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    Attack on Sydney Harbour

    Military Voice
    Posted by Military Voice on May 15, 2024 3:30:00 PM

    On the night of May 31st and into the early hours of June 1st, 1942, three Imperial Japanese Navy Midget Submarines attacked Sydney Harbour, an event referred to by some as the ‘battle of Sydney’.  

    The brazen attack was preceded by a number of reconnaissance flights conducted over Sydney that provided valued intelligence. The attack was to be focused on the numerous Allied warships anchored within the harbour, including the prime targets of the HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago. 

    The first of the three submarines to enter Sydney Harbour on May 31st was M-27, manned by Lieutenant Kenshi Chuman and Petty Officer Takeshi Omori. Entering at approximately 8 pm, the vessel’s propellers became entangled in anti-submarine nets near the western boom gate shortly after. The disturbance was noticed soon after and reported, however by the time patrol boats HMAS Yarroma and HMAS Lolita arrived the submarine’s crew had fired demolition charges that destroyed their craft at 10:37 pm. 

    The recovery of the remains of M-27 from Sydney Harbour. Source:

    M-24 was the second of the midget submarines to enter the harbour manned by Sub Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban and Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe at 9:48 pm. Sighted by the USS Chicago but not successfully repelled by shots, two torpedoes were fired at the Chicago half an hour after the sighting. Both torpedoes missed the target with one running ashore at Garden Island and the second striking the sea wall of Garden Island under the Sydney Harbour ferry Kuttabul, acting as a RAN depot ship. The Kuttabul sank with 21 Allied naval ratings killed and others badly injured or trapped.

    M-24 and its crew disappeared out of the harbour and their end would not be known until 2006 when the wreck of the midget submarine was discovered off Sydney’s northern beaches.  

    The third and final midget submarine, M-22, entered the harbour in the early hours of June 1st. Crewed by Kieu Matsuo and Petty Officer 1st Class Masao Tsuzuku, the midget submarine was detected in Taylors Bay where patrol boats repeatedly depth charged the vessel. The two-man crew were the following day found dead inside their crippled vessel with self-inflicted gunshot wounds. 

    The audacious and surprising attack from the three midget submarines was a wake up to many Sydneysiders who previously may have felt that the war was something of a world away. This attack remained a watershed moment and helped change the views on Australia from being an outlying Allied member to an important springboard for the defeat of Japan in the Pacific. The loss of 21 Allied lives and the four lives of the Japanese submariners was a stark reminder of the realities of war in an otherwise peaceful feeling Sydney.  

    The requisitioned ferry Kuttabul lying on the seabed following M-24's torpedo attack. Source:

    The 19 Australians and 2 British ratings were given a burial service with naval honours. The four Japanese submariners were also given a funeral with naval honours at Rookwood Cemetery, a gesture appreciated years later by the Japanese. Two months later their cremated remains were returned to Japan as part of a diplomatic exchange. 


    The composite midget submarine on display in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Source:


    The two recovered midget submarines were put together to construct a composite vessel, on display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, alongside the wheelhouse from the Kuttabul to create a poignant exhibit. This year, we mark the 80th Anniversary of the attack on Sydney Harbour. We honour and remember the events of World War II and those who defended Australia on May 31st and June 1st 1942.  


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    (Image Source: Japanese Midget Submarine Attack on Sydney Harbour by Johnny Perryman



    Topics: WW2

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