Sydney, June 1942

“ If London can take it, Surry Hills can take it!
Mrs Jones, Surry Hills, NSW, June 1942

On the night of 31 May – 1 June 1942 three Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney Harbour. They were launched from a group of five larger submarines waiting off the Heads. All three midget submarines were lost, with two of them destroyed before they could fire their torpedoes. The third fired at but missed the USS Chicago, sinking HMAS Kuttabul, a coverted ferry, and killing 21 sleeping sailors aboard. Reactions by Sydney residents varied; a few made plans to flee the city, but many came to watch the recovery of the submarines.

A week after the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour, two of the larger submarines returned to bombard Sydney and Newcastle with their deck guns. One shelled Newcastle for twenty minutes until driven off by fire from coastal artillery defences. Another submarine fired ten rounds into eastern Sydney. Little damage was done and the attacks appear to have inspired more curiosity than panic.

  Lifting a Japanese midget submarine from Sydney Harbour
  Wrecked Japanese submarine recovered from Taylor’s Bay
  Japanese submariners
  Kuttabul ferry
  Ernest Hirsch poses near shell damage on his home
  Suburban shell damage, Sydney, June 1942
  Midget submarine souvenirs - brass pipe with label
  Midget submarine souvenirs - electrical cable with label

The Japanese bombing of Darwin, Broome and northern Australia

The Japanese first attacked Darwin on the morning of 19 February 1942. This was the first time since European settlement that mainland Australia had been attacked by a foreign enemy.

This first attack (and the one that was to follow later that day) was planned and led by Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour. It was the largest Japanese attack since Pearl Harbour.

The Japanese attacked with around 188 planes that had been launched from Japanese land bases and aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea. The Japanese fighters strafed land targets and shipping. Dive bombers attacked the ships in the harbour, the military and civilian aerodromes and the hospital. The dive bombers were escorted by fighter planes to protect them from Australian and allied planes. Eight ships were sunk and most of the others were damaged by bombs or machine gunfire.

  War correspondent Robert Sherrod, of Time Magazine, in front of the remains of the Darwin Post Office, June 1942. Photograph courtesy of Peter Dunn's Australia @ War.

(Apparently the day before, they had just installed a very expensive mail sorting machine. How do I know? My history teacher told me when I was in Year 10. His mother worked in the Post Office!)
  Wrecked Lockheed Hudson, February 1942. Photograph courtesy of the Charles Eaton Photographic Collection and Peter Dunn's Australia @ War
  Darwin oil tanks

Sergeant Hajime Toyoshima (left), Australia’s first Japanese prisoner of war, Bathurst Island, 27 February 1942. Toyoshima was the pilot of a ‘Zero’ fighter damaged during the 19 February air raid on Darwin. Forced to crash-land on Melville Island, Toyoshima was disarmed and captured by Aborigines who took him to Bathurst Island to hand over to Sergeant Leslie Powell (right), 23rd Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers. Powell, who had been sent to maintain demolition installations on the island and was unarmed, used Toyoshima’s service pistol to escort him into captivity.


After his capture by local Aborigines on Melville Island, Sergeant Hajime Toyoshima, the first Japanese prisoner of war taken on Australian soil, gave a false name to his interrogators and was imprisoned at the large POW camp at Cowra, New South Wales. He died during the Cowra break out on the night of 4 August 1944.