A memorial and wreath laying service was held by the HMAS Sydney Association at the Cenotaph at Martin Place on 19 November, 2013 to mark the 72nd anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Sydney (II).
Family members and descendants of those who served in the famous ship attended the service along with representatives from State and local government, Veterans Affairs, the NSW RSL, Federation of Naval Ship Associations, RAAF No. 9 Squadron Association, the War Widows Guild of Australia - NSW Branch and the Sydney Infants Home, Ashfield.
Captain Guy Holthouse, a previous Commanding Officer of the most recent Royal Australian Navy ship to carry the name Sydney, represented current serving members. In his speech, he recognised those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Occasions such as today serve importantly to honour those who have served and sacrificed for their Service and their country. It is their contributions that have moulded and shaped the Australian identity we have today,” said Captain Holthouse.
“HMAS Sydney (II) served with distinction in the Mediterranean throughout the first part of World War II. She joined the Mediterranean Battle Fleet in 1940 and fought in The Battle of Calabria. This was the first full scale action against the Italian Fleet of the war.
“During the Battle of Cape Spada, the Commanding Officer, Captain John Collins, was responsible for making the crucial decision to close two enemy cruisers and, along with the destroyer HMS Havock, successfully sunk Bartolomeo Colleoni and inflicted heavy damage on the Giovanni Delle Bande Nere.”
“According to German accounts, on 19 November 1941, relatively close to Australia, about 130 miles off the Western Australian coast, Sydney encountered a vessel and closed to identify it. The vessel was, in fact, the German raider Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch merchant ship. In the ensuing battle the ships destroyed each other, with Sydney last seen by the crew of Kormoran on fire and slowly heading in a south-easterly direction,” said Captain Holthouse.
“When Sydney and her entire ship’s company was lost in November 1941 following a battle with the German raider Kormoran, the whole nation was shocked. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the loss of Sydney fascinate people even today. No Sydney personnel were ever recovered and the Sydney herself had not yet been positively located.
“The only objects recovered were a life float and life belt. The combination of the ship being lost with all hands, the proximity to Australia that the action occurred, and with the only reports of the engagement provided by German survivors it dealt a particularly devastating blow to the nation. Australians did not want to believe that a tragedy such as this was possible.
“The sacrifice of the 645 strong ship’s company and their families will always be remembered in Australian history. Ships bearing the same name honour this sacrifice and the achievements prior to this event,” said Captain Holthouse.
Imagery is available on the Navy Image Gallery: http://images.navy.gov.au/S20132225.