Sydney and the Midget Submarines 1942: Australia Under Attack

Sydney and the Midget Submarines 1942: Australia Under Attack cover

This publication is the second of a two-volume series, it focuses on the submarine attacks on Sydney and Newcastle.

ISBN: 1 920720 01 4
Series: Australia Under Attack
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No Cause for alarm

At 3.45 am on Saturday, 30 May 1942, 50 kilometres north-west of Sydney Harbour, Flying Warrant Officer Susumo Ito of the Imperial Japanese Navy, aged 27, lifted his small Yokosuka (Glen) floatplane into the air from submarine I-21. Ito's mission was to reconnoitre Sydney Harbour and determine what Allied naval vessels were at anchor there. Years later, Ito described his feelings as he headed into the clouds and darkness towards Sydney:

I was very tense and apprehensive … I didn’t know whether I was going to live or die … It was a very dangerous mission and the only armament the plane carried was a 7.7 mm machine gun which was operated by the observer. There was nothing if they sent up fighters. The plane was quite easy to fly. But it had been designed to be tucked away inside a deck hangar on a submarine and was more like a toy than a proper aeroplane.

David Jenkins, Battle Surface: Japan's Submarine War Against Australia, 1942–1944, Random House, Sydney 1992, pp. 188-1891

Within 25 minutes, Ito reached Sydney and flew in over South Head. The night was overcast, but breaks in the cloud allowed the Japanese flier to observe the anti-torpedo boom net recently constructed between Georges Head and Green Point on Inner South Head. Ito took his floatplane down to 300 metres to ensure he gained accurate information on the boom defence and the location of its eastern and western entrances. Low flying was hazardous in a defended enemy harbour but Ito knew that the information he would bring back to the submarine would be invaluable.

As he flew over the boom, members of an artillery battery on Middle Head spotted Ito's plane but they thought it was an American aircraft of a similar type. The sighting was reported to the Duty Officer (Intelligence) at Garden Island Naval Base but nobody felt there was any cause for alarm. A 14-year-old roof spotter, Tim Edelman, at his post on top of the Hotel Manly, did not see Ito's plane but he heard it. The Japanese engine made a distinctive `putting' sound but Tim's report was ignored. Ito flew on unharmed and soon saw what he was looking for–Allied warships:

Later I found out it was the Chicago [a United States Navy cruiser]. I circled around a couple of times and then came down as low as thirty metres between Chicago and the Harbour Bridge … During that time I was caught three times by the searchlights. Each time they locked on to me I climbed very quickly to 700 metres to hide in the clouds. Then I came down again so Iwasaki [Ito’s navigator and observer] could sketch the position of another big cruiser.

Ito, quoted in Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 1902

The other big cruiser was HMAS Canberra, moored in Farm Cove. Years later, Lieutenant PF Wilson, who was the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Intelligence Officer at Garden Island that night, recalled the failure by the defenders to realise that an enemy plane was reconnoitring the harbour:

The first sighting was made by the army artillery battery at George’s Heights, Middle Head, who were lulled into a sense of false security by the plane’s American markings and type. They reported the sighting by telephone to me, adding ‘there is no cause for alarm as it is an American Curtiss Falcon float plane’ … I was quite aware that Chicago's planes were on its deck and that no other American cruiser was anywhere in the vicinity … I proceeded to Chicago and frightened the wits out of the Deck Officer.

Wilson, quoted in G Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1968, p. 73

By the time it was realised an unidentified plane had made a reconnaissance flight over the harbour and fighter aircraft were sent up to find it, Ito was well on his way back to submarine I-21. There he had to make a dangerous night landing on rough water. As the little floatplane hit the waves, its struts collapsed and the plane was flipped over on its back. Ito and Iwasaki struggled out of the cockpit, weighed down by their flying gear. Both men, however, were rescued and Ito was able to tell his commander, Captain Hankyu Sasaki, what he had seen in Sydney Harbour. Ito's observations confirmed those of an earlier floatplane reconnaissance over Sydney on 23 May 1942. As a result of these reports, Sasaki determined to press ahead with what had brought I-21 and four other large Japanese submarines to positions nearby off the New South Wales coast–a midget submarine attack on shipping in Sydney Harbour.

