1942 Australia Greatest Peril

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The new revised and updated edition 1942 Australia's greatest peril, published by Pan Macmillan, is now in its third reprint. This is the true story of the Imperial Japanese Navy and its real and imminent threat to Australia in 1942.

1942, frequently relying on wartime Japanese documentation and primary source material, is a journey into the madness of the dysfunctional Imperial Japanese Navy. Of gentlemen warmongers in whites, intoxicated by victory and dreams of empire and glory.

It’s a voyage into the private worlds of fanatics and innocents, mostly based on the beautiful Seto Inland Sea of Japan, the heartland of the Imperial Navy, and in frenetic wartime Tokyo.  

Along the way we meet the staff officers and the grand admirals - eager war planners who for a few months had the fate of Australia in their hands; men casually and capriciously pondering idiotic battles and insane invasions. 

We journey into the lives of these passionate men, some infatuated with the concept of their own glorious death in battle; men who are prepared to risk everything, even the fate of Japan. We meet melancholy and expendable boys, like those forced to take their midget submarines to assured destruction in far-away places such as Sydney Harbour; proud and unquestioning youths with a love of life who shoot each other when the inevitable failure looms.

This is a Japanese story of cavalier and totally illogical naval thinking, desperate bravery and criminal stupidity. It also is a story of the Australian people left high and dry by Britain, genuinely shocked and fearful of invasion, and the steps an inexperienced leader John Curtin took to help save Australia.


In this light the Australian people’s genuine fear of invasion - a threat now ridiculed by a few revisionists as a myth - is seen as utterly justifiable. As risky as such an invasion of Australia might have been, it was a very real prospect in the minds of influential Japanese naval strategists and not a few within the army. But Imperial Army opposition at the very top and Japan’s changing fortunes prevented the invasion from becoming a reality.

In 1942 as Australians struggled to hold back the enemy, John Curtin called these times “Australia’s darkest days”. This is the story of just how close we came to being subjugated by the darkness of Japanese ‘co-prosperity‘. #

[Photo: The Japanese flagship of Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto, the IJNS Yamoto, world's largest battleship.]

1942 Australias Greatest Peril

New format third edition. Below, first and second edition of 1942.

"A very real possibility..."

1942: Bringing to life far off days when invasion threatened

Historian & author Professor David Day:

"In the event, the invasion of Australia never eventuated. This has led some historians to conclude that Churchill had been correct in dismissing it as a serious possibility.

Some have argued that an invasion of Australia was never on the Japanese agenda. Some have even gone so far as to argue that Curtin deliberately played on Australian fears during 1942 in order to boost the Australian war effort.

"In contrast, Bob Wurth draws on a multitude of Japanese sources to show how an invasion of Australia became a very real possibility in the wake of the unexpectedly easy Japanese success in destroying much of the American Pacific fleet, along with the British warships, Prince of Wales and Repulse, before the subsequent run of Japanese victories from Burma to Bougainville.

"With the fall of these vast territories, and the defeat of their defenders, the path to Australia had been cleared.

"There were powerful voices in Tokyo calling for their commanders to capitalize on their victories by also taking Australia out of the Allied equation. Prolonged debates ensued between Japanese naval and military officials before the issue was finally settled.

" In the event, it was decided that Australia was a territory too big and too far. Japan would try to isolate rather than invade Australia. Instead of being a tyranny, distance proved to be Australia’s best defence.

"In his immensely readable and historically rigorous book, Bob Wurth brings those far-off days to life in dramatic fashion, providing a new and important perspective to the ongoing debate. It is a story that all Australians should read."


"deep research woven into his page-turning story..."


Professor Alan Rix, the University of Queensland, author and expert on Japan:

" Bob Wurth's 1942 is a gripping account of the dangers Australia faced from Japan at the height of Japan's imperial expansion in World War 2. It uses documentary sources from both countries to assess invasion planning by Japan, and Australia's response to threats from the north.

"Attacks by Japan on Australia -- including the midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour -- show how unprepared Australia was, despite John Curtin's efforts.

"Wurth delves into the factions, the decision-making and the tense atmosphere of the wartime Imperial Japanese Navy and its ultimately doomed campaign to disable the United States naval forces and expand Japan's southern empire.

"With Wurth's deep research woven into his page-turning story, the reader is taken back to those tense days of the wartime 1940s. This is exciting history."


The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, December 1941.



Japanese foreign minister: "plan to attack Northern Australia..."

An essay by Bob Wurth.

Japan's wartime foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, in describing Japan's second phase of war operational planning after the initial victories, wrote in his memoirs about a Japanese move on Darwin.

Shigemitsu's words add to a long line of Japanese wartime officials who have spoken and written about invasion plans for northern Australia in 1942. Some Australian historians have labelled such plans nothing more than a 'myth.'

Shigemitsu was foreign minister from 1943 to 1945 and again from 1954 to 1956. He was the Japanese ambassador to the Soviet Union and then Britain before the outbreak of war in the Pacific.

Arriving back in Japan before the outbreak of war, he claimed he made every effort to prevent war and put his views to the Cabinet, service chiefs and in an audience with emperor Hirohito. He was charged with war crimes after the Japanese surrender and was jailed.

He wrote in 1958 about the Battle of the Coral Sea and the early part of the war in 1942 in his memoirs, Japan and her Destiny, published by E.P. Dutton & Co. of New York.

Shigemitsu said the first stage in the plan of Japan's campaign had been completed and essential sources of supply had been captured undamaged, including oil wells on Sumatra and Borneo.

He said the Japanese Army preened itself on the way its plan of campaign had worked out: "Within two months Singapore had fallen to the Japanese and the Army had occupied Manila and soon Rangoon, among numerous other victories."

Shigemitsu's words also help us understand the behaviour and thinking of the Imperial Navy:

"It seemed as though the Navy were merely crossing a no-man's land, so completely did it extend its area of conquest before its enemies had time to prepare their defences.

"Their pride was overweening and a certain Hirade, a naval propagandist, announced on the radio that the U.S. would be forced to capitulate on the steps of the White House.

"The mistaken impression that the war had already been won gained ground. The public lost their heads and any hope of their realising what a world war entailed was dispelled."

[Photo: USS Lexington ablaze and sinking in the Coral Sea Battle.]


Shigemitsu wrote about the Battle of the Coral Sea, a series of naval engagements which occurred off the north east coast of Australia between May 4 and May 8, 1942. He wrote that in the southern Pacific, Japan's field of operations had extended beyond New Britain to Guadalcanal at the south-east tip of the Solomons.

[Photo: USS Lexington ablaze and sinking in the Coral Sea Battle.]

"Southward again the capture of New Hebrides and New Caledonia would threaten sea-lanes between Australia and the U.S. and guard the stepping-stones behind them.

Taking Papua to cross from Timor to Northern Australia

"Further, in order to cross from Timor to Port Darwin in North Australia, it was necessary to have a firm grip on Papua (Australian Territory in New Guinea), for this would not only provide a useful base but would prevent the enemy counter-attacking from Australia."

Shigemitsu indicated how easy it would have been for Japan to occupy Darwin when he wrote: "Port Darwin had already been twice attacked by bombers and as a military bastation had been abandoned by the Australians.

"The capital of Papua was Port Moresby, which could be attacked both by sea and by land. The plan was for a task squadron to escort troopships from Rabaul round the eastern corner of New Guinea into the Coral Sea in order to attack Port Moresby from the sea. At this point it ran into an enemy aircraft squadron.

"The landing operation was thereby frustrated. Our squadron under Rear-Admiral Hara discovered the enemy squadron, led by the Lexington and the Yorktown under Rear-Admiral Fitch, and attacked. The Lexington was sunk (May 8th). The Yorktown was seriously damaged but escaped... Our squadron also was badly damaged and the sea attack on Port Moresby was abandoned."

Kokoda campaign: Northern Australia plan thwarted

Shigemitsu continued his memoirs with a brief comment on the campaign across the Owen Stanley Range over the Kokoda track: "Later, an attempt was made to capture Port Moresby by land but this effort also failed.

"The plan to attack Northern Australia was thwarted and, to make matters worse, the rear of our Solomon Island expeditionary force was harassed by the American counter-attack that developed."

Shigemitsu's references about Darwin are at odds with historians of the 'internationalist school' in Australia who believe that Australia was never seriously threatened by Japan and that the war with Japan was largely decided nowhere near Australia.

The 'internationalists', perhaps unwittingly, tend to minimalise Australia's role in the war and Japan's defeat.

