Australian judge to examine wartime ship loss

CANBERRA Mon Mar 31, 2008 5:50am BST

Australian warship HMAS Sydney (II) is pictured arriving in Sydney for the first time in 1936 in this undated handout photograph. REUTERS/Australian Department of Defence/Handout

Australian warship HMAS Sydney (II) is pictured arriving in Sydney for the first time in 1936 in this undated handout photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Australian Department of Defence/Handout

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - An Australian judge will investigate the country's worst naval tragedy following the discovery this month of the HMAS Sydney, 66 years after it was attacked and sunk by a German ship.

All 645 crew aboard the Sydney were killed after the 30-minute battle with the German merchant raider HSK Kormoran off the northern coast of Western Australia in November 1941.

"I hope that through this inquiry we have a better understanding of what happened on that fateful day," Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday.

Australia's Defence Force commander Angus Houston said he wanted the inquiry to find out what happened to the Sydney and why there were no survivors, while only 80 were killed and more than 300 sailors survived from the Kormoran.

"No board of inquiry was conducted during World War Two so this is very much unfinished business," Houston told reporters.

Searchers found the wrecks of the Kormoran and the Sydney earlier this month, and hope to have the first images of the wrecks later this week.

The battlecruiser Sydney, the biggest ship lost with no survivors from any World War Two nation, was last sighted sailing ablaze over the horizon after the encounter with the Kormoran, which was disguised as a Dutch freighter.

The Sydney was found by a government-funded research ship at a depth of 2,470 metres (8,100 feet), about 240 km (150 miles) off the coast of Western Australia. The Kormoran was found 22 km away.

Retired judge Terrence Cole will head the inquiry, and is expected to call for survivors of the Kormoran to give evidence on what happened.

(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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