It's outlandish that the Kormoran didn't know the secret callsign of the ship they were imitating. How were they unaware? Clumsiness? Couldn't the Kriegsmarine inform them?

Please see the question in my title, and the emboldened sentence underneath. I quote Wikipedia.

During the exchanges and distress signal, Sydney positioned herself just off the raider's starboard beam on a parallel course, approximately 1,300 metres (4,300 ft) from Kormoran.[48] The cruiser may or may not have been at action stations: the main guns and port torpedo launcher were trained on Kormoran and her Walrus scout plane had been readied for launch, prompting Detmers to prepare to engage Sydney, but her 4-inch (100 mm) guns were unmanned, and personnel were standing on the upper deck.[48][49] During her manoeuvre, Sydney appeared to signal "IK" (the short-form for "You should prepare for a cyclone, hurricane, or typhoon"), which Kormoran did not respond to, as from their perspective, such a signal did not make sense.[36][50] The Germans were unaware that the letters were the interior of the real Straat Malakka's secret callsign, "IIKP": to verify her identity, the ship had to signal back the outer letters.[36][48] The aircraft was shut down by 17:25, and the catapult swung into the storage position; the two ships were too close for a safe launch.[51]

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    Story of Kormoran and Sydney is very controversial even to this today. Both ships sunk, but there were no survivors from Sydney, although it was better armed and armored, proper cruiser. Official narrative tells the story from German side, and they were all POWs so they had reasons to lie. It is entirely possible that some other sides (for example Japan) were involved in events. – rs.29 Jan 29 at 19:28
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    @rs.29: No need to get involved in conspiracy theories. Both wrecks have been found, the damage consistent with the POW's descriptions of the action. Sydney was better armed, but the way the encounter unfolded, lost that advantage more or less right away (unable to bring secondaries to bear, forward turrets quickly out of action). Thickness of armor was mostly irrelevant; Sydney's 1 inch of hull armor offered no protection from Kormoran's 5.9 inch guns. As far as the opponent's main artillery was concerned, either ship was effectively unarmored. – DevSolar Jan 30 at 7:18
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    @rs.29: It is ok to question official narrative if you are knowledgeable about the subject and have reason to doubt the narrative. Simply not being in possession of all the facts, or not understanding the facts, is not a good basis to start challenging the narrative. Which, by the way, reads rather convincingly, and is summed up nicely in section 18.13. – DevSolar Jan 30 at 7:48
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    @rs.29: I wonder how you can derive that conclusion from that report. That is exactly what I mean with the difference between "reasonable doubt" and "lack of understanding of the subject matter". Try talking to a warship sailor about what it might be like on a ship, furiously on fire, three quarters of the crew dead, the rest mostly injured or trapped, the bridge (and thus the command chain) gone. Quite a few of the Kormoran's crew went missing as well, and they were able to evacuate the ship in orderly fashion... – DevSolar Jan 31 at 7:56
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    @rs.29: Welcome to conspiracy theorist country. You're checking all the boxes. – DevSolar Jan 31 at 8:54

I think there is a basic misunderstanding at play here:

It's outlandish that the Kormoran didn't know the secret callsign of the ship they were imitating.

No, to the contrary.

The Straat Malakka was not under German control at that time. It would not make much sense to "disguise" a German raider as a German merchantmen when trying to slip through Allied controlls! (The ship would be either captured or sunk, regardless. Merchantmen of warring nations are not neutral!)

The "free Dutch" ship had a secret callsign assigned by the Allies. (That is why the HMAS Sydney knew that callsign in the first place and could challenge the Kormoran this way.)

Naturally, that secret, Allied callsign was unknown to both the crew of the Kormoran and the Kriegsmarine in general.


Such codes tended to be temporary and change on a regular basis, sometimes for each trip. Combined with the fact that as stated the code transmitted was normally to indicate something else, the crew of the Kormorant probably weren't aware of the reason they were being hailed with that sequence.

Had the German intelligence services known of the code and been able to notify the Kormorant, they'd probably have done so. They weren't of course infallible. In fact German intelligence services throughout the war had a rather poor track record overall.

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