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Attitudes to the war
Midget submarine displays
Some sections of this paper were first presented in a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Military History Society of Japan, held in Kure on 31 May and 1 June 2008. [1] The panel’s theme was research in military history and in museum exhibitions related to war. In this paper, I will examine changes in style and interpretation in the displays of the Japanese midget submarine to the Australian public since 1942.

In Japan, the Pacific War has been generally regarded as the war between Japan and the United States. However, for Australia, it was the war against Japan. The Australian mainland had never before been directly attacked, so it was a shocking event when Japanese forces started to bomb Darwin and other northern regions in February 1942. The submarine attack at the end of May that year was probably more shocking for Australians in general, as it was totally unexpected. Furthermore, the fact that the submarines had entered Sydney Harbour, the heart of the largest city in Australia, produced a shudder for most Australians.

After the attack, two midget submarines were salvaged from the harbour, and I will discuss how they have been handled and exhibited in Australia since that time. The submarines, however, were not all that was salvaged. Four bodies of the Japanese crew were also recovered and a military funeral was given to the crew by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Later, the ashes of the crews were repatriated to Japan. The funeral and repatriation were important in improving Australian–Japanese relations after the war. Consequently, although the funeral did not have a direct bearing on the display, it will be discussed here.

Changes in the midget submarine displays may be examined over the following four periods:

1. 1942–43: Exhibited as war trophies by RAN. After the attack, two submarines were raised from the harbour and exhibited to the general public in various Australian cities.
2. 1943–1985: Outdoor display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
3. 1985–2001: Restoration and preservation period. After the submarine underwent restoration work at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, it was stored at Mitchell Annex of the Australian War Memorial. During this period, the submarine was exhibited at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney in 1992 in a special exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the attack.
4. 2001 to the present: Displayed in ANZAC Hall at the Australian War Memorial as part of a light and sound show.

Japanese midget submarines and the Sydney attack
The attack took place on the night of 31 May 1942 and ended in the early hours of 1 June. Three Japanese midget submarines, each manned by a crew of two, entered Sydney Harbour to attack military targets near Garden Island. The commanders of the submarines were named Lieutenant CHUMAN, Lieutenant MATSUO, and Sub-Lieutenant BAN. On the same night two midget submarines carried out the same style of surprise attack in Diégo-Suarez in Madagascar. The Sydney attack did not achieve substantial success. One of BAN’s torpedoes, aimed at the cruiser USS Chicago, did not hit its target but exploded after hitting the seawall of Garden Island. The impact of this explosion sank the ferry Kuttabul, which was being used to accommodate sailors. Twenty-one ratings, 19 Australian and two British, were killed in this attack. Another torpedo fired from BAN’s submarine missed its target, ran aground on Garden Island and did not explode.

This was the sequence of events. CHUMAN’s submarine reached the harbour first and was caught in the anti-submarine net at the entrance to the harbour. It tried to disentangle itself from the net, but the screw fouled in the net further and could not turn. When the crew realised that they could not free themselves, they detonated the 35-kilogram scuttling charge, carried fore of the conning tower, to destroy the submarine and themselves with it. The second submarine to reach the harbour was commanded by BAN; it was the one to fire two torpedoes. After attacking its targets, the submarine slipped out of the harbour and disappeared; Japanese war records show that it did not make the rendezvous with its mother submarine. For many years, its location remained a great Australian maritime mystery. The midget submarine was finally discovered in November 2006 by amateur divers on the seabed about 20 kilometres north of the harbour. [2] The last midget submarine to enter the harbour was commanded by MATSUO. By this time, the RAN was already aware of the enemy submarines’ presence in the harbour and the havoc they were causing. MATSUO’s submarine was subjected to depth charge attacks and sank in Taylor Bay. MATSUO and his fellow crewman, Chief Petty Officer TSUZUKU, did not leave the vessel and committed suicide by shooting themselves.

Salvaging the submarines
By the morning of 1 June, the attack was over and the salvage work to raise the submarines commenced in the harbour. The salvage work was reported in detail in the newspapers, with photographs, as public interest and curiosity about the submarines were very high. [3] Preparation for the salvage was carried out by divers who placed steel cables under the submarine to lift the submarines. However, it was not an easy task, as the cables kept breaking. Eventually, the two submarines were raised on 5 June. CHUMAN’s submarine had detonated the scuttling charge that was placed forward of the conning tower, but not the second charge behind it. The steel plates had been broken wide open from the inside and bent outwards; the forward section of the submarine had been completely destroyed. MATSUO’s submarine had been sunk with depth charges and its steel plates were dented in many places. Since it had been dragged across the seabed during salvage, the rear section had broken off. All these processes of the salvage were reported in detail in the press.

