HMAS Sydney II

⇐Back to Honour Roll

Able Seaman
Alfred David (Sam or “Dud’s”) Williams

Born 15 February 1918

Joined 6 June 1938.

Killed in action 19 November 1941.


During the second world war, Sam, after completing a course on torpedoes, and receiving a promotion, was transferred to the HMAS Sydney, which went missing off the Western Australian coast, later confirmed sunk by the German raider Kormoran with all hands lost, in 1941. Sam was listed as missing in action. There is still a mystery as to what happened. Sam was an easygoing fellow, game for anything, and was always playing practical jokes.

HMAS Sydney II

On the evening of 19th November 1941 the HMAS Sydney II engaged in the final battle it would take part in. Off the Western Australia coast the German raider HSK Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch freighter, lured the Sydney into a vulnerable position before raising the German battle flag and opening fire with all guns. The Sydney inflicted serious damage on the Kormoran before it drifted off, ablaze and, just after midnight, sank with all 645 hands still on board. Only 80 of the German crew were lost, with some 316 German sailors and 3 Chinese prisoners eventually being rescued.

German raider HSK Kormoran HMAS Sydney II

Final Battle

The following comes from HMAS Sydney II Memorial

The reconstruction of events leading up to Sydney’s disappearance relies primarily on information gathered from interrogations of German survivors from the raider HSK Kormoran which Sydney engaged on the afternoon of 19 November 1941. The following is an account of Sydney’s final action and subsequent loss based on surviving records.

Returning from her convoy duties to Java, Sydney was proceeding south along the north west coast of Western Australia when she sighted what appeared to be a merchant vessel at about 1600 on 19 November 1941, some 130 miles west of Shark Bay.

The ship was in fact the German raider Kormoran, (Commander Theodor Detmers) disguised as the Dutch merchantman Straat Malakka . Sydney challenged the vessel continuously using her searchlight whilst at the same time closing the range between the two ships. Merchant vessels were known to be less efficient at visual signalling and the Germans exploited this knowledge through their actions on their flag deck and by their slow response to Sydney’s challenges. Eventually the mystery vessel hoisted the signal letters PKQI identifying herself as the Straat Malakka . At 1700, to further the deception, Kormoran broadcast a ‘suspicious ship’ message, feigning a cry for help in the name of Straat Malakka .

Sydney’s efforts to establish the true identity of the vessel resulted in her closing the range to a point where she no longer had the advantage of her superior armament. At approximately 1715 Sydney had drawn almost abeam of Koromoran to starboard, less than a mile distant. Both ships were steering West-South-West at about 15 knots. The Australian cruiser was at action stations with all guns and torpedo tubes bearing. Her aircraft was on the catapult with its engine running. She then signalled, both by flags and flashing light; ‘Where bound?’ Kormoran replied ‘Batavia’. The crucial moment then came when Sydney hoisted a two flag signal consisting of the letters ‘IK’ which the raider could not interpret. They were in fact the two centre letters of the Straat Malakka's four letter secret identification signal. With no reply forthcoming Sydney signalled in plain language ‘Show your secret sign’.

Finally, when concealment of his vessel's true identity was no longer possible, and with the advantage of surprise, Detmers ordered the Dutch colours to be struck, hoisted the German Naval Ensign and opened fire at approximately 1730 with all armament at a range ‘somewhat more than a mile’.

It is likely that the raider’s first salvo destroyed Sydney’s bridge, with the result that her primary control was immediately put out of action. Sydney’s own guns opened fire almost simultaneously with a full salvo that passed over Kormoran without inflicting damage. Kormoran again scored hits on Sydney with two salvos again hitting her bridge and midships section. According to the Germans all of Kormoran’s armament was brought to bear on Sydney , concentrating on her bridge, torpedo tubes and anti aircraft batteries.

For a few seconds after her initial salvo Sydney did not reply. It appears that her forward “A” and “B” turrets were put out of action leaving only her after turrets “X” and “Y” to respond. It was reported by the Germans that Sydney’s “X” turret opened fast and accurate fire, hitting Kormoran in the funnel and engine room. “Y” turret is said to have fired only two or three salvos, all of which went over. At about this time one of the raider’s two torpedoes struck Sydney under “A” and “B” turrets. The other passed close ahead of the stricken ship, which was subjected to enfilading fire.

With her stem low in the water, Sydney now turned sharply towards Kormoran as though attempting to ram. As she did so, the top of “B” turret was blown off and flew overboard, the cruiser then passed under Kormoran’s stern, heading to the southward and losing way. Kormoran , maintaining her course and speed, was now on fire in the engine room where hits by Sydney’s “X” turret had caused severe damage. Smoke from the fire hid Sydney from Kormoran’s bridge but the raider continued to engage with her after guns as the range opened to approximately 4,400 yards.

At about 1745. Sydney fired four torpedoes. Detmers was then turning to port to bring his broadside to bear, however as he did so Kormoran’s engines began to fail. The torpedo tracks were sighted, but Kormoran cleared them and they passed astern. Simultaneously the raider’s engines broke down completely.

Sydney , crippled and on fire from the bridge to the after funnel, steamed slowly to the south returning only sporadic fire from her secondary armament. Although by now the range had opened to 6,600 yards Sydney continued to receive steady hits from Kormoran’s port broadside. At 1800, at a range of 7,700 yards, Kormoran then fired one torpedo that missed Sydney’s stern. Although this fierce action had lasted only half an hour both ships had been dealt mortal blows.

Kormoran fired her last shot at 1825 at a range of about 11,000 yards. In all, she fired approximately 450 rounds from her main armament and hundreds from her anti-aircraft batteries. With the gathering gloom the form of Sydney disappeared from view and was last seen by the Germans about ten miles off, heading approximately South-South-East. Thereafter, until about 2200, all that was seen was a distant glare then occasional flickerings until midnight at which time all trace of Sydney disappeared.

Of Sydney’s total complement of 42 officers and 603 ratings, none survived. The only material evidence recovered from Sydney was an Australian naval type Carley life-float recovered eight days after the action by HMAS Heros and an Australian naval pattern life-belt recovered by HMAS Wyrallah

HMAS Sydney II Memorial Plaque, WA War Memorial, Kings Park, Western Australia

To see more about the HMAS Sydney II memorials you can visit:

In 2010 the Finding Sydney Foundation together with the German Marine Federation unveilled a memorial plaque to both ships at the Naval Memorial in Laboe, near Kiel, Germany (click image to load a full size image for viewing).

Click for larger image

Return to Top