There are many mysteries surrounding the tragic sinking of the HMAS Sydney, but it seems that one of the last remaining ones may finally be getting close to resolution–because of dentistry!
The HMAS Sydney went down with all hands on board, except for one.
The lone escapee apparently survived the shipwreck but was unable to make land before succumbing to the elements. His battered lifeboat washed up three months after the ship’s sinking at Christmas Island. The sailor was dead, and his corpse bloated. It took decades to establish that he was from the HMAS Sydney, but now researchers think they may soon be able to identify him–because of his teeth!
Dentistry and Tooth Material Used to Track Down Sailor
The sailor in question has very distinct teeth. He didn’t have his wisdom teeth extracted, but he was missing two teeth, and he has nine gold fillings. In addition, isotope testing of his teeth and bone samples indicate he grew up on the east coast, probably northern New South Wales or southern Queensland. They also show that he ate a lot of seafood growing up, so he likely lived on the coast rather than inland.
He is also a pretty big individual, standing between 168.2 centimetres and 187.8 centimetres. He wore size 11 shoes, and he was between 22 and 31 when he died.
Instead of the original 645 sailors on-board the HMAS Sydney, they have narrowed the candidates down to just 50, and they’re hoping that family in the area will contact them with pictures of their relatives, especially ones showing them smiling so they can identify the sailor’s unique teeth. Royal Australian Navy office Greg Swinden has been working on this case since 2006, and he encourages you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any information you think might be helpful.
Australia’s Largest Naval Disaster
The sinking of the HMAS Sydney remains Australia’s largest naval disaster, and, despite numerous inquiries and investigations, it retains an air of mystery.
When the Sydney patrolled the Indian Ocean and southern Pacific in 1941, the “Grey Gladiator” had already served with distinction in the Mediterranean. She participated in one of the largest naval battles there, Calabria, helping to deflate the sails of the Italian navy. She also played the lead role in the Battle of Spada, where excellent gunnery disabled one Italian cruiser and sent another one packing.
It’s no wonder, then, that when she met her doom at the hands of a German modified merchant ship, the HSK Kormoran, people couldn’t accept the story. The Kormoran was fairly heavily armed for a raider, but the Sydney’s hull should have stood up under the pounding from these guns until her greater firepower could send the raider to the bottom, but instead she sank, and the raider steamed off to be scuttled shortly after.
The official story says that highly accurate fire from the Kormoran and the close proximity of the two ships gave the raider an edge over the Sydney. The Sydney may also not have been at full action stations. Other explanations for the outcome of the battle include additional deception by the Kormoran or the involvement of a Japanese submarine. Additionally, some claim that sailors from the Sydney didn’t go down with the ship, but were either captured or executed in the water by the Japanese or Germans. Despite the existence of solid proof, these conspiracy theories persist to this day.
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