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Reproduced courtesy of the Allcot Trust

HMAS Sydney (Captain J Collins, CB RAN) in the action which resulted in the sinking of the Italian Cruiser BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI in the Mediterranean on 19th July 1940

Date: c 1945
Overall: 550 x 630 mm, 0.15 kg
Medium: Paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Mrs M M Scott-Maxwell
Object Copyright: © Allcot Trust
Object Name: Print
Object No: 00029322

User Terms

    This half-tone photographic print shows HMAS SYDNEY with Royal Navy destroyers HMS HAVOCK, HYPERION, HASTY, HERO and ILEX in battle against Italian cruisers BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI and GIOVANNI DELLE BANDE NERE on 19 July 1940 off Cape Spada. This print is from an original oil painting by renowned maritime artist John Allcot and depicts a major Mediterranean sea battle.
    SignificanceJohn Allcot has depicted a notable victory of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) during the early stages of Word War II. It demonstrates the public's patriotic sentiment towards HMAS SYDNEY.
    HistoryHMAS SYDNEY 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.

    The Allied squadron patrolling the Aegean Sea came across two Italian 6-inch cruisers making their way from Tripoli to Leros. The latter at that time was an Italian colony in the Dodecanese Islands. In command of the Allied ships was Captain John Collins in the modified Leander class Royal Australian Navy light cruiser HMAS SYDNEY. The Australian cruiser was accompanied by the British Royal Navy destroyers HMS HAVOCK, HYPERION, HASTY, HERO and ILEX. The Italian 2nd Cruiser Division of the 2nd Squadron was under the command of Rear Admiral Ferdinando Casardi. The two ships were GIOVANNI DELLE BANDE NERE and BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI, both Condottieri class light cruisers. The latter was named for an Italian military leader of the 15th century.

    On 18 July 1940, HMAS SYDNEY left Alexandria accompanied by HMS HAVOCK to join the H class destroyers in their search for enemy submarines off Crete. Their orders were to also destroy any enemy shipping in the Gulf of Athens.

    Early on the morning of the 19th (07.33) SYDNEY and HAVOCK were to the north of Cape Spada when the other British destroyers (HYPERION, HASTY, HERO and ILEX) came across the Italian cruisers. The British led the Italian cruisers northwards in an attempt to give SYDNEY time to reach them - which she did. SYDNEY sighted the Italians at 08.20 about 23,000 yards off the starboard beam and opened fire on the BANDE NERE with her 6-inch guns at 08.29. Faced with this gunpower, the Italians initially fired back but then turned south-west.

    By this time the British destroyers had reached SYDNEY and HAVOCK, and in line abreast all six Allied ships chased the Italians at full speed.

    A running battle followed during which the Italians altered course several times - leaving large smoke screens in their wake. At 09.21 SYDNEY was hit in the foremost funnel, resulting in one injury. BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI was severely hit by SYDNEY gunfire - resulting in a disabling hit on the engine room at 09.23. The COLLEONI bravely fought on but was unable to manoeuvre as the rudder had been destroyed. Death came at 09.59 in the form of torpedoes from ILEX and HYPERION 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.

    SYDNEY, HERO and HASTY pursued the BANDE NERE southwards but the latter was faster than their pursuers. It was soon realised that catching up with the Italian was impossible - also SYDNEY was reduced to 10 rounds of 6-inch shells. She was ordered back to Alexandria where the Australian cruiser and her British destroyers were accorded a heroes' welcome.

    The BANDE NERE escaped to Benghazi with some damage.

    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. It was here that she fell foul of the German raider HSK KORMORAN on 19 November 1941. An enormous battle ensued which resulted in both vessels sinking, all 645 SYDNEY men lost, and 317 KORMORAN survivors picked up.

    The loss of SYDNEY was devastating for the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian public. Theories abound on the actual chain of events on that fateful day including the participation of German and/or Japanese submarines. Archival research and the finding of both wrecks in March 2008 has not silenced all the theorists.

    The wreck of HMAS SYDNEY was located on 16 March 2008 near the coast of Steep Point Western Australia, 66 years after it sank. It was located 10 kilometres from the German ship KORMORAN.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: HMAS SYDNEY in the action that resulted in the sinking of the Italian Cruiser BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI

    Primary title: HMAS Sydney (Captain J Collins, CB RAN) in the action which resulted in the sinking of the Italian Cruiser BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI in the Mediterranean on 19th July 1940

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