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Tuesday, 2 June 1942

Senator ASHLEY (New South Wales) (Postmaster-General) . - by leave - On behalf of the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin), I inform the Senate that an enemy attempt was made during the night of Sunday, the 31st May and the morning of Monday, the 1st June, to destroy shipping in Sydney Harbour by a submarine attack. The attempt was unsuccessful, its failure being due to the preparedness of our defences for such an attempt, and the prompt counter-attack carried out by harbour defence vessels and other warships in the harbour. It would appear that three enemy submarines participated, in the attack. They were all destroyed. The total damage inflicted by the submarines before their destruction was the sinking of a Sydney ferry steamer used as a depot ship for naval ratings. It is regretted that, of the personnel on board the vessel at the time, six naval ratings were killed, and thirteen are missing, believed killed. Their next-of-kin have been informed. In addition, ten ratings were injured. That was the total loss inflicted by the enemy.

Long before Japan entered the war, and at a time when Australia seemed remote from the possibility of actual naval attack, steps had been taken to safeguard the defences of our ports. Fortunately, therefore, with Japan's entry into hostilities, we were well prepared for any such event. The completeness of those preparations was made apparent to the enemy in its attack on shipping in Sydney Harbour. It must be recognized that the form of attack was difficult to counter. The enemy used midget submarines, which are able to make an entry through channels denied to a larger ship. Furthermore, as midget submarines carry only two men and are built for the definite object of destruction, including self-destruction, no consideration is given by the enemy to their subsequent fate. Those in control of such vessels can afford to concentrate on their one objective, regardless of the consequences to themselves. That the attempt by such midget craft to enter Sydney Harbour in the middle of the night was instantly detected, and that the counter measures were so prompt and so effective, reflects credit on those responsible for the harbour defences, and should prove both a disappointment and a deterrent to our enemies.

The first alarm was given by a patrol vessel at Sydney Heads shortly before 10 o'clock on Sunday night. Before 10.30 o'clock the submarine, which had been attempting to penetrate the outer harbour defences, had been destroyed before entering the harbour. It was sunk, and divers have since located the wreck on the sea floor. Meanwhile, the alarm having been given, patrol vessels and warships in the harbour were on the alert, and two enemy submarines which succeeded in entering the harbour were quickly dealt with. At about midnight, one of them succeeded in firing two torpedoes in the harbour. One torpedo sank the naval depot ship previously referred to; the other ran harmlessly ashore and failed to explode. These were the only torpedoes that the enemy succeeded in firing. Of these two submarines, one was sunk in the harbour, and it has been located on the bottom by divers. A full examination of the submarine will be made. The third submarine, though its wreckage has not yet been located, has undoubtedly shared the fate of its companions. The search for it is being continued. Obviously, it is not desirable that I should describe the defence measures adopted. In the destruction of the enemy submarines, gun-fire and depth-charges played a part, but of the other measures, such as the means taken to ensure detection of the enemy's presence, I cannot speak. I can say, however, that those measures, as Sunday night's events show, are effective and# are ably administered. They will continue to -function effectively, so that any subsequent attempt which the enemy may make will be dealt with as successfully as was its abortive effort on Sunday night.

Apart from the losses to personnel, we have good grounds for satisfaction with the results achieved. The enemy, on the contrary, failed ; the measure of our success i3 that of his disappointment. The Senate and the Naval Board express their sincere sympathy with the nextofkin of those who lost their life.

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