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Sailors remembered in Australian WWII naval battle

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12:23 CEST+02:00
An emotional memorial was held on Wednesday at the spot where all 645 crew members of an Australian warship perished following a fierce World War II battle with a German raider.

It was the first service to be held for those lost on the HMAS Sydney since the ship's remains were discovered off the Western Australian coast last month, ending decades of mystery over its fate. A second memorial was later held over the remains of the Kormoran, the German raider that blasted the Sydney with a torpedo before later sinking itself. The remains of the German ship were discovered at the same time as the Sydney.

Five relatives of Sydney victims sailed to the sites on the HMAS Anzac with Australian chief Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders, Defence Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon and the German ambassador to Australia Martin Lutz.

On arriving at the spot where the Sydney went down in 1941 - some 112 nautical miles off the Western Australian coast - relatives placed overboard a wreath and a brass shell inscribed with the names of the dead.

"It felt special to me," said retired Commodore Rory Burnett, whose father Joseph Burnett was the Sydney's commanding officer when she was lost. "The five family members lucky enough to be there held hands and laid a wreath together, hugged each other and felt a great sense of comradeship," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"We felt tremendously emotional. I don't know if you'd say there was closure, but just the occasion pretty much overwhelmed us."

After the ceremony, the Anzac sailed to the site where the Kormoran sank after being severely damaged during the battle, Snowdon said. At the spot Lutz laid a wreath and plaque to remember the 81 German sailors who died.

"It was the first opportunity to pay homage and respect to those 645 brave Australians who lost their lives when the Kormoran and the Sydney battled," Snowdon said.

"It was also an opportunity to pay our respects to the Kormoran members who lost their lives during the same battle, so it was a very emotional and moving experience".

Shalders said finding the Sydney's final resting place, some 2.5 kilometres below the surface, meant an enormous amount to the Royal Australian Navy.

"Today is a sad day. However, it is the first real opportunity we have had to commemorate the loss of the Sydney since its discovery last month," he said.

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