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Colloquium: A Human Factors perspective on the loss of HMAS Sydney

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Today's date is Tuesday, October 20, 2020
A Human Factors perspective on the loss of HMAS Sydney Other events...
Kim Kirsner’s education included a BComm (Melb), a BSc (London), and a PhD (London) under the supervision of Fergus Craik. He subsequently completed a PDF under Ben Murdoch at the University of Toronto, and accepted an appointment to the School of Psychology at UWA in 1972. In the succeeding years he collaborated on research with scientists at the Universities of Parma, Padua, Delhi and Kanpur (IIT). He was appointed Professor at UWA and elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Science in 1997. He has published approximately 80 articles in refereed journals, 40 invited chapters in edited books, hundreds of conference chapters and papers, two edited books and one co-authored book. He has also held numerous ARC grants. He retired from Psychology at the end of 2006 and worked as an Adjunct Professor in the School of Animal Biology at UWA until 2014. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Notre Dame (Fremantle). His current areas of interest focus on the automatic measurement of fluency in natural language production and necessary corrections to the history of the search for HSK Kormoran and HMAS Sydney, where, in collaboration with John Dunn, he produced the most accurate prediction ever for an off-shore and deep sea wreck (Graham, Trotter, King & Kirsner, 2014).

I first presented a paper on this topic for the US Naval Academy proceedings in 1993. Sydney was lost with all hands when she closed to approximately 1 km from an unidentified vessel – actually a heavily armed raider – a distance at which her notional advantages in regard to firepower, range, speed and armour were nullified. The report published by the Cole Commission in 2009 described the approach as ‘inexplicable’. However, analysis of the history of encounters between British cruisers and unidentified vessels (be they raiders, minelayers, supply ships or British Q-ships) in World War II indicates that close approaches were at worst common and, arguably, the rule prior to the meeting between Kormoran and Sydney. The next three encounters that involved cruisers that were aware of the outcome of the engagement involved one sinking of a ‘friend’ and two occasions when an enemy minelayer was allowed to pass. Recent research in an old account of the work of the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty in London (McLachlan, 1971) revealed that it had information about Kormoran that could have been provided to the Australian station prior to the engagement but, probably for security reasons, was not so provided. In August 2014, the Canberra launch of The Search for HMAS Sydney: An Australian Story revealed for the first time the pain, and blame, that Captain Burnett’s family experienced in the years following her loss. Burnett was the Captain of HMAS Sydney and has routinely been awarded more or less sole responsibility for the loss. Thanks to Barbara Winter’s early history of the event (Winter, 1984), it is possible to form a plausible hypothesis about the information not provided to Sydney in advance of the engagement. In 1941 British cruisers were not lone sailing frigates months from home and news, as they often were during the Napoleonic Wars, but integral units in a complex weapons system, and the loss should be so understood. An additional factor involved the Captain’s confidence in the system that provided him with information about the positions off allied merchant vessels may have contributed to the disaster.
Speaker(s) Prof Kim Kirsner
Location The University of Western Australia, Simmonds Lecture Theatre, G01, General Purpose Building 3
Contact David Badcock <[email protected]>
Start Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:00
End Tue, 16 Sep 2014 14:00
Submitted by Admin Psy <[email protected]>
Last Updated Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:08
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