Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence
Signals, Submarines and Speedboats
... I firmly believe that jammed signals were heard. Kormoran
always jammed signals sent by any ship that she was involved with. The
[Kormoran] radio operator said that he did jam signals, so I do
believe signals were sent [from Sydney].1
5.1 The issue of whether or not signals were sent from
Sydney, and where those signals may have been picked up, has been
one of the most widely debated issues of the inquiry. The principle areas
of dispute are whether or not Sydney sent signals and whether or
not those signals were received by Harman Naval Station outside Canberra.
Also open to debate is the accusation that signals were sent and received,
but not acted upon.
Signals Sent from Kormoran
5.2 It is widely accepted that Kormoran sent
a Q signal2 after she had encountered Sydney.
Evidence of this signal exists in the Archives, and it is not in dispute
in this inquiry. This signal was probably sent for two reasons. First,
Captain Detmers hoped that by sending the signal, he could dupe Sydney
into thinking there was another suspicious ship in the area, and that
Sydney would cease pursuit of Kormoran, allowing her to
escape. Second, the Q signal was a way to '... inform Germany that the
raider or the vessel sending it was in trouble'.3 Apparently:
... if [the signal] had a particular letter sent with the time, that indicated
to outside sources that the raider was in strife. The Q signal sent by
the Kormoran was only picked up in mutilated form by two receivers.
One of them noticed that the time was present and it finished with 'GMT'
which was unusual you do not send the time as well as the letters 'GMT'
indicating that the Germans were trying to advise someone else they
were in trouble. I have heard it may have been intended for a nearby station
which would then repeat it and that that repeat of the signal would have
been picked up in Germany.4
5.3 In her book, Winter raised the point that 'a ship
that knew enough to send "Q" signal was probably under Admiralty orders
and could thus have expected to have a secret call sign'.5
The Q signal was designed to convince Allied ships that Kormoran
was not the enemy and may have contributed to Captain Burnett's decision
to bring Sydney in close. Even if Kormoran had been unable
to supply the Straat Malakka's secret call sign, Captain Burnett
may not have been convinced she was an enemy ship. According to Winter:
Though Sydney, using the code book, could work out what Straat
Malakka's secret call sign ought to be, this did not mean that the
call sign had ever been issued to her. Dutch ships had begun to be issued
with secret call signs only after 1 June 1941, and this recognition procedure
was still 'only applicable to red ensign and some Dutch ships'.6
5.4 In evidence given to the Committee, Dr Kim Kirsner
of the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, stated that:
The critical three or four [pieces of data] come from three or four people
who were in the radio transmission section of Kormoran, all of
whom identified the source of contact not the actual battle, but the
source of contact as 26 111 which actually falls right on the edge of
[the area where the Trust believes Sydney sank]. They all claimed,
as did many of the other survivors, including Detmers ... that there was
a signal from Kormoran at the moment of contact. They basically
represented themselves as a merchantman signalling contact with a ship
approaching them. That signal was picked up by two Australian sources,
a vessel off the coast [Uco] ... and ... Geraldton radio where
the latitude was corrupt but the longitude was not.7
5.5 Interviews undertaken by Mr David Kennedy with
Mr Hans Linke, a wireless operator on the Kormoran, indicate that
'Kormoran jammed Sydney's signals. ... [Linke said] "we
jammed by pretending to call other ships. Brazilians, neutrals, we called.
We made wireless traffic that did not really exist" '.8
Signals Sent from Sydney
5.6 great many submissions to this inquiry addressed
whether or not signals were sent from Sydney prior to, during and
indeed after her encounter with the Kormoran. The issue is complicated
by uncertainty about whether the messages attributed to Sydney
were transmitted in plain voice (para 5.32), morse or encrypted code and
the reports of signals are largely anecdotal.
5.7 A number of reports of signals believed to have
been from Sydney have emerged, including:
- the Q signal, actually sent by Kormoran, but originally thought
to have possibly originated from Sydney;9
- a message allegedly received at Naval Communications Station, HMAS
Harman, (according to Mr Robert Mason) that Sydney had
'bailed up a quere (sic) customer' and was going to investigate. There
is also a report from the same source of a signal that Sydney
was about to open fire, and a later message that was not recorded as
the operators had supposedly left the headsets unattended;10
- the 'Sydney calling Darwin' signal, indicating the ship was
on fire and the crew were preparing to abandon ship (see paras 5.28-5.33).
This signal, in morse but not encoded, may also be the message heard
on short wave radio at the Esplanade Hotel in Geraldton.11
5.8 With the exception of the 'Q' signal which has
already been discussed above, the evidence for these signals is examined
in this section. Verifying the source of the signal has proved difficult,
as can be seen from the following comments. According to one submission,
'the puzzling radio communication question arising from the incident is
the apparent lack of any official record of any message ever having been
received in any form either in plain language or code from either ship
in the encounter'.12
5.9 A corollary of this is that if signals were sent
from Sydney before or during the action and received, why was a
search for Sydney not sent out until 24 November,13
a full four days after her amended estimated date of arrival in Fremantle.
The official version of events states that 'From Sydney herself,
no word was ever received'.14
The Official Account
5.10 During wartime, radio silence would normally have
been observed, and the official account reflects a belief that, upon meeting
an unidentified ship and subsequently being sunk by it, the Sydney
sent out no radio message to indicate its position or the trouble it was
5.11 The Department of Defence drew attention to the
fact that 'There were standard occasions for breaking radio silence when
it was imposed, and one of them was contact with the enemy'.15
If no signal was sent from Sydney, as the Department of Defence
asserts, this suggests several possibilities: that Captain Burnett must
have been convinced that the ship it had encountered was not the enemy;
or Captain Burnett did not have sufficient time to send a signal before
Sydney's communications systems were inoperable; or finally, that
at the time of the encounter between the two ships, Sydney was
passing through what Barbara Winter refers to as a 'dead spot'.16
5.12 Mr James Eagles theorised that:
... some of the first shell hits apparently were in the bridge area and
around the director. They could quite easily have taken out all the aerials
on the ship, including the roof aerials. So while all the transmitters
might have been quite functional and a signal might actually have been
sent and jammed, there may not have been enough range or power output
to actually get out a signal.
