Australia under attack 1940-1945

The Japanese first attacked the Australian mainland on 19 February 1942 when they launched a devastating air raid on Darwin in the Northern Territory. Two weeks later, more aircraft attacked Broome in Western Australia killing about 70 people. By the end of September 1943, Japanese pilots had flown 97 air raids against towns and bases in northern Australia. On 31 May 1942, the war came to the east coast when three Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour. In June 1942 a submarine lightly shelled the eastern suburbs in Sydney and then Newcastle. Japanese submarines also attacked coastal shipping, causing the loss of some 60 lives and 29,000 tons of shipping during the two months after the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour.

Oil painting depicting air raid, harbour; HMAS Deloraine. A large plume smoke to the left, many white explosions in surrounding water and fire engulfing ship. In the foreground are two life boats overflowing with survivors.

Darwin, 19 February 1942, Ray Honisett, 1984 [Oil on canvas 122x182.8cm. AWM ART 28520]

Journey's end for a mother

Lieutenant Kieu Matsuo was the commander of the midget submarine from 'the mother sub', I-22. He and his crewman had shot themselves to avoid capture. Their bodies and those of two other submariners were recovered from the submarines and cremated with full naval honours and their ashes were returned to Japan. The Japanese Ambassador, Mr Tatsuo Kawai, and his staff, who had been trapped in Canberra since the outbreak of the war, were offered their return passage to Japan in an exchange of Allied and Japanese diplomats. Ambassador Kawai carried the submariners' ashes back to Japan. In 1968 Mrs Matsuo travelled to Australia to see where her son had died. During her visit she presented a number of gifts, including this handwritten poem, to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

I nurtured my son just as I grew precious flowers
So that he could dedicate himself to the Emperor.
Now that the storm has passed
And all the cherry blossoms have blown away,
The garden looks very deserted.

Lieutenant Matsuo's mother wrote this poem to commemorate her son's death in the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour on 31 May/ 1 June 1942. [This translation was provided by the Australia-Japan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra]

Stoker Jack Albert Gardner, Royal Australian Naval Reserve, was 23 years old when he died. Jack was serving in HMAS Kuttabul on the night of 31 May/1 June 1942 when the ship was hit by a torpedo from the Japanese midget submarine from I-22. He was buried in the RAN section at Rookwood Cemetery together with other shipmates who died during the attack.


Last updated: 27 February 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Australia under attack 1940-1945, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 29 October 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/events/australia-under-attack-1940-1945
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