Page last updated at 19:26 GMT, Monday, 17 March 2008

Australia finds WWII mystery ship

HMAS Sydney
Australians have long been fascinated by the fate of the Sydney

Naval experts have found a World War II cruiser 66 years after it was sunk off Western Australia by a German ship.

HMAS Sydney, regarded as the pride of Australia's navy, sank in November 1941 after being attacked by DKM Kormoran - disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel.

None of the Sydney's 645 crew survived the attack - making it the country's worst-ever naval disaster.

The discovery follows only a day after the wreck of the Kormoran itself was found by the team hunting the Sydney.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared the zone around the Sydney a protected site to honour the dead.

Australians have long been fascinated by the mystery of how the Sydney was lost to a German auxiliary cruiser.

For years theories have abounded - including that a Japanese submarine really sank the Sydney or that the Kormoran's crew machine-gunned Australian survivors.

What happened next?

The loss of the Sydney was described by Australian navy chief Vice Adm Russ Shalders as "Australia's major maritime mystery".

He said the find should help determine exactly what happened to the ship.

Shipwrecked German warship DKM Kormoran
The Kormoran was disguised as a Dutch merchant ship

"For 66 years, this nation has wondered where the Sydney was and what occurred to her," he said.

"We've uncovered the first part of that mystery... the next part of the mystery, of course, is what happened."

The Australian government has given A$4m (1.9m; 2.5m euros) to the search team - the Finding Sydney Foundation - to fund their efforts to locate the cruiser.

The Sydney was sailing back to Australia from Sumatra on 19 November 1941 when the Kormoran - disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel - launched its attack.

Both ships sank as a result of the battle.

All 645 of those on board the Sydney were lost, but 317 of the Kormoran's 397-strong crew managed to escape by rowing to the Australian coast, where they became prisoners of war.

The team had found the Kormoran amid a large field of debris on Saturday, and within 24 hours had located the wreckage of the larger ship.

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