Commemorative poster - HMAS Sydney

A commemorative poster was produced for the anniversary of the loss of the HMAS Sydney. The poster shows a group portrait of the ship’s company after the successful action against the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo on 19 July 1940. Men are crowded on the deck and stand in the rigging, c. July 1940.

Series: Commemorative posters
Access a designed version to download or print

Wartime snapshot

Early in the Second World War, on 19 November 1941, the Royal Australian Navy cruiser HMAS Sydney, commanded by Captain Joseph Burnett, engaged in battle with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran off the Western Australian coast. The battle lasted only an hour with both ships crippled and seriously damaged.

The Sydney steamed slowly away and sank losing the full complement of 645 crew. The Kormoran drifted for several hours before her crew, commanded by Captain Theodor Detmers, abandoned ship with 80 lives lost and 317 rescued.

Failure to observe correct censorship procedure led to leaking of information to the public on 25 November. Official news of the action and the presumed loss of the Sydney was released by the Prime Minister, John Curtin, on 3 December. The lack of information led to suspicion of a cover-up or conspiracy.

Very little information on the explanation for and details of the disaster was available until the official history of the Royal Australian Navy in the Second World War was published in 1957.

The loss continued to trouble Australians and an official government inquiry into the circumstances of the sinking was set up in 1997 by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. The report was tabled in June 2000 placing on the public record the history of the events. Another government inquiry is underway in 2008.

On 17 March 2008, the Australian Government announced that the wreckage of the HMAS Sydney was found 112 nautical miles off Steep Point, Western Australia. It has been declared protected as an historic shipwreck and will remain where it lies.


  • G. Hermon Gill, The Royal Australian Navy 1939-42. Volumes 1 and 2. Official history of Australia in the War of 1939-1945, AWM , Canberra, 1957.
  • M. Montgomery, Who sank the Sydney? Cassell, Sydney, 1981.
  • B Winter, HMAS Sydney: fact, fantasy and fraud, Boolaroong Publications, Brisbane, 1984.
  • Australian War Memorial Wartime Magazine Issue 43.
  • John Ashton, The scientific investigation of a Carley float, AWM, Canberra, 1993.
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