The submarines were closely examined by the RAN in order to reveal the design mechanism of hidden enemy weapon. The personal belongings and clothes of the submarine crews were collected, but a comprehensive list was not compiled. In some cases, those who were involved in the salvage work took away the crews’ belongings without permission. [4] However, CHUMAN’s military sword, which had been found in his submarine, was sent to Prime Minister Curtin in Canberra. After it was presented to the Prime Minster, Curtin instructed that the sword be kept at the War Memorial as a war trophy.

Military funeral and repatriation of the ashes
The bodies of the four crew members were removed from the two sunken submarines. After they had been taken to the police for a coroner’s inspection, they were transferred to the Eastern Suburbs Cemetery on the outskirts of Sydney for a funeral with military honours. The bodies were placed in caskets covered with the Japanese national flag, and after the funeral on 9 June they were cremated. The ceremony was attended by the Naval Officer in Command, Sydney, Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould, and the Swiss Consul-General in Sydney, Hans Hedinger. Other attendees were one unidentified middle-aged woman and a few newspaper reporters. Outside the funeral chapel a full naval escort fired three volleys, and the Last Post was played by a bugler. The ABC recorded the funeral service for later broadcast to Japan. [5]

Plans for a funeral for the Japanese crew had been reported in Australian newspapers and attracted various reactions. Some of the groups that opposed the funeral were nationalistic organisations, such as the Australian Natives Association (ANA) and the Australian Steel Workers’ Union. [6] A representative of ANA, H.R. Redding, charged Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould with ignoring the fact that some of Australia’s own sailors had been killed when he arranged the military funeral. However, on the day after the funeral, in the 10 June 1942 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, an editorial defended Muirhead-Gould’s decision with the headline, “Enemy is dead”. According to the editorial, the tradition of warfare was to treat the enemy with respect and to hold a dignified funeral after the battle was over. The editorial argued that opponents of this tradition lacked the courtesy of civilised people. Consequently, it is possible to claim that the decision to conduct the military funeral did not arise solely from Muirhead-Gould’s personal beliefs, against opposition from everybody else. Among the educated community, the decision to perform such an action for the enemy was quite acceptable.

In the late June 1942, Muirhead-Gould explained publicly why he had arranged the military funeral when he spoke on Radio 2FC. [7] He referred first to the capabilities of the midget submarines and pointed out that they did not have ballast tanks or horizontal rudders like normal submarines; he described the midget submarines as manned torpedos. It is true that the midget submarine had extremely simplified equipment packed into a limited space, but the Japanese Imperial Navy did not design the midget submarine as a manned torpedo; it was expected that it would be able to return home after completing its assignment. [8]

Muirhead-Gould went on to praise the crews’ courage:

I have been criticised for having accorded these men military honours at their cremation, such honours as we hope may be accorded to our own comrades who have died in enemy hands, but I ask you – Should we not accord full honours to such brave men as these? It must take courage of the very highest order to go out in a thing like that steel coffin. I hope I shall not be a coward when my time comes, but I confess that I wonder whether I should have the courage to take one of those things across Sydney Harbour in peace time. Theirs was a courage which is not the property or the tradition or the heritage of any one nation: it is the courage shared by the brave men of our own countries as well as of the enemy, and however horrible war and its results may be it is a courage which is recognised and universally admired. These men were patriots of the highest order. How many of us are really prepared to make one thousandth of the sacrifice that these men made? Possibly it may not be so hard when the time comes to give our lives bravely in the smoke of battle, amid the roar of guns and bomb, gallantly led, or gallantly leading a forlorn hope against desperate odds; but to start upon an expedition such as these men did, in cold blood, days and perhaps weeks before their final sacrifice, this is patriotism of a very high order.

What Muirhead-Gould said was also broadcast was transmitted to Japan. The Rear Admiral’s evaluation of the Japanese crews’ courage was fair, as he compared the Japanese crew to his own men and praised the submariners whole-heartedly. He further praised them by pointing out that they took on a dangerous assignment calmly.