Shigemitsu, when talking about attacking Darwin, is clearly not referring merely to bombing attacks. As he himself points out, at the time of this war planning, Darwin had already been bombed twice. The first devestating bombing attack on Darwin was February 15, 1942.

Possible army advance on Australia - Japanese expert

While some Australian historians are dismissive of any serious thought being given by Japan to an invasion of Australia, a senior history professor at Japan’s National Defense Academy at Yokosuka, Professor Hiromi Tanaka, in his writings and lectures, has readily acknowledged that there were those in both the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy in 1942 who were keen to invade Australia.

Professor Tanaka wrote of the Army’s considerations in a book published in 2004 by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra called ‘From a hostile shore. Australia and Japan at war in New Guinea.’ The book was edited by Steven Bullard and his colleague Keiko Tamura.

The book was based on essays and papers previously published. Here’s what Professor Tanaka had to say:

“The navy occupied Rabaul in order to protect its base on Truk, and then planned to invade Port Moresby in order to strengthen its position at Rabaul.

“The Japanese army sought to prevent Allied counter-offensives from Australia, and to expel any Allied forces from New Guinea in preparation for a possible advance on Australia.

"The failure of the overland and seaborne campaigns to capture Port Moresby signalled the end of these operations and the end of the first stage of the war.”

Mamoru Shigemitsu's work in 1958 on the meaning of the Coral Sea invasion of Port Moresby raises questions. It also focuses attention on the Japanese motivations and implications of the later unsuccessful plan to cross the Kokoda track and to occupy Port Moresby.


Know Thy Enemy & thyself...

Understanding the gravity

of our Japanese threat in 1942

How grave was the threat of invasion to Australia in those first few critical months of 1942?

In Autumn 2009 the Australian Army Journal published a lengthy essay by Bob Wurth in response to an AAJ essay by historian Dr Peter Stanley challenging the view that there was a Battle for Australia in the Second World War.

As the Journal said in an editorial, it had expected that Stanley's article would spark controversy: "We publish Bob Wurth's article in that spirit of fairness and balance."


Here is a summary of the article, Know thy enemy:

The wording might have changed a little since Chinese general Sun Tzu brushed ‘The Art of War’ in circa sixth century BC, but the meaning today is clear enough:

'Know thy enemy and know thyself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know thyself but not thy enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not thyself, wallow in defeat every time.'

If you argue that an enemy never harboured desires for your soil, one would
think that, had you the opportunity, you would go to the sources of the former
enemy to verify your contention. Regrettably some of our historians have not, nor
indeed spent time in Japan engaging in research. In reality, many Australians even
today know precious little of the behind-the-scenes motivations and machinations
of our former enemy and the thinking of that country’s militaristic leaders towards
us, especially in those heady and crucial days of early 1942, when Japan seemed
unstoppable and Australia’s future was being actively debated.

Description: http://www.1942.com.au/images/167_000.jpg

That Australians promulgate and accept the theory that an invasion threat was
minute or even that it did not exist, and thus a Battle for Australia commemoration
has no validity, might well demonstrate that on Sun Tzu’s score, apart from our lack
of knowledge about Japan’s intentions, we also know little of ourselves.

[Wartime and modern day naval headquarters, Kure, Inland Sea. Photo Bob Wurth, 2007.]

If our wartime history is to be reflected accurately, today’s Australians need to study the mind and motivation of the former enemy just as thoroughly as did the Australian generals in the war of 1941–45.

How different things are today in our relationship with Japan; with our close
economic ties, Australia now has a strategic defence partnership with Japan based on high ideals, including democratic values, a commitment to human rights, freedom and the rule of law, and attributes such as mutual respect, trust and deep friendship, to quote the bilateral defence agreement.

Snug, questionable 'internationalist' theories

[Yet] ... it is ironic that important aspects of our knowledge about the intentions of the former enemy between 1941 and 1945 and their full impact are blurred and misunderstood today. More alarmingly, this lack of reliable knowledge from our wartime past by those who should know better and the expression of questionable theories designed to fit snugly into a modern-day academic hypothesis, such as Australians today being indoctrination by wartime and pre-war propaganda, means that our future generations are being taught inaccurate and subjective history.

This lack of knowledge is preventable and unnecessary, for there is abundant
and compelling evidence on the gravity of Japan’s threat to Australia in 1942 and
related subjects available for any researcher’s seeking, especially in Japan. Primary
evidence includes Japan’s official war history series, Senshi Sosho, in its 102 volumes from the National Institute of Defense Studies (NIDS) in Tokyo, which is the main policy research arm of the Ministry of Defense. (The Australian War Memorial has translated one segment of one volume of Senshi Sosho in relation to Australia.

The complete 102 volumes in Japanese sit on the shelves of the National Library of
Australia in Canberra.)

Primary evidence on the Japanese threat also is available in Japan and elsewhere
in recorded interviews and interrogations of surviving Imperial Army and Imperial Navy officers, in their memoirs, diaries and books, and in the actual minutes of meetings actually discussing the invasion of Australia. One of Senshi Sosho’s senior contributors was Sadatoshi Tomioka, the former captain and later rear admiral, who as a war planner in the Imperial Navy’s General Staff, was one of the leading advocates of an invasion of Australia in 1942.

Description: http://www.1942.com.au/images/p05-tomioka-with-sword_002.jpg

Tomioka also wrote on the Australia issue in his Kaisen to shusen: Hito to kiko tokeikaku (The opening and closing of the Pacific war: the people, the mechanisms and the planning):

The enemy had to be beaten and victory won. In order to win, the enemy had to be denied the use of Australia as a base, no matter what. As long as the enemy had no foothold there, Australia could be taken. But if within the next two years the United States concentrated rapidly on aircraft production and made full use of Australia, Japan would never be able to resist the material onslaught which would follow.

Western countries, including the United States, have valuable resources on the
subject too. Many interviews with Tomioka are available through the Papers of
Gordon W Prange at the University of Maryland Libraries and other material is in
the Prange Collection at the University of Pittsburgh.

The editorial in the Australian Army Journal, Winter 2007, correctly predicted
that the oration/essay by Dr Peter Stanley, ‘Was there a Battle for Australia?’ would  be controversial. Stanley’s submission was a re-publication of the Australian War Memorial’s Anniversary oration, delivered on the eve of Remembrance Day before an invited audience on 10 November 2006.

Putting aside the appropriateness or otherwise of using a Remembrance Day eve oration to attack one’s critics, it should be noted that at the time of his address Stanley was the principal historian of the Australian War Memorial (AWM), a public employer which allowed him, to quote the AWM, ‘the intellectual freedom to research and publish his views, as you would expect by virtue of his position then at the Memorial’.

Japanese threat; an 'emotional saga'

Stanley's words were controversial not so much because they challenged the contentious idea of combining various battles or campaigns into one composite ‘Battle for Australia’, and commemorating it on a set day, but more so because they promoted what Stanley (pictured) described in his work as his ‘internationalist’ stance on Australia’s involvement in the Second World War.

This is a contentious stance which since May 2002 has challenged thoughts about the very basis of Japan’s aims and motives in the war as that nation looked southward to the Australian continent.

Description: http://www.1942.com.au/images/peterstanley_000.jpg

Dr Stanley argues in the Army Journal that proponents of the ‘Battle for Australia’ want to believe that Australia was under threat and it is this need that drives them to build an emotional saga around the Japanese menace and how Australian Servicemen prevented the cataclysm:

Those who advance this idea argue that from the outbreak of war with Japan Australia was the objective of the Japanese advance, and that 1942 saw a series of crucial campaigns that resulted in the defeat of this thrust. In some versions of the battle it is seen as continuing up to the Japanese surrender. The point of the Pacific war, they imply, was that Australia was in danger of attack or conquest, and that the significance of the campaigns in the south-west Pacific was that they prevented such a calamity.

Stanley and other like-minded ‘internationalists’ have long preferred to see
Australia’s Second World War contribution in the context of a global war, and ‘an international coalition against inter-continental enemies’ in an alliance in which Australia played as much a part as any and any other view is parochial. This idea was expounded rather forcefully by Stanley in the Griffith Review in 2005 when he wrote:

Why is it that stories of attack, invasion and incursion are so persistent? It seems to me that Australians want to believe that they were part of a war, that the war came close; that it mattered. Why can’t we as a nation accept that the war the Allies fought was decided far from Australia—in North Africa, north-west Europe and above all on the steppes of European Russia?

