71st anniversary of attack on Sydney Harbour

Published on LEUT Lauren Rago (author), ABIS Jesse Rhynard (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Kuttabul, Sydney

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

The Catafalque Party stands guard during the 71st anniversary of the attack on HMAS Kuttabul (I), at Garden Island. (photo: ABIS Jesse Rhynard)
The Catafalque Party stands guard during the 71st anniversary of the attack on HMAS Kuttabul (I), at Garden Island.

Representatives from Japan, the United States, New Zealand, Britain, the Netherlands and Australia attended a commemorative service at Garden Island, Sydney, to mark the 71st anniversary of the sinking of the depot ship HMAS Kuttabul (I).

Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney, joined attendees to honour the memory of the 19 Royal Australian Navy and two Royal Navy sailors who were killed on the night of 31 May-1 June 1942.

The victims were on board Kuttabul (I), a ferry converted for use as sailors’ accommodation, when it was sunk by a torpedo from a Japanese midget submarine.

Commanding Officer, HMAS Kuttabul, Commander Todd Willson, said the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a daring attack against the Allies that night.

“In the early hours of the morning three midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour and launched an attack against allied shipping,” Commander Willson said.

“Submarine M24 fired two torpedoes at the United States Navy heavy cruiser USS Chicago. One ran aground on the beach at Garden Island, while the second passed ahead of Chicago and beneath Dutch submarine K9, before it exploded against the seawall where Kuttabul was berthed, killing 21 and wounding 10,” he said.

“While today we remember the Allies’ war dead, it is also important to acknowledge the six Japanese submariners who died in the ensuing action. Four bodies were recovered from two submarines at the time, while the fate of the last submarine remained a mystery until 2006, when a group of recreational divers located its wreckage off Bungan Head, Sydney.

“Each year, Navy commemorates the World War II battle with a service. The name ‘Kuttabul’ was passed onto the Navy base at Potts Point which administers Garden Island, as a constant reminder of the action and the loss of life,” Commander Willson said.