On 19 November 1941, HMAS Sydney, an Australian light cruiser, was engaged in a naval battle with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia. During the battle, both ships were sunk, with the loss of all 645 crew members on board the Sydney and 81 crew members on board the Kormoran.

HMAS Sydney was tricked by the Germans and signalled that they were the Dutch ship ‘Straat Malacca’, this caused hesitation of the Sydney to fire on the German cruiser.

After the battle, a number of vessels were involved in the search for survivors, including the Dutch Navy ship HNLMS Tromp commanded by Captain-Lieutenant at Sea Jan Balthazar de Meester. The Tromp was part of a small Allied task force, which also included the Australian ships HMAS Kalgoorlie and HMAS Swan. These vessels were dispatched to search for survivors after the Sydney was reported missing.

The Royal Netherlands Navy had a number of aircraft stationed in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) at the time, and these were deployed to search for survivors after HMAS Sydney failed to return to port.

Specifically, the Dutch aircraft involved in the search were Dornier Do 24K flying boats, which were well-suited to the task of searching for survivors in the open ocean. These aircraft had a range of up to 2,000 miles and were equipped with radar and other advanced navigation equipment for their time.

The Dutch flying boats searched an area of over 12,000 square miles in the days following the loss of HMAS Sydney, but unfortunately, no survivors were located.

The Dutch merchant vessel MS Sunetta took also part in the search.

The German prisoners were brought to Perth. To assist in coordinating the interrogations on behalf of Naval Intelligence, Commander Dechaineux and Commander G B Salm of the Royal Dutch Navy
were sent to Perth on the evening of Friday, 28 November.

The search for survivors was unsuccessful, and the fate of the HMAS Sydney remained a mystery for many years.

It wasn’t until 2008 that the wreck was discovered, approximately 112 nautical miles off the coast of Western Australia, and a subsequent investigation revealed new information about the battle and the fate of the ship and her crew.

HMAS Sydney
HNMS Tromp

This (below) was the only relict of HMAS Sydney that the rescuers found. On display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Photo Paul Budde April 2024.