John Abraham - Midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour

Running time
3 min 1 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


In April, May, the Japanese were closing on Rabaul and they had some people they had to evacuate. I can't remember the name of the place we went to but we made a dash up there and picked up all this copra and the locals of it. I picked them up and on the way back we were diverted and I can't think of the name of the place we got diverted to. It's a well-known place but my memory just won't let me think of it.

We picked up the people there just off the coast of Australia, one of the islands there., picked them up, brought them into Sydney. We arrived in Sydney two days before the midget submarines hit Sydney. We arrived in Sydney roughly on the 29th May which meant, when you think about it, the mother submarine was sitting out there waiting for the little submarines to launch but we realised, I realised, that they wouldn't have upset the apple cart because they'd have never recovered the midgets and so they launched the submarines and came into Sydney.

We were tied up around Balmain. I was down on watch until 12 o'clock. I watched just near the engine room and we got a signal. We got 'repel aircraft'. We didn't know it was a surface craft. All that we got 'repel aircraft'. We didn't know what was going on until about 9 or 10 o'clock. We didn't have a clue what was happening in Sydney Harbour until it filtered through that there was midget submarines in the harbour.

When I came off watch, they loaded up on our pinnace, which was a motorboat, put a dirty big depth charge on the back and I'm the motorboat driver. That's what I used to do, motorboat driver, and I used to drive the motorboats and they sent us out into the harbour with this dirty great depth charge. If we'd have dropped it we would have gone up with it. Anyway, when you look back on it in hindsight, all that was over. The submarine had fired two shots under the Chicago, bounces off the wall at Fort Dennison and blew back and blew up the Kuttabul. I was there when they raised the sunken sub. I was over at Garden Island and saw them come in, bring the people out of the Kuttabul, some of them. A nasty experience that sometimes happens.

Was this page helpful?