- Jeffrey, Vic
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney II
- December 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
It is a little known fact that HMAS SYDNEY II, one of the Royal Australian Navy’s major warships in World War Two “hid” off Rottnest Island at the approaches to the Port of Fremantle in Western Australia in the early days of 1940.
One of at least two occasions in a bid to keep her movements secret, the 6850 ton SYDNEY anchored offshore in the area to the south of the Army’s 6-inch Bickley Battery which consisted of two single guns from the former HMAS MELBOURNE I.
The naval authorities had decided that rather than enter Fremantle Harbour where she would draw attention from prying eyes, HMAS SYDNEY moored off Rottnest would be able to get underway quicker and perhaps catch one of the rumoured German raiders thought to be in the region.
All mail and official despatches were transferred from SYDNEY to the island by ship’s boats.
The cruiser remained under radio silence and all signal communications were flashed by lamp between a naval signalman located on the hill near the Kingstown Barrack’s Sergeants Mess and the ship.
On receipt of SYDNEY’S messages, they were coded on the island and then sent through the Army’s communications network to the mainland.
Boredom was not a major problem to HMAS SYDNEY’S 645 crew members as swimming and hastily organised Australian Rules football matches against the Army garrison were played on the Rottnest aerodrome.
The graceful looking SYDNEY with her superb lines left a lasting impression on the Army personnel who were garrisoned on Rottnest Island, an appearance enhanced by a balmy West Australian summer and the shimmering waters of this popular peacetime holiday resort.
HMAS SYDNEY sailed from local waters to escort ANZAC troop convoys on April 18, 1940 which were bound for the Middle East.
Only three months later HMAS SYDNEY wrote her name into naval history in the Mediterranean, first sinking the Italian destroyer ESPERO and in a later engagement sinking the Italian cruiser BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI and severely damaging her sister ship GIOVANNI DELLE BANDE NERE before it escaped at high speed.
SYDNEY’S morale-boosting victories and action-packed Mediterranean career came to an end when she returned to Australia in January, 1941 to a tumultuous welcome in her name city.
During 1941 HMAS SYDNEY carried out escort and patrol duties in Australasian waters until she sailed from Fremantle on her last fateful voyage on Armistice Day, November 11, 1941 escorting the troopship ZEALANDIA to the Sunda Straits where handed over to the Royal Navy cruisers DANAE and DURBAN.
Enroute to Fremantle on her return, HMAS SYDNEY encountered the German merchant raider KORMORAN off Carnarvon late on the afternoon of November 19, 1941.
The German version of the action claims HMAS SYDNEY was last seen heading south after destroying the KORMORAN, badly battered and on fire, at a speed of five knots, disappearing into the gathering darkness.
As officially little trace of HMAS SYDNEY has ever been found, her fate at present remains a mystery of the sea and perhaps the greatest unsolved puzzle of World War Two.
No one who ever saw this proud ship off Bickley Point in early 1940 could have imagined what the future held for her with her triumphs in the Mediterranean and her subsequent disappearance off the West Australian coast.