Bryan Clark’s article titled ‘Australia’s Forgotten Son’ (Naval Historical Review, December, 1989) was excellent reading. Brian and I have had a good number of dealings relating to the loss of HMAS SYDNEY over the past few years and I am delighted to see he is still researching the subject.
The loss of this fine ship has given me personally, a great number of sleepless nights over the last couple of years. This all came about when I was invited to join a number of ex-service and professional people who are known as ‘The Sydney Research Group’ and pooled my research with theirs. In light of that, and what has come to light since, I believe this mystery has greater implications on an international scale than has been publicly realised.
It is not my duty to reveal the findings so far of this small, but dedicated group. However, I would like to throw one item for thought into the ring.
On numerous occasions I have drawn the HMAS SYDNEY-KORMORAN file from the NOCWA Registry. Although still classified as ‘Secret’ there is nothing that has not been published enclosed.
A couple of years ago, when I drew the file, the pleasant young lady who signed the file out asked my interest in the action. Once I told her she went on to explain how her mother and grandmother recalled a Norwegian ship calling at Geraldton (where the family resided) in October, 1941.
She went on to explain how the two were sitting on the beach at Geraldton when passing Norwegian sailors were leering at them, much to their disgust. Later that same year when the local theatre showed a newsreel of the KORMORAN survivors coming down the brow of a ship in Fremantle they both claim the two sailors previously seen on the beach in Geraldton were together among them.
Naturally this revelation interested me enough to make further enquiries.
Since then I have obtained copies of the Port of Geraldton’s Shipping Logs for the period September-November, 1941. On October 13, 1941, the Norwegian merchantman SEIRSTAD (9916 tons) berthed at 7am for a 48-hour stopover. This was the only Norwegian ship listed in that period for a port which drew few visitors.
A subsequent check with the Port of Fremantle shipping records shows SEIRSTAD as sailing at 11.35am on October 12, ‘for overseas’. Then we have it arriving at Geraldton some 19 hours later after a 296 nautical mile journey from Fremantle — meaning the ship averaged 15.5 knots! Extremely fast for a merchantman, and clear evidence that it did not put into Geraldton because of mechanical problems.
Did KORMORAN perpetuate a great embarrassment to the Australian authorities by having the audacity to put into a sleepy little Australian coastal port and give the crew members a chance to go ashore? How many people would have known the difference between a German and a Norwegian at that time?
KORMORAN had used a Norwegian disguise previously and she was around the same size as the SEIRSTAD. There was no doubt that KORMORAN had good intelligence relating to Allied shipping movements.
SEIRSTAD (or KORMORAN) departed from Geraldton at 7am on October 15, 1941, bound for Palembang. Three days later the Australian cruiser HMAS SYDNEY berthed in Geraldton at 8am on. October 18.
During her visit the ship’s band entertained the local community in what had all the hallmarks of a public relations exercise. A strange move to have one of Australia’s most valuable fighting ships tied-up in a small country port. Or was she there awaiting a signal from RAAF patrols to give a position for KORMORAN if sighted? HMAS SYDNEY sailed at 1.30pm on the afternoon of October 20.
This is one of a number of interesting stories which have arisen in our search for what we consider remains untold in the fate of HMAS SYDNEY, as opposed to the German view which in some quarters has become accepted as the official version. Further research on this matter is proceeding.
It is worthy of note the lengths people have gone to in ridiculing or discrediting anyone who challenges the German version.