Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sydney Harbour, Australia

A reproduction of the Japanese plan, showing the location of the mother submarines when they released their midget submarines. (Hugh Clarke and Takeo Yamashita, 1966, back cover)

Ban’s torpedoes were fired from the centre of the harbour.(Peter Grose, 2007, p. 140. Illustration by Ian Faulkner

Date: 31 May–1 June 1942

Attack by: Japanese Type A midget submarines

Target: USN, RAN, RIN and RNN warships

While Admiral Ishizaki’s raiding group scouted for targets off southeast Africa, a similar group commanded by Capt Hanku Sasaki, overall commander of the Pearl Harbor midgets, prepared to make a surprise attack in Australian waters. Sasaki’s group consisted of the aircraft-carrying submarines I-21 and I-29 and the Type A carriers I-22, I-24, I-27 and I-28. The four latter were called from patrol duties off Port Moresby, New Guinea, on 11 May and ordered to the IJN’s base at Truk atoll in the eastern Carolines to take aboard Type As and their crews. Meanwhile, I-21 and I-29 made aerial reconnaissance of major anchorages at Suva in Fiji, Auckland in New Zealand, and on the east coast of Australia, in search of large Allied warships refitting after the Battle of the Coral Sea (5–8 May).

On 17 May, on the last leg of her voyage to Truk, I-28 was running on the surface SSE of the atoll when she was sighted by the US submarine Tautog (Cdr J. H. Willingham). A torpedo hit crippled the Japanese submarine, which managed a brief and unavailing burst of gunfire before a second torpedo hit under the conning tower sent her down with all hands. But I-22 (Cdr Kiyotake Ageta), I-24 (Cdr Hiroshi Hanabusa) and I-27 (Cdr Iwao Yoshimura) all arrived safely at Truk and sailed again with Type As aboard on c.20 May. By 29 May they had made rendezvous with I-21 and I-29 some 40nm (46 miles, 74km) ESE of Sydney, where reconnaissance flights on 20–23 May had reported the presence of major warships.

In fact, the only major Allied units in Sydney Harbour (Port Jackson) were the heavy cruisers USS Chicago (CA 29) and HMAS Canberra and the old light cruiser HMAS Adelaide. With them were the destroyer tender USS Dobbin, the destroyer USS Perkins (DD 377), the minelayer HMAS Bungaree, the armed merchant cruisers HMAS Kanimbla and Westralia, the corvettes HMAS Whyalla, HMAS Geelong and HMIS Bombay, the old Dutch submarine K.IX, and the depot ship HMAS Kuttabul. The harbour defence force – all Australian ships – consisted of the anti-submarine vessels Bingera and Yandra, two minesweepers, six channel patrol boats and four unarmed auxiliary patrol boats.

Although the probable presence of at least one unidentified submarine off Sydney had been reported by RNZAF aircraft on 26 and 29 May, no specific measures against submarine attack had been taken. Of the permanent anti-submarine installations, the outer magnetic indicator loop at the Heads (the points flanking the harbour’s 1.5-mile wide outer entrance) was unserviceable, and the anti-torpedo boom at the 1,500yd (1370m) wide inner entrance was only partially completed and had gaps at both ends. Around the 12-mile (19km) long harbour a “brown-out” was in force, but repair shops on Garden Island were brightly lit, silhouetting the warships in Man-of-War anchorage to the east.

Even the sighting of a reconnaissance plane over the harbour early on 30 May failed to rouse the defences. Lt Susumo Ito’s “Glen” seaplane was catapulted from I-21 at c.0300, some 30nm (35 miles, 56km) northeast of Sydney, and at 0420 flew over the inner harbour at 600ft (180m), circling twice over Chicago. The cruiser’s duty officer identified the Japanese monoplane as a Curtiss SOC Seagull biplane “from an American cruiser”, and apart from brief patrols by RAAF fighters no special precautions were taken. Ito’s aircraft was lost when he landed in rough water near I-21, but he and his observer survived to report “battleships and cruisers” at Sydney.

Crossing the Loop
At dusk (c.1630) on 31 May, some 7nm (8 miles, 13km) east of Sydney Heads. the Japanese fleet submarines launched their Type As: Ha 21 (Lt Matsuo Keiyu and PO Takeshi Omori) from I-22 an unidentified midget (SubLt Katsuhisa Ban and PO Mamoru Ashibe) from I-24; and Ha 14 (Lt Kenshi Chuman and PO Masao Takenaka) from I-27.

