- Sullivan, John
- WWII operations, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Sydney II
- September 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
EMDEN lost 134 officers and men killed, and 65 wounded, who became prisoners of war. A further 117 unwounded survivors also became PoWs. SYDNEY lost 4 killed and 13 wounded. Glossop was made a Commander of the Bath, and von Mueller received the Iron Cross First Class. SYDNEY’S victory greatly affected Indian Ocean activities. EMDEN was gone, and KONIGSBERG was bottled up in East Africa. The many warships engaged in hunting down EMDEN were released for other duties, and marine underwriters reduced war risk insurance by one-third. SYDNEY paid off in 1928 and was broken up in 1929.
The new SYDNEY commissioned in 1935. When WW II began she was very busy in Australian waters until it was decided in 1940 that she should join the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. Italy entered the war against us on 10th June, 1940, and SYDNEY was ready for her. On 28th June she sank the Italian destroyer ESPERO. But the “main event” was still to come.
Whilst in Alexandria in the middle of July, 1940, SYDNEY was dry-docked and had a “haircut and shave”. The resulting clean hull was to be an asset within 48 hours. On 17th July, four RN destroyers, HYPERION, HASTY, HERO and ILEX, were ordered to sweep north of Crete from east to west, seeking to find and kill Italian submarines. SYDNEY, with Captain John Collins in command (later Vice-Admiral Sir John), was ordered to take the R.N. destroyer HAVOCK with him and sail north of Crete east about in support of the other four destroyers, and also to intercept Italian ships in the Gulf of Athens. This latter task would take SYDNEY much further north than the other force. Both groups were to pass east of Crete within half an hour of each other on the night of 18th July, and they were to pass west of Crete by the Antikithera Channel on the 19th. The destroyer force was to pass through the Channel at 0600, and SYDNEY and her consort were to follow about six hours later – they were expected to be in the Gulf of Athens at 0600. Coincidentally, two Italian cruisers, GIOVANNI DELLE BANDE NERE and BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI, were ordered to pass through the Antikithera Channel in the opposite direction, also at 0600 on the 19th. So the stage was set.
Collins decided, after leaving Alexandria, that he would concentrate on his first objective – the support for the destroyers – and remain close to Crete until 0800 on the 19th, by which time the destroyer force should be clear of the Channel. He then intended to make a short sweep northward towards the Gulf of Athens before heading for home.
The destroyers and the Italian cruisers sighted each other at about 0720 on the 19th. The destroyers immediately swung round and headed north-east, and made an enemy report by radio. Two of the destroyers opened fire as they turned, but they were well out of range. The “H” class destroyers were all of 1936 vintage, and had the standard prewar destroyer armament of 4 x 4.7″ guns in single mounts and 8 x 21″ torpedo tubes. ILEX was completed in 1937, and she also had 4 x 4.7″ single guns, but she had been fitted with two of the new quintuple torpedo tubes. They were up against two modern and very fast cruisers, each with 8 x 6″ guns in twin turrets. By heading north, the RN ships hoped to lure the Italians onto SYDNEY’s guns. As Collins had wisely not wirelessed his plans, the destroyers thought he was several hours away, and the Italians had no idea he was in the vicinity at all. So the destroyers continued northeast, dodging the enemy shells.
At approximately 0830 – long before the destroyers hoped for relief – SYDNEY sighted the enemy and opened fire. At that time Collins did not know whether he was facing 8″ or 6″ guns. The Italians returned his fire, and although they were fairly accurate, with many straddles, only one shell actually hit SYDNEY. This was not until 0921, when a shell hit the forward funnel and exploded about 10 feet from the top. Splinters caused some minor damage, including SYDNEY’s only casualty in the entire battle when one man was slightly wounded by a splinter.