Wednesday, May 03, 2006


HMAS Kuttabul
(Big version)

This is the HMAS Kuttabul in June 1942., Kuttabul was an obsolete ferry before the war. When the war came she was converted to a barracks and moored off Garden Island naval base in Sydney Harbour.

The, Kuttabul is one of Australia's most famous ships. It was wrecked in the attack on Sydney Harbour. It also has a personal connection. Twenty one sailors died on the wreck and my great uncle wasn't one of them.

My great uncle Herbie was on the, Kuttabul in July and September of 1941. Four of the ships he was on went down and one was torpedoed while he was on it, according to my Nana. He had a fair few near misses, as might be expected in the middle of a war. But he came through the war with nary a scratch on him and died in 1947 of cancer. He was a bachelor and had no known children. Other than that I know bugger all about him and seeing a ship he slept on during the war brings me a tiny bit closer to him.

In her days as a ferry,, Kuttabul seated 2,250 passengers. In the photo of the wreck she looks quite small because we can only see her upper deck. She was 56 metres (183 feet) long and 11 metres (36 feet) wide.

In the wee hours of Saturday the 30th of May 1942 a Japanese Navy plane flew a reconnaissance flight over Sydney Harbour. It spotted two big cruisers (warships) in the Harbour, the USS Chicago and the HMAS Canberra. The plane was mistaken for American by the navy.

There were five Japanese submarines off the coast of Sydney. Three of them (the I-22, I-24 & I-27) carried Ko-hyoteki class midget submarines. At sunset on the 31st the three nameless midget subs (M-22, M-24 & M-27) left their mother submarines and headed into Sydney Harbour.

Midget Sub
(Big version

The midget subs were 23.9 m (78.5 ft) long, 1.8 m (6 ft) wide and 3 m (10.2 ft) high. I poked my head into this one at the Garden Island museum and it's tiny in there, really tiny. Each sub had two guys in it and it must've been hell in there, stinking and hot and noisy as hell. These guys knew they were going to die. It was a suicide mission. These little subs didn't have enough power to do the job then get back to their mother ships.

M-27 ran into the Harbour's anti-torpedo net and was trapped there. It was spotted by a Harbour watchman and depth charges were dropped from the HMAS Lolita. They missed and its crew self-destructed the sub after more than two hours trapped in the net. They died instantly. The bang shook stuff off shelves in houses onshore and people rushed out into the streets.

By this time Pearl Harbor had already happened (December 1941) and fear of a similar attack can't have been far from their minds. Civilians and forces personnel alike must've filled their pants as soon as they realised the Harbour was under attack.

The second sub was spotted near Garden Island and fired upon by the HMAS Geelong and the USS Chicago. A few of the Chicago's shells knocked bits off Fort Denison and the bits landed in Mosman and Cremorne. The sub got off a couple of torpedoes. One ran ashore on Garden Island but didn't go off. The other one shot under the Dutch submarine K-IX, exploded underwater against Garden Island and the impact sunk the, Kuttabul and damaged the K-IX. Twenty one sailors on the, Kuttabul died.

The third sub into the Harbour was spotted and seriously damaged by depth charges. Down there in the dark its crew committed suicide with a handgun rather than be captured alive.

Four bodies were recovered from the midget subs and their ashes returned to Japan. Twenty five people died altogether and no warships were sunk.

In alphabetical order:

John Samuel Asher, Kuttabul
Mamoru Ashibi, M-24
Katsuhisa Ben, M-24
Leslie William Bland, Kuttabul
William Richard Boundy, Kuttabul
Sydney William Butcher, Kuttabul
Kenshi Chuman, M-27
Leslie Joseph Dennison, Kuttabul
Arthur William Francis, Kuttabul
John Edward Gannon, Kuttabul
Jack Albert Gardener, Kuttabul
Frederick Arthur Glanford, Kuttabul
Walter George Gordon, Kuttabul
Leonard Walter Howroyd, Kuttabul
Lester Richard Jamieson, Kuttabul
Kenneth Francis Killeen, Kuttabul
Frank Kirby ((British) Royal Navy), Kuttabul
Takeshi Mamoru, M-27
Keiu Matsuo, M-22
Jack Edmund Numan, Kuttabul
Norman Leslie Robson, Kuttabul
Arthur James Smith, Kuttabul
Herbert Arthur Smith, Kuttabul
David Black Trist ((British) Royal Navy), Kuttabul
Masao Tsuzukuc, M-22
Raymond Owen Venning, Kuttabul
Thomas Jospeh Watson, Kuttabul

Australia's war 1939 - 1945 - photos
Australia honours gallantry of Kuttabul: Survivors, memorials and stories of old mark 60th anniversary - first hand accounts of the attack
HMAS Kuttabul Memorial - Garden Island - includes a photo of the, Kuttabul in her glory days as a harbour ferry


Kerry said...

Wow ....that is really interesting. I had no idea that the war came to Australia....actually attacked in Sydney. Hard to believe today.
Thanks for telling the story.

Spike said...

You're welcome.

Very hard to believe. There's so little evidence of it. Which presumably is because there was so little damage.

The Darwin bombing I knew about and I think most of us know about but Broome was also attacked and I think one more town up north. Newcastle was also attacked by midget subs.

I know when Darwin was bombed the rest of the country didn't know for a month. I think there was a media blackout.

My grandparents and others of their generation have told me about the level of fear in Australia about a Japanese invasion. I don't know anything about the other attacks yet but perhaps news about them was also suppressed for reasons of morale.

Suzanne said...

What a wonderful piece of writing.

Spike said...

Thank yer :)

I'm emailing you this morning BTW.

bullsoter said...

Raymond Owen Venning was my great Uncle. My uncle Ray is named after him.

Spike said...

I'm sorry to hear he died on the Kuttabul. They must have felt safe asleep in Sydney Harbour then wham, out of the blue.

Good to hear his name was continued in the family. My family did that too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article Lenny Howroyd was my Uncle but I didn't know a lot about it.Ron Howroyd

Spike said...

Yer welcome, Ron Howroyd.