Representatives from Japan, the United States, New Zealand, Britain, the Netherlands and Australia attended a commemorative service at Garden Island, Sydney, last week, to mark the 72nd anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Kuttabul (I).
Assistant Minister of Defence, the Hon Stuart Robert, MP and Commodore Warfare, Commodore Peter Leavy were in attendance to honour the 19 Royal Australian Navy and two Royal Navy men who lost their lives when Kuttabul was struck by a midget submarine torpedo.
“We are here today to remember those brave souls who lost their lives in Sydney Harbour, so close to home, while preparing to go into battle in the midst of World War II,” Commodore Leavy said.
“The commemoration was an opportunity for us to remember our proud Service heritage and pay our respects to the good men and women who went before us, helping to build the working Navy we are today.
“It is of utmost importance that we reflect on the loss as a mark of deep respect for those who died and their relatives here today.”
Commanding Officer of the current day HMAS Kuttabul, Commander Todd Willson, said the tragedy is marked every year by the namesake Navy base.
“The loss of the ferry Kuttabul, and the men accommodated onboard, was a smaller tragedy in scale of the great battles of the Second World War. Never the less, the loss remains a poignant episode, because it is our loss and our story,” Commander Willson said.
“The challenge for us all is to continue to remember and commemorate those men, their story and their sacrifice.”
Commander Willson said it was also important to not just remember the allied sailors who were lost, but also the six submariners from Japan who showed courage and dedication in the service of their own country.
“We have representatives here today from almost every nation present on Sydney Harbour that night.
“This reflects the genuine reconciliation that has occurred between nations that were once enemies,” Commander Willson said.
“It is important to note that this memorial service not only marks the loss of 27 lives, it is the opportunity to recognise that reconciliation has seen Japan and Australia come together as nations that positively influence the maritime domain.”
In the early hours of 1 June 1942, three Imperial Japanese Navy midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour and launched an attack against Allied shipping.
One of the two torpedoes fired from submarine M24 exploded against the sea wall where the Dutch submarine K-IX and the Kuttabul were berthed, sinking Kuttabul and killing 21 sailors onboard.
The lost Kuttabul was originally a Sydney Harbour Steam Ferry, requisitioned by the Royal Australian Navy after outbreak of World War II, and served as an accomodation ship.