Captain Sasaki was in charge of what was known as the `Eastern Attack Group'. Lying off Sydney on 31 May 1942, the group consisted of five large Japanese mother submarines. Three of them– I-22, I-24 and I-27–car ried two-man midget submarines fixed to their rear upper decks. The other two– I-21 and I-29–each carried a Yokosuka floatplane broken down into twelve main parts and stored in a watertight hanger on the submarine©sf orward deck. After Ito's report, the crews of the three midget submarines prepared themselves for the attack on Sydney.

Between 5.21 pm and 5.40 pm, 31 May 1942, the three midgets detached themselves from their mother submarines and made for Sydney. I-22's midget was commanded by Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo with Petty Officer First Class Masao Tsuzuku assisting; I-27's by Lieutenant Kenshi Chuman with Petty Officer First Class Takeshi Omori; and I-24's by Sub Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban with Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe. Although the mother submarines, after the release of the midgets, headed for a rendezvous point east of Port Hacking, all the midget crews expected to die in this daring raid. Even if they were successful in entering the harbour, releasing their torpedoes at suitable targets and making it back outside the heads, all of them felt that the required manoeuvres and signals for a sea rendezvous with the mother submarines put the crews of those vessels at too great a risk of detection. They may also have entered into a spiritual suicide pact honouring the Japanese warrior traditions of the past where gyokushi (glorious self-destruction) was an acceptable way to die with honour in battle, so setting an example for others to follow in the defence of Japan. Sub Lieutenant Ban had written:

Nations that fear death will surely be destroyed. It is necessary for the youth of Japan to take notice of this. ‘Sure to die’ is the spirit that will bring about final victory.

Ban, quoted in Jenkins, Battle Surface, pp.204-205. For the full treatment of this spiritual aspect of the raid from the point of view of the Japanese submariners involved, see David Jenkins, Battle Surface: Japanese's Submarine War Against Australia, 1942–1944, Random House, Sydney, 1992

The first midget to arrive at Sydney Heads was that piloted by Chuman. What followed was a tragedy for the Japanese, combined with moments of ineptitude by the harbour defenders. Chuman guided his craft in towards the eastern gap or gate in the boom defence behind a Sydney ferry. Inexplicably, he then changed direction towards the western gate, near which his submarine became entangled in the steel mesh of the anti-torpedo net. Unable to reverse, Chuman ran the vessel forward at full speed hoping to break through the wire but try as he might he simply became more securely trapped. At 8.15 pm James Cargill, a Maritime Services Board watchman, saw a suspicious object caught in the boom. On investigating from a rowing boat, he decided that what he was looking at was either a mine or a submarine. Cargill called up Sub Lieutenant Harold Eyers of the patrol boat HMAS Yarroma. Yarroma was one of seven Sydney pleasure motor yachts that had been taken over by the Royal Australian Navy and converted to harbour patrol boats fitted with machine guns and depth charges. Initially, Eyers thought Chuman's vessel, when illuminated by Yarroma’s searchlight, was naval wreckage or at worst, a mine.

Reluctant to take Yarroma too close to the submarine, Eyers sent a sailor with Cargill in a rowing boat to make a full report. As these men pulled up alongside the midget, Cargill's torch clearly revealed that this was indeed a submarine. With Eyers finally convinced, he ordered a second patrol boat, HMAS Lolita, in to attack. Lolita dropped three depth charges but they were set to explode at too great a depth and they fell harmlessly to the harbour bed. Chuman and Omori, realising their situation was now hopeless, determined on jibaku (self-destruction). At 10.35 pm, Chuman set off a demolition charge which split apart the whole front end of the submarine with a loud explosion and huge flash. Both Japanese sailors died instantly. Debris was hurled ten metres in the air and Lolita was lifted up on a surge of water. The noise was heard all over the adjacent Sydney suburbs and hundreds of people came out into the surrounding streets. There could now be no doubt that Sydney was under attack. Rear Admiral Gerard Muirhead-Gould, in command of Sydney's harbour defences, sounded a general alarm first at 10.27 pm, before Chuman blew himself up, and again at 10.36 pm when what was happening was clear.