When John Metcalfe, Director-General of the State Library of New South Wales, heard the broadcast on the radio he contacted Muirhead-Gould directly and asked him to donate the text of his speech to the library; the text is housed there in the Mitchell Library. The correspondence about this donation may be found in the same file as the speech. A note from Metcalfe to Aida Leeson, Head of the Mitchell Library, says that the speech should be kept for posterity, demonstrating that intellectuals of the day already recognised the importance of the speech.

The ashes of the four crew members left Australia in August 1942 on board the City of Canterbury, and reached Laurenço Marques (present-day Maputo) in Mozambique. The ship was used to repatriate Japanese diplomats and other civilians who had been interned after the start of the war. KAWAI Tatsuo, Japan’s Minister to Australia, was one of the most prominent passengers. In Laurenço Marques, the ashes and the passengers were transferred to the Kamakura-maru, which had come from Japan to exchange allied civilians similarly caught by the outbreak of war. The Kamakura-maru reached Yokohama in October 1942. At that time, there was little mention of the Japanese civilians who were being returned to their homeland from overseas; the arrival of the submariners’ ashes was regarded as the more important news. The fact that the RAN had conducted a military funeral for the submariners heightened their heroic status. Australia closely monitored public reactions to the ashes’ arrival.

Public display of the midget submarines in Sydney
Requests for public display of the midget submarines in Australia came early on 2 June 1942, even before the submarines were raised from the harbour. Joseph Collings, the Minister for the Interior, was responsible for the War Memorial and he suggested that one of the submarines should be sent there. The mayors of Sydney and Melbourne also requested public displays in their cities to raise money for the wartime Comforts Fund. [9] These early requests reflected a precedent in the United States. In the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, five midget submarines took part, none of which returned safely to their mother submarines. One midget submarine ran aground and its commander, Lieutenant SAKAMAKI, became the first Japanese prisoner in the war with the United States. Some Australians knew that the submarine was later retrieved and exhibited in various American cities. In the United States, entrance fees were collected and used to purchase war bonds.

In Australia, the first exhibition was held in August 1942 in Sydney at Fort Macquarie, where the Sydney Opera House now stands. Various objects found in the submarines were auctioned, including bullets from the pistol that MATSUO used to commit suicide. Mrs Palmer, wife of American Consul, and Count Schack, the Danish Consul General, each person paid £3 for a bullet. A grandson of Muirhead-Gould attended the auction as an assistant and helped to sell some items from the submarines to Alderman Crick, Sydney’s Lord Mayor, and his wife. [10] From the reports, it seems that the exhibition was a lively occasion. About £5,000 pounds was raised and was donated to the Navy Comfort Fund.

In preparation for the exhibition, the Navy asked to borrow CHUMAN’s sword from the War Memorial for public exhibition in Sydney – and initially to let the public handle it as well. When he received this request, John Treloar, the Director of the War Memorial, expressed his reluctance to let the public handle the sword. Muirhead-Gould was furious with Treloar’s reaction and the Memorial’s unwillingness to lend the sword. Muirhead-Gould would have believed that everything recovered from the submarines was a war trophy and belonged to the Navy, and he could not accept that the War Memorial could refuse his request. In the end, Treloar agreed to lend the sword to the Navy on condition that it be displayed in a guarded glass case.

National Tour
A national tour of the submarine was organised after the public exhibition in Sydney. The tour left Sydney on 9 November 1942 and headed for Adelaide via Canberra and Melbourne. On its return, the tour went inland and visited many towns. Finally, in April 1943 the submarine reached Canberra and its final destination, the War Memorial. The total distance covered by this tour was 4,000 kilometres.

The submarine which toured nationally was a composite in three sections: the bow came from MATSUO’s submarine, the conning tower and the rear section from CHUMAN’s. In public exhibitions, these three sections were displayed together. Between the cities, each section was placed on its own trailer and pulled by a large truck. Since each section was a large and heavy load, records show that they had problems crossing over bridges or under railway bridges. During the exhibition, admission fees were charged and postcards were sold as souvenirs. Miniature submarine models, made from the lead of the submarines’ ballast, were sold as souvenirs, as well as bolts and nuts and pieces of electrical wiring. In order to prove their authenticity, labels were tied to each item with Muirhead-Gould’s printed signature. Visitors were allowed to touch instruments in the conning tower and as a certificate of their visit, each was given a postcard with a photograph of the interior of the conning tower. The profit from these activities was donated to the charity funds of the Navy.