To reach their objective, the midgets would have to travel some 20nm (23 miles, 37km) through heavily-defended waters; their attack would stir up a hornets’ nest of air and surface activity, it was obvious that none would return. For their one-way journey, the crews were provided with excellent charts and aerial photographs, and (possibly as a “token” of the chance of survival) rations enough for one week – including staples like dried fish and pickled plums as well as such luxuries as chocolate and whisky.

As night closed down, the Type As were able to take navigational fixes from the lights on the Sydney Heads, entering the harbour approaches in darkness. Subsequent examination of the magnetic loop log revealed that Ha 14 was the first to enter the outer harbour, at 2000, although its “signature” was not then distinguished from that of other harbour traffic. This was Ha 14’s last piece of luck: by 2015 the midget had become entangled in the western section of the anti-torpedo boom, where it was spotted by a watchman in a rowing boat. Although reaction was leisurely – the channel patrol boat Yarroma did not arrive until c.2130 – Lt Chuman and PO Takenaka failed to free their craft. At 2235, as Yarroma opened fire with her two Vickers machine guns and prepared to drop her four depth charges, Chuman fired a demolition charge that destroyed Ha 14 and its crew.

Lt Ban’s Type A had already crossed the loop, at 2148, and was making its run-in of c.6nm (7 miles, 11km) to the “battleship” at Man-of-War anchorage. A general alarm was raised in Sydney Harbour at 2227, but the order to darken all ships did not come until 2314, and dockside lights were not doused until 2325. Thus, the harbour was still well lit at c.2257, when Ban’s Type A surfaced about 500yds (457m) off Chicago’s starboard quarter, where it was sighted and caught in the cruiser’s searchlight. Chicago opened fire, first with light weapons and then with her 5in (127mm) – some of the shells from the latter fell ashore, damaging buildings but not, as popular legend had it, killing a lion in Sydney Zoo. The Type A submerged and made off towards the north shore. Perkins (with defective sonar gear) made a brief patrol with the Australian corvettes Geelong and Whyalla, but was ordered to anchor by Capt H. D. Bode of Chicago, who probably believed that he had destroyed the intruder.

In fact, the Type A was unharmed, and at c.2310 Ban surfaced again to the northeast of Garden Island, whose dock lights illuminated Chicago’s berth. But before he could fire his torpedoes he was sighted and fired on by Geelong; and by the time he was ready to attack, at 2330, the dock lights had at last been switched off. Ban fired both tubes: one, a dud, ran ashore on Garden Island; the second narrowly missed Chicago, passed beneath the Dutch submarine K.IX, and exploded under the old harbour ferry Kuttabul, a naval barracks ship, killing 19 and wounding 10 of the seamen billeted aboard. Perkins, the corvettes and harbour defence craft immediately began intensive patrols – but again Ban was able to slip away, heading back towards the harbour entrance. A signature on the loop at 0158 is believed to have been that of Ban’s boat making its exit – but what became of the Type A after that is unknown, for it was never seen again.

The Hunt in Taylor Bay
The remaining midget, Lt Keiyu’s Ha 21, was detected on its inward journey, at c.2250, before reaching the loop, by the unarmed patrol boat Lauriana and the anti-submarine vessel Yandra. The latter attempted to ram the midget, lost contact temporarily, and at 2307 dropped six depth charges. Shaken, but with his boat still intact, Keiyu apparently decided to lie low for a while in the harbour approaches. By 0300 he was again attempting to penetrate the harbour, when the outward-bound Chicago reported a periscope close aboard in the loop area. It is difficult to trace Keiyu’s subsequent movements, for by this time the harbour was in uproar, with reports of contacts and periscope sightings from all quarters. It is possible that the contact fired upon by Kanimbla at 0350, from Neutral Bay, represented Ha 21’s deep penetration of the anchorage. By c.0530, Ha 21 was again outward bound, to be located and subjected to a three-hour hunt in Taylor Bay by Yarroma and the patrol boats Sea Mist and Steady Hour. Repeated depth charge attacks were made – but when Ha 21 was located by a diver later that day it was found that the Type A’s motor was still running and that Keiyu and Omori had committed suicide with their pistols after scuttling their boat. Ha 21’s torpedoes were still in their tubes, which had been fouled by the midget submarine’s bow-mounted net-cutter.

Ha 14 and Ha 21 were salvaged and cannibalized to build a single midget, which was toured through Australia to raise money for the Naval Relief Fund. The Japanese crews’ remains were cremated and given a funeral with full military honours – a proceeding which attracted some criticism, especially because the fleet submarines that had launched the midgets shelled the Sydney suburbs and the Newcastle industrial plant before heading homeward. But although Japanese propaganda claimed that the operation had resulted in the sinking of the battleship HMS Warspite, the Sydney raid represented the last major suicidal operation of the Type A midgets.