He went on to suggest that emergency aerials might have been rigged,
depending on the level of damage sustained during the engagement.17
Mason's Claims and his Critics
5.13 Mr Robert Mason, a Naval writer posted to Harman,
has stated that a message was in fact received at Harman on the
evening of 19 November 1941, and that all staff present there that night
were sworn to secrecy. Mr Mason was told a message had been received that
the Sydney had a 'queer customer bailed up' and was attempting
to identify her. There was another signal indicating Sydney was
going to open fire. A further signal was lost as the two headsets had
been left unattended for a short period.18 He claimed
that the Naval Board knew Sydney was in trouble, but decided not
to send out a search. Other staff present at Harman on 19 November
1941 have made submissions to this inquiry, refuting Mr Mason's account
of what happened that night.
5.14 In support of Mr Mason's claims, the Committee
was told by Mr David Kennedy that he interviewed Mr David 'Ron' Griffiths
in 1997, who said:
... that he was a young and very conscientious telegraphist relieving
at HMAS Cerberus for a week when he picked up a signal in three-letter
emergency fleet code on ship-shore frequency just before 8pm on 19 November.
Griffiths said, 'It was difficult to read, fading and I was only getting
bits of it but what I received I wrote in the log ... I didn't decipher
5.15 Griffiths also said that he handed over to a senior
WRAN at the end of his shift, telling her that he thought the message
was something important. When he returned a couple of minutes later 'the
headphones were on the desk and the WRAN was in the galley making coffee'.20
Both Harman and Cerberus logs are missing21
and there is no documentary evidence to suggest that signals either to
or from Sydney were received.22
5.16 If anyone had heard a signal from Sydney
it would most probably have been Harman, '... the most powerful
wireless station in the Southern Hemisphere ...',23
(more powerful than stations in Western Australia) and there would have
been at least two wireless ratings listening to the frequency set aside
for enemy reporting. In the event of a signal being received, the signal
would (normally) have been redirected to the Australian Commonwealth Navy
Board (ACNB), which would have in turn forwarded it to the Admiralty in
5.17 Mr John McArthur was convinced by Mr Mason's account
of 19 November at Harman. In evidence to the inquiry, Mr McArthur
Interviews with [Mason] before his death and the subsequent release of
his documents give rise to the gravest doubts about Navy's position. Even
in the face of Mason's evidence the Navy has gone to great lengths to
destroy Mason's story. The fact that another person,
D(avid) Griffiths has emerged to confirm the receipt of signals at HMAS
Cerberus has been studiously ignored. My own research has put me
in contact with the duty RAN signalman in Fremantle on the night of 19
November. In front of a witness he related what happened to him that night.
Early in the evening watch he received a signal from Sydney: RRRR
v Sydney. It meant that Sydney had encountered a warship.
The signalman notified the Chief Petty Officer on Duty, CPO Roberts. But
a senior officer could not be found ... The last signal [the signalman]
recalls was in clear English no need for code. Sydney was 'on
fire, abandoning ship'.25
5.18 This claim is supported by Mr Kennedy. He submitted
details of an interview with Kormoran wireless operator Hans Linke
... tends to support the statements made by Robert Mason that signals
were received from Sydney and allows for them being broken up
as also described by David Griffiths at Cerberus ... It should
also be considered that Mason's references to Sydney having bailed
up a queer customer would have been what Mason was told by Ben Tiller,
in paraphrased colloquial form, rather than a direct quote of a signal.26
5.19 Mr Kennedy's point about Mr Mason not actually
hearing the message personally is important, and discussion on this possible
signal is not always clear on this point.
5.20 Miss Marion Stevens, a WRAN present at Harman
on the night Sydney sank, has refuted Mr Mason's claims, criticising
them on a number of grounds. First, Miss Stevens states that 'no CAPTAIN
or any other officer would authorize a message 'AM ABOUT TO OPEN
FIRE'. The Kormoran would have been monitoring Sydney
and a message like this one would give the Kormoran a distinct
advantage to get off the first 'shell'.27 She also stresses
'the fact that the Transceiver in Sydney WAS THE LATEST AND
MOST MODERN 'NAVY No 36' BUT IT WOULD ONLY HANDLE MORSE CODE ...
Any R/T signals originating anywhere DID NOT ORIGINATE FROM THE SYDNEY'.28
5.21 This evidence is damning of claims made in the
documentary 'No Survivors',29 in which it was stated
that 'weak plain language signals [were] received from Sydney by
RAAF personnel in Darwin. According to this programme, signals indicated
that Sydney was on fire ... the message was passed on to Naval
authorities but no searching aircraft were sent out because the Navy claimed
that Sydney was not then overdue'.30
5.22 Mrs Daphne Wright, also present at Harman
the night Sydney sunk, supports Miss Stevens' recollections. Mrs
Wright's submission to the inquiry stated that:
During the period when HMAS Sydney was apparently overdue, my clear
recollection and experience was of receiving firm and urgent instructions
... to listen out ... for a signal from HMAS Sydney.
To my knowledge, no one was aware at that time of the encounter of HMAS
Sydney with an enemy ship on the 19 November in the Indian Ocean
off the West Australian Coast as HMAS Sydney did not break W/T
silence to advise of the impending engagement. Certainly not as far
as HMAS Harman's reception was concerned. Also, as no signal
of distress was received from HMAS Sydney at HMAS Harman,
presumably after the fatal encounter with the German raider Kormoran,
it may be assumed that its wireless apparatus had been destroyed.31
5.23 Miss Stevens also rebuts the evidence of Mr David
Griffiths about Cerberus, pointing out that there were no WRANS
present at Cerberus until May 1943.32
5.24 One of the WRANS present at Harman the
night of 19 November, Mrs Judy Saunders, initially supported Mr Mason's
claims that a something significant happened that night. In a submission
to the inquiry, Mrs Saunders stated that:
I was a telegraphist on watch at Harman on 19th November. I remember
the C.O. had the headphones on, which was most unusual. I cannot say if
he received a message or had been called in because of one, but he put
the headphones on and rushed into his office we were told it was to
ring Navy Board in Melbourne. From then on we all kept watch on all possible
channels listening for a message from the ship. Somehow we all knew it
was the Sydney we were searching for.33
5.25 Mrs Saunders, in a supplementary submission, indicated
that 'on reflection I realise my dating of the incident which occurred
at Harman could be inaccurate ...'.34
5.26 Mr Alan Cohn was a Senior Coder in one of the
four watches at Harman in November 1941. As such he was 'privy
to all matters which occurred during a watch on which [he] was on duty'.