Why do we appear to want to believe that Australia really was threatened with
invasion, that it was attacked; even that Japanese commandoes really did want to
land on its shores? Set against the prosaic reality, the desire is poignant and rather

'Relatively unimportant events close to Australia...'

Description: http://www.1942.com.au/images/images_004.jpg

Dr Stanley castigated with a broad brush those who might differ:

In the eyes of nationalist historians, such as David Day, and popular writers who follow them, such as journalists Paul Ham and Peter FitzSimons, Australia faced an actual threat of invasion, a danger dispelled by a combination of a resolute Curtin in Canberra and heroic diggers in Papua.

...as he stated in the Australian Army Journal:

  ‘It promotes relatively unimportant  events close to Australia over important events far away, purely on rather simplistic calculus of proximity. It has become the new orthodoxy in Australian military history.’

  This is where feathers can become ruffled. Tell any old Digger, who fought for instance at Kokoda or Milne Bay, that their campaign was a ‘relatively unimportant event’ and watch the reaction.

Having the author of such words bearing the title of the principal historian of the Australian War Memorial, as they have, and the words become even more acerbic.

The changing words to outline the theory have been expressed in a variety of
hues. ‘No historian of standing believes the Japanese had a plan to invade Australia, there is not a skerrick of evidence’, Stanley lectured The Australian newspaper’s Higher Education section in an interview.

Key revisionist pillars

Four pillars to this academic hypothesis can thus be summarised:

1. Australia did not face an invasion threat from Japan.
2. Discussion of an invasion of Australia in Japan was an activity, quickly dismissed, by a few middle-ranking naval officers.
3. Australia’s defences in 1942 were not weak.
4. Australia’s wartime leader John Curtin, in an effort to motivate the Australian
public’s war effort, resorted to lies about the threat of invasion and his deception
skewed Australian thinking on the matter.

At the ‘Remembering 2002’ conference Stanley said it was common for Australians
to assume that the invasion threat was real:

So the popular perception is that Japan planned to invade Australia, would have had not the battle for Papua been won, and that the man responsible was the great war leader John Curtin. This paper takes issue with that perception.

He declared that there was no invasion danger:

An actual danger of invasion had never existed and the likelihood diminished through 1942 as Allied victories eroded Japan’s offensive capability.

Few who have studied the subject would argue that orders for the   invasion of Australia were ever issued. Simply, they were not. However, there is strong evidence to indicate that in the first three months of 1942, when Japan went from victory to victory, proposals to invade Australia were very actively considered by the Imperial Navy at a senior level. Indeed there were a variety of serious proposals coming from different naval sources.

Both the Combined Fleet at Hashirajima and Naval General Staff in Tokyo had their invasion plans, which at the very least can be described as a real and significant threat. Further, an influential navy, which had the Pearl Harbor success under its belt, repeatedly and frequently pressured the Imperial Army, sometimes in heated debate, to become involved in its schemes for the invasion of Australia and in its early stages even had some army support.

 Lightly dismissing  Tokyo's  invasion debate

Description: File:Announcement from Imperial General Headquarters2.JPG

In his book Invading Australia, Stanley contends:

 Again, it is important for Australians not to imagine that Imperial Headquarters argued for weeks just over Australia’s fate.

Certainly, the record shows that other options also were being debated. But it is ill-advised to dismiss lightly the level, strength and length of the debate on Australia and the Imperial Navy’s determination to see the invasion happen.

To suggest that at this time Australia was not seriously threatened is to deny the factual evidence.


In his 2002 address at the ‘Remembering 1942’ conference, Dr Stanley dismissed a Japanese invasion of Australia with the words:

In the euphoria of victory early in 1942 some visionary middle-ranking naval staff
officers in Tokyo proposed that Japan should go further. In February and March they proposed that Australia should be invaded … The plans got no further than some acrimonious discussions.

As we have seen, the proponents were neither restricted to middle-rankers nor
naval staff officers in Tokyo. They included influential admirals, including those in
Combined Fleet, and some generals. Stanley was following a flawed line expounded
by the ‘magisterial’ Frei, who simply got it wrong, about the middle-rankers.

Stanley, in his 2008 book, has dropped the dismissive ‘middle-ranking’ tag.

Curious views on Australia's 1942 military strengths

Another pillar expounded is that Australia’s defences were not weak in 1942.

As part of the process of downplaying the threat of invasion, while subscribing to
Churchill’s view that Curtin had been ‘panicky’ about invasion, Stanley has maintained that Australia in 1942 could have defended herself:

There is an exaggerated perception these days that Australia’s defences were ‘weak’:

‘Australia stood utterly defenceless’, writes Brian McKinley. But even before the
valorising of Kokoda began, the official historians thought the value of the Militia had been ‘written down’.


 No Japanese threat...

 Famous last words to a Bondi boy.

The wartime threat from Japan meant two unwanted stays in Cobar, in what is now called outback New South Wales, for Bondi boy Peter With, who was aged eight when war came to Sydney.

[Peter is pictured at the far right of this Daily Telegraph photo, left.]

Peter, now of Stanthorpe, Queensland, grew up in Bondi, living in Simpson Street, which overlooked the Rose Bay Golf Links.

Writing to the 1942 website, Peter said: “I remember when the two concrete promenades were demolished and barbed wire erected along the beach in 1941. Also a live firing exercise at night with tracers lighting up the coastline from Bondi to Maroubra.

“This all proved too much for my mother and in January, 1942, I was sent to
live at Cobar, which was a bit of a culture shock. My uncle returned from
the Middle East in May and wanted to know where I was. When informed, he said
‘Bring the kid home, as there was no threat from the Japanese.’Famous last

“I was overjoyed to arrive back home and had barely unpacked when the subs
came into the harbour. A few days later, the mother sub shelled the Eastern
Suburbs, with one of the shells landing in our street, about 150 yards from
our house!

“The shell didn't explode and after being removed, the locals were allowed to
inspect the damage. I had just squeezed through a barricade of matronly
buttocks to have a look, when the attached photo was taken by the Daily

" ‘Bloody Japanese’"! I thought, as I was back on a train to Cobar before I
knew it, finally returning in September to restart school at Bellevue Hill.

“I thought the location of one of the shells might be of interest to you, as
it was never revealed at the time, and now is largely forgotten. Congratulations on a great book.”

- Peter With, Stanthorpe, Qld.

"Curtin did not save Australia from any real threat."

Whipping up the fear of invasion or whipping up revisionism?

John Curtin watches Governor General Lord Gowrie sign Australia's declaration of war against Japan in December 1941. PHOTO JOHN CURTIN PRIME MINISTERIAL LIBRARY.

At a 'Remembering 1942' conference at the Australian War Memorial in 2002 - the gist of which was subsequently repeated for some years - Dr Peter Stanley insisted: “Curtin did not save Australia from any real threat. Instead, one of the lasting legacies of his whipping up of the fear of invasion has been a persistent heritage of bogus invasion stories.”

Dr Stanley was the principal historian for the Australian War Memorial for some 20 years when he publicly stated that John Curtin had left the nation a legacy of false stories about the gravity of the Japanese threat.

But on Friday September 5, 2008, while speaking to presenter Richard Glover on ABC Radio 702 in Sydney, the senior war historian at the Australian War Memorial was forcerd to recant his remarks on wartime leader John Curtin, admitting that he has been wrong about Curtin's legacy.

Dr Stanley was the principal historian for the Australian War Memorial for some 20 years when he publicly stated that John Curtin had left the nation a legacy of false stories.

 But speaking with drive-time broadcaster  Richard Glover on 702 ABC Sydney, he said:


"I am at a disagreement with myself. In 2002 I was arguing that Curtin was motivating the people by gingering them up about a possibility that there was an invasion and that that was quite a deliberate manipulation. And I have to say that I have changed my mind on that.

"In the research for this book over the last couple of years, I gained a deeper appreciation and a greater respect for John Curtin. And I now believe that he was absolutely sincere. Deluded perhaps, but sincere and he wasn't manipulating at all."

Dr Stanley, who was appointed director of the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia in early 2007, commented further on his change over Curtin's legacy on the ABC's Unleashed online opinion site:

"Of course I change my mind. My starting position is that when confronted with fresh evidence I modify my stance, providing it's persuasive. I chnaged my mind about Curtin as I read and thought more. Inconsistency in this is a virtue. I don't believe in taking a position and defending it to the death."

