The ‘Battle for Sydney’ has been commemorated with a memorial service at Garden Island, Sydney, 75 years on from when Japanese forces again brought the Second World War to the Australian mainland.
Over the evening of 31 May-1 June 1942, 19 Australians, two British and six Japanese personnel perished when three Imperial Japanese Navy midget submarines, each with a crew of two sailors, launched a daring attack against Allied warships moored in Sydney Harbour.
Committee member of the Submarine Institute of Australia, retired Captain Christopher Skinner recounted the events leading into the battle.
“Over 30 warships were in the harbour that night, including Dutch and American ships; with a number recently returned from the Battle of the Coral Sea,” Captain Skinner said.
In planning the attack, a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft made several passes over Sydney Harbour enabling the pilot and his observer to sketch the position of the anti-submarine defences and some of the warships.
“The sea plane was both seen and heard, but no one expected a Japanese force so close to Australia’s largest city,” Captain Skinner said.
Following the success of the reconnaissance flight the Japanese submarine commander decided to launch the attack.
“Shortly after entering the harbour, M27 was spotted caught in an anti-submarine net. Realising they were trapped the crew scuttled their vessel,” Captain Skinner said.
“M22 was spotted near Taylor’s Bay and was attacked with depth charges by Navy auxiliary patrol craft.
“With their submarine damaged and realising they wouldn’t be able to complete their mission or return to the parent submarine the crew took their own lives.”
M24 took aim at the heavy cruiser USS Chicago. The torpedo missed, detonating against a breakwater and destroying accommodation ferry HMAS Kuttabul.
“This daring and spectacular submarine action had extraordinary impact on national and strategic thinking of the day, precisely as it was intended to do,” Captain Skinner said.
In remembering the lives lost, Commander Andrew Fraser, Commanding Officer Sydney’s namesake base, HMAS Kuttabul said the significance of the sacrifice made by personnel had not faded.
“While many years have passed, we continue to honour and pay respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their respective nations,” he said.
As representatives from Australia, Japan, Great Britain and the United States laid wreaths, Kuttabul Ship’s Warrant Officer, Warrant Officer Matthew Hurley reflected on what it meant to him to wear the ship’s name on his uniform.
“I reflect not only on those lost in the sinking of Kuttabul, but all Defence personnel who have been lost in the 75 years since,” he said.
“I am very proud to be part of this Kuttabul ship’s company, as she too has a distinguished service record.
“Kuttabul still provides accomodation for sailors as the ship was doing on that dreadful night in 1942, and continues to be an important part of Sydney Harbour.”