Search Leads to German War Ship Sunk in 1941

A search for an Australian navy battle cruiser lost in 1941 has led to the wreck of the German raider that sank it, the prime minister said Sunday.

Both the HMAS Sydney and the German vessel, the DKM Kormoran, sank after a battle off Australia's western coast on Nov. 19, 1941 during World War II.

None of the 645 men aboard the Sydney survived. But 317 of the Kormoran's 397 crew rowed to the Australian coast in life boats and were taken prisoner. The 9,500 ton Kormoran had been disguised as a Dutch merchant ship when it opened fire on the Sydney.

"Finding the Kormoran is one big step forward (to finding the Sydney)," said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The wreck was found Saturday about 500 miles north of the Western Australia state capital Perth, he said.

The government-funded US$3.9 million search for the Sydney began two weeks ago and is headed by U.S. shipwreck hunter David Mearns.

Mearns was involved in finding the wrecks of the British battle cruiser the HMS Hood and the DKM Bismarck, the German battle ship that sank her in the North Atlantic in 1941.

The Sydney weighed in at 7,300 tons, making it the largest vessel from any country to be lost with no survivors during the war.

The fate of the ship and its crew has remained an enduring mystery, though a parliament inquiry into the tragedy in 1999 accepted accounts by Kormoran survivors that they last saw the ship in flames and heading toward Perth.

There are no current plans to raise the Sydney if it is found.