Later Peter Stanley wrote on the ABC's Unleashed website on 15 September 2008:

"Each time my ideas changed as I read more of the evidence and the relevant literature. Each time I wrote or spoke in good faith, willing to engage with and respond to criticisms. Why should I apologise for revising my arguments as I went? Should I have dug in and denied the validity of criticisms or perhaps ignored fresh evidence?"

During Stanley's years of strident criticism of Curtin's motives, he gave many lectures and address students and the public on the Japanese threat.

When asked online if he would apologise for using the Australian War Memorial's 2006 Remembrance Day oration in part to criticise critics of himself and his director, Steve Gower, Dr Stanley responded:

        "The Memorial's Oration was a perfectly legitimate occasion for its principal historian to express his views on an important subject. I did not cast anyaspersions on those who gave their lives for Australia in war - quite the reverse. Why should I apologise for doing my job?"

         On September 17, Dr Stanley wrote in the ABC's Unleashed site of Bob Wurth's work in 1942, Australia's greatest peril:

"I acknowledge that Bob has diligently found all sorts of stuff in Japan that supports his argument. I don't pretend that my Special Subject is 'Impractical proposals to invade Australia made by Japanese admirals early in 1942'.

"I've relied on the more expert work of historians such as Hedley Willmott and Henry Frei, and on the advice of various colleagues all more knowledgable about imperial Japan than me. But you don't have to read more impractical proposals to see the way events occurred."

Since 2002 Dr Stanley has argued that the threat of a Japanese invasion of Australia had more to do with 'myth' than reality.

Writing in the Weekend Australian on August 30-31, Peter Stanley expressed less flattering comments about Bob Wurth's work:

" 'Australia's greatest peril' isn't what the Japanese might have done in 1942. It's what ill-informed writers are doing to our history today.'"    


'Has Peter Stanley considered Japanese evidence?'

  He's Coming South - It's fight, work or perish (Propaganda poster referring to the threat of Japanese invasion. A Japanese soldier is stepping across the globe towards Australia with the Imperial Japanese flag behind him (Australian War Memorial)

Writing on the ABC's Unleashed website, Bob Wurth noted that Dr Stanley seemingly had not placed much emphasis in research for his book on Japanese versions of the debate about invading Australia.

Peter Stanley wrote on the ABC Unleashed site that he had relied on 'more expert work of historians such as Hedley Willmott and Henry Frei, and on the advice of various colleagues all more knowledgeable about imperial Japan than me.'

Wurth responded that this went to the gist of his point, that Dr Stanley’s knowledge of the subject from the Japanese side – after years of strong argument - might well be deficient if he relied primarily on Western historians.

"May I ask, how often did Dr Stanley go to Japan to research this matter? What is the Japanese documentation he has read or had translated from the Japanese? ... has Peter Stanley really carefully examined much of the available Japanese documentation as one should expect? It wasn’t all destroyed. There are minutes, diaries, memoirs, interviews and more."


Wurth has suggested that the number of Japanese book sources in Dr Stanley's recent book might indicate that the historians relies most heavily on Western historians, rather than the original source material from Japan and Japanese historians and authors, including senior officers, involved in Japan's war planning.

(See: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2351747.htm)

Dr Stanley's on air recantation on Richard Glover's programme about Curtin's legacy came three days after then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described the Japanese invasion threat as 'imminent' in 1942. "Never in our history was our nation so threatened" Rudd told a Battle for Australia commemoration at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

(See transcript of some of Kevin Rudd's remarks below).

Historian pleased that Dr Stanley's 'unfair views' on Curtin are recanted

Speaking on the same ABC Radio programme on September 5, 2008, Canberra author and historian Michael McKernan (pictured), said Peter Stanley's admission corrected unfair views:

 "I'm very pleased that he says that he has recanted on his views on John Curtin because I think it was unfair on what he said of Curtin; that he was manipulating the Australian people and I don't think there was any evidence of that and I do think that Curtin genuinely believed that there was a danger of invasion.."

Dr Stanley since 2002 has also maintained that the Japanese invasion threat against Australia in 2002 was a myth in the minds of "indoctrinated" Australians.

On Geraldine Doogue's Saturday Extra on Radio National on August 30 2008 he declared:


"Let's not magnify and exaggerate the threat to Australia because it really wasn't very real."

In the same programme, Peter Stanley offered another mea culpa:

"I was rather dismissive..."

"I have to say that when I first talked about this historical question, five years, six years ago, I was rather dismissive about the way Australians felt in 1942 and didn't quite understand the depth of their fear and why they were afraid and I'd like to think that this book addresses that deficiency, that flaw, because we do need to be respectful of the way people felt. We can't be dismissive. We can't say 'ahah, you were foolish to think that, weren't you? Because they weren't."

Dr Stanley may have been referring in particular to his statement in the Spring 2005 edition of Griffith Review, when he said:

"It seems to be that Australians want to believe that they were part of a war, that the war came close; that it mattered. Why can't we as a nation accept that the war the Allies fought was decided far from Australia - in North Africa, north-west Europe and above all on the steppes of European Russia?

"Why do we appear to want to believe that Australia really was threatened with invasion, that it was attacked; even that Japanese commandoes really did want to land on its shores? Set against that prosaic reality, the desire is poignant and rather pathetic."   #

Also see: James Bowen’s ‘Battle for Australia’ historical society website at:


Rudd: no doubt about 1942 invasion menace

"...there can be no doubt: Never in our history was our nation so threatened."

 Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of AustraliaKevin Rudd as prime minister spoke on the 'imminent threat' to Australia in 1942 in his address to the Battle for Australia commemorative ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on September 3, 2008.

Here's an edited version of the prime minister's speech:

"We know that some question whether there was indeed a Battle for Australia.

And yes, there’s fertile ground for historical debate on the views of Curtin and Churchill, the plans of the Japanese Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy, and what might have happened had the Japanese advance not been stopped at Milne Bay and Imita Ridge.

"But on this there can be no doubt: Never in our history was our nation so threatened. Never in our history was our future less certain. Never in our history was our determination to defend ourselves so fully tested.

"From the factories to the Volunteer Defence Corps, the air raid shelters and the barbed wire across the beaches.

"We’ll never know what success by the enemy might have meant for Australia – invasion, occupation or isolation. But we know that Australian soldiers at Milne Bay brought those forces their first defeat on land in the entire Pacific war. And we know it was from then that the course of the war began to change.

"We struggle today to understand just how serious Australia’s situation was in 1942.

The impregnable fortress of Singapore had fallen.

"Over 15,000 Australians had become prisoners of war. Prime Minister Curtin understood the threat. On the day that Singapore fell, he warned:  “The fall of Singapore can only be described as Australia's Dunkirk ... [The] fall of Dunkirk initiated the battle for Britain. The fall of Singapore opens the Battle for Australia.”

"And Curtin added: “What the battle for Britain required, so the battle for Australia requires.  That meant service and struggle and complete devotion for Britons in the defence of Britain.  It means the same thing for Australians for the defence of Australia.”

This was a battle that would involve all Australians. A fight for survival itself.

"The imminent threat was brought home just days later when Darwin was bombed.

"Curtin described it as the first 'physical contact of war within Australia'. He called on Australians to: 'vow that this blow at Darwin and the loss it has involved and the suffering it has occasioned shall gird our loins and nerve our steel'.

"But the Japanese imperialist forces kept advancing....

"Today, we commemorate the spirit of Curtin and all of those who served in this nation’s defence in the Pacific during our nation’s darkest time.

"Today, we carve a date in the nation’s calendar – the first Wednesday of every September – to remember this Battle for Australia.

"To remember a time when our nation was in peril.

"And to remember those who answered the call of their nation and risked their lives to defend the nation.

"British children learn their nation’s finest hour was when their troops stood alone against Hitler in 1940. And Americans learn that their Greatest Generation was the men who took Normandy in 1944 and Iwo Jima in 1945.

"Every year we remember the events at Anzac Cove that are etched so deep in our national memory. It’s often said, at Gallipoli our nation was born. But at the Battle for Australia, our nation stood up and confirmed that we as a nation, would endure.

"And that’s why we have come here today to remember Battle for Australia Day.

We remember that freedom is always purchased by sacrifice. And that liberty can only be guaranteed by courage.

For the complete speech, see:


'Japan planned full-scale invasion of Australia, says new book'



By Rod Moran

In September 1942, Japan's Prime Minister, General Hedeki Tojo,boasted that he would be able to occupy Perth by January the following year.He had every reason to be confident: Singapore, the lynch-pin of Australia's imperial defence, had fallen to the Japanese in a bloody campaign. Further afield, Australian island garrisons on Rabaul, Ambon and Timor were overrun.

