This education activity is designed to complement the Sydney Under Attack component of the Memorial's Remembering 1942 web resource, commemorating 60 years since the event of 1942.

Sydney under attack: Japanese midget submarines, 31 May – 1 June 1942

Looking back on the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney – three stories ...

Read three very different stories of people involved in the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney.

  • Neil Roberts was stationed on 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 to Kuttabul to get some sleep.

  • Peter Doyle was a ten-year-old schoolboy, living with his family at Watsons Bay on the night of the attack.

  • Mrs Matsuo was the mother of Lieutenant Matsuo Kieu, one of the six Japanese submariners who died that night.




Read the stories above and then discuss these questions:

  • How would you describe Neil's feelings and state of mind?
  • What is a "rating"?
  • If you heard the alarm to seek shelter what or who would you take with you?
  • Why do you think Mrs Matsuo waited until 1968 to travel to Australia?



  • Place yourself in the position of one of the Japanese submariners and write a last letter home before embarking on your mission.
  • Imagine you are living in Rose Bay in 1942 – write a letter to your grandparents in the country describing the events of the night.


  • Read the description of the Japanese midget submarine attack from the online Encylopedia. Use the information gathered from this account as the basis for your own newspaper article. Consider your topic and messages and include interviews (perhaps Neil Roberts, Peter Doyle or fictional characters). Remember to create a title that will catch the attention of your readers, a strong leading paragraph and a final paragraph that summarises your article. Get a friend to edit and proofread your article. Compile your final articles into a special edition newspaper.



  • Design two memorials – one for the Japanese submariners and one for those killed in the sinking of HMAS Kuttabul.




  • Student activity sheet: Identify the parts of a midget submarine and their function (70 KB PDF), in this activity students are asked to cut out the labels and place them on the diagram. Answer sheet (75 KB PDF)

  • Peter Doyle talks about three blackout measures: putting plywood on the windows, covering the lampshade with brown paper and making sure that the light was out in the hotel. How would these precautions help during an attack? If you had to blackout your house, how would you do it?


  • The Japanese poem written by Mrs Matsuo is a tanka. What is a tanka? Find out about other Japanese poetic forms such as haiku and renga. Search on the Internet, visit your library or ask someone you know who teachers or speaks Japanese. Write your own tanka on topic of your choice.


Download and print map to use with the following activities.
Map of midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour, 31 May – 1 June 1942 (259 KB, PDF)


  • Mark the Sydney Opera House and Taronga Zoo onto the map.

  • Follow the movements of Midget A (aka M24) on the map. Its fate was unknown for more than 60 years before it was located off Sydney's northern beaches in November 2006. Try to put yourself in the crewmen's minds. What do you think they were trying to do? Rendezvous with the mother submarine? Escape some other way? Commit suicide?


  • Using the map and scale calculate the distance travelled by Midget 21 (aka M22) between 11.07 pm and 3.50 am the next morning. What would have been the submarine's average speed?

  • Canberra, Chicago, Whyalla, Kanimbla, Yarroma and Dobbin were names of ships that were in Sydney Harbour on the evening of 31 May 1942. Using the Memorial's Collections Database, find out what type of ships they were.
    Extra challenge: Research types of naval ships and list the above vessels in order of size.