One of the greatest mysteries of World War II in the Pacific Ocean is about to come to an end as the only body found from an Australian Navy ship sunk by German forces has been identified through DNA testing, it was announced.
Almost 80 years after the Royal Australian Navy's light cruiser HMAS Sydney was sunk Nov. 19 1941 by German raider Kormoran history continues to be written.
All 645 crew members of the Sydney perished as a result of the fight, but only one body was retrieved Feb. 6, 1942 in a life raft off Christmas Island, where it was buried with military honors.
In 2006, the Unknown Sailor's remains were exhumed and bone and dental samples were taken before being reburied in the City of Geraldton War Cemetery. Since then, relatives of the crew members were asked to provide DNA samples.
A DNA result has shown a positive match, it was reported Monday, although no specifics were disclosed as to the exact identity of the fallen sailor. However, Australian Defense sources quoted by local media said the announcement was to be imminent.
Previous DNA techniques would have required a sister or some other female relative of the sailor and by 2006 many of those who could have contributed DNA had already died. However, current DNA tracking can also follow the Y chromosomes, which allowed relatives to be traced down the paternal line as well.
The Unknown Sailor was a white man wearing a sun-faded blue jumpsuit, which would indicate he was a lower-ranking sailor and not an officer. His hair was previously believed to be blond, light brown, or red, and not black or dark brown. It has also been determined that the Australian seaman suffered a serious shrapnel wound to the head which killed him immediately or shortly thereafter.
From an original spreadsheet of the 645 crew members, more than 500 names had already been ruled, unlikely candidates.
With no Australian survivors, the sinking of HMAS Sydney has long sparked speculation, and most historians believe that she was ambushed by the German ship. German survivors claimed the Australian vessel had been hit by a torpedo, which probably killed around 70% of the crew, while the rest were unable to abandon the ship.
It was not until around Nov. 23 to 25 1941, when survivors of the Kormoran (which had lost about 80 of its crew) were found in lifeboats that the Royal Australian Navy realized the HMAS Sydney had disappeared and a search was launched.
However, how a heavily armed Australian warship was lost to an armed merchant ship has been the subject of debate for decades. The Kormoran (HSK-8) was originally a merchant vessel launched in 1938 under the name Steiermark. It was later requisitioned by the navy in 1940 and administered under the designation Schiff 41. To Allied forces, it was known as Raider G.