It is Mr Cohn's 'considered opinion that no message was received by Harman
from HMAS Sydney at or after her action with the German ship Kormoran'.
Mr Cohn recollects calls going out from Harman for Sydney
over several days, but to his knowledge there was no response.35
5.27 In the light of the evidence of four people intimately
involved in monitoring of signals at HMAS Harman in November 1941,
doubt must exist regarding the accuracy of Mr Mason's recollections about
the timing and indeed nature of the signal.
5.28 Other claims that signals were received emerged
after the war. According to PMG Officer Len Hall, stationed at the Hamelin
Pool PMG repeater station at the time, late in the night of 19/20 November
1941 heavy telephonic traffic (between Fremantle and RAAF Pearce) took
place on the line between Perth and Carnarvon,36 with
that situation continuing for the next five or six days. Mr Hall, in an
interview many years later, claimed 'he had heard a signal recording that
Sydney opened fire first'.37
5.29 Another signal supposedly received from Sydney
in Darwin (as 'Sydney calling Darwin') was sent in plain language
(i.e. unencrypted). Mr Gordon Laffer reportedly saw a file in RAAF intelligence
records, indicating a message along the lines of 'Sydney calling
Darwin. On fire fore and aft. Preparing to abandon ship ...', followed
by a latitude and longitude. No record of the signal or the file can be
found. The potential failure of people to properly identify signals is
illustrated by an instance in which LCDR Ean McDonald RAN (Retd) advised
the Committee that a similar signal was reportedly logged by HMAS Perth
in Port Phillip Bay, about 25 November 1941. LCDR McDonald acknowledges
that he realised later the signal could not have come from Sydney
as it was some days after the ship was actually lost.38
5.30 In her book The Intrigue Master, Barbara
Winter cites this signal, stating that 'the key is an entry in the South
West Area Combined Headquarters Log for 1543 on 4 December 1941:
S/L (Squadron Leader) Cooper and Geraldton reports one of his operators
listening on 24.5 metres heard R/T telephone sign calling Darwin or technical
telegraph operator. Signals weak & operator thought it may be from HMAS
Sydney. Later Geraldton report strength of signal increasing.39
5.31 It has been accepted by many Sydney authors
that this signal was not, as is widely believed, from HMAS Sydney,
but rather, from the PMG Sydney.40 Mr David Kennedy
has also raised the possibility that the signal may have been 'messages
sent to wireless stations from a central authority about signals from
HMAS Sydney. Basically, we appear to have Darwin and Singapore
being informed of efforts to get signals from, or to, a distressed Sydney
5.32 Other reports of plain voice distress calls attributed
to Sydney have emerged from time to time. For example, Mrs Glenys
McDonald recounts the recollections of a young girl living in the Port
Gregory area who 'recalled a plain voice distress call from HMAS Sydney
breaking into her evening radio programs'.42 However,
in regard to these and other such claims, it is relevant to note the statement
by Alaistair Templeton that 'Sydney did not even have an R/T capability,
so any words heard were not from Sydney'.43
5.33 The Committee agrees with Dr Frame that:
It is also possible, and one suspects probable, that some individual on
board Sydney would have attempted to send some signal during the
action if the ship's communications equipment was operational. If this
individual was not a specialist radio operator, or if some or all of the
ship's communications equipment was damaged, ... it is likely that signal
transmissions from Sydney could have been totally unsuccessful,
broken and incoherent, difficult to decipher, or sent on inappropriate
frequencies or by suspect methods in the hope of raising some alarm ashore.44
Records of Signals
5.34 The process of intercepting radio communications
was a hit and miss affair. A signal, even if not picked up in Australia,
may have been picked up elsewhere, for example in London or Washington
or Berlin.45 The Acting Director of DSD pointed out
that navy signals intelligence operators in Australia would have been
focusing not on signals from Australian ships, but on foreign signals.
He added that 'If they did roll onto an Australian communication for some
reason, they would keep going because their whole reason for being is
to focus on foreign communications'.46
5.35 DSD's Acting Director went further when he stated
that 'as a signals intelligence organisation, [DSD] would not collect
signals intelligence against Australian platforms under any circumstances;
therefore, if we were operating at the time [which was not the case],
we would still have no records related to [the loss of Sydney]
because that is not part of our function as a foreign intelligence collector'.47
5.36 As noted in Chapter 3, there is a large volume
of signals packs in the custody of the Australian Archives that has not
been examined. However, as Australian Archives has indicated:
In order to identify all signal traffic passing to or from the Sydney,
the Archives has conducted a search of these signal packs for messages
sent and received between 11 and 20 November 1941 inclusive, the period
during which any signals sent by the Sydney after her departure
from Fremantle would have been transmitted. No signals either to or from
the Sydney during this period, other than those described, have
5.37 The historical adviser to the Committee, Professor
Peter Dennis, also inspected signal packs at the Australian Archives Melbourne
office, without locating anything new by way of signal traffic (see para
5.38 On balance, the Committee believes that it is
likely that Sydney attempted to signal once the engagement was
underway, but there is no evidence that the signals were received by naval
or other authorities. The Committee can find no evidence that signals
were received and were ignored deliberately by the RAN or by the Admiralty.