At the exhibition, the section forward of the conning tower was clearly seen to have been torn open by the force of the explosion. It was a deliberate decision to take the scuttled vessel, rather than MATSUO’s, on the national tour, probably because it had more dramatic impact. The damaged vessel also demonstrated that the enemy had been completely destroyed.

In each town, these public displays were very popular and people formed long queues to see the midget submarine. The tour reached Melbourne towards the end of 1942, coinciding with Christmas and New Year. A photograph shows the submarine trailers in convoy passing through the downtown area as publicity before the exhibition. Visitors could not only see the submarine at close quarters, but were also allowed to write on the submarine with chalk. Often visitors wrote their names on the hull of the submarine.

During the tour, the Australian Navy flag, normally used as sign of a vessel’s affiliation, was flown over the submarine, indicating that it belonged to the Royal Australian Navy, not to Japan. When it finally arrived in Canberra, the submarine flew a paying-off pennant to show that it was reaching its final destination, following the tradition of the RAN.

During the national tour, the general public had not only a chance to see the enemy’s secret weapon, which had been raised from the sea to be fully revealed; they could also touch the submarine, write graffiti on it, and purchase parts of it as souvenirs. All of this would make them feel that they could overcome their fear of the enemy, and would encourage a sense of having defeated the enemy. At the same time, the fact that three submarines had penetrated the Harbour forced them to acknowledge that the war had come really close to them.

Public displays at the Australian War Memorial
After its arrival at the Australian War Memorial in April 1943, the submarine was displayed outdoors in a temporary enclosure to the west of the main building. The three sections (bow, conning tower, and rear) were placed on platforms about 60 centimetres high. A torpedo was also exhibited, placed parallel to the submarine. Later the enclosure was removed and the submarine was displayed outdoors. This area was open to the public day and night and a metal plate with explanatory text was installed near the submarine. The side of the submarine was cut open in several places so that visitors could look inside. Display outdoors, the submarine became one of the iconic relics of the Memorial. Many Canberrans and other Australians have fond memories of their visit to the War Memorial, when they could touch or even climb onto the submarine.

Over many years, unexpected things did happen. In September 1966, the midget submarine was painted yellow overnight and the incident was reported in the local paper. At this time the Beatles’ song “Yellow Submarine” was popular. The War Memorial was furious at the damage to its exhibit and set about stripping the paint. The next day, two local university students turned themselves in and apologised, saying that they had only intended a joke. They paid $16 to cover the cost of Memorial staff’s restoration labour and were not prosecuted. Unfortunately, no colour photograph of the yellow submarine has been located

Some maintenance work, such as touching up flaking paint, was carried out occasionally. However, as the submarine was placed outside in the wind and rain, the both the outside and the inside of the submarine started to show rust and metal decay. The need for restoration work became urgent. Since the submarine had been exhibited without carrying out work to neutralise the battery acid or to clean off sea salt, it was expected that the submarine’s condition would only deteriorate. Since the restoration work could not be carried out at the War Memorial, it would be sent to Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney Harbour. It had previously been the Navy’s dockyard, and here apprentices were engaged to carry out the restoration work as a part of their training. In March 1985, the submarine was transported back along the Hume Highway between Canberra and Sydney for the first time since the national tour in 1942–43. Cockatoo Island had been listed as one of the possible targets in the Sydney attack; the fact that now the submarine was restored meticulously there by young Australian men who were about the same age as the Naval ratings on board Kuttabul who died in the attack, symbolised the passing of time and changes in circumstances since the wartime.

During the restoration work, all the equipment inside the submarine was removed and later reassembled. The decayed sections of the metal were patched up and both the interior and outside of the submarine were freshly painted. During this work, the paint which remained in the vessel was analysed for its composition. Subsequently, the floor was painted with a similar type of red paint that withstands acidity. The equipment was restored and the electrical wiring was taped with new insulation tape. After two years of restoration work, the submarine was transported back to Canberra in July 1987, carried on the trailers. On 30 September 1987, a formal handing over ceremony was held at the War Memorial. The foreman of the dockyard stated that the restoration work had revealed the high technological standard of the Japanese Imperial Navy. Furthermore, it had become clear that the submarine was not built for a single use in a suicide attack, but for repeated use.

