Ted Graham said they were prepared for the search to take upwards of 35days so to find them both in a matter of weeks has been a stunningachievement for the entire crew. "A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with video filming capabilities able tooperate in depths of up to 3,000 metres will be deployed in order to furtherexamine both wrecks of the Sydney and Kormoran." The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts will make adeclaration to ensure HMAS Sydney II is protected under the HistoricShipwrecks Act. Media note: High resolution sonar imagery of the Sydney wreckage and today'sannouncement at Parliament will be made available at: and

Nihon Fan
6th April 2008, 04:44
Here's an article I just read. 2 observations. 1) It's referred to as a battle cruiser, so it seems the writer doesn't know it was a light cruiser. 2) It's referred to as the pride of the Australian navy. Can that really be true? Not the Australia?

CANBERRA, Australia - A remote-controlled submarine scouring the shipwrecked remains of an Australian warship has revealed new clues to a World War II battle that cost more than 700 lives. But the mystery persists: What caused Australia's worst maritime tragedy?

Did a well-aimed German torpedo sink the pride of the Australian navy? Or was it a catastrophic explosion in the ship's ammunition storage area that ensured that none of its 645 crew would survive?

Part of the puzzle was solved last month when a sonar search led by American shipwreck hunter David Mearns found the wrecks of battle cruiser HMAS Sydney and, nearby, Germany's converted freighter HSK Kormoran.

Both vessels sank after the Nov. 19, 1941 battle, and previous attempts to find them proved fruitless.

Until now, the official record of the battle has been based on the accounts of German survivors who were captured as they drifted toward Australia in lifeboats.

The Sydney spotted the Kormoran as it was prowling for Allied merchant ships to sink, about 500 miles north of Perth. The Australian vessel moved to intercept the suspicious ship and demanded that it identify itself. The Kormoran hedged, raising flags that claimed it was a Dutch trader and sending misleading radio signals.

All the while, the Sydney was being drawn closer until it eventually lost the advantage of having longer-range weapons.

German survivors said the Kormoran eventually dropped the artifice, raised its German ensign and opened fire when the ships were within a mile of each other.

Crews engaged in a furious exchange of naval artillery, torpedo and machine-gun fire for about half an hour, though Australia's official history says both ships were probably irreparably damaged in the first five minutes.

As they took to lifeboats and set off charges to scuttle their vessel around midnight, the Germans later described seeing the glow of fires aboard the Sydney as it drifted about 10 miles away.

For years, the Germans' account of the battle was viewed with suspicion and left important questions unanswered. Among them: If the Australian ship was able to limp away — aflame, but afloat — why was there no sign lifeboats were launched?

The first photos transmitted from the wreck show the Sydney's turrets still trained to its port side as they were when the Kormoran was in their sights.

All the cradles where the lifeboats once hung were empty.

Naval historian David Stevens said this does not mean the crew abandoned ship. The boats were tied to the upper decks and would likely have come loose as the ship sank.

"They're the sort of stuff that gets really damaged when your upper deck is getting shot to pieces," Stevens said.

As the Germans said, the top of a gun turret was blown overboard by gunfire. One photo shows a hole blasted by a direct hit between its twin guns.

The Sydney's bridge section had clearly taken the brunt of the Kormoran's heavy gun barrage and an 80-foot section of the bow had snapped off around where the Germans recalled a torpedo struck with devastating effect.

"All you can say so far is that the Germans' descriptions are very accurate," Stevens said after seeing the initial pictures and searchers' reports.

Searchers have suspected since seeing high-resolution sonar images of the wreck last month that a torpedo weakened the hull and caused the bow to snap off, ultimately sinking the ship.

Another theory offered to explain the total loss of life is that the burning ship's ammunition storage area erupted in a catastrophic explosion.

The Sydney's fate has captured Australian imaginations for generations, and the hulk's discovery, announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, led news bulletins and was splashed on front pages nationwide.

The sinking has fueled conspiracy theories — including one, denied by the Germans, that Australian survivors in the water were shot to death. And it has occasionally thrown up tantalizing clues.

On Feb. 6, 1942, a decomposed body with a shrapnel head wound was found washed ashore in a lifeboat on Christmas Island, 1,100 miles north of the wreck.

The Australian navy found the unmarked grave in 2006 and have used DNA and dental records to try to identify the body. Although authorities are almost certain he was a Sydney sailor, they have so far excluded more than 500 of the crew without finding a match.

The government, which has spent $3.9 million on the search, has appointed a retired judge to hold an inquiry into the new evidence.

The loss of the Sydney stunned Australia and the government banned all media from reporting the news for 12 days as it scrambled to explain what happened.

Most of the 397-man German crew survived, plucked from the ocean by Allied warships and tankers or reaching the Australian coast in lifeboats.

The German captain, Theodora Detmers, maintained that, in accordance with the rules of war, his ship dropped its disguise and hoisted a German navy ensign before firing the first shot.

It was Detmers' account of the battle, inscribed using a simple code in a German-English dictionary while he was a prisoner of war, that proved crucial to locating the wreck of the Sydney. He penciled tiny dots beneath letters, spelling out a few words on each page.

"We wouldn't have found the wrecks as quickly as we did without these documents," Mearns told Australian Broadcasting Corp. "They were very, very accurate."

But some elements of the mystery are sure to endure.

"Did the Germans machine gun people in the water? Did they raise their flag before opening fire? We're never going to answer those questions," said Jeremy Green, chief maritime archaeologist at the Western Australian Museum.

George Elder
6th April 2008, 05:27
More pictures of the Sydney are becoming available
for more info check
Latest info is every thing was as the Germans said.

30th May 2008, 15:36
See the latest report on HMAS Sydney from the BBC today at:

22nd August 2008, 21:33
There was an article in the SMH yesterday about the ongoing investigation to identify the Christmas island sailor (thought to be from HMAS Sydney):
Ship to give up final secret, SMH 22 Aug 2008 (

Once again, the assertion is that the overalls were white, worn by officers, particularly, I'm told (by an ex-WW2 RAN officer), Engineer officers and that's where the investigation is focussed. This appears to ignore earlier sources, including eyewitness reports (of the recovery of the Carley float), as mentioned above:

"The body was partly decomposed and clothed in a blue boilersuit which had been bleached white by exposure."

"It was a Carley raft with one body on board, the body of an engine room rating in blue overalls very much decomposed."

I know that they've done tests and the analysis of the material between the press studs suggests the material was white but isn't it possible that the overalls were originally made from white material but were later dyed blue before being issued to a rating? I would have thought it possible that, if this was the case, then, even after the overalls were dyed, the material held fast within the press studs could have remained white.

What do you think?