At 9.48 pm, as Chuman's submarine lay helpless in the boom net, the so-called inner indicator loop between inner South Head and Middle Head recorded a crossing. The loop was a cable on the sea bottom that picked up engine noise and relayed it to a stylograph on shore which then traced out the signal on paper. This particular recording occurred very close to that of a Sydney ferry passing at that time and nothing was made of it. The trace, however, represented the movement into the harbour and towards the boom of Lieutenant Ban's submarine. Ban made it through the boom gate and he sailed on up the harbour towards the Chicago. As he moved along, Ban found it difficult to hold his craft at periscope depth and his conning tower kept breaking the surface. By this time the warships in the harbour had come to some state of readiness and observers on the American cruiser spotted the midget. Mate Art King and Duty Electrician `Moose' Clendenen were on the searchlight platform high up in the Chicago’s superstructure. King recalled:

Looking aft, he [Moose] suddenly announced that he saw a submarine! … I then followed Moose’s line of sight and, sure enough, I saw something resembling a small conning tower or large periscope coming up the channel at a slow rate of speed and leaving a tiny wake.

King, quoted in Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 210

King turned on Chicago's searchlight and illuminated Ban's submarine, which promptly dived. Ban brought the vessel up again and ran alongside the cruiser as if seeking to make a positive identification. He was so close that it was not possible for the crew of the warship to lower the guns enough to hit the submarine, although the ship's 5-inch gun did fire. Ban dived again and moments later resurfaced near Fort Denison, where he was picked out by Chicago’s searchlight.

Five-inch shells and pom-pom tracer now sent up fountains of water near the submarine, but no hits were made on the enemy vessel. Thousands around the harbour were now watching as the shells exploded and a red flare went up, illuminating the whole scene. Many thought a Japanese air raid had started. As Ban manoeuvred around the harbour, the Australian corvette HMAS Geelong spotted the midget and began firing with 20-millimetre rounds that hit the water, turning it to white foam.

Ban, however, escaped and brought his submarine to a position off Bradleys Head. From here, with the American cruiser illuminated by the backdrop of the lights of the Garden Island welding yard, he prepared to attack. The dockyard lights were only extinguished at 12.25 am on 1 June, long after Muirhead-Gould had sounded the general alarm. By 12.29 am Ban was ready and the Chicago, which had not moved, now seemed to be a sitting duck. Ban's first torpedo, however, missed the cruiser and instead ran on towards the Garden Island wharf. Here it went under the Dutch submarine K9 and HMAS Kuttabul, a Sydney ferry converted to provide accommodation in port for naval personnel. The torpedo then detonated against the retaining wall. The force of the explosion wrecked the Kuttabul and killed twenty-one sailors, nineteen of them Australian and two British. All around, residents felt their houses shake and ornaments fell from shelves. One witness told The Sydney Morning Herald:

I saw the whole ferry lift as though she were on the top of an enormous wave and then settle down again sinking at the stern … I saw pieces of wood flying through the air. Half the steering wheel was blown away.

Quoted in Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 215

Able Seaman Eric Davis, RAN, told the Sun Herald News-Pictorial:

I was blown right through the roof from my bunk on the lower deck and got wedged in some timber in the next deck. I could not free myself for what seemed like a long time. Soon the water was up to my chest and I was pulled out.

Sun News-Pictorial, 3 June 1942, p. 215

According to Kuttabul survivors, Bandsman J Cummins was the hero of the night. He repeatedly dived into the wreckage and came back with injured and trapped men. One of these had two broken ankles and would undoubtedly have perished but for Cummins' courage.

After his first miss, Ban had one torpedo left. This, too, missed and ploughed ashore at Garden Island without exploding. Ban took the submarine down as deep as possible and headed out of the harbour. The submarine then disappeared for 64 years until 1 December 2006, when the Environment and Heritage Minister announced that the wreck had been discovered by a group of divers in 50 metres of water, about 6 kilometres off the coast off Sydney's northern beaches. The Minister declared a protected zone around the site to ensure the protection of the wreck, its relics and any human remains.

