Japanese Submarine Raiders – 1942. A Maritime Mystery
- December 2007
- Book reviewer
- Book reviews, History - WW2, WWII operations
- None noted.
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
By Steven Carruthers
Reviewed by Sandy Saunders
Being a comparative newcomer to the Australian history scene and thus perhaps without preconceived notions, I found this book a very interesting read. The author entitled the book Japanese Submarine Raiders 1942. In fact, the major thrust of his writing is directed at the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour on 31 May 1942, with only passing references to other Japanese submarine operations off the Australian East Coast in the same time frame.
A great deal of research on his subject, and his access to Japanese Navy records, contribute a great deal to the dispelling, one hopes for all time, of the misinformation and mystery which still seems to cloud this important event. An example of this misinformation occurred as recently as the May/June issue of the NSW Ex-Service Association magazine, Reveille, where a correspondent claimed that five midget submarines had taken part in the attack, when Japanese records show that only three midgets were carried piggy-back by the parent submarines. I22, I24 and I27 were involved, the remaining two submarines of the group each carrying a reconnaissance floatplane.
The author covers in great detail the build-up to the raid, including the low level reconnaissance of the harbour by a floatplane, and the deployment of the submarine group off the entrance to Sydney Harbour.
He gives an excellent description of the undetected transit by three midget submarines of the underwater loop defences of the harbour and of the subsequent deep penetration of the harbour by two of the midgets, the third having become entangled in the anti-submarine net near the entrance. The activities (one might almost say ‘antics’) of the harbour defences when the entangled midget was first discovered in the net, make fascinating reading, this being followed by the comedy of errors when an inadequate communications system failed completely to warn the harbour defence authority, including the Port War Signal Station and Naval Headquarters, of the raid in progress. The unsuccessful torpedo attack on USS Chicago, at anchor near the Harbour Bridge, by Lieutenant Ban, commanding the midget submarine I24, and the tragic, if inadvertent, sinking of the accommodation ferry HMAS Kuttabul, are well covered, as is the subsequent recovery of survivors.
Thereafter the frantic and uncoordinated attempts to hunt down real and spurious submarine contacts make interesting reading. What became very evident by this stage of proceedings is the completely unprepared state of the defences of this major Australian port, some six months after the commencement of hostilities with Japan. Why this should be so, despite many advance warnings, including the New Zealand sourced Radio Direction Finding intelligence of a group of hostile submarines in close proximity to the port, will give readers much food for thought and speculation. In this regard, it would be wise to treat some of the information in the book on code-breaking systems, and the dissemination of this type of intelligence, with caution.
Perhaps the major lessons to be learnt from this book is the folly of relying on a powerful friend for the defence of one’s own country, and the failure to observe the dictum that ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance’.
Caper Publications Pty Ltd, Narrabeen.
Hard cover, 264pprrp $29.95.
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