Theories of Third Party Involvement
5.39 The magnitude of the loss of Sydney and
the ensuing debate on her fate has focused in large part on whether the
engagement was as described by the German survivors or whether another
explanation was more likely:
Hovering above all on the mystery of the Sydney there remains a
burning flame of suspicion on how a gallant cruiser which had proved itself
as totally efficient and well-armed in several major engagements of actual
combat, could be sunk without even one survivor of her 645 crew, in an
encounter with an armed merchant raider which although itself sunk, had
315 survivors from its crew of 400 (sic). That is why it has already been
suggested that there was a third party involved at the scene of the encounter.49
5.40 Since the loss of Sydney, there has been
a proliferation of theories that Kormoran did not act alone. Among
the suggestions put forward in this inquiry are that a Japanese submarine,
an Italian submarine50 or a German U-boat51
were involved in or responsible for the sinking.52 The
accusations levelled at the Japanese extend to claims that they murdered
survivors from the Sydney so as to leave no trace of the battle
and to cover up their involvement.53 Of these theories,
the Japanese submarine theory is the most widely repeated, experiencing
a resurgence in the aftermath of the publishing of Michael Montgomery's
book in 1981. Until the publication of Montgomery's book, theories about
a Japanese submarine had been largely ignored by mainstream commentators.
As one person noted:
Hitherto, the question of a Japanese submarine has been scorned, largely
on the grounds that the Japanese would have taken great pains to ensure
that there were no 'incidents' prior to 7 December which would have alerted
5.41 Notwithstanding Mr Montgomery's contribution to
the theory that a Japanese submarine sank Sydney, the theory itself
circulated many years earlier, soon after the ship was lost. According
to one submission, 'The [Japanese submarine] rumour continues today. No
one seems to know how it started, but it was supposed to have come from
some-one who was on a ship in the Indian Ocean at the time of the battle'.55
Another submission asked:
What was the origin of the story of a Japanese submarine? Strangely enough,
this seems to have started with a propaganda broadcast from Tokyo, sponsored
by the Department of Naval Propaganda, probably in late December, although
transcripts from that period do not seem to have survived. The aim of
these broadcasts was to create confusion and despondency in Australia.
In this case, they succeeded only too well ... The Japanese were not responsible
for sinking Sydney, but they were responsible for the rumour that
5.42 It was suggested that probably in late December
1941 Radio Tokyo (sponsored by the Department of Naval Propaganda) was
transmitting that a Japanese submarine was responsible for sinking Sydney.
Evidence was given by the Western Australian Maritime Museum (WAMM) that
in 1942 Radio Tokyo broadcast that Sydney survivors were being
held in Japan, a story proved later to be false.57
5.43 Others submitted evidence to the inquiry which
supported the theory of Japanese involvement in sinking Sydney.
Mr J J Collins told the inquiry that:
... when we were in Victoria Point in Burma we were working for the Japanese
and got to speak to a Japanese Lieutenant (known as a chui) who told use
they were a part of the Emperors Guard, from memory he said his unit was
called 'Nino Ichi Emma Gee' this was a machine gun unit and they referred
to M.G. as emma gee the same as we did at the time. This was in July
1942 when Japan was triumphant in its war with the allies, and they were
boasting of their success. He said quite openly that they 'of course had
sunk the Sydney!'59
5.44 Mr Collins also referred to an incident which
occurred some weeks before Sydney was lost, in which Sydney
received reports of a submarine in the Indian Ocean. Mr Collins was on
board Zealandia at the time and the two ships had been together
when Sydney received the report.60
5.45 Mr Collins also recounted the story:
... of a gentleman who went over with BCOF and went to the Kure training
area, which was analogous with Annapolis or with Jervis Bay in Australia.
When he was looking through the place straight after the war he noticed
a mural in this large room. One of the murals, the large mural, showed
a Japanese submarine sinking an Australian cruiser. He queried it with
the admiral in charge who looked at him ... and said nothing. The next
day he came back and it had been taken off the wall.61
5.46 Mr Bernard Eneberg also supports the involvement
of a Japanese submarine:
I do not believe [Burnett came in too close.] The scenario I had was that
he stood some distance away and commenced to shell the Kormoran
and then a submarine intervened ... and put a couple of torpedoes into
the Sydney. The Sydney heard the torpedoes coming on their
asdic and started up ... After she was hit, she had no control over her
momentum, which could have brought her up to the Kormoran and the
Kormoran then took over and attacked her with all her armament.62
5.47 Mr Eneberg theorised that the reason for the Japanese
presence off the coast of Western Australia on 19 November 1941 was that
the Germans and the Japanese had hatched an elaborate plan to transfer
specialised Japanese communications personnel to Germany. Mr Eneberg suggested
At the beginning of November ... perhaps the Japanese High Command decided
that it was necessary to send an important group of personnel to co-ordinate
the war effort with her Axis partner Germany. Rear Admiral Wegener in
Tokyo would have offered the services of the German raider Kormoran
to meet with a Japanese submarine and take aboard the German group.63
Mr Eneberg believes that when Sydney interrupted the transfer,
the Japanese were forced to open fire. The Committee considered this theory,
but found it unconvincing. Japanese plans for war were well advanced and
it appears most unlikely the Japanese would have chosen such an uncertain
and dangerous route for transferring personnel to Germany. Again, there
is a total lack of documentary evidence to support Mr Eneberg's theory.
