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Redcliffe remembers: Special service to honour the Sydney

Posted: 6am 04 Nov 2021

Redcliffe Naval Association will this month hold a special service to mark the 80th anniversary of one of the Australian Navy’s greatest losses.

The HMAS Sydney II, pictured above, went down on November 19, 1941, after a short, but fierce, battle with a German raider, the Kormoran, off Western Australia.

All 645 crew members on HMAS Sydney II were lost. Of the Kormoran’s crew of 399, there were 319 survivors.

Exactly 80 years from that day, on Friday November 19, the Redcliffe sub-branch and TS Moreton Bay Navy Cadets will hold a 45-minute ceremony at the unit’s base on Woody Point foreshore from 7pm.

Significant event

It will include a guard of honour, parade of cadets and wreath-laying. Members of the public are welcome to come and pay their respects.

Sub-branch Secretary Geoff O’Mara said the anniversary was “such a significant event” and would be attended by relatives of crew members who went down on the Sydney.

They will include Robyn Wirth, from Redlands, whose uncle, Able Seaman Bernard Diews was among those who lost his life on HMAS Sydney II. He was just 20.

Ms Wirth will be joined by her brother, who lives in Scarborough.

Able Seaman Bernard Diews

Gun layer

AB Diews joined the Royal Australian Navy at 19, excelled during training at Flinders Naval Depot, passed out third in his class and was posted to the Sydney.

In his last letter, on November 9, 1941, Diews said he was looking forward to coming home at Christmas, but told of a “lack of any excitement” in the India Ocean.

That changed 10 days later.

Ms Wirth’s family has discovered Diews was a gun layer, not a signalman as thought, on the Sydney and may have died early in the barrage targeting A and B turrets.

Ms Wirth was trying to find a service for HMAS Sydney in Brisbane, when she came across the Redcliffe commemoration and has attended every year for the last decade.

'We didn't know'

“The story (of HMAS Sydney) always came up in conversation in our family,” Ms Wurth said.

“There was always interest in what happened and for so long we didn’t know. They didn’t search for the (wreck of) the Sydney for so long.

“But since finding the wreck they have been able to piece the story together.”

Reports say HMAS Sydney discovered the Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch merchant ship, and tried to identify it, moving closer and closer.

The Kormoran was using the identification of the MV Straat Malakka, but then failed to respond to a request for Malakka’s secret call sign.

Redcliffe Naval Association's Karl Seddon, Geoff O Mara and John Sutton

Point-blank range

Finally, the German ship dropped its disguise and both ships fired less than a mile apart - almost point-blank range for those guns.

The Kormoran’s guns were deadly accurate and the Sydney was soon extensively damaged. It managed to move slowly away, on fire and sank that night.

Also badly damaged and ablaze, the Kormoran was scuttled, with the crew taking to lifeboats and rafts, which were picked up and taken prisoner.

Nothing was seen of the wrecks until 2008 when HMAS Sydney was discovered five days after search teams found the Kormoran.

Service request

Members of the public wishing to attend the commemoration on November 19 are asked to assemble along the fence line of the cadet unit at Woody Point by 6.30pm and remain in the designated area.

Wreaths may be laid, but those doing so, are asked to speak a member of the TS Moreton Bay Cadet Unit or Redcliffe Naval Association Sub-branch before the commemoration service.

Contact: Redcliffe Naval Association on Facebook



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