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Terror from the deep

16 February 2013 2,032 views No Comment

Most history buffs know that on the night of May 31, 1942, in Sydney Harbour, a Japanese midget submarine sank HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors and leaving 10 seriously injured.

What is less well known is that a little more than a week later, in the early morning of June 8, 1942, two Japanese submarines – 1-24 and 1-21, captained by Commander Hiroshi Hanabusa and Commander Matsumura Kanji, respectively – shelled Sydney and Newcastle.

Although casualties and damage were slight, the bombardments fuelled the fear of an impending Japanese invasion. This was despite the fact that, as we now know, the Japanese high command had already decided against an invasion of Australia. Nevertheless, the bombardments forced Australian authorities to immediately upgrade the country’s defences.MNIR Story Ad

A product of four years of painstaking research, ‘A Parting Shot’ delves into the details of the shelling of Sydney’s densely populated eastern suburbs and also Newcastle by the two Japanese submarine raiders.

But herein lies a problem: ‘A Parting Shot’ is swamped in such detail that reading the book is rather heavy going. As well as their specific concentration on the two June 1942 bombardments, Terry Jones and Steven Carruthers also carefully survey Japanese submarine strategy and tactics throughout the Pacific war. When the ”most secret” wartime documents are released in 2015, perhaps the authors may need to update this important part of their work.

‘A Parting Shot’ has already generated media interest. For example, ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ ran a news story recently based on the book’s speculation that a high-explosive Japanese shell may still be buried under the Royal Sydney Golf Course in Kent Road, Rose Bay.

More importantly, the authors claim to have found a mistake in our historical records. Although the Japanese shell in Canberra’s Australian War Memorial is labelled as coming from one that supposedly fell in Manion Avenue, Rose Bay, Jones and Carruthers have found it is a different type of projectile (a star shell used to illuminate targets), which was almost certainly fired on Newcastle by Japanese submarine 1-21. Although to some readers this may seem a minor point, as far as I can ascertain it has not been published anywhere else.

Although not particularly well written, ‘A Parting Shot’ is of interest to Sydney readers. This is especially because of the details of the Japanese attack on Sydney’s eastern suburbs, including Bradley Avenue, Bellevue Hill; the corner of Small and Fletcher streets, Woollahra; and Simpson Street, Bondi.

The book particularly interests me because in the 1940s two of my friends’ parents were each able to rent cheap flats in Rose Bay (where they spent their first 10 to 12 years of life) after rents fell when people fled to places such as the Blue Mountains in fear of further attacks.

As Jones and Carruthers explain, newspaper classified advertisements (corroborated by personal postwar accounts) demonstrate that the weekly impost for rented flats in Rose Bay fell from five shillings five pence for a two-bedroom unit in 1941 to three shillings five pence in mid-June 1942. This reflects, the authors write, ”one anecdotal comment that the morning after the shelling the streets were jammed with moving vans”. However, as they point out, ”it wouldn’t take many vans to crowd the narrow streets of Rose Bay”.

While many families did flee to the Blue Mountains and, to a lesser extent, to the Hunter Valley north of Newcastle for the sake of their children, most were ”firm in their determination to stay put”. This applied especially to Sydney’s eastern suburbs, where many flats were occupied by Jewish emigres who had escaped Nazi persecution before World War II and had nowhere else to go.

As it happens, one of the best black-and-white photographs in ‘A Parting Shot’ was published by ‘The Sun’ newspaper in Sydney on the afternoon of June 8, 1942. It depicts, in graphic detail, the damage caused by the shelling of the eastern suburbs by Japanese submarine 1-24 to the rear of 4Bradley Avenue, Bellevue Hill.

As a number of eyewitnesses attested at the time, this enemy naval bombardment was too close for comfort.

Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University and the author of 35 books, most recently the satire ‘Fools’ Paradise’.

Terry Jones and Steven Carruthers
Casper Publications,
319pp, $34.95

‘The Sydney Morning Herald’, February 16-17, 2013, Spectrum p 32

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