5.48 One other possible source for the Japanese submarine
theory is a series of sketches by Dr List (of the Kormoran), which
many have suggested contain shorthand revealing Japanese involvement in
the sinking of Sydney. However, 'Dr List has always maintained
that there were no shorthand signs in the sketches'.64
The lines in the sketch have never been identified. Winter discussed the
supposed 'shorthand' and noted 'the symbols are certainly not in any of
the major German [shorthand] systems...'.65
5.49 In their book Betrayal at Pearl Harbor,
James Rusbridger and Eric Nave briefly cite the Sydney/Kormoran
encounter as evidence of Japanese involvement in World War Two prior to
the attack on Pearl Harbour.66 It is their claim that
'on 19 November 1941 Japan commenced hostilities. Not against America
or Britain, but Australia, when the German surface raider Kormoran
met the Australian ... cruiser HMAS Sydney off the western coast
of Australia and fought the most mysterious sea battle of World War Two'.67
5.50 Nave and Rusbridger cite as their source Michael
Montgomery's book Who Sank the Sydney?. They also challenge several
key theories which are accepted by many, namely that 'not a single body
[from the Sydney] was ever found' and that 'since the Kormoran
was not in a state to fire the last torpedo it must have come from another
vessel'.68 Nave and Rusbridger also believe that by
24 November 1941 the Australian Naval Board 'were satisfied (although
they had no absolute proof) that a Japanese I-class submarine had been
operating in conjunction with the Kormoran and had sunk the Sydney'.69
No evidence is given by Nave and Rusbridger to support their claim.
5.51 Other submissions point to the presence of Japanese
milk bottles in the possession of the Germans as somehow proving that
a Japanese submarine was involved in the action. However, Kormoran
was re-supplied by Kulmerland, which in turn obtained supplies
from Japan. It is therefore not surprising that some of the items would
have Japanese markings on them.70
Evidence Against Japanese Involvement
5.52 One of the difficulties facing researchers who
support claims that a Japanese submarine was responsible for sinking Sydney
is the lack of evidence of Japanese submarines in the area. Submissions
There is no documentation and never has been in any official military
files in Japan about Japanese submarine involvement.71
... my research and speaking to Japanese authorities cannot unearth one
shred of positive evidence which could position a Japanese sub[marine]
within six or seven thousand kilometres of the scene off the WA coast
Japan did not have any submarines swanning in this area, they would have
been in the North Pacific.73
5.53 The Department of Defence completely discounted
the possibility of a Japanese submarine being involved. It believed that
'there is nothing which has provided any evidence for us to believe that
[the Kormoran was supported by supply ships in an offensive role
against Sydney] ... We have nothing that links the presence of
a Japanese submarine to that action'.74
5.54 There is a striking lack of evidence to support
the theory that a Japanese submarine was involved in, or responsible for,
sinking Sydney. This, however, does not stop the theory from being
stated.75 Mr John Doohan, of the End Secrecy on Sydney
Group, told the Committee that:
I have not said that there were Japanese submarines there, but everything
points to them being there. Kormoran certainly did not [sink Sydney].
There were no German submarines in the Indian Ocean at that time. That
is their record and I believe it ... We had Jap submarines in the Indian
Ocean before we had German submarines.76
5.55 Some suggested that evidence had been deliberately destroyed to cover up Japanese involvement. However, Mr Doohan suggested to the Committee that:
Any records of a Japanese submarine involved in sinking of an Australian ship by mistake the Japanese certainly did not want to sink Sydney that may have involved Germany or Japan or their involvement before the war were never going to be put on a piece of paper to go into archives particularly with 645 men dead.77
5.56 Research on the whereabouts of Japanese submarines
on 19 November 1941 refutes the claim that a Japanese submarine was responsible
for sinking Sydney. Much attention has focused on what are called
the I-class submarines, and in particular submarine I-124.78
5.57 Submarine I-124, which was sunk in Darwin Harbour
in January of 1942, has been rejected by others however as the reason
for Sydney's loss. Specifically:
I-124 would have been a spectacularly bad choice; she was one of the I
series submarines with the shortest range and slowest speeds, both surface
and submerged. She was one of four special mine-layers, and they were
all engaged in minelaying around the Philipines (sic) and Malaya in the
early days of the war.79
5.58 In his work on submarine I-124,80
Mr Tom Lewis notes concerns (raised by Mr Ed Ferrier), that Japanese submarine
I-124, sunk in the waters off Darwin, may contain information which could
shed light on the circumstances surrounding the loss of Sydney.
He suggested that this accounts for the reluctance on the part of the
Japanese to allow the investigation of the wreck of I-124 in Darwin Harbour.81
However, Mr Lewis states that 'there is no record of I-124 being in southern
waters at that time'.82 Mr Lewis also cites the work
of David Jenkins, who states that I-124 was 'in Japanese ports in early
November preparing for operations in the South China Sea'.83
5.59 Mr Lewis concluded that, following the publication
of Montgomery's book, and other works, '... the myth of the Japanese submarine
has slowly been accepted as factually based'.84 He believes
that 'there is no basis for suggestion that a Japanese submarine and
that includes I-124 was involved in the tragic loss of HMAS Sydney'.85
Mr Lewis also made a submission to the inquiry, in which he stated that
'I also wish to place on record my opinion that there was no "cover-up"
5.60 Mr J J Collins told the Committee that, despite
his belief that the Japanese were responsible, he had no proof of such
a theory. He stated in evidence that:
I have read how the Japanese had the best torpedo during the war the
long lance torpedo. There is evidence on that. I have heard people say,
without corroborating it, that they were able to fire under the Kormoran
and get the Sydney. There is no doubt that they did have the best
torpedoes. There is plenty of evidence of that around. But no, I have
no corroborating evidence for what the [Japanese officer said about the
Japanese being responsible for sinking Sydney].87
5.61 The evidence suggests that all I-class submarines
were able to be accounted for in locations other than off the coast of
Western Australia on that date. If no I-class submarines could possibly
have been responsible for sinking Sydney, the challenge to researchers
now is to provide concrete evidence of the involvement of a particular
submarine, rather than more generally proposing the theory of Japanese
involvement. As Winter points out:
Japan ... had a finite number of submarines, and they can all be located
elsewhere at a time that would have made it operationally unfeasible for
them to have been in the area where Sydney was sunk, at the time
when she was sunk.88
5.62 The Committee received evidence from Pastor Ivan
Wittwer that, while attached to the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority
in 1951, he met a man who claimed to be Gerhard Heinz Grossman, former
gunnery officer on the Kormoran. This man told Pastor Wittwer that
a Japanese submarine had been responsible for sinking the Sydney
and that this fact had been covered up by the Germans.