At 2.14 am, 1 June 1942, after Ban's attack, the Chicago finally slipped her moorings and headed out to sea. At 2.56 am, as the cruiser passed South Head, another submarine was sighted making for the harbour and the cruiser may even have caught it a glancing blow. Instantly Chicago sent a `submarine entering harbour' signal and very shortly thereafter the indicator loop operators recorded a loop crossing. This was Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo's submarine. Matsuo had tried entering the harbour hours before at 10.52 pm on 31 May but he had been seen from the unarmed auziliary patrol boat Lauriana, which was on duty in the area with another patrol boat, HMAS Yandra. Lauriana’s searchlight picked out Matsuo's conning tower and a few minutes later Yandra’s light also locked on to the submarine. Yandra first tried to ram Matsuo, perhaps hitting the submarine, and then fired off a pattern of depth charges, the explosions from which shook nearby houses and broke windows. Matsuo, however, took his craft down deep to the harbour bed and waited. After the hunt was called off, he rose again to the surface just as Chicago was making her way out of the harbour.

At 3.10 am, as Matsuo made his way through the boom gate and down the harbour, two more patrol boats, HMA Ships Steady Hour and Sea Mist, were ordered from their moorings at Farm Cove. They had instructions to look for submarines in the area between Bradleys Head and the boom defence. On Steady Hour was Lieutenant Athol Townley, commander of the converted pleasure cruiser squadron dubbed by Sydney wits the `Hollywood Fleet'. He ordered Sea Mist’s skipper, Lieutenant Reginald Andrew, to set his depth charges for 15 metres, a depth that would give Andrew precious little time to escape before the charges went off. Yarroma joined the two patrol boats and together they searched back and forth across the dark waters of the harbour. At about 5 am, Sea Mist saw a dark object in Taylors Bay and closed to investigate. It was Matsuo, with the conning tower of his midget protruding one metre above the water. As the submarine dived, Andrew reacted swiftly. He fired a flare to warn off other ships and then raced over the spot where Matsuo had disappeared, dropping a depth charge. The explosion lifted Sea Mist forward on a wall of water but the attack had succeeded. Matsuo's submarine rose up above the surface and, as it sank again, Andrew dropped a second depth charge. This, too, exploded, forcing Sea Mist forward and damaging her engines. Steady Hour and Yarroma now closed in and for the next three and a half hours continued to drop depth charges above where Matsuo had disappeared. The official Australian naval history vividly described this action:

Intermittent depth charge attacks were delivered on submarine contacts recorded by detection gear and by visual ‘sightings’ in that deceptive period of twilight and shadow-borne illusion of a growing dawn.

Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942-1945, p. 71

Inside the crippled midget submarine Matsuo and Tsuzuku prepared themselves to die. For them, escape to the surface to surrender was unthinkable. Matsuo had always thought that his mission to Sydney would end in death. On 29 March 1942 at the Kure Naval Base, Japan, Matsuo had taken leave of his family. As they dined together that night, his father, Tsuruhiko, gave him a short ceremonial sword wrapped in the silk sash (obi) worn by his mother on her wedding day. His sister, Fujie, presented him with a sennimbari or belt of a thousand stitches sewn in red thread. This belt had been created by Fujie and 999 other girls, each of whom had sewn one stitch. The sennimbari would protect its wearer from harm and return him safely home. But the family sensed that Kieu Matsuo was taking his final leave and that he did not expect to see them again. After a traditional drinking session with his brother, he announced that he wished to spend his last night in the presence of his mother.

Much of this may have passed through Matsuo's mind as he sat in his stricken submarine in Taylors Bay, far from Japan. It is thought most likely that Matsuo now killed his crewman, Tsuzuku, with one shot to the head. Then he turned his pistol on himself and took his own life. The Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour had come to an end. At sea off Port Hacking, the mother submarines waited for men they sensed would never return. The floatplane reconnaissance pilot, Flying Warrant Officer Susumo Ito, remembered the feeling on board I-21:

Everyone felt great sorrow. It showed on their faces.

Ito, quoted in Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 221

With the failure of the midget submarines to return, the mother submarines now began a period of conventional submarine warfare against merchant shipping and Australia's east coast cities. Just after midnight on 8 June, I-24 rose from periscope depth about 18 kilometres to the south-east of the Macquarie Light. Her commander, Commander Hiroshi Hanabusa, had determined on a daring attack on the city of Sydney itself. He would fire ten shells from his gun in the direction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Within four minutes all ten had been fired and the residents of the city's eastern suburbs were awoken by the sound of screaming shells. Hanabusa now quickly took I-24 down under the waves as he saw searchlights being turned on from the shore batteries.