The lovingly restored submarine was to be housed indoors. The front and rear sections, minus the conning tower, were displayed in a special exhibition at the War Memorial in 1988 to show the results of the restoration work. After that exhibition was over, the vessel was housed in the Mitchell Annex of the War Memorial. Although the submarine would now be stored without exposure to wind and rain, visitors’ access to the Annex was limited due to the Annex’s location and its restricted opening hours. The War Memorial had to find a way to exhibit the submarine inside the main building, as it was regarded as one of the icons of the museum.

National Maritime Museum Exhibition: “Hitting Home”
The Australian National Maritime Museum opened at Darling Harbour in Sydney in 1991. The museum’s inaugural special exhibition was called Hitting Home, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Japanese midget submarine attack in Sydney Harbour. The submarine was the main attraction of this exhibition and was again transported from Canberra to Sydney by road. The exhibition ran for the seven months from June 1992 to January 1993. As it was the first special exhibition for the newly opened museum, an enormous amount of work went into it. It successfully attracted just over 190,000 visitors, including visitors from Japan.

The exhibition opened on the night of 31 May 1992, the fiftieth anniversary of the attack. Municipal councils around the harbour joined the museum to stage a historical re-enactment of the attack. The Maritime Museum also secured the cooperation of the Sydney Ferries and a local radio station. After participants in the opening event had attended an exclusive viewing of the exhibition in the afternoon, they boarded a ferry which took them to the area near Garden Island where the torpedo had exploded against the seawall. Around this time, local councils around the harbour turned off street lights to simulate the “brownout” of wartime. The local radio station, 2UE, broadcast a special radio program with a popular radio personality, Gary O’Callaghan. He played music from the 1940s and hosted a live talkback show, during which listeners rang in to talk about their experiences and memories of 1942. After sunset, fireworks were set off in imitation of the torpedo attack, and one minute’s silence was observed for the dead. Then the brownout was lifted and the ferry returned the participants to the wharf.

This opening event was interesting as it demonstrated a way of exhibiting a historical event that was different from the traditional method of static displays in museum. Through the historical re-enactment, not only were the memories of the Sydney-siders revived, but the generation that was too young to have lived through the war could experience the events of fifty years before. The large-scale activities around the harbour finished successfully, but a few voices were raised to express their opposition. They complained that the actual midget submarine attack which had threatened Sydney residents with real fear was presented and performed as if it were an entertainment, and that the sailors who died on Kuttabul were not paid adequate respect in the re-enactment.

The museum provided tables with paper and pens, and invited written comments from the visitors. In this way, the midget submarine special exhibition was intended not only to retell historical facts, but also to revive the visitors’ memories and provide an avenue for reflection. Such a process would have the effect of bringing the exhibited objects emotionally close to the visitors, by providing a space and the means to record their reflections on the exhibits and on the event. After the Sydney exhibition closed in 1992, the submarine made the return journey to Canberra to be housed in Mitchell Annex of the War Memorial. It had to wait for some time before it could be exhibited in the main building of the War Memorial.

ANZAC Hall exhibition
Public display of the submarine in the War Memorial finally resumed in 2001. ANZAC Hall was built on the northern side of the main building to house large objects; it opened in June 2001 with the midget submarine as the main attraction. The exhibition technique which was applied in the hall is called the “object theatre” technique. The large objects were displayed with lighting and sound effects to explain historical events and to create a sense of presence in time and place. In this style of display, the object becomes both a focus for viewing as well as a large prop for the story narrated in the gallery. A light and sound show telling the story is repeated every hour.

What kind of story about the midget submarine is narrated there in ANZAC Hall? In recent years, objects in the museums have not only been displayed and explained, but stories which relate to the objects are told as well. For example, the Yamato Museum (Kure City Maritime History and Technology Museum), which opened in 2005, has attracted many visitors. Shinya Ogasawara, the former mayor of Kure City who worked tirelessly to establish and build the museum, wrote about the role of narration in his book, The Battleship Yamato Museum. Ogasawara reports that CHIDA Takeshi of Hiroshima International University, who contributed to the establishment of the museum, had written, “The visitor should be able to feel the narrative context in the museum. In order to tell this story effectively, it is important for the visitors to understand the historical background and the people who lived through the period.”[[11] According to Ogasawara, Chida had visited the Australian War Memorial many times and was influenced by its style of display with historical narratives, and he wanted to achieve the same outcome in Kure.