Darwin had been attacked from the air, and New Guinea had been invaded, with the Japanese advancing over the Kokoda track to try and take Port Moresby, from which Australia's north was wide open. The nation appeared to be under threat of a full-scale invasion.

But was it? Some historians scoff at the suggestion, insisting Japan's only aim was to cut Australia off from both Britain and the US - anything more serious was mere chatter from a few junior officers.

But a new book, 1942: Australia's greatest peril, by journalist and historian Bob Wurth, says the Japanese archives reveal that there was an a serious proposal for an invasion, with debate at the highest levels of the Japanese military.

It will lend support to those who argue that there was a battle for Australia, the official commemoration of which is next Wednesday (Sept. 3).

The book states that, as early as January 1942, senior Japanese military personnel such as Captain Yoshitake Miwa were making plans. "We must think quickly about invading Australia," he noted in his journal on January 6. "The United States is now in the middle of reinforcing Australia, Fiji and Samoa."

Wurth says there were many references in Japan's official war history to plans to invade Australia. There were more references in memoirs and minutes taken by General Hajime Sugijama, chief of the Army General Staff, (pictured), General Hiromi Tanaka, and others, at meetings between the imperial navy and the army.

There were about seven admirals talking about an invasion in the first few months of 1942, says Wurth.

There was also evidence that general Tomoyuki Yamashita, the so-called Tiger of Malaya, proposed invading. When interviewed by British journalist John Potter post-war, while awaiting trial as a war criminal, Yamashita said: "Why, there were hardly enough Australians to have organised an effective resistance to the Japanese Army. All they could ever hope to do was make a guerilla resistance in the bush," Yamashita (pictured) said.

"With even Sydney and Brisbane in my hands it would have been comparatively simple to subdue Australia . . . We could have been safe there forever."

The invasion, of course, didn't happen. Disagreements between the Japanese navy and army, plus changes in the tide of the war by the end of 1942, saw the threat diminish and pass.

By Rod Moran in The Age, page 6, news, 29.8.2008. Also published in the West Australian.


There were many senior Imperial Navy officers in favour of an invasion of Australia at some stage during 1942.

Some historians have insisted that there were only 'a few middle ranking officers' - to quote one - who wanted to invade Australia.

But those who advocated an invasion of Australia in early 1942 included the commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

They also included Yamamoto's chief of staff Admiral Matome Ugaki; (pictured above front left and centre), the commander-in-chief of Japan’s second fleet, who led the southern invasion operations including the invasion of Malaya, Admiral Nobutake Kondo; the commander of the Japanese fourth fleet Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue; the commander of the second carrier division, Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi;  the head of the bureau of naval affairs within Naval General Staff Admiral Takasumi Oka; and many powerful naval war planners, including the chief of the operations section of Naval General Staff, Baron captain (later rear admiral) Sadatoshi Tomioka.

Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the initial invasions across the Pacific, the commander in chief, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, had chief of staff Admiral Matome Ugaki examine Japan’s ‘second stage’ offensives.  Initially Yamamoto insisted that Japan must follow through by aggressive action in all directions to keep the Americans off balance and allow Japan to expand the new perimeter until Washington sued for peace. But speed was of the essence.

Yamamoto told Ugaki, according to the war history series Senshi sosho, that he had three targets in mind: India, Australia and Hawaii. Of the three Yamamoto counted Hawaii as the most important, because of the strategic threat the Pacific base and its as yet untouched carrier fleet. The capture of Hawaii would allow Japan to take Midway in the mid-Pacific and Yamamoto knew that such an operation would draw out the US Pacific fleet for the Imperial fleet’s much anticipated “decisive battle”.

Australia was included in Yamamoto’s initial invasion plans because the commander-in-chief wanted a bold strategy which he called happo yabure, or “strike on all sides.” Among other considerations, Australia was seen as the obvious place where the United States would build up its forces to begin an eventual offensive against Japan.

But there were hurdles ahead if Yamamoto’s operation was to proceed. Any such proposals needed to be accepted by the Army, and that was a tougher nut to crack, before the emperor could consider approval of a final plan.

According to his diary, Ugaki (pictured) mused aboard Yamamoto’s flagship:

Admiral Ugaki

“Should we capture India after Burma, Hawaii, or perhaps Australia?”

After much personal study, Ugaki, an experienced strategist, in late January and early February came down favour capturing Australia’s north, among other landings. Ugaki’s operational planners in Combined Fleet embraced invading northern Australia, along with other strategic points. They submitted a plan to Navy General Staff which said in part: “Port Darwin must be taken."

Some radical middle-ranking Imperial Navy officers had extraordinary power and influence, and war planning was more often occurred ‘from the bottom up’ where the most senior officers were presented with plans from their subordinates for major offensives. The Imperial Army disagreed strongly with invasion plans for Australia and eventually won the debate with the navy.


Map from the Yasukuni shrine museum Tokyo showing the 'second phase operations' between February and April 1942 of Japan's southward thrust. The circle around northern Australia is labelled 'Australian invasion manoeuvres.'



1942, Australia’s greatest peril raises the spectre of Britain abandoning northern Australia in 1942 had Japanese forces captured points in the north.

In a war of words by cable from late 1941, Winston Churchill and John Curtin disagreed from the start about the level of the invasion threat to Australia. 

On 27 January 1942 the British prime minister had told the House of Commons that he was sure everyone sympathised with “our kith and kin in Australia now that the shield of British and American sea power has, for the time being, been withdrawn so unexpectedly and so tragically”.

Churchill said hostile bombers might soon be within range of Australian shores. But he thought the Japanese were likely to occupy themselves securing the rich prizes of the Philippines, Dutch East Indies and the Malay Archipelago:

“I think they are much more likely to be arranging themselves in those districts which they have taken or are likely to take than to undertake a serious mass invasion of Australia. That would seem to be a very ambitious overseas operation for Japan to undertake….”

The British Prime Minister was counting on Japanese logic, which was in short supply at the time. Churchill’s qualification of a ‘serious mass invasion’ should be noted because at this very time his own intelligence chiefs were suggesting that a limited invasion of Australia, namely at Darwin, was a distinct possibility:

“Japanese plans at this stage not thought to embrace major attack on Australia and New Zealand as distinct from raids as set out above. Only exception is attempt to occupy Darwin.” 

It was Churchill’s use of strong qualifying words like ‘heavily invaded’ and ‘localised attacks in the north’ that had ominous implications for the future of Darwin and the north in 1942. The British prime minister didn’t say it, but he might well have regarded the capture of Darwin and other northern Australian outposts, expected by many defence experts, as ‘localised attacks’ which could not be helped and therefore would not be re-enforced, so long as major populated southern manufacturing capitals remained safe a long distance away.

Curtin and MacArthur were keen to take the offensive against the Japanese, but London and Washington had higher priorities with their ‘beat Hitler first’ strategy. Churchill at this time was insisting that the Japanese probably were not planning to invade Australia in force. He thought there was a grave risk in over committing forces and weapons to Australia which would prejudice the build up of adequate forces in the Middle East and India.

Britain’s joint intelligence committee in reports in late January and early February 1942 expected a Japanese raid on Darwin or a landing to capture the northern port, even before the battle in Malaya was over:

“Before attempting any major operation against Australia and New Zealand, Japanese likely to attempt capture of Darwin, denying to us only possible bases in Northern Australia.”

Indeed, aboard the flagship Yamato at the Hashirajima anchorage, in the bay of Hiroshima in Japan's Inland Sea, officers of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Navy were giving serious consideration to proposals to invade Australia.

These proposals were put forweard by Combined Fleet planners and a number of senior seagoing admirals. They were also being discussed at Naval General Headquarters in Tokyo, especially by Vice Admiral Sadatoshi Tomioka (pictured) who famously said: "We can capture Australia!"


Further web coverage of Australia and the Pacific war, click on:



One young sailor's story:

In the middle of war in

Sydney Harbour, 1942

Ernie Jamieson, left, pictured with his brother Frank in January 1942, was a lonely 19 year old able seaman in Sydney on May 31, 1942 attached to the training ship HMAS Bingera on Sydney Harbor. As he returned to his ship on a workboat via Garden Island, the American cruiser USS Chicago, below, opened fire on a Japanese midget submarine.

