A few days ago the 3-volume final report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Loss of HMAS Sydney II was published.
Regular readers will know that I've been following the progress of the Commission very closely, particularly as it relates to the Unknown Sailor of Christmas Island.
My series about the Unknown Sailor of Christmas Island is here.
The 3-volume final report of the Commissioner is unsurprisingly long. I have not yet had time to read it all, but I'll give you my reaction and commentary on some highlights here:
1. The reason HMAS Sydney II was lost:
"Putting aside hindsight, as one must, it is more difficult to understand the initial
decision to assess KORMORAN as appearing innocent when she did not appear
on SYDNEY’s plot. The very purpose of maintaining the plot was so ships
would know what they might expect to encounter. The sole empirical fact
available to CAPT Burnett when making his initial decision was that the ship
was not expected to be there. The terrible consequence of his erroneous decision
was that SYDNEY did not go to action stations and approached to a position of
great danger, where all her tactical advantages were negated and the advantage
of surprise was given to KORMORAN. It resulted in the loss of SYDNEY."
This is in accordance with my conclusions drawn from archival records here.
"Firstly, Dechaineux's report on the sinking of HMAS Sydney, mainly arising from POW Kormoran survivor interrogations, stated that the Captain of HMAS Sydney was deceived and allowed himself to be placed in a tactically unsound position.
Secondly, the official historian was praised for writing about HMAS Sydney's demise so as not to cause distress or embarrassment to the sons of the Captain who were themselves in rising RAN careers."
Commissioner Cole has declined to make a finding that Captain Burnett was negligent, and this is fair and just to a man who cannot answer such a charge and who gave his life in the service of our nation.
2. Chapter 15 of the report is devoted to the matter of the Unknown Sailor of Christmas Island. In summary it states that the Carley Float was from HMAS Sydney and the corpse of the Unknown Sailor was almost certainly from the ship. Instead of the rather narrow search amongst officers and canteen staff of the ship, the Commission has narrowed possible identities of the Unknown Sailor to 87 people. DNA testing of the families of these "possibles" for matching to DNA taken from the remains of the Uknown Sailor may lead to his positive identification.
"15.63 Forensic analysis of the skeletal remains has allowed it to be
determined that the person whose body was found in the Carley float
recovered at Christmas Island:
was between 5 feet 6 inches and 6 feet 2 inches (168.2 and 187.8
•had a dental history that showed at least nine gold fillings and the
extraction of two teeth
•was aged between 22 and 31 years
•had squatting facets on the anterior borders of the distal ends of
both tibiae, an indication of a ‘lifetime of squatting’
•had bowing of both fibulae, probably caused by occupational stress
due to repetitive movements, possibly carrying heavy weights
•had slight ‘shovelling’ in the maxillary central incisors, a condition
usually present in 90 to 100 per cent of Asians and about 5 to 10 per
cent of Caucasians or Europeans
•had Caucasoid features.
DNA was recovered from the remains: this has enabled and will in
future enable DNA testing for identification purposes.
15.64 The dental history, height and age as well as DNA tests have been used
to reduce from 645 to 87 the number of candidates from the list of
SYDNEY’s officers and crew. Exhibit 213 lists the 8798 people who had
not been eliminated by 19 March 2009—see Appendix M.99
15.65 The Navy announced in December 2008 it would test DNA from
relatives if asked to do so. In response, 67 people came forward: all but
16 were eliminated on dental, height, age or DNA grounds. It is not
known when the Navy will arrange for the testing of the 16 volunteers
who are descendants of people in the remaining group.
15.66 At this time it is not possible to determine whose remains were interred
initially on Christmas Island and more recently, on 19 November 2008,
re-interred at Geraldton."
Hmmm. "It is not known when the Navy will arrange for the testing of the 16 volunteers who are descendants of people in the remaining group."
So, the Navy has had DNA samples from 16 families who wish to be compared to DNA of the remains, but have thus far done nothing to bring about a comparison test.
After the remains of the Unknown Sailor were interred, the Defence Department made it known that:
Family of HMAS Sydney II crew members who wish to be considered for DNA testing and comparison against the remains of the Unknown Sailor are asked to make contact with the Christmas Island Investigation Team by letter to:
Director Navy Ministerials & Coordination,
Department of Defence, R1-4-C070,
Russell Offices, Canberra, ACT, 2600.
But the navy seems to have no sense of urgency about this.
It will be interesting to see how this tardiness and certainly the wrong steps already taken in attempting to identify the Unknown Sailor of Christmas Island look when compared to the project currently being undertaken in the Fromelles case by the Australian Army and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission , and the invitation for relatives of the unknown dead of Fromelles to register for DNA samples to assist in identification of remains.
As I said, the Royal Australian Navy has basically given up on identifying the remains.
KNOWN UNTO GOD