Remembering Sydney vs. Kormoran in a unique, and mutual, way

The Type 123 Brandenburg-class frigate Bayern (F-217) deployed to the Pacific in August in an effort to “show more presence in the Indo-Pacific region.”

She has completed exercises and steamed with a host of foreign navies along the way.

PASSEX on Sept 7 2021 with the German frigate Bayern, Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67), and the Pakistani Navy frigate PNS Alamgir (F260)– formerly USS McInerney (FFG-8)–in the Indian Ocean. (Photos: German Navy)

Notably, when Bayern arrived in Fremantle last week she was the first German navy ship to visit Australia since the tall ship Gorch Fock berthed in Sydney in 1988.

Historically, German and Australian naval ships don’t interact very often.

Speaking of which, there was one very memorable meeting between the two countries at sea on 19 November 1941 when the Leander-class light cruiser HMAS Sydney (D48) came across the notorious German auxiliary cruiser (Hilfskreuzer) Kormoran which was brazenly steaming just 150 miles south-west of the coast of Western Australia. The heavily-armed commerce raider, known as “Raider G” to the Allies, had been at sea for 352 days and her crack crew had chalked up some 75,000 tons of shipping. A wolf in sheep’s clothing found by Sydney while flying a Dutch flag, with the action beginning at what was effectively point-blank range. 

In the mutually destructive surface action that followed, both ships were lost with a combined butcher’s bill of 727 men dead to include every single member of the Australian cruiser’s complement.

The engagement echoed a similar one between the Dresden-class cruiser SMS Emden and the Chatam-class light cruiser HMAS Sydney off Cocos Islands in November 1914, only much bloodier.

Only a few weeks away from the 80th anniversary of the loss of Kormoran and the later Sydney, embarked exchange sailors from the Royal Australian Navy on Bayern this week joined a solemn ceremony held by the crew to observe the battle, over at 26°S 111°E.

Members of the Bayern’s ship’s company also participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the State War Memorial in Perth’s Kings Park. 

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