Sydney Under Attack: Japanese Midget Submarine 31 May – 1 June 1942

Looking back on the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney

Neil Roberts
AWM P02534.001

Neil Roberts' story

On the night of 31 May 1942 Able Seaman Neil Roberts was stationed at HMAS Kuttabul. The converted ferry was used as accommodation for seamen waiting to be assigned to ships. Neil had finished sentry duty just after midnight and returned the Kuttabul to get some sleep. He had climbed up to the upper deck of the ship and wearily got into his hammock, fully clothed. This is his account of what happened next:

I lay down and went off to sleep and there was this terrible explosion and my reaction was when I woke up was to try and get out the way I'd come in.

Now that was almost foolish because I could have stopped where I was and I would have been in no danger, but in the panic I went down the steps to get out and by this time the vessel was sinking and a wave of water came up the stairs and the thing was starting to settle on me; so I had the option then of just diving underwater and swimming underwater out through the side of the ship and swam across eventually to a sea wall.

I climbed up the sea wall and when I was there a rating came running up to me and wanted to know where the officers were and I said that I think that everybody's dead and that was my impression. I seemed to be the only person alive standing there and when I asked the rating what his problem was he said that there was an unexploded torpedo; this was the second torpedo that they fired, further up Garden Island underneath gun wharf that had split open but it hadn't exploded. Then people came running up to me and took me off into the hospital, where I remained for two days.

HMAS Kuttabul, partly submerged, after it was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese midget submarine, Sydney, 3 June 1942
AWM 012427