Friends remember the fallen from 77 years ago

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Steve Cropper (author), ABIS Ryan McKenzie (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Kuttabul, NSW

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History, HMAS Kuttabul (I), Commemoration

Catafalque party general salute during the the last post at a memorial service for the 77th anniversary sinking of the ferry Kuttabul at Garden Island Naval Base, Sydney. (photo: ABIS Ryan McKenzie)
Catafalque party general salute during the the last post at a memorial service for the 77th anniversary sinking of the ferry Kuttabul at Garden Island Naval Base, Sydney.

A quiet and solemn ceremony has been held at HMAS Kuttabul to remember the lives lost 77 years ago during World War Two, when Japanese midget submarines launched an attack in Sydney Harbour.

Kuttabul’s Commanding Officer, Captain Matthew Shand RAN, was joined by the Consul Generals of the United States, Britain, and Japan as well as relatives of those killed and high school students from the Sydney Japanese International School and St Vincent’s College for a memorial service conducted by Chaplain Jason Wright.

The modest monument at the water’s edge recalls the service personnel from Australia and Britain who died aboard the requisitioned Sydney ferry Kuttabul, which is the Navy base’s namesake.

The ferry was recruited into Navy service in 1940 and commissioned as HMAS Kuttabul in February 1941 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Alan Lewis, RAN.

Serving as a depot ship, Kuttabul was used primarily as an accommodation ship for ratings posted to the naval base, which at that time was known as HMAS Penguin. She soon became a familiar sight moored against the sea wall along the east side of Garden Island.

On the night of 31 May-1 June 1942, three Japanese midget submarines launched an attack on Sydney Harbour. At around 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 torpedos at the American heavy cruiser, USS Chicago, but missed its intended target.

The torpedo struck the seabed underneath Kuttabul sinking the vessel with the loss of 19 Australian and two British lives.

Two of the three Japanese midget submarines were destroyed in Sydney Harbour, but Sub Lieutenant Ban and Petty Officer Ashibe evaded further detection and their vessel disappeared without trace, not to be seen again until 2006, when recreational divers discovered her wreck off Sydney’s northern beaches.

Captain Shand laid a wreath for all the sailors and officers on both sides who lost their lives on that fateful night.

He said that the commemorative activities were meaningful for everyone involved.

“This is a positive demonstration of the friendship between Australia and Japan and a fitting tribute to the servicemen of both nations who were lost during the battle,” Captain Shand said.