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The HMAS SYDNEY mystery


Evan Burton
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The Background: HMAS SYDNEY was a Royal Australian Navy light cruiser. In 1941, it battled the German raider HSK KORMORAN off the coast of Western Australia. After the battle, the SYDNEY was seen to sail away, heavily damaged. Nothing more was seen or heard from the SYDNEY or its 645 crewmembers. The details of the battle were relayed by survivors from the KORMORAN. It was the greatest loss of life for an Australian warship, and became a popular mystery. The wreckages of both the SYDNEY and KORMORAN were finally discovered in March 2008.

The Claims:Michael Montgomery, son of the SYDNEY's navigator Charles Montgomery. claims that rather being sunk by the KORMORAN, SYDNEY was actually sunk by a Japanese submarine. He also claims that this was known by the British and Australian governments but had been covered up for over 60 years because of embarrassment over the sinking. As evidence of his claims were the following:

- Cablegrams between Britain and Australian authorities referring to the sinking by Japanese submarine.

- Contents from the diary of Hetty Hall, a signals operator at the British naval radio station in Singapore, referring to the sinking by Japanese submarine.

- The recollections of Major Austin Chapman, who was stationed in Japan as part of the occupation forces in 1945. Whilst there, he visited the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and saw a mural on a wall which depicted a Japanese submarine firing on an Australian warship flying the Australian White Ensign. Since there were no other incidents between Australian warships and Japanese submarines, it must be the SYDNEY sinking.

- An expert disputes the findings of the Australian War Memorial ballistics team regarding how the SYDNEY was sunk.

All sound pretty convincing, doesn't it? However, deeper research reveals many common conspiracy faults.

The Truth:

Cablegrams - When asked to produce the cablegrams supporting the claims, Mr Montgomery admitted he could not. Mr Montgomery claims this is because the government has removed all evidence of their existence. (Absence of evidence is evidence)

The diary - When the diary was examined, it was found not to contain any reference to the incident at all. Furthermore, it was discovered that Mrs Hall was not even on duty at the time of the sinking. (Creating imaginary evidence)

The Australian White Ensign - Flown by all RAN ships, the AWE was not introduced until 1967. Prior to this Australian warships flew the Royal Navy's White Ensign. (Factual errors)

Ballistics - The expert that disputed the ballistic investigation was an expert in Forensic Sedimentology, not ballistics. The War Memorial team were experts in ballistics investigation. (People speaking authoritatively in areas where they do not have expertise)

**********************

I like the comments by Commissioner Terence Cole, president of the inquiry:

"What you have done is transfer speculation plus a possibility into a certainty of the existence of this Japanese submarine. This is not a very happy process of logic."

Edited by Evan Burton
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The Background: HMAS SYDNEY was a Royal Australian Navy light cruiser. In 1941, it battled the German raider HSK KORMORAN off the coast of Western Australia. After the battle, the SYDNEY was seen to sail away, heavily damaged. Nothing more was seen or heard from the SYDNEY or its 645 crewmembers. The details of the battle were relayed by survivors from the KORMORAN. It was the greatest loss of life for an Australian warship, and became a popular mystery. The wreckages of both the SYDNEY and KORMORAN were finally discovered in March 2008.

The Claims:Michael Montgomery, son of the SYDNEY's navigator Charles Montgomery. claims that rather being sunk by the KORMORAN, SYDNEY was actually sunk by a Japanese submarine. He also claims that this was known by the British and Australian governments but had been covered up for over 60 years because of embarrassment over the sinking. As evidence of his claims were the following:

- Cablegrams between Britain and Australian authorities referring to the sinking by Japanese submarine.

- Contents from the diary of Hetty Hall, a signals operator at the British naval radio station in Singapore, referring to the sinking by Japanese submarine.

- The recollections of Major Austin Chapman, who was stationed in Japan as part of the occupation forces in 1945. Whilst there, he visited the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and saw a mural on a wall which depicted a Japanese submarine firing on an Australian warship flying the Australian White Ensign. Since there were no other incidents between Australian warships and Japanese submarines, it must be the SYDNEY sinking.

- An expert disputes the findings of the Australian War Memorial ballistics team regarding how the SYDNEY was sunk.

All sound pretty convincing, doesn't it? However, deeper research reveals many common conspiracy faults.

The Truth:

Cablegrams - When asked to produce the cablegrams supporting the claims, Mr Montgomery admitted he could not. Mr Montgomery claims this is because the government has removed all evidence of their existence. (Absence of evidence is evidence)

The diary - When the diary was examined, it was found not to contain any reference to the incident at all. Furthermore, it was discovered that Mrs Hall was not even on duty at the time of the sinking. (Creating imaginary evidence)

The Australian White Ensign - Flown by all RAN ships, the AWE was not introduced until 1967. Prior to this Australian warships flew the Royal Navy's White Ensign. (Factual errors)

Ballistics - The expert that disputed the ballistic investigation was an expert in Forensic Sedimentology, not ballistics. The War Memorial team were experts in ballistics investigation. (People speaking authoritatively in areas where they do not have expertise)

**********************

I like the comments by Commissioner Terence Cole, president of the inquiry:

"What you have done is transfer speculation plus a possibility into a certainty of the existence of this Japanese submarine. This is not a very happy process of logic."