The ten Japanese shells came down in the suburbs of Rose Bay, Woollahra and Bellevue Hill. Luckily for Sydneysiders living in those suburbs, only one of I-24's projectiles exploded and nobody was killed. It was thought that the submarine had been using armour-piercing shells designed for use against steel-sided ships, not bricks and mortar. Not surprisingly, the Sydney newspapers were soon full of personal stories of the attack. One such story involved the direct hit on the home of a Mrs McEachern of Bellevue Hill. Living alone at the time, she heard the shells come over and rushed to the front verandah. As she turned back into the house, it was shaken by an explosion that broke all the windows and extinguished the lights. With remarkable coolness, just as she had been taught in the air raid precautions literature, Mrs McEachern turned off the gas and, proceeding inside, found that her kitchen was virtually destroyed and the ceiling of one room damaged. Steadfastly, she refused to leave her home despite the suggestions of air raid wardens:

‘My own house is still standing. I don’t see why I should go elsewhere’, was her reply.

McEachern, quoted in The Daily Mirror, 8 June 1942

In Woollahra, a shell that bounced off the footpath hit Mr SJ Richards' small grocery shop. Richards was thrown out of bed by the explosion. All his windows were shattered and, as he rushed downstairs, he realised the shop itself had been badly damaged and stock was strewn over the footpath outside. Richards noticed a hole in the footpath where the shell had evidently come down and there were pieces of metal everywhere.

At about 2.15 am on that same morning–8 June 1942– submarine I-21 surfaced off Newcastle and carried out a similar attack. I-21 loosed off 34 shells, eight of them illuminator star shells. After 13 minutes, Fort Scratchley's guns replied with four rounds but the Japanese submarine commander continued firing, as he calculated that it would take the gunners some time to pinpoint his location. Despite the greater intensity of the attack, nobody was injured and little damage was done. To Fort Scratchley, however, went the honour of being the only Australian shore establishment to fire on an enemy warship at sea off Australia's coasts.

All things considered, however, Sydney and Newcastle escaped lightly. The purpose of the shelling had been to cause panic, although at Newcastle the shipyard had also been a target. Some disquiet ensued as Sydney residents thought that the shelling and the midget submarine attack were possibly the opening moves of a Japanese invasion. A few people left the city for accommodation in the Blue Mountains. The editorial writer for The Sun, however, concluded:

The damage done was less than that caused by any heavy storm, and the effect on morale was nil, though it was an engrossing subject of conversation in Sydney this morning.

'Shells on Sydney', editorial, The Sun, 8 June 1942

In the days that followed the midget submarine attack, Sydney was caught up in the biggest war story yet to involve Australia's oldest city–t he raising of the damaged submarines. Headline followed headline, along with graphic pictures of submarines suspended lifeless from steel hawsers and large maritime cranes. The bodies of Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo, Petty Officer First Class Masao Tsuzuku, Lieutenant Kenshi Chuman and Petty Officer First Class Takeshi Omori were recovered and placed in the Sydney morgue. On Muirhead-Gould's instructions, they were given a funeral with full military honours, their bodies cremated. The Admiral defended himself from criticism of this event by declaring in a radio broadcast:

I have been criticised for having accorded these men military honours we hope may be accorded to our own comrades who have died in enemy lands. But I ask you—should we not accord full honours to such brave men as these? It must take courage of the very highest order to go out in a thing like that steel coffin … How many of us are really prepared to make one thousandth of the sacrifice that these men made?

Muirhead-Gould, quoted in Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 230

Part of the purpose behind this respectful treatment of the Japanese submariners' remains, a purpose supported by the Australian Government, was to show the Japanese people and military how these matters were handled by the Allies. It was hoped that, if such treatment became common knowledge among the Japanese soldiers responsible for hundreds of thousands of Allied prisoners of war, then they might behave less brutally towards their charges. The ashes of Matsuo, Tsuzuku, Chuman and Omori were handed over to Tatsuo Kawai, the Japanese minister in Canberra. In August 1942, Kawai brought the ashes back to Japan during an exchange of Allied personnel in Japan and Japanese personnel in Allied nations. On arrival in Japan, the submariners were given a public funeral.

