Japanese attack on Sydney Harbor: not to win, but to break
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japan entered World War II. After the attack on the American naval base in the Hawaiian Islands, the rapid advance of the Japanese army to the south began. Within a few months, Malaysia, Indonesia and most of the islands of Oceania were occupied. The Allied command began to seriously fear that after establishing final control over the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, the Japanese would make a landing in Australia.
In fact, Japan was unable to organize such a large-scale operation. It was planned to defeat Australia a little differently - by capturing New Guinea, New Caledonia and Fiji, and thereby cutting off the continent from the United States. To interrupt the supply of the Allied forces in Australia, on February 19, 1942, the Japanese fleet launched the first and largest air raid on the port of Darwin in northern Australia. In addition to the destruction of several large transports and tankers, this attack had a serious psychological effect. It was the first in stories enemy strike on Australian territory, the city was badly destroyed by bombardment. But there were no large warships in Darwin, which were based in the southeast of the continent.
Japanese land aviation could only strike targets in northern Australia. One of the main naval bases - Sydney - was unattainable for her. The Japanese command nevertheless planned to strike at the Allied anchorages on the Australian coast in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Strategically, this could divert the attention of their opponents from the Japanese offensive in the central Pacific. Such a task could be performed by an aircraft carrier formation. Just like Pearl Harbor or Darwin was attacked. But Sydney was located quite far away, and the Japanese had no chance to go unnoticed. In addition, risking the most valuable warships - aircraft carriers - was unacceptable. There was another option - a midget submarine raid.
Japanese navy there were small submarines, also known as midjets (eng. "dwarf"). These boats with a displacement of 46 tons and a hull length of 24 meters were armed with a pair of 450-mm torpedoes, as well as a demolition charge placed in the bow. The team consisted of 2 people. They were delivered to the target on the hulls of large ocean-going submarines or on special ships. The Imperial Navy had already used midjets in the war. So, 5 mini-submarines participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. But they failed to hit a single American ship. In addition, all the boats were eventually destroyed.
Despite this failure, another operation involving midjets was developed. According to the plan, on May 18, six submarines left the base on Truk Island for the Pacific Ocean to attack the Allied naval bases in Australia and New Zealand. A pair of submarines (I-21 and I-29) carried E14Y seaplanes on board for reconnaissance. May 23 aircraft from I-29 flew over Sydney. In the harbor, the pilot noticed several large ships, mistaking them for battleships. Having studied the information received, the headquarters of the 6th Japanese fleet decided to attack Sydney.
4 submarines were supposed to strike, but on May 17 one of them was sunk by the American submarine Tautog. The remaining submarines I-22, I-24 and I-27 by May 29 were already in positions at the entrance to the harbor. On the night of May 30, another seaplane from I-21 made a reconnaissance flight over the base. The pilot classified the heavy cruisers stationed there - the American Chicago and the Australian Canberra - as battleships. In addition to them, several smaller warships were discovered. The Australians also noticed a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft, but mistook it for their own. Moreover, the radio intelligence station in Melbourne intercepted the communications of Japanese submarines at sea, but there was no reaction.
On May 31, Japanese submarines approached the harbor entrance at a distance of 6-7 miles and fired M-14, M-21 and M-24 midjets. The M-14 mini-submarine was the first to enter the harbor: at about 8 pm it crossed the line of the base's electromagnetic security system, but at the tracking station it was taken as a false signal. Nevertheless, after a few minutes, the midjet hit the anti-submarine network. It was not possible to get rid of it, and Coast Guard ships had already begun to pull in to the place. Realizing that an enemy submarine was in the net, patrol boats began to drop depth charges on it. However, the depth of the harbor was too shallow for the bomb fuses to work. Be that as it may, after a couple of hours the crew blew up the boat.
The remaining midjets were able to sneak into the harbor. But observers on the cruiser Chicago spotted one of the enemy's boats. They opened fire from anti-aircraft guns and universal 127-mm guns. The submarine M-24, which the sailors noticed, plunged and began to wait. At the same time, a second midjet was spotted from an unarmed Lauriana patrol boat. The Australians called the guard ship Yandra to help. Several depth charges were dropped on the Japanese submarine, after which contact with it was lost.
However, the M-21 just sank to the bottom. The explosions caused her minor damage, which did not prevent her from continuing the operation. Therefore, Lieutenant Keyu Matsuo decided to wait until the patrol ships left. At the same time, Sydney's defense commander, Rear Admiral Muirihead-Gould, arrived on the scene. He was called from the banquet at the first reports of the enemy. But the admiral was adamant and flatly refused to accept the reports of his subordinates as reality. He was sure that there were no Japanese around at all.
Around midnight, the M-24 midget surfaced again at periscope depth. Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban realized that he was east of Garden Island. In the spotlight, he noticed the silhouette of the cruiser Chicago, which he chose as the main target. At about 0:25 a Japanese submarine fired 2 torpedoes. Soon one of them hit the barracks - the former ferry Kuttabul, and the second just flew ashore.
The explosion in the middle of the night shocked everyone. The old ferry broke into two parts and quickly sank. Now even Admiral Muirihead-Gould could not deny the fact that the harbor was under attack. Midjet M-24 tried to take advantage of the turmoil and get out of the harbor. However, he failed to return to the carrier boat. The exact cause of the death of the mini-submarine remained unknown. Her skeleton was found at a distance of about 15 miles from Sydney Harbor.
The fate of the M-21 was not the best. Lieutenant Matsuo decided to continue the breakthrough after a long wait at the bottom. But after the attack on the ferry, the allies became more attentive. At about 3 a.m., the submarine was sighted from the heavy cruiser Chicago. For a couple more hours, patrol boats circled over the place of the last enemy detection, dropping depth charges. It was not possible to reliably determine the place of destruction of the submarine, and it was found only after 2 days. As it was possible to establish after raising the submarine to the surface, its crew committed suicide.
The Japanese cruiser submarines I-21, I-24 and I-27 waited for their midjets until June 3, after which they began independent operations, according to the order. During June they bombarded the eastern suburbs of Sydney and Newcastle and sank three transport ships.
As a result of the night attack on Sydney, the Japanese sank only 1 ship - the old ferry Kuttabul, which was used as a floating barracks. It killed 21 people and injured 10 more. The Japanese themselves lost 3 mini-submarines and 6 people from their crews.
Despite the fact that only one ship was sunk, and quite an old one, the attack had its effect. Given the bombing in northern Australia, the attack on Sydney Harbor caused panic among the inhabitants of the continent. They began to seriously consider the threat of a Japanese invasion.
In 1943, the naval base on Garden Island was named after the Kuttabul ferry. And various exhibits, including part of the hull of one of the mini-submarines, are in the Museum of the Royal Australian Navy.
By the way, currently the largest museum object in Australia is the destroyer HMAS Vampire, which has been serving as a museum ship since 1986. You can take a tour of this ship by watching a video from Wargaming.
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