Therefore, all conspiracy theories are false.

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No, no, no Bill - far from it. It's just you have to thoroughly investigate all conspiracy claims. Most all sound plausible or correct at first... but often the details reveal they are far from correct.

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No, no, no Bill - far from it. It's just you have to thoroughly investigate all conspiracy claims. Most all sound plausible or correct at first... but often the details reveal they are far from correct.

Evan,

Thanks for calling attention to the fascinating story and somewhat of a mystery of the HMAS Sydney, named after one of my favorite cities in the world.

But I don't see any conspiracy. What, that the crew were machine guned in the water and washed up in West Australia and were burried on the beach, or a Jap sub sank it?

It's pretty apparent from the German survivors that they did enough dammage to have sunk her, though its hard to believe only one guy in one lifeboat escaped, and the German survivors didn't hear or see a specatcular explosion that could explain things.

Certainly something spectacular happened that nobody lived to tell.

And if the remains of the ship could be located, even by remote robots, the shell of the ship could explain a lot.

While it certainly is an intriguing mystery, that someday may be solved, I don't see any conspiracy, except muddy waters.

If you like such nautical stories check out the catastrophie of the USS Philadelphia and first USS Intrepid at Tripoli, still ringing true.

BK

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No, no, no Bill - far from it. It's just you have to thoroughly investigate all conspiracy claims. Most all sound plausible or correct at first... but often the details reveal they are far from correct.

Evan,

Thanks for calling attention to the fascinating story and somewhat of a mystery of the HMAS Sydney, named after one of my favorite cities in the world.

But I don't see any conspiracy. What, that the crew were machine guned in the water and washed up in West Australia and were burried on the beach, or a Jap sub sank it?

It's pretty apparent from the German survivors that they did enough dammage to have sunk her, though its hard to believe only one guy in one lifeboat escaped, and the German survivors didn't hear or see a specatcular explosion that could explain things.

Certainly something spectacular happened that nobody lived to tell.

And if the remains of the ship could be located, even by remote robots, the shell of the ship could explain a lot.

While it certainly is an intriguing mystery, that someday may be solved, I don't see any conspiracy, except muddy waters.

If you like such nautical stories check out the catastrophie of the USS Philadelphia and first USS Intrepid at Tripoli, still ringing true.

BK

Bill,

The only conspiracy raised about the SYDNEY was raised by the aforementioned individual. Although all the claims are false, it still managed to grab national headlines for awhile. Until recently, it was best classed as a mystery. People did not know what happened to the SYDNEY. There was speculation that bodies of the crew had washed up on the WA coast and had been buried. In fact, one body was found buried at an island off the WA coast. The remains of clothing were consistent with typical clothing of the day and they are doing DNA testing to see if they can identify the body as being a SYDNEY crewmember, though nothing conclusive has yet been determined.

When the two wreckages were found, it corroborated the accounts of the KORMORAN survivors. The signs reflected the battle described, and the survivors saw the SYDNEY sail over the horizon. Very shortly after, they saw a large explosion on the horizon.

I had a quick look for the PHILADELPHIA but only found normal warship histories. Perhaps you meant the INDIANAPOLIS? Thanks!

ETA: The reason I raised the whole story (apart from raising the profile of the SYDNEY event) was demonstrating how some people will accept a "conspiracy" based solely on "evidence" provided by those making the claim. I am unfamiliar with the JFK side of the shop, but I am sure people have tried to make claims based on "evidence" which has been proven non-existent or incorrect. There are many other examples I can think of:

In the Apollo realm, it is stories such as "Una Ronald" promoted by various sites like aulis.com and others. A West Australian, the claim is that she rushed home from work to watch the Apollo 11 moonwalk live in the evening. During the moonwalk, she was amazed to see a coke bottle bounce across the screen. Repeats of the footage did not show this, but there were numerous "letters to the editor" in the paper mentioning it in the days that followed. Aulis claimed that they asked the local newspaper - The West Australian - about this, but did not receive any reply after numerous inquiries.

Being a West Australian by birth, I could not remember this incident as described and so I researched the subject. I do remember being at school in WA and watching the moonwalk live.

First error - the moonwalk happened (live) during the late morning in WA, not in the evening. The evening was filled with videotaped repeats of the moonwalk.

Second error - examination of the microfiche copies of the WA newspapers (The West Australian and the Daily News) for two weeks following the moon landing found no letter to the editor as described, nor any other reports that substantiated the "Una Ronald" claim.

It's things like this. The claim sounds genuine at first, but examination proves it wrong.

Edited by Evan Burton
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