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Paint Preserves WWII Shipwreck

Monday, August 8, 2016

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Researchers and naval history buffs have paint to thank for the preservation of a WWII shipwreck site, and for some insights into the battle that took place between a German merchant raider and an Australian battleship.

The HMAS Sydney and the German HSK Kormoran were located off the Shark Bay shoreline of western Australia in 2008 after decades of searching. The two craft engaged one another in November 1941, both eventually capsizing. The Sydney lost all 645 crew members, Australia’s greatest naval tragedy ever. Most of the Kormoran’s crew survived.

HMAS Sydney
Allan C. Green - Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sydney, which measured 532 feet long, was successful in battle in the Mediterranean in 1940 before returning to the Pacific in 1941.

The Western Australian Museum and Curtin University have been collaborating on a project to document the wreckage since it was found. And The West Australian recently reported that researchers on the project have credited the ships’ protective paint with extending the lives of the ships.

Paint Preserves

Corrosion expert Ian McLeod has been working on analyzing the rate of corrosion on the Sydney as part of the project. McLeod told The West Australian that the vessels’ protective paint was largely “doing its job,” though sections of the Sydney that were damaged in the battle and lost their coatings were experiencing corrosion.

Understanding that pattern will help the researchers to piece together exactly what happened on that day in 1941, which has remained a mystery, in part because Australians didn’t trust the accounts of the battle given by German sailors from the Kormoran.

HSK Kormoran
Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-117-02A - CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kormoran, as a merchant raider, was disguised as a Dutch merchant ship, according to historical accounts.

“One of the images shows the bow of the Sydney,” McLeod told the publication. “There is rust on one side and no rust on the other. This indicates the rusty side was facing the Kormoran and copped most of the barrage.”

According to The West Australian, McLeod predicts the protective coatings will add 50-75 years to the life of the sunken ships, which he expects will exist for generations to come.

The Battle

The Sydney, which measured 532 feet long, was successful in battle in the Mediterranean in 1940 before returning to the Pacific in 1941. Australia, which was part of the British Empire at the time, had declared war on Germany in 1939.

The Kormoran, as a merchant raider, was disguised as a Dutch merchant ship, according to historical accounts. This allowed the ship to get close to the Sydney, as the Sydney crew would have thought that the merchant ship was lost or in distress. The German ship then unleashed an attack on the slightly larger Sydney, which was at too close range to adequately respond.

The Western Australia Museum has an online exhibit on its website devoted to the battle and the wreckage.

   

Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Coating Materials; Colleges and Universities; Corrosion protection; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; Marine Coatings; Military; North America; Research; Ships and vessels

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/8/2016, 9:33 AM)

Hooray for lead paint!


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