The West

Plea for HMAS Sydney images
Images sought: HMAS Sydney. Picture: AWM

The loss of HMAS Sydney II - with all its 645 crew - on November 19, 1941, is Australia's greatest naval tragedy.

And, for many decades, its sinking has been the subject of controversy, conjecture and conspiracy theories.

Some of these were laid to rest when, after many unsuccessful searches, the wreck of the Sydney was found in March 2008 about 200km west of Shark Bay.

Now, the Sydney story has prompted another search.

The WA Museum, as part of a program to create a comprehensive record of the Sydney, is looking for photographs or film footage of the ship at its last port of call - Fremantle in 1941.

Shoes from the HMAS Sydney. Picture: Australian War Memorial

"While we have a lot of images of Sydney at work and in various ports all over the world, we do not have a single image of her at Fremantle before she departed on that tragic and fateful voyage," WA Museum chief executive Alec Coles said.

"Sydney sailed from Fremantle on Armistice Day, 11 November in 1941, to escort a troopship for handover to the British in the Sunda Strait and never came home.

"Just eight days later she was sunk by HSK Kormoran. We are very keen to secure images of that last visit to Fremantle as part of documenting the ship's history."

The wreck of the HMAS Sydney, with its badge still on the bow. Picture: Australian War Memorial.

What is known about the final hours of Australia's best known warship is that it let the armed German raider Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch merchant ship, get close enough to attack.

Records indicate Kormoran's opening salvo scored a direct hit to Sydney's bridge. Sydney returned fire almost simultaneously, taking out Kormoran's engines and fuel tanks.

The battle was ferocious, lasting about an hour.

A mine detector from HMAS Sydney. It worked by suspending from the side of the ship and dragged wide to located underwater sea mines. Picture: Supplied

When it was over, Kormoran was dead in the water, its engines disabled and fires raging.

Sydney, too, was ablaze. In fact, it was mortally wounded, with about 70 per cent of the crew either dead or seriously injured.

Sydney had suffered a devastating torpedo strike to the forward section and massive damage from the 450 15cm shells fired by Kormoran. With fires still blazing, there appears to have been no viable lifeboats and no means of escape. Between 9.30pm and midnight it disappeared. Anyone still alive after the battle, died when the Sydney sank.

When the wrecks of the two ships were discovered in 2008 - 20km apart and in 2500m of water - the focus was on gathering evidence to confirm their identity and to use sonar technology to confirm the location of the main hulls and debris field.

Now, the WA Museum wants to launch an expedition to the wreck sites to collect an archive of high-resolution video and still images - in 2-D and 3-D - that can be used to create a virtual and interactive exhibition for the National Maritime Museum in Sydney and WA Museum sites.

"It is an ambitious project, utilising leading-edge technology and expertise that does not come cheaply," Mr Coles said. "At a cost of about $2.4 million - not all of which has been sourced - it is unlikely the expedition will be repeated again in this lifetime.

"This project will use the latest technology to create a permanent and irrefutable record of the location, orientation and condition of both ships.

"In this way, it will provide vital forensic information to assist in understanding the nature of the encounter to inform the historical record and perhaps provide some closure for the families of those lost.

"We also hope to develop world-class interactive and experiential exhibitions about the ships, their confrontation and the search for the wrecks."

A HMAS Sydney crew member's gas mask lies on the ocean floor. Picture: Finding Sydney Foundation

Images of the Sydney in Fremantle can be sent to .au

The West Australian

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