Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould and the Japanese Midget attack on Sydney Harbour

(See "Japanese Midget Submarines Attack Sydney Harbour on the night of May 31/June 1, 1942")

Matt Price a columnist in the Weekend Australian Newspaper of the 11th of September 2005 had an article about the Japanese Midget Submarine attack on Sydney Harbour in May of 1942, and the fact that Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould, had ordered the four dead Japanese sailors be afforded a Naval Funeral.

Dear Matt,

I was interested in your article about Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould and the Japanese Midget attack on Sydney Harbour. At that time I was a Sub Lieutenant RAN in HMAS Canberra at No 1 Buoy in Farm Cove.

But some of your statements are incorrect, the Rear Admiral was not despatched to Australia to command the antipodean naval forces, he was appointed Naval Officer in Charge Sydney, a shore going appointment.
It was not on the 29th. of May 1942, but on the 31st. of May 1942 that he was dining at his official residence Tresco, with Captain Bode the commanding officer of the US heavy cruiser Chicago. Of some interest, Bode had an unfortunate record, he was absent from his ship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he was again away from his command, when the midget attack started in Sydney Harbour, then at the Battle of Savo Island on the 9th. of August 1942, when Canberra, plus the 3 US heavy cruisers, Quincy, Astoria, and Vincennes were all sunk, the Chicago played a very undistinguished role, so much so as a result of all the criticism of Bode and his actions, he committed suicide.

At the time, and I still do consider, that Rear Admiral Muirhead -Gould made a complete bog of handling the crisis. The first sighting of a midget caught in the boom was at 8.15 PM, but it some hours later before the first General Alarm was issued. It took until 11.14 PM to order all Ships be darkened, and it was into the 1st of June before an order to Switch off the Floodlights at the Captain Cook Graving dock, they silhoutted the ships in the harbour very nicely.

About midnight the Rear Admiral took to his barge and went off to the boom net and went alongside the Lolita, to ask quite fatuous questions such as " Did the Japanese Submarine Captain have a black beard ?" As you report, he was drinking at his dinner at Tresco, no doubt having some influence on his tardiness and silly comments later.

But, I have no quarrel with the way he handled the funeral etc of the Japanese sailors who died, and agree 100% with your comments, it took a brave man to do what he did in those days.

You may not know, that a memorial Plaque for those who took part in this raid was later unveiled on Garden Island, and the 3rd. Midget commanded by Sub Lieutenant Ban, he made his way out of Sydney Harbour but was never seen again, but his Mother came to Sydney for the unveiling ceremony of the Plaque.

Finally, in the Kuttabul disaster, 19 Australian sailors perished plus 2 Royal Navy sailors who were also aboard the accommodation ferry at that time.

With best regards, 
Mackenzie Gregory. 

Hi Mackenzie

Thanks for clearing some of that up. Lack of space meant I had to compress most of M-G's wartime deeds into a couple of pars, so the summaries possibly didn't do him justice.

Certainly a lot written - then and now - about reaction to sub warnings.  Actually, I think that only magnifies the magnanimity of funeral gesture, since he'd have been under pressure in aftermath of attack.

I wonder whether the funerals would have proceeded had the Chicago been hit and destroyed.

Appreciate your thoughts and corrections.

Cheers, MP

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