Diégo-Suarez Bay, Madagascar


Interior of a Type A Japanese midget submarine.

Date: 29–30 May 1942

Attack by: Japanese Type A midget submarines

Target: British warships at anchor

On 30 April 1942, Admiral Ishizaki sailed from Penang, northwest Malaya, in I-10, a Type A1 boat designed to function as the headquarters of a submarine pack and carrying a Yokosuka E14Y1 (“Glen”) reconnaissance seaplane. With I-10 sailed I-16, I-18 and I-20, each carrying a Type A midget. On 5 May they refueled at sea from the armed merchant cruiser Hokoku Maru, in preparation for a cruise off southern Africa in search of suitable targets for the Type As. At dusk on 20 May, I-10’s aircraft scouted Durban, and on succeeding nights made similar fruitless searches for major warships at East London, Port Elizabeth and Simonstown. Farther north, a seaplane from I-30 hunted for heavy units of the British Eastern Fleet at Aden, Djibouti, Zanzibar, Dar-es-Salaam and Mombasa.

In November 1941, under German pressure, Laval’s Vichy French government had agreed in principle to Japanese occupation of the island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. Although there was little chance of a fullscale Japanese takeover of the huge (227,602 sq mile, 589,489 sq km) island, the Allies could not ignore the threat to the Indian Ocean supply routes that a Japanese presence at the well-equipped French base of Diégo-Suarez, at the island’s northern tip, would pose. Thus, on 5 May 1942, the British launched “Operation Ironclad”, an amphibious attack on Diégo-Suarez against determined but short-lived Vichy French opposition. By the end of May the base had been secured and most of the invasion fleet’s warships had dispersed. There remained, however, a force consisting of the battleship HMS Ramillies, three destroyers and two corvettes.

At 2230 on 29 May, I-10’s seaplane flew over Diégo-Suarez Bay and returned to report “one ‘Queen Elizabeth’ class battleship and one cruiser at anchor”. The reconnaissance flight was spotted by the British, who suspected that it was a French plane scouting for Vichy French submarines believed to be still active in the area. At 0500 next morning, the most likely time for a submarine attack, Ramillies weighed anchor and kept moving around the bay until full light, while Fleet Air Arm aircraft flew anti-submarine patrols.

Admiral Ishizaki’s midgets were launched at dusk on 29 May. The Type A carried by I-18 proved to be unserviceable, so the attack was to be made by midgets from I-16 (crewed by Ens Katsusuke Iwase and PO Kozo Takada) and I-20 (Lt Saburo Akeida and PO Masami Takemoto). Like Iwasa, lost at Pearl Harbor, Lt Akeida had been a test pilot during the development of the Type A and was a volunteer for operational duty with the weapon.

It was obvious that the midgets had no chance of returning: launched 10nm (11 miles, 18km) out to sea, they were expected to pass undetected through the 1,300yd (1,190m) wide Oronjia Passage and navigate a channel some 8nm (9 miles, 15km) long, notorious for reefs, rocks and treacherous currents, before reaching the main anchorage at Antisirane. After making their attacks, the crews were ordered to scuttle their craft and return to the parent boats as best they could – presumably by making their way overland to a coastal rendezvous specified in advance.

It is believed that only one Type A penetrated the anchorage, the other having been lost without trace on the voyage in. The first indication the Royal Navy received of an intruder came at 2025 on 30 May, when a torpedo struck Ramillies on the port bulge forward of ‘A’ turret, causing extensive damage in the forepart of the battleship. A short time later, another torpedo struck the tanker British Loyalty (6,993 tons, 7,105 tonnes), which sank almost immediately. The British corvettes immediately got under way and combed the bay throughout the night, making frequent depth charge attacks. Although no confirmed contact was made, the Type A was probably damaged, for by morning it had been abandoned by its crew and had drifted on to a reef, where it was discovered in a wrecked condition some two weeks later.

Ramillies, with a 900 sq ft (84 sq m) hole torn in her bulge and a 320 sq ft (30 sq m) rent in her outer bottom, rapidly took water in her forward magazines and compartments and began to settle by the bow. Rapid discharge of oil fuel and offloading of ammunition restored her trim and, with her main machinery undamaged, she was able to steam for repair to Durban, where she remained out of action for nearly one year. British Loyalty had settled in shallow water and was raised and repaired. It was at first thought that the attack had been made by a Vichy French submarine, but a few nights later the two Japanese crewmen were cornered ashore by a Commando patrol and, refusing to surrender, were shot dead. Had the attacker been identified at once as a Japanese midget submarine, and an immediate report sent to other Allied bases, Allied naval units might have been spared a severe shock less than one day later, when the Type As struck at Sydney, Australia.