The discovery of HMAS Sydney II and her destroyer

Rusting hulls on the ocean floor reveal the high cost of believing a lie


The Finding Sydney Foundation Kormoran’s 5.9-inch gun
Kormoran’s 5.9-inch gun in the forward hold pointing aft and starboard. Note the lack of sediment on the deck.

In March 2008, I was privileged to be part of the group of people that photographed, using Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs), the sunken Australian warship HMAS Sydney II. I say privileged in that the whole successful endeavour was closely followed by media with the intention of alleviating the mystery of what happened to the ship and her crew.

I also wanted to be involved because my father, as a young boy, had known the captain and had referred to him as ‘uncle’. In part for me, it was a personal quest to answer some of my father’s questions of what happened in 1941 when his ‘uncle’ was lost with the ship that has since gone down in the maritime history of Australia as the largest loss of life in a naval battle involving an Australian ship.1At the time she was sunk, HMAS Sydney was the pride of Australia’s naval fleet.

The job was something out of the ordinary for a ROV job, which typically involves surveying subsea structures, performing subsea construction for oil and gas facilities, or doing anything at depths that divers cannot work at. So coupled with my desire to be a part of the team that were able to obtain some answers to 67-year-old questions there was the uniqueness of the work scope that attracted me.

Throughout the job, the question that had hounded officials, surviving relatives and friends of HMAS Sydney II crew for years kept coming to my mind and were discussed incessantly over meals or when working. How did it happen? How did a Leander class cruiser with an illustrious battle record get sunk by a ‘freighter’? This is probably why so many theories about various scenarios arose.

Sedimentation rates not fast enough to form a fossil

Underwater photographs of the German ship HSK Kormoran show that negligible sediment has accumulated on the wreckage since it came to rest on the ocean floor in 1941, some 67 years ago. Located at a depth of 2560 m some 207 km off the west coast of Australia, it is clear that very little sediment is accumulating at present. Thus the legacy of such tranquil inundation is in stark contrast to the Genesis Flood. The Flood of Noah’s day resulted in catastrophic sedimentation which buried and fossilized huge animals, including ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and dinosaurs, beautifully preserving many of them. Rapid sedimentation means not much time was required (certainly not millions of years), and testifies to the reality of the year-long global Flood in Noah’s time.

The HMAS Sydney II was sunk by the HSK Kormoran, which was subsequently scuttled within 12 nautical miles of the Sydney’s final resting place, due to having received a direct hit to her engine room in the battle with the Sydney. After surveying the HMAS Sydney we were able to survey part of the HSK Kormoran, including the largely intact forward section (estimated 40%) of the ship, all at a depth of over 2,400 metres below the surface. Here is where the method of deception, which probably led to the sinking of the Sydney, was to be exposed.

From what was able to be gathered from the surviving crew of the HSK Kormoran, who were interned in Australian Prisoner of war camps for the remainder of WWII, and from what we could see, there were clearly well hidden torpedo tubes (one port and one starboard) below the water line. There were also hidden torpedo tubes above the water line behind quickly removable metal blinds. We saw three of the 5 x 5.9 inch guns hidden behind folding doors and tarps. Additionally life boats (which were used by the crew to escape after the ship was scuttled) were hidden to conceal the fact that there were nearly 400 crew on this ‘freighter’. Also a hidden seaplane (in the back of the ship which we did not see) and a work boat (also in the area back of the ship) that was scattered over 1.5 km of the seafloor. We inspected numerous parts of the back wreckage, with very large pieces not being distinguishable from another.

All of these items were hidden so the ship would appear to be something that it was not. The HSK Kormoran was a purpose-built fighting-machine ship that had been built to appear as a freighter with the appropriate structures, paint job and even the name. In every way it was a battle ship if the definition of battle ship means that a ship is built for battle, as was the HMAS Sydney II.

The HSK Kormoran had an impressive track record for battle, having already sunk nine freighters that didn’t surrender to her and captured another, sending it back to Germany after replacing the original crew with some of her own qualified crew. Her crew was well trained and experienced in battle, using their tried and tested technique of surprise.

The Finding Sydney Foundation wreckage
A jumble of pipes and cables on a large piece of wreckage of the Kormoran, again with almost no signs of sedimentation.

In my opinion, the mistake in judgement by the Sydney’s captain and crew was that they simply accepted the ‘facts’ as presented on the surface without investigating more deeply, i.e. that this was an innocent freighter. (Note that the Apostle Paul warned against ‘looking only at the surface of things’!—2 Corinthians 10:7a.) They paid for their mistake in judgement of the HSK Kormoran’s identity with their lives. The Sydney probably could have investigated further but must have felt that was not warranted. Her strength became a weakness because it was taken for granted, and she put herself physically in a vulnerable position—in direct firing range of the HSK Kormoran’s torpedos and guns.

Her best course of action probably would have been to stay further away from the HSK Kormoran, send a boat to investigate and then proceed from there. However, hind sight is often 20-20 and we don’t know all that happened on that day according to any Sydney crew, though we do have the HSK Kormoran’s crew’s side of the story, which has proved to be quite accurate.

So as to alleviate any thought of hatred of Germans for this act let us all remember that deceit during warfare is not new to the human race. The Americans used a similar technique during WWII; the British used this same technique of disguising war ships as freighters in WWI; the Americans used camouflage in their war of independence. It seems that deceit has been a big part in battles and wars throughout history. I remember something about a large wooden horse further back in history which was also presented as something that it wasn’t.

Following this thread that deceiving the enemy is normal in warfare, let’s go back further in history to the start of man—i.e., Adam and Eve. They also fell for a trap by swallowing a lie, and believing something false that was disguised as the truth. This is exactly what the captain and crew of the Sydney did with the consequential death of 645 crew members. They believed the lie that the HSK Kormoran was a freighter and they put themselves in a physical position that they would not have otherwise assumed, if they had known it was a ‘battle ship’.

I came away from this endeavour thinking about the deadly danger of believing lies, and related that to the lie of evolution. I pondered how we as individuals and as a society can choose to accept as truth what we are led to believe by media and portrayed as ‘science’, that evolution is a fact when it is actually a lie. On an individual and societal basis we also will pay the price for believing that lie.

If people follow the basic premise of evolution, that there is no God, then they find no need to investigate Him further. According to this line of thinking ‘science’ has ‘proven’ He does not exist. So people who believe the lie of evolution end up missing the overwhelming evidence, information and indicators of His existence. They then fail to recognize God’s purpose for their lives and never consider His requirements or His invitation to have a relationship with them. What a tragedy to miss out on eternal life because of the lie of evolution.

The HSK Kormoran made itself appear different from the truth. Satan likewise lied to Eve making something false appear to be true. Satan questioned God’s Word, re-interpreted it the way that he wanted Eve to believe it, and planted a seed of doubt in her mind. He deceived her into doing what he wanted her to do. Adam was brought into the deception and also disobeyed God’s plain instruction. We, the human race, have been paying the price ever since.

God in his incredible, unfathomable love has paid the price for our disobedience, shared our pain when he came into the world, and gave himself to reconcile us to himself. Jesus Christ settled the debt we could not pay to provide a way of escape from our justly deserved consequences. Like HMAS Sydney, the implications for what we choose to believe and how we choose to act based on those beliefs have huge implications for us all.

Published: 30 September 2008


  1. HMAS Sydney II, Finding Sydney Foundation, Return to text.