Once the intelligence officers had discovered all they could from the two Japanese midget submarines, the craft were used to raise money for the Royal Australian Navy Relief Fund and the King George Fund for Merchant Sailors. Thousands queued in Sydney to see a composite craft made up of Chuman's and Matsuo's submarines on display in Bennelong Park, near Fort Macquarie. Souvenir models of the submarines were manufactured from their lead ballast and, when this ran out, objects were made from the spun glass from the batteries. Cartridges, presumably from Matsuo's service pistol, went on sale for £5. Also on display were the ceremonial sword given to Matsuo by his father, his service pistol and a small chair sat on by Masao Tsuzuku as he steered the submarine under Matsuo's directions. Other items were also auctioned off, such as a bulkhead lamp bought by the Ladies Committee of the Cusa Naval Club. The lamp was proudly displayed on the club's ballroom wall with the inscription `From Japanese Submarine sunk in Sydney Harbour, May 31 1942. Lamp and Switch'. One wonders where this item is today.

After a period in Sydney, the submarine was toured through rural New South Wales, to Melbourne, rural Victoria and on to South Australia before being brought back to the permanent keeping of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. There it remains to this day, exhibited now in the Memorial's ANZAC Hall with an accompanying sound and light display.

The stories of the Japanese attack on Sydney Harbour did not end in 1942. In May 1968, Mrs Matsue Matsuo, the aged mother of Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo, visited Australia. Over the waters of Taylors Bay she scattered cherry blossoms at the spot where her son's submarine had sunk. In Canberra, she met the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. John Gorton, but undoubtedly the emotional high point of her visit came when on 1 May 1968 she visited the Australian War Memorial, almost 26 years after her son had met his death. At the Memorial, escorted by a naval officer and her daughter, Fujie, she walked down to the midget submarine on display at that time outside the Memorial. Inside the smashed control room of the vessel, she placed a wreath and a bowl of sake as she chanted a poem-prayer, written by herself, to the memory of her son. She claimed she heard Kieu's voice calling to her and to his father. Inside the Memorial, the Director, Mr Bill Lancaster, presented Matsue with the sennimbari (belt of a thousand stitches) which had been recovered from Kieu Matsuo's body in June 1942. A Canberra Times reporter described the scene:

When … Mr W Lancaster showed her the sash her son had worn she shook, unable to hold it. ‘We’d like her to take it with her’, Mr Lancaster told Professor Tadaiti Matumoto, Mrs Matsuo’s interpreter and organiser of the visit. She took the sash … Then she took Mr Lancaster’s hands and held them to her cheeks. She reached up and hugged him; his arms went round the old lady and he kissed her.

13 'Journey's End for a Mother', The Canberra Times, 2 May 1968

When she arrived back in Japan, Mrs Matsuo sang Australia's praises and in television interviews told millions of viewers how honourably Australia had treated her son and the other submariners. At a time when feeling in Australia still ran high concerning the brutal treatment meted out by the Japanese to Australian and other Allied prisoners of war between 1941 and 1945, Mrs Matsuo's words came as a glimpse of reconciliation. On her arrival at Tokyo airport, this frail, bent woman drew herself up with tears in her eyes in front of the cameras of the assembled news media and chanted two short poems she had written on the flight home. One spoke of her gratitude to Australia, while the second expressed what would have been the feelings of any mother who had made such a long journey to see where her son had died in war:

Probably only heaven understands my emotions.

I have returned safely from my pilgrimage to Australia.


This short account of the 1942 Japanese naval attacks on Sydney Harbour, Sydney's eastern suburbs and Newcastle is based on three main sources:

David Jenkins, Battle Surface: Japan’s Submarine War Against Australia, 1942–1944, Random House, Sydney, 1992;

G Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1968, chapter, `Australia's Coasts Raided–Her Flanks Strengthened'; and

Contemporary reports in Australian newspapers, especially The Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mirror, The Age, The Canberra Times and The Sun News-Pictorial.

