Kormoran Rescue

The Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, rescuing the survivors of the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran after it had sunk and been sunk by HMAS Sydney. (Flash Player required to play video. Click here for free download.)


This rare footage was only discovered this year - 2008. Many thanks to John Francis OAM. The following is his account of how this film was found.

Where I live on the outskirts of Horsham I have a quite a large property with no street lights to interfere with night-time viewing of the stars and planets. This particular night my neighbour from about 2 kilometres away had come to my house to assist me calibrating my 190MM Reflector Telescope and to look for a Galaxy we had discussed earlier. After locating the 'Sombrero Galaxy' and packing up the telescope we adjourned inside for a cup of coffee. As the 'Sydney' search had come to a conclusion and being a generally untidy person, my charts and books about the ship were still out in the room. My neighbour asked me of my interest and after I told him he made a comment that his mother in law in Stawell had footage of the search. After many questions I thought there was something worth investigating in his comment. As it was quite late in the night and too late to call his mother in law we decided to leave for Stawell 100 kilometres away first thing in the a.m.

The lady was quite happy to hand over the VHS format of the footage which ran for around 4 minutes and told me to do what I liked with it. I was completely gobsmacked that this footage existed and even more surprised that it was buried in amongst a solid hour and a half of other 'rare' footage of the time. Her Uncle, who had passed away in 1990 shot the footage as he was 'fleeing' Singapore ahead of a possible invasion by the Japanese in 1941. He had been a musician at Kuala Lumpur and had made his way to Singapore and was able to obtain passage in 'SS Centaur' bound for Fremantle. On the way south the ship was diverted to join the search for HMAS Sydney and came across the 'Kormoran' lifeboat which not only contained Captain Detmers but also another significant officer Heinz Messerschmidt. Apparently the Chief Officer of the 'Centaur' also had a hand held 8mm camera and shot some footage but this film was lost with him and the ship when it was torpedoed by the Japanese off Moreton Island a couple of years later. The footage was transferred to VHS format, I think by filming it with a video camera as it was being played, just before he passed away.

This year on my way back from Queensland I called at the War Memorial in Canberra and gave them a copy of the footage as well. They were most grateful for the footage and are following up what else could be of interest to them on the remaining part of the tape. I have put them in direct contact with the lady in Stawell as she thinks the originals maybe in storage in her shed in a box. Something the War memorial Archivists were very keen to speak with her about.

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This page updated: 03-Jan-2013

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