Seventy-three years since the sinking of the ferry HMAS Kuttabul during a Japanese midget submarine attack, a commemorative service has been held, to remember the 19 Australians, two British and six Japanese personnel who perished.
For the first time, the names of the Japanese submariners were also read out at the ceremony at Garden Island, Sydney, on the site of the base named for the sunken ferry.
Assistant Minister for Defence, Stuart Robert, together with the Consul-General of Japan, Mr Masato Takaoka, senior Royal Australian Navy personnel, and relatives of those lost gathered near the memorial to mark the occasion.
Students from St Vincent’s College and Sydney Japanese International School read the honour roll.
During her speech, Commanding Officer of Navy's Sydney base HMAS Kuttabul, Commander Rebecca Jeffcoat, reflected on the assault that marked the beginning of a bloody conflict.
“The attack on Sydney Harbour by three midget-submarines was the opening salvo in a Japanese submarine campaign off the east-coast of Australia that ultimately sunk 21 ships, attacked a further 19 vessels, and claimed the lives of 670 men and women," Commander Jeffcoat said.
"In Australia this is a little known event, yet more lives were lost along this stretch of coastline than on the Kokoda Track.
“Services like this allow us to remember and commemorate those men and women, so that their story and ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten.
“Today it’s not only the story of the 21 allied sailors that we remember, but also the story of six Japanese submariners and their courage and sacrifice in the service of their country.”
In the early hours of 1 June 1942, three Imperial Japanese Navy midget submarines, each with a crew of two men, launched a daring attack against Allied warships moored in Sydney Harbour.
Kuttabul, a ferry converted to provide sailors’ accommodation, was sunk when a torpedo fired by submarine M24 missed its intended target, the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, and detonated against the breakwater adjacent to the Kuttabul, sinking the ferry and killing 19 Royal Australian Navy sailors, two Royal Navy sailors and wounding another 10. None of the Japanese submarine crewmen survived.
“I am proud, as an Australian and serving member of the Royal Australian Navy, that when the bodies of the four crew of the sunken midget submarines M22 and M27 were recovered it was decided, without hesitation, even in the midst of a savage war, that they be given the honourable burial which Australia would expect for her own gallant dead in similar circumstances.
"The four Japanese submariners were cremated with full naval honours at Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney on 9 June 1942, and the ashes were returned to Japan later that year when Japan’s first Ambassador to Australia, Mr Kawai, returned to his homeland as part of a diplomatic exchange,” Commander Jeffcoat said.
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