After Cocos: HMAS Sydney's progress

Darragh Christie, 21 December 2017 · #

Charles Bryant’s 1931 painting depicting the HMAS Sydney a the fight with Zeppelin L43 in the North Sea.

A new Captain

HMS Sydney off Cocos Islands. Glass plate negative. NRS4481_ST13298_D

After leaving SMS Emden ‘wrecked and done for’ in 1914, HMAS Sydney served with the British North Sea fleet.

Sydney was involved in some interesting engagements under her new commander, Captain Dumaresq.

Dumaresq was a man of exceptional ability and vivid imagination—an originator, both of novel devices and of tactical ideas. When he joined the Sydney he was in the thick of a campaign for inducing the Admiralty to use light cruisers against the Zeppelins which were at the time infesting the North Sea area—a scheme which in the end involved the installation of launching-platforms for aeroplanes on the cruisers.1

Sydney vs. L43

In May 1917 the Cruisers Sydney , Dublin and 4 Destroyers fought a running duel. with German submarines, and a Zeppelin.

After a prolonged cat-and-mouse engagement, Dumaresq countenanced the possibly his ships were being drawn into a U-boat trap. Zeppelin L43 meanwhile, floated ominously at 7000ft., observing every move.

The German Zeppelin L43, photographed by Able Seaman G Leahy, who lay on his back while HMAS Sydney was being bombed by 10 bombs each weighing 250 pounds.

The Cruisers now turned their attention to the strange craft in the skies, elevating guns and unleashing a torrent of fire. The helium-filled behemoth took immediate evasive action, ascending out of range. The dirigible then maneuvered itself into a position for a bombing run on the convoy.

Dumaresq became probably the first naval officer to develop the zig-zag system of bomb avoidance. For almost two hours he weaved in evasive action until the high-flying dirigible ran out of bombs.

The fight was inconclusive. L43’s bombs landed harmlessly in the ocean.

the Sydney having used up all her anti-aircraft ammunition and the L43 all its bombs, “the combatants,” to quote an officer who was in the fight, “parted on good terms.”2,3

According to the Australian War Memorial Sydney ‘s actions against L43 made her

the first Royal Australian Navy vessel to be subjected to an air attack.

Sydney’s flying firsts

In August 1917 Sydney had an overhaul. She was fitted out with the latest equipment including a revolving aircraft launching platform (the 1st to be installed on an Australian warship) and a new tripod mast.

Model Of HMAS Sydney (I) at Fleet Air Arm Museum, Nowra. Full view of ship and close-up showing Sopwith Camel on launching platform. Photo taken by the Author

In December 1917, Dumaresq loaned a Sopwith ‘Pup’ fighter from HMAS Dublin. On Dec.8 the ‘Pup’ was successfully launched with the ship turned into the wind – an Australian naval first. On Dec.17, a 2nd launch was made. This time with the movable platform turned into the wind – a world naval 1st.

Within 6 months Dumaresq’s advocacy of ship-launched aircraft would be vindicated.

Sopwith Pup at Fleet Air Arm Museum Photo taken by the Author

In early 1918, Sydney replaced her Sopwith Pup with a modified Sopwith Camel – a 2-F1 ‘Ships Camel’.

On 1 June 1918, 2 German seaplanes were sighted by Sydney diving towards HMAS Melbourne. Both aircraft dropped bombs but no hits were scored.

Within minutes Lieut. A.C. Sharwood from HMAS Sydney, and Flight Lieut. L.B. Gibson from HMAS Melbourne were strapped into their Sopwith Camels and launched into the wind.

Sydney’s 2-F1 Sopwith Camel (N6822) launching from platform. This photograph is probably of a Camel that replaced Sharwood’s (N6783)

Sharwood and Gibson climbed rapidly to intercept the enemy. Gibson lost sight of his quarry in the clouds. Sharwood however, continued pursuit for another 60 miles. At 10,000 ft. he caught up to, and attacked one of the marine aircraft. He observed it shudder after being hit, and dive into the sea.4 As he followed it down, he was fired at by the other German aeroplane.

Hansa Brandenberg W.12 floatplane, possibly the type that fought with Sydney’s Sopwith.

Sharwood engaged the float-plane in a dog-fight, and exausted his ammunition supply (1 gun had already jammed.) Out of options, he broke from the fight, losing his attacker in cloud cover. He then tried to find the Sydney (which by now was over 70 miles away). Almost out of fuel, Sharwood sighted HMAS Sharpshooter. He executed a water landing near the British warship, and was rescued from the freezing North Sea.

Sopwith Camel (N6783 ?) salvaged from the sea (by HMAS Sharpshooter) A landing of this sort usually resulted in the aeroplane doing a cart-wheel with dire consequences for the pilot. Photo from Horatio J. Kookaburra’s Flickr post.

Sharwood actions proved the value of ship’s aircraft in preventing enemy air attacks and intelligence gathering. The ship-launched air battle was also another official 1st for HMAS Sydney5

Sydney’s namesake

HMAS Sydney I had become obsolete by 1928. She was scrapped in 1929 at Cockatoo Is. HMAS Sydney II superseded her namesake.

Sydney (II) passing the foremast of her namesake, HMAS Sydney (I) at Bradley’s Head 11 August, 1936. Source:

On 11 August, 1936 Sydney made her long awaited entry through Sydney Heads and into Port Jackson where her arrival was viewed from the shore by thousands of citizens who had turned out to see her. As she slowly made her way through the channel she was saluted with the sound of ferry whistles as she made her way to a buoy off Garden Island. Once again the citizens of the city of Sydney had a ship that they could call their own and Australia’s overt adulation for the new cruiser soon became an extension of the affection and esteem held for HMAS Sydney (I).6

Model of HMAS Sydney (II) with close-up of Supermarine Seagull or ‘Walrus’ floatplane.

In WW II Sydney II saw action in the Mediterranean, before sailing to defend the Pacific and Indian Oceans .

The cirumstances surrounding Sydney II’s tragic end after her encounter with the German auxilary cruiser Kormoran persisted for 67 years. It was not until the discovery of the watery graves of the Kormoran, and shortly after the Sydney , in March 2009, that the mysteries of their fates could be laid to rest.

Sydney’s damaged “A” turret found at wreck site in 2009. Source: Wikipedia

Follow the Sydney-Emden… story

After Cocos: Sydney-Emden memorial unveiled!

After Cocos: HMAS Sydney’s progress

After Cocos: Holsworthy Concentration Camp

Sydney v Emden, a century later

HMAS Sydney’s mast dedication, 80 years ago today

Sydney’s mast not destined for ‘Sow and Pigs’


1 Jose, Arthur W. The Royal Australian Navy 1914-1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson. (1928)

2 Zeppelin L23 was shot down by an RNAS flying boat:

3 AWM First World War Official Histories – Volume IX – The Royal Australian Navy, 1914–1918 9th ed., 1941. p 295-300. retrieved online 21/01/18

4 Full account: AWM First World War Official Histories – Volume IX – The Royal Australian Navy, 1914–1918 9th ed., 1941. p 305 306. retrieved online 21/01/18 The German shot down was a single seater the other a 2 seater. Sharwood was not credited with a victory by the Admiralty.

5 Flt Sub Lt Smart, RNAS, flying a Sopwith Pup from HMS Yarmouth on 21/08/17 had previously shot down Zeppelin L23

6 Royal Australian Navy HMAS Sydney (II) retrieved 18/12/17 from