Ernie Jamieson had just stepped off the workboat when all hell broke loose:

“The workboat had taken off and the skipper found himself in the outer beam of the searchlight. He reversed hard, very hard, and hit the pontoon and bounced out again into the light with tracers zooming past him! We had a ringside view of all this and it was spectacular.”

Soon after the midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour, in which all six Japanese submariners died, Japanese submarines began an intensive campaign of sinking ships off the New South Wales and Victorian coast.

Ernie Jamieson, in his papers held at the Australian War Memorial, tells of being aboard the Bingera.

The training ship sent out in high seas to pick up survivors from the bulk ore carrier, the Iron Chieftain, which had been torpedoed off Lakes Entrance, north of Sydney. Twelve were killed and 37 took to lifeboats which made it ashore.  When the Bingera arrives at the scene, there was one survivor in the sea, according to Ernie Jamieson:

“We found and rescued only one survivor. He was floating on a wooden door in the midst of a lot of wreckage.

"He was very lucky. As we hauled him aboard we saw a very large triangular shaped fin circling around the flotsam.”

A nephew writes:

Understanding what they went through

Ernie Jamieson’s story is included in the book ‘1942’.  His nephew, Ian Jamieson, has emailed the following note : 

“Dear Bob,

“My daughter gave me 1942 for father’s day and I want to thank you for giving me a better insight to my early years. My parents were married in May ‘42 and dad started in the Army in the 58th Battalion before switching to the RAAF. I think it was around 1943 he left for Gould airstrip near Bachelor, in the Northern Territory.  He was a navigator in Beauforts which flew mostly over Timor.

“I was born in Sept ‘43 and lived with mum and dad's parents in Albert Park, Victoria, for the duration of the war.

“I now have a better understanding of what they must have gone through.

“What a surprise it was to come across my uncle Ernie Jamieson in your book. I had no idea he was close to the subs in Sydney harbour. I thought his wartime experience was solely on the Arunta. Sadly, Ernie is an 86 year old now living alone in Perth. His wife, son and daughter have all preceded him.”

Ian Jamieson


The Japanese midget submarine raid on Sydney harbour,MAY 1942....


Mother sub off

Sydney in '42 saw

huge explosion

Japanese officers waiting in a mother submarine off southern Sydney briefly cheered the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbor in 1942, thinking their midget submarines had scored a major victory.

 In the book, 1942, Australia's greastest peril, Bob Wurth reveals for the first time the reaction of the officers who were waiting on the surface off Cronulla.   

Elated Japanese officers in the sub’s conning tower off Sydney saw a great explosion and quickly passed news back to Japan that the midget submariners had scored a big success on the night of May 31.

In fact, the explosion was that of the old Sydney ferryboat HMAS Kuttabul, pictured below, used as accommodation for RAN seamen. Divers later recovered 17 bodies from the sunken vessel. 

The incident during the midget submarine attack on May 31, 1942, was obtained by the author researching records from the Archives of Industrial Society at the University of Pittsburgh.

The details were contained some of previously unpublished sections of the diaries of Admiral Matome Ugaki, who was chief of staff to the commander in chief, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

Admiral Ugaki received the message aboard Yamamoto’s flagship, the super battleship Yamato, which at the time was heading towards the decisive Midway battle zone. 

In his diary Ugaki pondered the fate of the six submariners:  

Big water spout signals 'daring attack'

 “None of the midget sub crew who made a surprise attack on Sydney were recovered, and the mother sub suspended their search. 

“As one of our subs staying south-by-southeast of the harbor noticed at 2200 [approximate Tokyo time] to the left of the harbor entrance light a big water spout almost three times as big as the light, which seconds later went down, it seems certain that our midget subs made a daring attack.”  

But Admiral Ugaki added to his diary:  

“On the other hand, the Australian defense headquarters announced that a torpedo hit a naval auxiliary vessel and another one exploded in her vicinity with a result that she was sunk … two sunken midget subs are possible to be salvaged, as their positions are ascertained. Searches are being made for another midget sub and their mother subs. 

“Although they claimed that our attack was unsuccessful, their shock received from our attack must have been tremendous.”  

The Kuttabul was sunk by the midget sub M-24 containing Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban, 23, and Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe, 24.  

Their submarine was found off Long Reef, Sydney, in 2006. It is thought that Ban and Ashibe never left their midget sub. On escaping through the Sydney Heads, Ban and Ashibe had turned north rather than south where their mother sub, the I-24 was waiting. 

In the early hours of Monday morning, June 1, 1942, the I-24 was spotted by a Sydney trawler.

Rear Admiral Gerard Muirhead-Gould in Sydney flashed a message to the Naval Board in Melbourne which should have been taken as the tip for major aerial searches close offshore from Sydney’s southern beaches:


But Sydney’s defences were poor and the mother sub was not attacked.

Ships sunk 

A few days after the midget attack on Sydney, the Japanese began an intense campaign to wreak as much destruction as possible on commercial shipping along the east coast of Australia. Some of the attacks were so close offshore, people living along the coast would see and hear the explosions.  

The first attack came on the night of 3 June. The I-24, which had carried Ban and Ashibe and their midget submarine to Sydney, was now 35 miles off Sydney when an approaching ship was spotted. The big sub surfaced. At 10.18 pm, using its deck gun, the submarine began to shell the coastal steamer the Age, of 4,734 tons, heading to Newcastle from Melbourne.

The Age sent out a distress message and immediately put on maximum speed. The Age managed to flee at top speed in heavy seas towards Newcastle, reaching the port the next morning without damage.  

But disaster quickly struck. Sydney Radio received a signal from the Australian bulk carrier Iron Chieftain, pictured below, owned by the BHP steelmaker, carrying coke and ship building material south to Whyalla in South Australia.The ship had been torpedoed. 

IRON CHIEFTAN i.e. Chieftain [picture]

The Iron Chieftain sank quickly, killing 12, including Captain L. Haddelsey, who was last seen standing on the bridge with another officer as the ship went down. Lifeboats containing 37 survivors landed on the beaches around Lakes Entrance, north of Sydney. Aerial searches were immediately carried out.

[Detail from the book 1942. Bob Wurth has never argued that the 1942 Sydney raid was in any way associated with any suggested invasion of Australia. In 1942, he describes the raid as "a side-show."

The Sydney Harbour explosion record is not included in the edited version of Admiral Ugaki's diaries published as Fading Victory, University of Pittsburgh Press, edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon.]


Japanese eyewitness account:

Newcastle gunners almost

hit Japanese sub


The gunners at Newcastle’s Fort Scratchley in 1942 came closer to sinking a Japanese submarine that fired on the city than was ever thought, despite never actually seeing the sub.

In ‘1942, Australia’s greatest peril’, an officer standing on the deck of the submarine, who is alive and active in Japan today, described for the first time how close the Australian six inch shells came to the big sub:

[Picture: Pilot Susumu Ito in 2007 with a wartime photo of himself alongside his aircraft.]

In the darkness of Monday June 8, 1942, Lieutenant Susumu Ito, a zealous young flying officer, scrambled up into the dripping conning tower of the I-21, as soon as the sub,  carrying more than 100 men, surfaced in Stockton Bight.  

It was a week after the Japanese midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour and less than two hours after another Japanese submarine began shelling suburbs around Sydney Harbour. The I-21 had carried Susumu Ito’s ‘Glen’ float plane from Japan to Sydney in a specially constructed hanger on the deck of the submarine.

Ito had taken off from the mother sub before the midget submarine raid on Sydney and had conducted reconnaissance over the harbour without interception. But when he landed near the submarine in a rough sea, Ito’s aircraft flipped over and was badly damaged and had to be sunk by the submarine crew. Ito felt shamed and apologised to the sub’s captain submarine, Matsumura Kanji.

Ito, a strong swimmer, had almost drowned struggled in his jump suit loaded down with a pistol and many rounds of ammunition. Now off Newcastle, knowing that the six men who had manned the midget submarines at Sydney had been lost, the young flying officer was keen to see the enemy punished.

Gunners raced to the sub’s 5.5-inch deck gun and began firing the first of 34 rounds towards Newcastle, aiming at the shipyards at Carrington and at the steelworks at Kooragang Island. The Japanese knew Newcastle well as a vital industrial port.

[Picture: Susumo Ito with Bob Wurth and translator Kyal Hill in Iwakuni, Japan.]

