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Japanese Sneak Attack on Sydney Harbor

The year 1942 was one of crisis for the Allied cause in the South Pacific. Until May, almost everything had gone in favor of Imperial Japan. In that month the Japanese were stalemated at the Battle of the Coral Sea. If the Japanese Navy had succeeded in capturing Port Moresby at the southeastern tip of the island of New Guinea, Australia would have been in dire straits. In this desperate time, the threat was still serious as the Imperial Fleet could return at any time.

This was a threat the Australians felt more than any. The nation was large, resource rich, and relatively wealthy while simultaneously underpopulated, poorly armed, and isolated. Australia lacked the population required to support an army capable of resisting Japan. Much of its military was spread elsewhere with a portion lost in Singapore, and many of its troops were fighting the Germans and Italians in North Africa. Vast distances separated the island nation from its most vital allies, the United Kingdom and the United States. For the citizens of Australia, it seemed as if a Japanese fleet would appear over the horizon any day.

Target: Sydney, Australia

Nevertheless, the country did what it could to prepare. But unknown to the Australians at the time, on April 16, 1942, the East Flotilla of Japan’s 8th Submarine Squadron left the port of Hashirajima on the Inland Sea. The group sailed to the naval base at Truk Atoll and prepared for the voyage to the target: Sydney, Australia. The Japanese plan was to launch their 46-ton midgets off the coast, close enough for them to sneak into the harbor and strike Allied naval vessels or merchant ships moored there. The crews were confident they could get into the harbor and carry out their attack, though they were less sure they could get back afterward. It might very well have been a suicide mission.

Japanese mini-subs left behind after their sneak attack on Sydney Harbor.

As you’ll read in “One in a Thousand Chance,” Christopher Miskimon’s startling feature in the August 2014 issue of WWII History Magazine, the outcome of the sneak attack was just as uncertain for Japan’s commanders as it was for the crew. Vice Admiral Teruhisa Komatsu, commander of Submarine Squadron 1, send this message from his flagship at Kwajelein: “In seizing this once-in-a-thousand chance, approach the enemy with the utmost confidence and calm.”

Of course, this is only one of many in-depth articles you’ll find in the August 2014 edition. Others include:

“The Big Three in Tehran”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Chruchill Joseph Stalin, and their pivotal meeting in the Iranian capital in late 1943.

“A Roll of the Drums”
Nazi U-Boats brought World War II to America’s shores as they ravaged merchant shipping off the East Coast.

“In Peiper’s Path”
The offensive Adolf Hitler sent Jochen Peiper into was his last desperate gamble in the West. But how did it influence the fighting at the Battle of the Bulge?

“The Invasion of New Zealand”
In preparation for amphibious operations in the Pacific, U.S. Marines trained in New Zealand.

“Score 109 to 1″
In the spring of 1944, the small island of Biak—a stepping stone to the Philippines—was taken by the Americans.

What do you make of the Japanese attempt to attack Sydney Harbor? A fool’s errand or a daring tactical decision? Let us know what you think about this and other features from the August 2014 issue in the comments section below.


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