HMAS Kuttabul remembers the bravery of 27 lives lost

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Andrew Ragless (author), POIS Phil Cullinan (photographer), LSML-P Kylie Jagiello (photographer), ABATV Kieren Whiteley (photographer)

Topic(s): Memorial Service, HMAS Kuttabul (I)

A member of the HMAS Kuttabul Catafalque Party during the memorial service marking 76th anniversary of the Japanese midget submarine attack in Sydney Harbour and sinking of RAN depot ship, HMAS Kuttabul. (photo: POIS Phil Cullinan)
A member of the HMAS Kuttabul Catafalque Party during the memorial service marking 76th anniversary of the Japanese midget submarine attack in Sydney Harbour and sinking of RAN depot ship, HMAS Kuttabul.

Personnel at HMAS Kuttabul have paused to remember the 76th anniversary of the Japanese midget submarine attack in Sydney Harbour, which claimed the lives of 27 service personnel in 1942.

In a small but solemn service, representatives of the consulates of Japan, United States and Great Britain, joined with students from St Vincent’s College in laying wreaths at the base of the M-21 midget submarine wreckage, on display in the RAN Heritage Centre in Garden Island, Sydney.

Delivering the commemorative address, Commander Walter Burroughs, RAN (Rtd.) said the event was the first enemy attack upon the east coast of Australia.

“It was to be the opening salvo of a campaign along our coastline that would see both Sydney and Newcastle shelled by submarines,” he said.

“A total of 21 ships were sunk and a further 19 damaged during the campaign, claiming the lives of 670 men and women.

“Now 76 years later we are here to honour the memory of those who paid the supreme sacrifice.

“We remember the bravery of those sailors, both friend and foe, who lost their lives when World War II came to Sydney.”

On the night of 31 May 1942, three Japanese midget submarines launched the daring attack on Sydney Harbour.

At approximately 12:30am on 1 June, the midget submarine M-24, crewed by Sub Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban and Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe, fired one of its torpedoes at the American heavy cruiser, USS Chicago, but missed its intended target.

HMAS Kuttabul (I), a ferry converted to provide sailors’ accommodation during the war, was sunk when the torpedo passed beneath the Dutch submarine K-IX and detonated against the sea wall underneath Kuttabul, breaking her in two.

The attack resulted in the deaths of 19 Royal Australian Navy sailors, and two Royal Navy sailors, and a further 10 were wounded.

The crew of the three midget submarines also perished, and in recognition of their bravery, full military honours were accorded at a funeral for the six men, and their ashes were returned to their homeland in August 1942.