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Saturday, March 28, 1998 Published at 19:51 GMT


Australia probes World War II naval mystery
image: [ The cruiser, HMAS Sydney, went down with the loss of 645 lives ]
The cruiser, HMAS Sydney, went down with the loss of 645 lives

A parliamentary inquiry has begun in Australia into the country's most puzzling naval disaster, the loss of the cruiser HMAS Sydney during World War II. HMAS Sydney is believed to have been sunk by a German raider off the coast of western Australia in 1941. All 645 men aboard the Australian ship perished with her. Red Harrison reports from Sydney:

The inquiry is examining what the Defence Department calls a tissue of truth, half-truth and falsehoods, so intertwined that it's difficult to tell them apart.

What is known is that HMAS Sydney sailed close to a German warship that was disguised as a freighter and that both ships were sunk.

Persistent reports say survivors of the German ship, Kormoron, lied about the action to cover up a machine-gun massacre of Australian survivors.

Rear Admiral Chris Oxenbold told the inquiry that whatever happened, the action certainly didn't last long.

"From reading the history, it was a very furious battle but only lasted for a few minutes and I think that the Kormoron had a great deal of capability and got a very powerful first blow in and mortally wounded the Sydney," he said.

Admiral Oxenbold also discounted theories that a Japanese submarine might have been involved.

Other experts told the inquiry the wreck of the Australian warship could lie 5,000 metres deep and trying to find it, they said, would be more difficult than the search for the Titanic.

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