5.63 Pastor Wittwer claimed that Grossman told him
the fatal torpedoes were fired from a Japanese submarine, from a distance
of about 2.5 miles. Grossman also told Pastor Wittwer that Sydney
survivors were killed in the water by machine gun fire, and stated that
the number of the Japanese submarine was camouflaged.89
5.64 Mr Bernard Eneberg supports Pastor Wittwer's claims,
despite his doubts about Grossman, the man who recounted the story to
Pastor Wittwer. He told the Committee that 'Pastor Wittwer is quite confident
that whoever it was knew what he was talking about, and I would certainly
go along with that. Whether the man was Heinz Grossman is up for argument,
but he evidently knew what he was talking about'.90
5.65 Pastor Wittwer, in his submission to the inquiry,
related details of his subsequent interview by ASIO.91
Having signed the Official Secrets Act, Pastor Wittwer claimed
he was not able to release the information until 1982.92
ASIO has not denied the interview occurred, but advise that 'It is possible
that such an interview took place and the record was subsequently destroyed
prior to the operation of the Archives Act 1983' or perhaps that
the 'records associated with the interview may have been transferred to
the predecessor of the present day Department of Defence'.93
5.66 The Committee has no reason to doubt that Pastor
Wittwer did have a conversation with a person purporting to be Heinz Grossman,
and that he may well have been interviewed by ASIO about this matter.
However, the Committee has serious reservations about the identity of
the person claiming to be Grossman and hence his truthfulness is also
suspect. As Pastor Wittwer himself acknowledged:
Grossman was a con man, who cleverly worked himself into a position as
representative of all the Germans.94
5.67 Given that the identity of the person claiming
to be Grossman is not clear, the impact of his evidence is diminished,
although there are those who still choose to believe his claims and/or
the sentiments expressed by him.95 Suggestions were
made in the inquiry that Pastor Wittwer harboured negative feelings the
Japanese, which may have influenced his reaction to the information given
to him by the man claiming to be a Kormoran survivor.96
5.68 The Committee was not convinced that a case has
been made to show that the Japanese were responsible for sinking Sydney.
Of all the submissions expressing support for the theory of Japanese involvement,
none provided any hard evidence to prove Japanese involvement. The complete
lack of any evidence in Japanese archives pertaining to Sydney
also lessened the weight of the argument supporting Japanese involvement.
Given that no Japanese submarine has been identified as being in the vicinity
of where Sydney was sunk at the time of her loss, it is impossible
to prove that the Japanese were involved in any way in sinking Sydney.
5.69 The Committee found that there is no evidence
to support the involvement of a third participant in the engagement, whether
it be a Japanese submarine, a German U-boat or an Italian submarine, as
suggested in some submissions. The possibility of a third party being
involved in the sinking appears to have had its genesis in the shock of
the loss and the inability of people to accept that Sydney could
be defeated in such a manner. It is unfortunate that the claims of third
party involvement still continue to circulate in the absence of any substantive
The Leichtes Schnellboot (Light Speed Boat)
5.70 Several submissions examined the possible role
of the Leichtes Schnellboot (LS-3),97 Kormoran's
mine-laying speedboat which was 'specially constructed of light metal'98
and 'was 41 feet long, weighed 11 and a half tons ... and was capable
of at least 45 knots'.99 It was armed with two mines
able to be discharged vertically through tubes on the stern; plans for
these type of vessels to carry two to four torpedoes were made but not
implemented for this version (LS-4 on the raider Michel did carry
torpedoes).100 It is important to note that this vessel
was not a motor torpedo boat, as a number of submissions called it; it
was not equipped with torpedoes, but rather with mines.101
5.71 A number of theories were put forward about the
LS-3's possible involvement in the events of November 1941:
- LS-3 was laying mines in Sydney's path, two of which exploded,
thereby explaining the inconsistency in accounts seen by some on how
many torpedoes struck Sydney;102
- LS-3 was used to tow some of Kormoran's lifeboats after the
ship was scuttled (according to Mr Eagles until the morning of 22 November
when the LS-3 was itself scuttled), thereby explaining the speed with
which survivors apparently reached the Western Australian coast.103
It is also claimed that the towing would explain why some of the Germans
were reported as being 'clean-shaven' and in good condition when rescued;104
- the LS-3 was used to trail Sydney survivors in the water, allowing
the Germans to dispose of those who remained from Sydney's crew.105
5.72 Mr Eagles is convinced that the role of LS-3 has
been insufficiently examined to date, and believes that there exist many
compelling reasons why Captain Detmers may have used LS-3.106
Mr Eagles told the Committee that:
Detmers was a torpedo boat captain. He was a torpedo specialist, although
the motor torpedo boat was not armed with torpedoes. I believe that his
two assets, the things that he knew most about - the motor torpedo boat
and underwater torpedoes - are the two things that he would have used
5.73 Mr Eagles feels that during the interrogations
of Captain Detmers and his crew, insufficient questions were asked about
the significance of the LS-3.108 He believes that the
Leichtes Schnellboot was laying mines near Sydney. He suggested
that the inconsistency regarding the torpedo strikes on Sydney
may be explained by the theory that LS-3 was using magnetic mines to force
Sydney to turn, and that two mines exploded. Mr Eagles further
suggests that the reason for the battle taking place 300 miles off the
coast was that this was the limit of the LS-3's range, and that Captain
Detmers had calculated this on the grounds that LS-3 might be needed to
tow survivors to shore.109 Mr Eagles also maintains
that part of the reason for secrecy about the role of the speedboat was
'not to attract any importance to it. They [Kormoran] were the
first to use the LS boats'.110 This however, ignores
the fact that other raiders already operating were fitted with similar
5.74 In his submission to the inquiry, Mr Michael Montgomery
supported the second of Mr Eagles' claims, but with an apparently different
destination for the LS-3. He stated that:
Looking at a plot of the positions in which the Kormoran lifeboats
were found, one is immediately struck by the greater distance - at least
80km - covered by the two which made land at 17-Mile Well and Red Bluff.
