Excuses, excuses for a foolish HMAS Sydney commander

The story below is a dishonest attempt to cover up the folly of Capt. Burnett in the battle between HMAS Sydney and Kormoran under Capt. Detmers. They speculate below about Capt. Detmers using a white flag to fool Burnett, for instance. There is in fact zero mystery about what Detmers did. He certainly did all he could to allay suspicion as long as he could but Burnett was still amazingly overconfident in putting his ship within 1,000 yards of the Kormoran before final identification. And Detmers did NOT open fire before declaring himself. He did not even loose a torpedo until Sydney had fired a salvo. As soon as the Sydney came within close range, Detmers ran up the Kriegsmarine battle flag and THEN immediately opened fire with all he had. And he had a lot. For years. people doubted Detmers and the other German sailors who corroborated his account but everything he said from the beginning has eventually proved to be true and accurate so there is no reasonable room to doubt his account of the matter. See here for details of that account. It is in a way lucky that Burnett went down with his ship. There would have been ample precedent for court-martialling him had he survived.

The German raider Kormoran might have used a series of ruses to draw the cruiser HMAS Sydney into a range where it could ambush it with its guns, the HMAS Sydney inquiry heard yesterday. Captain (retired) Richard Arundel, former director of Naval Communications, said there had to be a reason why the commander of an Australian warship would make such a "gross error of judgment" in deciding to overhaul an unknown merchant vessel, believing it to be friendly, thereby putting his ship in a "suicidal position". It was "implausible" that Captain Joseph Burnett, with a tier of experienced naval officers to advise him, would have made such a manoeuvre unless there had been a "compellingly friendly identification event".

HMAS Sydney saw the Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch merchant ship, the Straat Malakka, off the West Australian coast on November 19, 1941, and challenged it. It drew very close, between 900 and 2000 metres, and the Kormoran dropped its disguise and attacked with guns and torpedo. Sydney sank with the loss of 645 men, and the Kormoran, also damaged, was scuttled.

Captain Arundel said that when challenged, the Kormoran did a manoeuvre consistent with a merchant ship's prescribed response, but it then sailed into the sun, making it difficult, along with the wind across the deck, for Sydney to read the signal flags. That would have tempted the Sydney to have come closer to get a better view. The Kormoran might also have been putting up its signals in a confused manner to convey the impression that it was a merchant ship in panic. [It did indeed do that]

He said this was conjecture, but the German Navy had made use of ruses before, such as in the Battle of Coronel in World War I , when its positioning of its ships in relation to the sun gave it victory over the British. Asked about the possibility of the Kormoran displaying the white flag of surrender, he said he had never seen one on a merchant ship and it was not part of the fitout of a warship. But Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Thomas Whittaker said he believed the Kormoran might have displayed the white flag while it launched its torpedo. When the torpedo struck, it might then have removed its camouflage, raised the German ensign and opened with its guns. He believed that had the Kormoran decided to take away its camouflage and run up its ensign without putting in the initial blow, the Sydney would have blown it out of the water.


Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here

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