Australia’s biggest maritime mystery solved after ‘unknown sailor’ from HMAS Sydney named

Australia’s biggest maritime mystery has been solved 80 years after the sinking of the warship HMAS Sydney.

The Royal Australian Navy announced today that DNA testing has uncovered the identity of the the ‘Unknown Sailor’, the only body recovered from the cruiser after it sunk with all its crew in World War II.

Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark, 21, was posted to HMAS Sydney four months before it was destroyed on November 19, 1941.

The ‘Unknown Sailor’ from HMAS Sydney has been identified as Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark. (Australian War Memorial) (Supplied)

All 645 crew aboard the Australian warship died.

Three months after HMAS Sydney sank, his body washed ashore in a life raft off Christmas Island. For decades afterwards, it was known as ‘the unknown sailor’.

Able Seaman Clark had trained as an accountant in Brisbane, then served in the army before being transferred to HMAS Sydney.

He was buried on Christmas Island but the remains were exhumed in 2006 and samples of bone and dental collected before reinterment at the war cemetery in Geraldton, Western Australia.

HMAS Sydney was sunk during World War II with the loss of all its crew. (Royal Australian Navy) (Nine)

Able Seaman Clark was identified as the ‘Unknown Sailor’ after advances in testing that enabled a trace through the paternal line of a family, known as Y-DNA.

The painstaking research involved experts from the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Federal Police.

The sinking of HMAS Sydney was the largest loss of life in the RAN, the biggest Allied warship lost with all hands during World War II, and a major blow to Australian morale.

With no survivor testimonies, the cruiser’s loss has attracted speculation for decades, with many historians believing she was ambushed by the German vessel.

In November, 1941, Australia suffered its greatest naval disaster when the HMAS Sydney II was sunk. None of its 645 crew survived. (Royal Australian Navy) (Supplied)

Just how the heavily-armoured and powerfully gunned Australian vessel was lost to an armed merchant vessel has been the subject of debate over decades.

The official Australian Government inquiry concluded that both ships were travelling at 14 knots when Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch freighter, de-camouflaged, showing her battle flag before opening fire.

A poignant image at the Cenotaph in Martin Place in Sydney, after wreaths were laid.

Australia reflects on those who made ultimate sacrifice on Remembrance Day

In March 2008, the Australian Government announced that the wreckage of both ships had been found, approximately 112 nautical miles off Steep Point, WA.

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