My book includes a photograph of the pile of stores landed at the latter
far in excess of what one would expect to be contained in a boat already
crammed with 57 men ... while one of the survivors at the former indicated
that they had been beached there the previous day - ie the 23rd. This
necessarily implies that both boats had been assisted by a motorised vessel,
possibly the Kormoran's large motor boat which was then scuttled
5.75 Mr John McArthur agreed with Mr Eagles and Mr
Montgomery, supporting the theory that LS-3 played an important role in
the confrontation between Sydney and Kormoran. Of concern
to Mr McArthur was:
How a heavily laden boat with a lug sail could travel against a strong
SE wind and cover such a distance is truly remarkable UNLESS it was towed
while having only 40 men and then the occupants of the towing boat ditched
their craft and came on board knowing that rescue was only hours away.
An explanation [is that it was] the Leichtschnellboot from the Kormoran.
The same boat that Frame ignores completely, Winter says could not have
been used, and Detmers conveniently ignores altogether.113
5.76 This opinion is supported by LCDR McDonald RAN
(Retd) who claimed that 'the "shaven" group collected by Aquitania
could well have been the crew of the MTB'.114
5.77 Contrary to these theories is evidence about the
use of the LS-3 from Barbara Winter who notes in her book that the propeller
of the boat was damaged in early 1941 and that it was not used after that,
and that furthermore the boat was unable to be raised when Kormoran
was being abandoned.115
5.78 It is apparent, however, that the theories of
the use of the LS-3 are only speculative, with there being no agreement
on whether it towed all of the boats for a period, whether it towed two
boats to land (according to Michael Montgomery) or whether it towed the
boat that was eventually picked up by Aquitania. The Committee
felt that, without any evidence, it was impossible to determine if the
LS-3 played any role either during or after the battle.
5.79 The Committee also rejects the claims that the
LS-3 was used to shadow survivors of the engagement, and kill them as
they floated in the water. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest
that this occurred, and the continued claims of such behaviour, as with
so many unfounded claims about the whole Sydney-Kormoran
engagement, are both malicious and distressing to family members of those
lost on Sydney.
1 . McDonald, G, Transcript, p. 295.
2 . According to Richard Summerrell, '
"Q" messages (or more correctly QQQQ messages) were distress signals used
by merchant vessels to indicate that they were being attacked by a disguised
merchant raider' (Summerrell, op. cit., p. 29).
3 . Olson, Transcript, p. 210.
4 . ibid., pp. 208-9. GMT Greenwich
5 . Winter, op. cit., p. 134.
6 . ibid. Italics in original. See also
Olson, Submission, p. 4204.
7 . HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust,
Transcript, p. 165.
8 . Linke, in Kennedy, Submission, p.
9 . Summerrell, op. cit., p. 29.
10 . ibid.
11 . ibid., p. 38; and Laffer, Statutory
Declaration, in End Secrecy on Sydney, Submission, p . 2185.
12 . Anderson, Submission, p. 126.
13 . Even the date on which the search
was sent out is unclear, and evidence has been received by the Committee
which suggests that the official search was not sent out on 24 November,
as officially reported, but on 23 November. This is discussed in more
detail in Chapter 6.
14 . Gill, op. cit., p. 453.
15 . Department of Defence, Transcript,
16 . Barbara Winter writes 'As far as
wireless reception in Perth and Fremantle is concerned, the area west
of Carnarvon is a notorious "dead spot", especially by day' (Winter, op.
cit., p.236). See also McDonald, E, Submission, p. 2613.
17 . Eagles, Transcript, pp. 561-562.
18 . Interview with Mason, in Kennedy,
Submission, p. 962.
19 . Kennedy, Submission, p. 965.
20 . Griffiths, in Kennedy, Submission,
21 . Kennedy, Transcript, p. 453.
22 . The Archives indicated that 'A
total of 10 signals were transmitted to the Sydney after her departure
from Fremantle. The last two signals [were] sent on 14 November ...' (Summerrell,
op. cit., p. 32).
23 . Sheedy, Submission, p. 2.
24 . ibid., p. 3.
25 . McArthur, Submission, pp. 2252-2253.
Emphasis in original.
26 . Kennedy, Submission, p. 2307. See
also Kennedy, Submission, p. 965.
27 . Stevens, Submission, p. 3925. Emphasis
28 . ibid., p. 3925. Emphasis in original.
29 . Exhibit No. 20, 'No Survivors
The Mysterious Loss of HMAS Sydney'. Prospero Productions, Fremantle,
30 . McDonald, E, Submission, p. 2613.
31 . Wright, Submission, p. 1123. Emphasis
32 . Stevens, Submission, p. 3927.
33 . Saunders, Submission, p. 133.
34 . ibid., p. 1977.
35 . Cohn, Submission, pp. 3143-3144.
36 . Exhibit No. 5, p. 93.
37 . McDonald, E, Submission, p. 538.
38 . ibid., pp. 534-536.
39 . The Intrigue Master, p.
118, cited in Poniewierski, Submission, p. 298.
40 . See also Templeton, Transcript,
41 . Kennedy, Submission, p. 4449.
42 . McDonald, G, Submission, p. 169.
43 . Templeton, Transcript, p. 472.
44 . Frame, op. cit., pp. 189-190.
45 . DSD, Transcript, p. 47.
46 . ibid.
47 . ibid., pp. 49-50.
48 . Summerrell, op. cit., p. 32.
49 . Denholm, Submission, p. 1256.
50 . See for example Heazlewoods Solicitors,
Submission, pp. 1346 and 1349. This submission contains a Statutory Delcaration
by Mr V C Gambling, in which he states an Italian POW said that Kormoran
opened fire and Sydney was crippled by a torpedo. However 'he didn't
say his ship fired the torpedo but I think it did and he was concealing
this from us' (emphasis added).
51 . See for example Submissions, Nitschke,
p. 1339, Gould, p. 2279 and Sharkey, p. 2955. Evidence was received by
this Committee that 'No German submarine reached the Indian Ocean by [the
time Sydney was sunk], owing to problems of supply of fuel and
provisions' (Poniewierski, Submission, p. 2639).