HMAS Kuttabul Roll of Honour

  1. John Samuel Asher
  2. Leslie William Bland
  3. William Richard Boundy
  4. Sydney William Butcher
  5. Leslie Joseph Dennison
  6. Arthur William Francis
  7. John Edward Gannon
  8. Jack Albert Gardner
  9. Frederick Arthur Glanford
  10. Walter George Gordon
  11. Leonard Walter Howroyd
  12. Lester Richard Jamieson
  13. Kenneth Francis Killeen
  14. Frank Kirby (RN)
  15. Jack Edmund Numan
  16. Norman Leslie Robson
  17. Arthur James Smith
  18. Herbert Arthur Smith
  19. David Black Trist (RN)
  20. Raymond Owen Venning
  21. Thomas Joseph Watson


A ship about to move under a bridge in a Harbour

HMAS Canberra was moored in Farm Cove during the submarine attacks on Sydney, 1942. Photograph taken of HMAS Canberra, Sydney Harbour, 1930. AWM P01869.001

View of a ship in a harbour with a bridge in the background

USS Chicago, Sydney Harbour, March 1941. AWM 008043

A white ship at sea with the number 51 printed on the side

HMAS Yarroma, one of the patrol boats involved in the defence of Sydney Harbour during the Japanese midget submarine attack of 31 May–1 June 1942. AWM 302023

An aerial view of a harbour area with the sea separated by two land masses

An aerial view, taken in March 1945, of the Green Point end of the Sydney boom defences, looking across the harbour towards Georges Head. The boom gate is open to allow an approaching steamer and a Manly ferry to pass through. AWM 304574

Submarine resurface in the ocean water

Imperial Japanese Navy Submarine I-16. This submarine was similar in type to those from which the attack was launched on 31 May 1942 on Sydney Harbour. AWM 128899

2 Japanese officers in uniform, one is sitting while the other stand behind

Commander Kiyoi Ageta, who commanded the carrier submarine I-22 in the launching of midget attacks on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and Sydney Harbour on 31 May 1942. The midget submarine launched from the I-22 carried Lieutenant Keiu Matsuo and Petty Officer First Class Masao Tsuzuku . AWM 128893

A group photo of 14 Japanese navy officers. Front row is sitting and the back row are standing.

Members of the Japanese Imperial Navy midget submarine attack group which carried out simultaneous attacks on Diego Suarez and Sydney Harbour on the night of 31 May 1942. Of the fourteen men pictured, only one was to survive, prevented from taking part in the Sydney attack by the death of his crewman when a battery exploded during training. Five others were to die in the attack on Diego Suarez, five in the attack on Sydney Harbour, and two on later missions in the Bay of Biscay and at Guadalcanal. AWM P00325.001

A group of 5 Japanese men smiling, 2 of the men are  holding up fish.

Midget submarine trainees in Kure, Japan, before the attack on Sydney Harbour. Identified front left is Lieutenant Keiu Matsuo, and rear left is Lieutenant Kenshi Chuman, both commanders of midgets launched from carrier submarines I-22 and I-27 on 31 May 1942. AWM 128880

A portrait of a Japanese officer in uniform

Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo, the commander of I-22’s midget submarine during the attack on Sydney Harbour on 31 May 1942. His body was one of four recovered. AWM 128888

2 Japanese officers in a room

Before boarding I-22’s midget submarine for the attack on Sydney Harbour, Lieutenant Matsuo (right) had his head shaved by First Sub-Lieutenant Fujisawa. AWM 128889

Drawing of a submarine

Drawing made in July 1942 of a Japanese midget submarine, based on the submarines that took part in the raid on Sydney Harbour. Eighty feet (approx 25 metres) long, they were divided into three sections, with door openings measuring only 13 x 30 inches (approx 33 x 76 cm). Powered by 208 batteries, their cruising speed would have been approximately 8 knots, with a top speed of 20 knots. AWM 012982

A view of the damage of the inside of a ship

The wreckage of the interior of HMAS Kuttabul, June 1942. AWM 305098

A ship wreck in the water

HMAS Kuttabul, June 1942. AWM 305094

A shipwreck near the shore

HMAS Kuttabul, its funnel stayed to a shore fixture to prevent its toppling, Garden Island, June 1942. AWM 305103

A torpedo lying in the water near the shore

Lieutenant Ban’s second torpedo fired on 1 June 1942 at USS Chicago. It failed to explode when it ran ashore at Garden Island. AWM 305019

A crowd of people standing near a damaged road

Residents examine damage to a street in Sydney’s eastern suburbs caused by shells fired from the Japanese submarine I-24 on 8 June 1942. AWM 012592

Two men standing amongst the ruins of a bombed out building.

