- Mearns, David L and Captain Peter Hore, RN
- RAN operations, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney II
- December 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The idea that the Germans were able to take the deck log or engine room log into captivity is not fantasy. Although many documents were confiscated from the Kormoran’s survivors during their captivity, the camp discipline was not strict and prisoners were not segregated. Many documents were covertly written in camp, and Detmers kept the existence of the dotted account in his dictionary secret, even from his own officers, throughout his imprisonment and afterwards. ((Personal communication in November 2003 with Kormoran survivor Heinz Messerschmidt, who as a Käpitanleutenant was Detmers’ secretary.))
Some documents certainly reached Germany with accounts of the battle and of various lifeboat journeys, and were incorporated into the German naval staff battle summary in 1943. ((Public Record Office London ADM 1/8899 ff 10-15 Operationen und Taktik Heft 10 Die Fahrt des Hilfskreuzer ‘Schiff 41’ (Operations and Tactics volume 10 The Voyage of the Auxiliary Cruiser Ship 41) i.e. the German naval staff’s battle summary of Kormoran’s voyage.)) Frame even suggests that Habben, Kormoran’s doctor, who was repatriated under a wartime prisoner exchange scheme, took the engine room log to Germany in 1943. ((Tom Frame, HMAS Sydney Loss and Controversy, (Hodder and Stoughton) Sydney, 1993, p.103.))
The Australians authorities suspected as much and asked the British to search the Germans and intercept any reports that they were trying to bring back to Germany. ((Acting Director of Naval Intelligence (T.R. Fenner) letter dated 28 January 1947 to Director of Naval Intelligence, London. ‘. . . it is understood that survivors [of Kormoran] produced a Secret official report regarding the SYDNEY/KORMORAN action . . . [request] efforts be made to intercept any report . . .and forward it to me for the information of the Naval War Historian.’)) Kormoran’s survivors were duly searched when the steamer Orontes arrived in Cuxhaven and several documents were confiscated. It is these documents which have now been posted on the Sea Power Centre’s website. They were sent to Australia in August 1947 where some were copied and can now be found in the Australian archives, but all were subsequently returned to the Admiralty in London. Some were returned without being copied and have not been evaluated for over half a century. Amongst these accounts are those of Hartmann and Thurow who record navigational data of the action: they are, however, consistent with Detmers’ accounts. Indeed, once the errors in transcription and translation have been removed and all the German accounts compared, they are remarkably consistent: conspiracy theorists who have argued otherwise are, quite simply, wrong.
In the course of this investigation other German sources have been studied. All the available evidence points to the so-called northern position, approximately 26º S 111º E, for the battle between Sydney and Kormoran. This brief article is the authors’ summary of what they have determined so far: a book is planned in order to share their findings with a wide readership, and the authors are confident that they now know the position of the battle with sufficient accuracy to mount a search for both ships.