52 . Suggestions were also made that
a French submarine was involved in sinking Sydney. According to
Frame, Rear Admiral Crace, in his private diary of 26 November, commented
that 'Naval Board think there is a possibility that a Vichy submarine
escorting a Vichy ship has torpedoed [Sydney]' (Frame, op. cit.,
p . 5).
53 . The claim that Sydney survivors
were murdered in the water is discussed in Chapter 6.
54 . Baker, Submission, p. 90.
55 . Wilson, Submission, p. 3327.
56 . Poniewierski, Submission, p. 3596.
57 . ibid., p. 3596. See also Wilson,
Submission, p. 3327.
58 . Western Australian Maritime Museum,
Submission, p. 4076.
59 . Collins, Submission, pp. 131-132,
and Collins, Transcript, p. 354.
60 . Collins, Transcript, p. 354.
61 . ibid.
62 . Eneberg, Transcript, p. 424.
63 . ibid., pp. 428-431, and Eneberg,
Submission, pp. 2046-2047.
64 . Winter, op. cit., p. 233.
65 . ibid.
66 . Rusbridger, J and Nave, E, Betrayal
at Pearl Harbor, Summit Books, New York, 1991, p . 134.
67 . ibid.
68 . ibid.
69 . ibid.
70. See for example Winter, op. cit.,
71. Loane, Submission, p. 2905.
72. ibid., p. 200.
73. Roper, Submission, p. 212.
74. Department of Defence, Transcript,
75. The resilience of the Japanese submarine
theory is remarkable. Most recently, in a paper to The Enigma Symposium
1998, Hugh Skillen put forward this theory, based largely on the 'Kitsche
diary' that Michael Montgomery also used in his book (Skillen, H, 'A Personal
Rapport with German raider Kormoran', in Enigma Symposium 1998
papers, Print in Black, Bath, 1998, pp. 132-138). It should be noted that
Barbara Winter and Tom Frame have both rejected the diary as genuine,
with Frame stating that 'the alleged diary was merely a German translation
of an English magazine article written by the journalist Robert Close'
(Frame, op cit., p. 136; see also Winter, op cit., pp. 226, 245-246).
Skillen goes on to suggest that submarine I-8 was responsible for the
sinking of Sydney, largely on the reputation of its commander as
a 'war crime specialist' (Skillen, p. 137). No details of its prior movements
leading up to November 1941 are given by Skillen. Winter places submarine
I-8 patrolling 'south of Oahu before and during the attack on Pearl harbour'
(Poniewierski, Submission, p. 320).
76. End Secrecy on Sydney Group,
Transcript, p. 275.
77. Doohan, Transcript, p. 284.
78. Winter stated that 'it should be
noted that there was no such thing as an "I-Class" submarine, as the submarines
with the "I" prefix were of different classes, as is indicated in good
reference books on submarines. Japanese submarines had the prefixes "I",
"RO" and "HA", on the pattern of an ancient poem that began "I-ro ha ni-ho-he-to"
' (Poniewierski, Submission, p. 319).
79. Gascoyne Historical Society, Submission,
80. Exhibit No 6: Sensuikan I-124
A History of the Imperial Japanese Navy Fleet Submarine Sunk in Northern
81. ibid., p. 71.
82. ibid., p. 72.
84. ibid., p. 71.
85. ibid., p. 73.
86. Lewis, Submission, p. 135.
87. Collins, Transcript, p. 350.
88. Poniewierski, Submission, p. 319.
89. Wittwer, Submission, pp. 3486-3487.
90. Eneberg, Transcript, p. 421.
91. See Wittwer, Submission, p. 3487.
92. ibid., p. 3488.
93. ASIO, Submission, p. 1771.
94. Exhibit No. 43, p. 2.
95. See for example, Eneberg, Submission,
96. Mr David Kennedy told the Committee
that Pastor Wittwer confided to him that '... he could have killed the
Japanese who killed his cousin or uncle, and how he was having to struggle
against these feelings'. Mr Kennedy felt that Pastor Wittwer 'had a serious
personal problem to come to terms with over the loss of his relative and
the Japanese' (Kennedy, Transcript, p. 459).
97. Leichtes Schnellboot 3 was the updated
model of the LS-1 and LS-2. See Eagles, Submission p. 2365 and p.
98. Winter, op. cit., p. 26.
99. Eagles, Submission, p. 2365.
100. Conways Maritime Press, quoted
in Eagles, Submission, p. 3618. Mr John Doohan, of the End Secrecy on
Sydney Group has incorrectly stated that LS-2 and LS-3 were 'exactly
the same' (Transcript, p. 254). This ignores the different engines used
in LS-1 and LS-2, compared with LS-3, and the different fitout for laying
101. For example, Mr James Eagles refers
to the vessel at an MTB (motor torpedo boat), although in his submission
he acknowledges that the LS-3 did not carry torpedoes (Eagles, Submission,
102. ibid., p. 2368.
103. ibid., p. 2394.
104. McDonald, E, Submission, p. 553.
105. McDonald, E, Transcript, p. 234.
McDonald also raises questions about the use of the motor torpedo boat
after the battle in a submission (McDonald, E, Submission, pp. 3173-3174).
106. Eagles, Submission, p. 2368.
107. Eagles, Transcript, p. 565. Barbara
Poniewierski states in a submission that the LS-Boot on Kormoran
was equipped to lay mines (not torpedoes), and therefore that Sydney
cannot have been attacked by 'Kormoran's torpedo boat' (Poniewierski,
Submission, p. 316).
108. Eagles, Transcript, p. 568.
109. Eagles, Submission, p. 2368.
110. ibid., p. 2383.
111. ibid., p. 3618.
112. Montgomery, Submission, p. 638.
113. McArthur, Submission, p. 2259.
In fact, Frame mentions the LS-3 on p. 47 of his book; and Detmers refers
to it on a number of occasions in his book: pp. 20, 30, 38.
114. McDonald, E, Submission, p. 3174.
115. Winter, op cit., pp. 58, 142.
Back to top