Locals inspect damage caused to an eastern suburbs home by a shell fired from Japanese mother submarine I-24 on 8 June 1942, a week after its midget took part in the attack on Sydney Harbour. I-24 surfaced off the east coast just after midnight and fired ten shells into the suburbs of Rose Bay, Bellevue Hill and Woollahra. Only one of the shells exploded and no-one was killed, though several buildings were damaged. AWM 012594

People gather around a building

Scene outside a shop in Sydney’s eastern suburbs where one of the shells from Submarine I-24 landed on 8 June 1942. In the foreground, boys clamber about in the shell’s impact hole. AWM 012591

A crowd watches on a harbour a submarine pulled from the water

Salvage operation of Japanese midget submarine, that entered Sydney Harbour May 1942 AWM 305088

A group of men around a submarine being hoisted from the water

Another view of Lieutenant Matsuo’s midget submarine emerging from Taylors Bay. The mark left by the steel hawser being used to pull up the submarine is still visible today on the craft, now an exhibit at the Australian War Memorial. AWM 305046

People watch submarine being hoisted from the water

Lieutenant Kenshi Chuman’s midget submarine being transported across Sydney Harbour by a floating crane. The view is from HMAS Kanimbla. AWM P00416.002

People look up at a  section of a submarine being lifted up in the air

Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo’s midget submarine being lifted ashore. The dents on the steel plates of the vessel are depth charge impact marks. AWM 042982

A man holds a periscope vertically on a wharf

The periscope of Lieutenant Kenshi Chuman’s midget submarine, recovered from the antitorpedo boom nets. AWM 305063

Male soldiers pointing their rifles to the sky and firing with more male soldiers looking on.

The burial service for the naval servicemen killed during the submarine attack in Sydney Harbour. Nineteen Australian and two British ratings were killed in the sinking of HMAS Kuttabul. AWM 012580

A memorial service with officers in uniform all facing a monument with wreaths laid  on the ground

Rear Admiral Gerard Muirhead-Gould places a wreath at the Sydney Cenotaph in memory of the nineteen Australian and two British sailors in HMAS Kuttabul killed on 1 June 1942. AWM 012597

A truck transport a submarine on the road

The Japanese midget submarine on its way between Sydney and Melbourne, November 1942. AWM P00455.007

A man holds a pole to prop up a section of a damaged submarine

An Australian naval rating adjusts a prop used to stabilize the damaged midsection of one of the Japanese midget submarines in preparation for its display to the public. The damage was caused when the crew detonated charges to destroy the submarine and avoid capture after the raid. AWM P00455.013

A pilot pointing to a propeller to children watching on

A member of the Royal Australian Navy shows school children a midget submarine which had taken part in the attack on Sydney Harbour on the night of 31 May 1942. AWM P00455.016

2 men and a women inspect a submarine

Members of the public view the Japanese midget submarine on display in Melbourne, November 1942. AWM P00455.009

A woman writes Edith on the side of the submarine

Edith chalks her name on the Japanese midget submarine, Melbourne, November 1942. AWM P00455.017

A small chair from one of the two recovered Japanese midget submarines that attacked Sydney Harbour on 31 May–1 June 1942. It is possibly from Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo’s craft and would have been used by his crew member, Petty Officer First Class Masao Tsuzuku. AWM P00455.004

2 officers look at a sword and pistol.

RAN officers inspect Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo’s ceremonial sword and service pistol. The items were on display in Melbourne, November 1942. AWM P00455.018

3 women in uniform pose next to a submarine

Members of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) from HMAS Harman Naval Wireless Station pose beside the midget submarines on display outside the Australian War Memorial in 1943. AWM P01132.006

A view of a torpedo inside the submarine

Interior view of the torpedo control room of Lieutenant Matsuo’s midget submarine, Sydney, June 1942. AWM 305009

A view inside the submarine constructed of metal parts

The control room of Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo’s midget submarine. AWM 305004


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