Important documents had been recovered from the wreck of the midget submarine M-22 in Sydney Harbour. They included Japanese call sign lists, operational orders and code words. Japanese copies of British Admiral charts included photographs of important targets. There were shots of the Sydney Harbour naval base at Garden Island, the Hawkesbury River railway bridge and the steelworks at Newcastle.

The gunners on the I-21 were firing from a position of about 5,000 metres off Newcastle’s Fort Scratchley.  Some of the shells failed to explode. Faulty shells and torpedoes were to plague the Japanese submarines in their subsequent attacks on shipping off the east coast of Australia, including Newcastle.

Some 24 shells fell in the area of Newcastle’s power station and customs house, causing minor damage. Faulty shells caused minimal damage when failing to explode. An unexploded shell damaged a storage shed at the steelworks.

The attack caused few injuries. One shell landed on an elevated park near the Parnell Place air raid shelter, sending jagged shrapnel in all directions. Two small boys were in a house and saw the gun flashes at sea from their bedroom window. Their mother raced upstairs and brought the boys to safety just before a shell exploded, wrecking their bedroom. Young Peter Wilson was photographed by the Newcastle Morning Herald beaming from the scattered window and was called “the luckiest boy in town.”

Until now the Fort Scratchley gunners have been dismissed as being ineffective, but the reality is a little different. After an unexplained delay of 13 minutes when the Japanese shells began to land, the gunners at Fort Scratchley (picture left) eventually fired on the enemy vessel with only four rounds from one of the six inch guns. Gunners in the fort could not see the sub but could see occasional flashes from the sub’s gun.

[Photo: Model of a Glen float plane on the deck of a Japanese submarine on display at the Yamato Museum, Kure.]


Pilot Susumu Ito was on the conning tower of the 1-21 taking in all the action. I meet him in the summer of 2007 his four-storey office building at the city of Iwakuni on the Seto Inland Sea south of  Hiroshima.

At 92, he still presides over his stationary and office equipment company, drives his own car to work and travels frequently. Ito prides himself of his mental alertness and fitness. He literally bounds up the stairs to his vast conference room, where he orders tea and casts his memory back to Newcastle, recalling how close the Fort Scratchley shells really came to the I-21:

“There’s a shipyard at Newcastle and they returned fire from the Newcastle guns. They fired shells at us and they came pretty close. We knew it [our gunfire] wouldn’t be very effective but we wanted to cause concern for the people and make them feel uncomfortable.

“I was on the bridge watching the gunfire. The enemy shells hit the water with a splash. That was scary. If they hit us we were dead. Even one would sink us. Usually if a sub comes up to fire guns, you don’t expect return fire.”

Ito could see the explosions ashore as some of the sub’s shells burst. But the submarine’s captain was cool and indicated that he was in no hurry to dive:

“Captain Matsumura Kanji was the most courageous of all the submarine captains. We did not dive and kept firing for a time. But I was thinking … we should get out of there.”

Eventually theI-21 submerged and was not damaged.

A great many Australians at the time believed that Australia now was ripe for invasion. Soon after the Newcastle shelling, one mother, Catherine Hitchcock, of Wallsend, slept with a carving knife under her pillow, determined to protect her clan should the worst occur. He husband was away in the RAAF and Mrs Hitchcock had responsibility for her grandmother Kate, 83, her great Aunt Maud, in her sixties, together with two boys, Phil, aged 10, and John, born at home 10 days earlier.

Invasion threat nothing but a "myth"

Revisionist historians in Australia in recent years have described the Japanese invasion threat in 1942 as a ‘myth’. The book 1942 documents the seriousness of the Japanese invasion threat to Australia, especially in the first few months of 1942, when influential elements of the Imperial Navy, including prominent admirals, actively debated invasion.  However, the Navy was consistently blocked in its proposals by the Imperial Army, who wanted to go on the defensive and reinforce the huge new empire it had carved out for Japan.

Using Japan’s official war history, diaries, minutes of meetings, autobiographies and other Japanese sources, 1942 lists a string of admirals and captains who were keen to invade Australia.

Newcastle was listed as being a prime target for the Japanese. Australian defence chiefs as early as December 11 1941 in an assessment to Prime Minister John Curtin reported that Sydney and the wider coastal industrial regions of New South Wales, as well as the munitions producing city of Lithgow, were seriously threatened:

“The most probable form of attack on mainland Australia [is] naval and air bombardment of important objectives (such as industrial works at Sydney, Newcastle and [Port] Kembla by a fast capital ship and cruisers with or without aircraft carriers. Sea-borne raids against selected land objectives was possible.”

The chiefs thought the capture of any of the outlying islands would provide the enemy with bases for the development of attacks against the mainland of Australia. The greatest threat was to Darwin, with its naval and air force base and to the exposed northern coastline of Australia.

Early February 1942, General Iven Mackay, officer in charge of Home Forces, set out broad principles of action to be taken to meet an early invasion. He was concerned that Japanese aircraft from carriers might attempt to destroy the BHP steelworks at Newcastle and metal factories at Port Kembla.

In February 1943 Susumu Ito (pictured early in the war) took off in another float ‘plane bouncing over the sea in moonlight and circled Sydney. Clearly recalling the flight 65 years ago, he was still cocky:

“I took off in the middle of the night. I can’t remember the time. Our submarine had been in action against shipping in the Solomons and at Bougainville.

“I was trying to be careful to make sure no-one knew it was a Japanese plane. I thought people wouldn’t know its nationality. It was nearly a full moon. Sydney Harbour was very illuminated. I could see very well.

“When I got to South Head they began shooting at me, but couldn’t reach me. I was up about 2,000 metres and far out off the coast. So there was not a chance of them hitting me. I knew they wouldn’t hit me and so I wasn’t scared at all.”

Susumu Ito flew around for about two hours attracting the attention of anti-aircraft and searchlight crews. No aircraft challenged him. He was hoping to find large British and US warships in Sydney Harbour, but there were none. Ito eventually headed up the coast in the moonlight and landed on the water near an island which he described as being ‘somewhere well north of Newcastle’. The mother submarine quickly surfaced, recovering Ito and his floatplane.

In Iwakuni last year, Susumu Ito, still the proud warrior, has no apologies to make:

“I had a definite purpose for my reconnaissance flights. My role was to find warships … We in Japan have the warrior spirit. If I tell you my feelings it is respect towards the Royal Australian Navy handling of the situation [funeral honours for the midget submariners who were killed].

“All of us who participated in some way are extremely grateful. Because of that my feelings about Australians are that they are beautiful people. I appreciate what they did. You don’t see that very often at all.”   #

Ambassador took

submariners' ashes home;

ostracised for his

Australian friendship

The Japanese envoy who took home the ashes of four of the submariners killed in the midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour raid in 1942 was ostracised for preaching friendship with Australia in wartime Japan.

The envoy thought the midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour at the end of May 1942 was a brave but stupid bungle, writes Bob Wurth:

Tatsuo Kawai the first Japanese minister, effectively ambassador, to Australia sailed into Sydney Harbour in March 1941 as an ardent fascist. He was to become devoted to Australia’s wartime leader John Curtin.

(Kawai is pictured proposing a toast as president of the Japan-Australia Society in the 1960s at a luncheon for the Australian minister, Jack McEwen.Photo, Kawai family photograph, in Bob Wurth collection, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Perth.)

Kawai wasn't always known as a pacifist. As spokesman for the foreign ministry in Tokyo in the late ‘thirties, Kawai had been Japan’s international voice of territorial expansionism. He soon met Opposition leader John Curtin at Government House in Canberra and became intrigued.

 “Tatsuo was deeply impressed with Mr Curtin’s simple, unpretentious manner of speaking”, wrote his senior aide, Tsuneo Hattori, who was present when they met. He said Curtin also appeared to take note of Kawai’s solid character. “Before he left he made a promise to meet with Kawai soon. Following that the two men became increasingly close, baring their hearts to one another and exchanging opinions.”

(Diplomat Tsuneo Hattori, below , is pictured in 1941 with Tatsuo Kawai at the ambassador's Melbourne residence, Carn Brea at suburban Auburn. Photo John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Wurth collection.]

With the approval of the Menzies Government, Curtin met frequently with Kawai in to maintain the peace between Japan and Australia. Kawai sensed increasing nationalism in the Labor Party and hoped for greater Australian independence from Britain and a form of neutrality.

Their secret talks were not without rancour but as time went on, Kawai’s admiration for Curtin grew. Kawai mellowed under Curtin’s influence, smoothing the more abrasive edges of his character.

