Sake and a salute to submariners
February 19, 2007
Two Japanese raiders of Sydney Harbour have been honoured for their bravery, writes Bob Wurth.
THE Australian and Japanese navies, in an unpublicised ceremony, have honoured the bravery of two young Japanese submariners who raided Sydney Harbour in 1942.
The unusual ceremony continues a Royal Australian Navy tradition of recognising the courage of its attackers.
Sub-lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban, 23, and his navigator, Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe, 24, killed 21 naval ratings, mostly Australian, when they fired a torpedo at the barracks ship HMAS Kuttabul from their midget submarine, M24, on May 31, 1942.
A fortnight ago the most senior naval officers in Japan and Australia visited the site of the wrecked submarine, discovered off Sydney's northern beaches last November, to honour the Japanese dead.
"The ceremony provided the opportunity to recognise the sacrifice of two brave sailors," a spokesman for the RAN said.
It was "based on an enduring respect between professional sailors and the operational circumstances in which these men died".
The Chief of the Navy, Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders, invited the Chief of Staff of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force, Admiral Eiji Yoshikawa, aboard the escort ship HMAS Newcastle for the service on February 7.
Shalders recited a prayer, as did a navy chaplain, and then the two admirals threw a wreath into the sea in the protected zone surrounding the submarine, five kilometres off Long Reef.
Yoshikawa dropped into the sea "in accordance with Japanese tradition" a letter written by a relative of one of the two submariners.
The letter is thought to have been written by Mamoru Ashibe's brother, Itsuo Ashibe, 83, who has been visiting Sydney. Ashibe did not join the ceremony but toured Sydney Harbour the next day, visiting key points of the 1942 attack and honouring his brother by pouring a small bottle of sake into the water.
Ashibe also visited Garden Island and placed flowers at the memorial to the Kuttabul victims, as did the visiting Japanese admiral.
The discovery of the M24 north of Sydney Heads last year highlighted the bravery of the two submariners. The M24 received a battering in Sydney Harbour and was being pursued by multiple craft. The crew had orders to turn south outside the Heads for a rendezvous with large submarines off Port Hacking.
By turning north, they chose not to risk the big I-class mother submarines but to end their lives.
The navy's recognition of the midget submariners' bravery has long been controversial.
The senior naval officer in wartime Sydney, Rear Admiral Gerald Muirhead-Gould, attracted strong Australian public criticism, and wartime praise in Japan, when in June 1942 he ordered full military honours at the funeral service for the four Japanese submariners recovered from two submarines in the harbour.
Muirhead-Gould said later:
"It must take courage of the very highest order to go out in a thing like that steel coffin … How many of us are really prepared to make one-thousandth of the sacrifice that these men made?"
Australian authorities are taking further steps to protect the wreck of the M24, trialling acoustic buoys equipped with cameras to enforce the 500-metre protection zone.
Heritage officials hope the digital surveillance buoys might be a permanent way of deterring boating and diving enthusiasts. Anyone entering the protection zone is liable to fines amounting to more than $1 million.
Two of the devices being tested are designed to pick up the sound of boats entering the zone, sound a computerised alarm at base in Sydney and relay pictures back to an operator. The protection zone is also patrolled by the Water Police.
There are no plans to raise the midget submarine or to enter it. However, federal and state authorities are anxious to begin an archaeological survey of the wreck site in the next week or two.
The survey, using an unmanned submersible equipped with cameras, has been delayed by heavy seas several times since Christmas.