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HSK KORMORAN life jacket

Date: 1930s
Dimensions:
Overall: 750 x 520 x 15 mm, 1000 g
Medium: Fabric covered rubber, plastic lids, fabric straps
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased in the memory of John Allott-Rodgers
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Life jacket
Object No: 00037633
Place Manufactured:Deutschland

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    Description
    Oberleutenant (Lieutenant Commander) Messerschmidt was issued with this life jacket while serving on the German raider HSK KORMORAN. The ship was lost off the Western Australian coast in battle with HMAS SYDNEY on 19 November 1941. He later gave the jacket to prison guard Warrant Officer H Scanlon at the prisoner of war camp which held many survivors from the KORMORAN.


    SignificanceThe jacket is a rare surviving article from the fateful sea battle which resulted in the loss of both ships, the entire crew of HMAS SYDNEY and some 80 crew from HSK KORMORAN. SYDNEY was a key vessel of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and a major World War II symbol for the Australian public.
    HistoryPrior to the Japanese entry into World War II, the waters around Australia were relatively quiet with most of the heavy action taking place in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. But the Australian Government was wary of commerce raiders and mine laying. HMAS SYDNEY (II) had returned from the Mediterranean victorious after battle against the Italian cruiser BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI. A tremendous welcome awaited the ship and its crew when it entered Sydney Harbour in February 1941. For the rest of the year, the ship was involved in convoy escort duties along the Western Australian coast and up to Singapore. Returning to Fremantle on 19 November 1941 it sighted a merchant ship some 150 miles south-west of Carnarvon. What happened next was open to conjecture and controversy. The end result however was the total loss of HMAS SYDNEY and its entire crew in battle against the German raider KORMORAN (formerly the STEIERMARK and which had been disguised as the Dutch ship STRAAT MALAKKA).

    Both ships were severely damaged and sank - their exact location finally found in March 2008 by the Finding Sydney Foundation. There were no survivors from the SYDNEY; more than 300 Germans survived the fierce sea battle. They were initially transported to detention facilities in Western Australia and thence to internment camps in Victoria. All were first taken to the Murchison prisoner of war camp in northern Victoria. The officers were later transferred to Dhurringile, a homestead property some 10 miles away. In 1943 some were transferred to a timber felling camp in Graytown and others went to the Tatura camp. Messerschmidt gave many of his possessions relating to KORMORAN to prison guards he had befriended. He was released and returned to Germany in 1947, returning many times to Australia in the following decades.
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