Kawai later would write that he did not know in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbour, nor of the raid by midget submarines on Sydney Harbour in May 1942.

When the submarines were discovered, the harbour became alive with searchlights and sirens, shells and depth charge explosions and the rattle of machinegun fire. One midget submarine, the M-24, commanded by Lt. Katsuhisa Ban fired two torpedoes at the US cruiser the Chicago.

(Chicago pictured below. Above: Letter declaring war from Australia's foreign minister H.V. Evatt to Tatsuo Kawai, who was under house arrest at his residence Carn Brea, in Melbourne.)

The first torpedo failed to explode. The second missed the Chicago,(below), hit a seawall at Garden Island and exploded, sinking the Kuttabul, an old ferry used as a depot ship, killing 21 naval ratings.

Ban, 23,and his navigator Mamoru Ashibe, 24, after a terrible battering, managed to escape from Sydney Harbour. Their midget submarine was found in in  November 2006 by a group of diversoff Long Reef.

Ban (archival picture Rob Gilhooly, Tokyo) and Mamoru had sailed north in their midget after escaping the Harbour in 1942, rather than going south where their mothership the I-24 was waiting to pick them up. The midget submariners had a pact that they would never return to the mother submarines for fear of exposing more than 100 men and the submarine to attack.

On the night of the midget submarine raid, the British bornGovernor General of Australia Lord Sandy Gowrie watched the raid from Admiralty House, Kirribilli. He wrote to King George: “We couldn’t actually see the submarines, but we could see the small craft buzzing about dropping depth charges and searchlights moving all over the surface of the water.”  

Gowrie saw benefits in the Sydney raid. He wrote in a draft to the king: “One had long hoped that something of this kind would occur in order to bring home to the people of Australia the reality of the dangers with which they are faced.”

One submarine ran into a net strung across the harbour and the two young crewmen killed themselves by detonating a bomb. Another midget craft was pounded by depth charges. When two bodies were recovered, they had been shot in the head with a revolver. A third midget submarine with another two men aboard was never recovered.

The Nippon Times in Tokyo later dramatically quoted Tatsuo Kawai: “We gripped the paper tightly and were moved to tears by the news. Who would have thought that the brave men of the Imperial Navy would make such a thrust at the very heart of the enemy? The dauntless, invincible spirit of the Japanese Navy threw the 7,000,000 inhabitants of Australia into the depths of fear and despair.”      

Yet Kawai’s truer feelings were quietly expressed in dark verse written at the time in Australia in which his conversation to pacifism began to emerge:

     Deep under the water they cannot come up; they die there regrettable – more good men This clumsy surprise attack failed: they died fighting with the enemy; astonishing Bullets and blades bloodshed and death: now I know exactly how easy it is to die

Chief of the Navy Press, Captain Hideo Hiraide, had a warning on Tokyo Radio:  “If Australia ignores Japan’s repeated warnings…a great and serious disaster will befall the peaceful land of Australia and… it will be turned into a veritable scene of dreadful carnage.”

On June 7 the Sydney naval chief, Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould, informed Kawai that the bodies of the four submariners would be cremated in two days, “if he had no objection.” Kawai “deeply appreciated” the admiral’s courtesy. He asked that wreaths be sent in his name and that he be allowed to take the ashes back to Japan. The Curtin Government agreed.

Muirhead-Gould, seconded from the Royal Navy, ensured that Australia honored the Japanese as heroes.  The bodies of the four submariners were laid in coffins draped with the Rising Sun and incongruously carried on the shoulders of Australian sailors. Another naval corps followed with guns pointed down and heads lowered in homage.

The silence was broken by the salute of three minute-guns and the Japanese corpses were cremated to the reverberating peal of the bugles. (Pictured).   

The rear admiral was criticised widely for according the military honors which came as Japanese troops were bayoneting Australian prisoners. Twenty days after the Japanese raid the Muirhead-Gould asked in a broadcast why Australians shouldn’t honor such bravery: “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?”

The reality of war now entered the ambassador’s living room at his Melbourne mansion: “As I gazed every morning and night at the coffers containing the ashes of the heroes, the thought of their loyalty and bravery, transcending life and death, invariably overwhelming me with gripping emotion." (Photo: Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe, who died in the M-24 with Lt. Ban.)

Kawai and his staff and hundreds of Japanese nationals were returned to Japan on the diplomatic exchange ship Kamekura Maru in August 1942. Four urns containing the ashes of the submariners were placed on an altar on the ship.

The Japanese exchange ship was the scene of several memorial services as the ship sailed to Japan in the latter half of 1941. The services were led by Ambassador Kawai and the ship's captain (pictured below, front left, during a service aboard ship.)

The Kamekura Maru (pictured below arriving at Yokohama port in October 1942) was met by relatives and friends of the four dead submariners recovered from Sydney Harbour when it docked at Yokohama port in October 1942.

'no bitterness in my heart...'

Leaving Melbourne, Kawai (pictured below in his formal diplomat's uniform) had made a remarkable statement for an enemy envoy:

“Those Australians who know how I struggled to avert war in the Pacific will understand when I say my spirit has been broken. The gods decreed that Japan and Australia should go to war, and it is a case of kill or be killed, but there is no bitterness in my heart toward Australia. When peace comes, the white man and the Asiatic must go hand in hand with each other in the Pacific.”

Captain Philip Proctor, in charge of the guard at Kawai’s residence and a frequent chess partner, wrote to superiors in Canberra that Kawai was most disappointed at the turn of events. “I am of the opinion that he, personally, is genuine in the expression of this sentiment, but that it is probably on the ground that he is by nature a pacifist.”

Back in Japan, the submariners were accorded national honours. Kawai met the relatives of the four young men aboard ship in Yokohama. After a service, Kawai invited the families to a lounge downstairs, as the Press crowded around: “Pray be seated” Kawai said. “Let me recount the scene of their heroic end. Glorious indeed was their end. Look at this photograph. It is of the naval funeral held by the Australian Navy. Even the enemy was moved by the daring of the heroes.”  Mothers and fathers listened attentively with deep nods, tears filling their eyes, Kawai recalled. Even though Japan was at war with Australia, Japanese newspapers grudgingly acknowledged the chivalry of the Australians.

But Kawai quickly fell out of favor. On a return visit to see Curtin’s widow Elsie in 1959, Kawai recorded that in 1942 he resigned from the diplomatic service “after the preliminary honour of having lunch with Emperor Hirohito”. Kawai said he made one public speech in Japan trying to persuade the Japanese “not to hate Australians because their countries would become neighbours”, but made no more speeches because he had annoyed the military authorities.

Kawai was ostracised in wartime Japan and retreated at his little house at Manazuru (pictures below), on the bay of Sagami, south of Tokyo, to work his tangerine farm.

His neighbour and friend at Manazuru, Toshiro Takeuchi, (pictured), an innkeeper, in 2002 remembered Kawai as highly critical of Japan’s war, thinking it utter madness for Japan to “take on the world”, as he put it.

Towards the end of the war Tatsuo Kawai worked with the liberal Shigeru Yoshida, later peacetime prime minister, to bring about a Japanese surrender. Kawai secretly went to China and was in clandestine talks when the atomic bombs were dropped.

Immediately after the war Kawai became Japan’s vice minister for foreign affairs. Later as head of the Japan Australia Society, supported by local industry and commerce, he worked to re-start trade with Australia. During a trip to Japan in 1950 prime minister Robert Menzies visited Kawai at his Manazuru retreat house to discuss the resumption of trade.

Best friend

Tatsuo Kawai revered John Curtin, who had died just before the end of war with Japan in 1945. He told Elsie Curtin in 1959 that he regarded Curtin as “one of my best friends” and called him “a wonderful man.”

The Kawai and Curtin families resumed their friendship soon after the end of the war. 

Kawai is pictured at the Curtin house at Cottesloe in 1959 with Curtin's widow, Elsie, whom he gave a drawing by his neice. (Photo The West Australian, courtesy of the J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History.)


The family relationship, which included the exchange of letters and cards, photographs and gifts, lasted until 2001 when the Curtin’s daughter Elsie went into a nursing home.

For many years after the war Kawai’s Japanese friends and colleagues in Australia would gather at cherry blossom time at Kawai's little house (left) at Manazuru overlooking the sea and would salute the Australians and the submariners who gave their lives raiding Sydney.

Kawai’s friends recalled in odes to the former diplomat that even on his deathbed in 1966, Kawai’s last words were exhausted in urging those present to do more for the Japan-Australia relationship.