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Souvenir Red Ensign

Date: 1941
Overall: 165 x 290 mm
Medium: Canvas, ink, pencil.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Valerie Sloan
Classification:Visual communication
Object Name: Flag
Object No: 00039036

User Terms

    This souvenir flag was patriotically waved at a Welcome Home parade for the men of the victorious HMAS SYDNEY (II) upon their return from successful duties in the Mediterranean. The City of Sydney organised the parade on 11 February 1941. Flags such as this one were given to children to wave as the officers and sailors passed by. Five sailors signed it. All perished nine months later when SYDNEY sank with all hands after battle with the German raider HSK KORMORAN.
    SignificanceThis flag is a relic from the parade that honoured the success of HMAS SYDNEY (II) in battle against the BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI in the Mediterranean in 1940. The City of Sydney held a Welcome Home parade for the officers and men on 11 February 1941 and six sailors signed this flag for a little six-year old girl.
    HistoryThe flag contains six signatures in pencil on both sides but only the following five signatures are discernible - D J McKenzie (AB Donald James McKenzie from Victoria), E C Dilton, J Allison (AB John Albert Curtis Allison from NSW), ? Mitchell (Supply Assistant Francis Joseph Mitchell from VIC) and A E Shiers (AB Arthur Ernest Shiers from SA).

    HMAS SYDNEY (II) was built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd at Wallsend on Tyne in 1933 and launched in 1934 by Mrs Bruce, wife of the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. The light cruiser was named after the first HMAS SYDNEY which had seen successful battle against the German raider SMS EMDEN in World War I.

    At the outbreak of World War II, SYDNEY undertook local patrol duties until April 1940 when she headed for the Mediterranean theatre to join the 7th Cruiser Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet. Action soon followed with the bombardment of Bardia, encounters with Italian ships and the Battle of Calabria on 9 July.

    The Battle of Cape Spada took place on 19 July 1940 off the north-western point of Crete during World War II naval action in the Mediterranean Sea. BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI was severely hit by SYDNEY gunfire - resulting in a disabling hit on the engine room. The COLLEONI bravely fought on but was unable to manoeuvre as the rudder had been destroyed and the Italian cruiser sank. 555 survivors were rescued from the ship by the Allies, despite air bombardment from the Italian air force; 151 COLLEONI sailors lost their lives that day.

    After this successful sea battle SYDNEY took part in the second bombardment of Bardia and operations in the Straits of Otranto and the Adriatic. By January 1941 the ship was in need of refit and the ship's complement in need of rest so she sailed for Australia. After a refit at Garden Island and a change of command from Captain John Collins to Captain John Burnett, SYDNEY took up her duties as convoy escort in Western Australian waters. Returning from convoy duties HMAS SYDNEY sighted what appeared to be the Dutch merchant ship STRAAT MALAKKA off the Western Australian coast. It was 19 November 1941.

    SYDNEY repeatedly signalled for identification. The merchant ship avoided replying, until suddenly it opened fire - revealing it to be the German armed auxiliary cruiser HSK KORMORAN. SYDNEY's bridge was destroyed in the first attack. Torpedoes hit near the forward gun turrets - putting them out of action. KORMORAN's engine room was hit and fire raged until it was abandoned, the mines on board detonated and the ship blew up and sank. German survivors reported seeing SYDNEY ablaze and steaming away.

    HSK KORMORAN was found on 12 March 2008 and HMAS SYDNEY on 16 March some 12 nautical miles apart by HMAS Sydney Search Pty Ltd. Both ships bear testament to the fierce gun battle. The damage to SYDNEY shows extremely accurate gunfire from the Germans and substantiates much of what the German survivors recounted. It also appears SYDNEY sank quickly after extensive damage to the forward section resulted in the bow falling away from the ship and flooding the remainder with water.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Australian Red Ensign

    Web title: Souvenir Red Ensign

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