Seventy years after the loss of HMAS Sydney II, conspiracy theories have resurfaced yet again.
Sydney and her nemesis, the German merchant raider HSK Kormoran, both sank after a fierce battle on November 19, 1941, the Sydney’s entire crew of 645 lost without trace while 317 survivors from Kormoran made it to shore.
Both wrecks were located off Steep Point near Shark Bay in March 2008, by an expedition led by wreck-hunter David Mearns.
Hundreds of images and videos of the wrecks were captured by the team’s Remote Operated Vehicle, showing damage to the two ships in graphic detail, but some still refuse to accept the evidence.
Last week a sequence of emails were sent to the German Embassy in Canberra, claiming that all the photographic evidence had been ‘faked’ by the Finding Sydney Foundation and David Mearns.
Queensland resident James Eagles claimed that images of the Sydney’s wreckage were actually of the German battleship Bismarck, which lies at the bottom of the North Atlantic.
Describing himself as ‘Ex- RAN Communications Branch’, Mr Eagles also claimed that Mr Mearns’ discovery of the characters “08 KO” painted on Kormoran’s bilge keel was false, as it was launched in 1938 as the merchant vessel Steirmark, and that images showing the shattered remains of Sydney’s boats, identified by the ship’s crest badge on their sides, were incorrect.
He stated in his email that the images of Sydney and Kormoran were “just a collection of photographs from an extensive library of an underwater salvage operator and treasure hunter”.
Retired RAN Commodore and Finding Sydney Foundation member Bob Trotter was immediately dismissive of the claims.
“Archival footage taken by Cinesound News of the Sydney’s arrival in its home port of Sydney in February 1941 clearly shows those same badges on the boats,” CDRE Trotter said.
“As for the 08 KO marking, Mr Eagles conveniently overlooks the fact that Steirmark would have had to be drydocked for its transformation into Kormoran.
“His claims that the pictures of Sydney’s wreckage are actually of the Bismarck are ridiculous. He has looked for similarities which are just not there.”
CDRE Trotter called for an end to groundless conspiracy theories as Geraldton prepares to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the sinking next month.
“HMAS Sydney II occupies a proud place in the hearts and minds of all Australians, who remember the sacrifice of her 645 crew,” he said.
“Her wreckage was found, and it’s time people like Mr Eagles accepted that.”
Even more forthright was wreck discoverer David Mearns, who was contacted in the UK by the Guardian and said the fraud claim “would be a very serious allegation if it wasn’t so laughable”.
He pointed out that Mr Eagles merited an entire chapter devoted to his claims in the Cole Commission’s report.
“The final sentence in that chapter says it all about Eagles’ claims — ‘His writings on Sydney are groundless, have no substance, and should be disregarded’,” Mr Mearns said.
“I can only hope that the relatives and anyone who truly cares about Sydney and her men heed the Commissioner’s statement about Mr Eagles, and others like him.”