The midget submarine display in ANZAC Hall initially gives an impression that it only tells the story from an Australian perspective. However, when one observes it closely and analyses it from a different angle, it becomes clear that in fact two stories, from both the Australian and Japanese perspectives, are told in the exhibition.

When we analyse a narrative it is important to examine not only the content of the story but to investigate who is telling the story to whom. The content and interpretation of stories depend on who narrate them and who listen to them. The function and expectations of the War Memorial are clearly defined in the Australian War Memorial Act of 1980, in which the Memorial’s is required to focus on Australian military history and Australian experiences. [12] The Memorial’s role was defined as a place for commemoration and research, and as a museum; the focus was clearly to be on Australia and stories were to be constructed on the assumption that they were being told to Australians. Yet this is regarded as the basic guideline, and it is possible to bring in other historical perspectives than the Australian. The curators made an extra effort to do this for the midget submarine display, which can be clearly seen by visitors.

The entrance to ANZAC Hall is over the footbridge leading from the main building. When visitors enter the Hall, they are on the mezzanine level and see the ground floor exhibition from above. The first thing which comes into the visitors’ view is the midget submarine, displayed at a slight angle, supported by two pillars, as if it were about to surface. The two caps over the torpedo tubes at the front are staring at the visitors.

The sound and light show, Sydney under attack, is shown for several minutes every hour. Most visitors move to the viewing platform at the same level as the mezzanine to watch the show. The start of the show is signalled when the lighting dims and turns blue, as if the submarine is under the water. The circular screen suspended from the ceiling shows the courses of the three submarines across the harbour and the fate of each. When CHUMAN’s submarine detonates its scuttling charge after failing to free itself from the anti-submarine net, the explosion was simulated by sound and light effects. The main focus of the sound and light show is to narrate how the Australian people experienced the Japanese submarine attack in 1942.

The show presents visitors with various stories narrated by Australians. The very first voice in the show is male, reading the reconnaissance pilot’s report in Japanese; an English translation of his narrative is projected on the screen. All the subsequent stories are Australian: an Australian guard who was rowing a small boat when he first spotted the submarine next to the boom net; a civilian who lived close to the harbour; a sailor who was sleeping aboard Kuttabul when it was sunk; and a soldier who took part in the rescue effort. Also included are Deputy Prime Minster Forde’s words, asking Australians to be vigilant at all times. The last words come from a Sydneysider, who reflects on the incident by saying, “There is no safe place in the world these days.”

What the show tells is an Australian story. Sydney Harbour, which had been believed to be totally safe, suffered a surprise attack by the Japanese, but the attack concluded without inflicting serious damage. The Australian people learned a valuable lesson, to stay vigilant in war. Even though the shock was enormous, the direct attack provided a lesson for the Australian people, as they experienced the real danger of the war.

In contrast to the Australian story, how has the Japanese perspective has been reflected in the exhibition? Dr. Robert Nichols, who worked as one of the curators of the midget submarine exhibition, said that they were impressed by the courage of the submarine crew and wanted to represent them as human beings. However, the Hall was essentially designated as an exhibition space for large military objects and their technological aspects needed to be emphasised. Consequently, he felt they could not develop the human stories as much as they wanted to.

When the light and sound show concludes, most of the visitors leave the viewing platform and go downstairs. When normal lighting is restored, under the submarine they see two long display cases. When the visitors reach the display cases and look up at the submarine, they realise they are looking at where the scuttling charge was detonated. This section received an enormous outward impact and the thick steel plates have bent outward as if they were made of paper, showing the force of the explosion. When the visitors look to the right, a small entrance to the conning tower comes into view. They become aware that two crewmen operated the submarine there and died inside that compartment in the explosion.

Under the submarine, the case on the left displays various instruments recovered from the vessel: a gyroscope, a clock, a screwdriver and electrical wiring. The righthand showcase holds name tags cut out of the uniforms, a small pipe, a ten sen coin, a boot, and a photograph of the crew before the attack. Individuals are not identified by name, but visitors can see images of the Japanese crew who participated in the attack on Sydney and died in its harbour. The last section of this display case shows a photograph of the military funeral in Sydney, with a caption explaining that the ashes were returned to Japan. An excerpt from the text of Muirhead-Gould’s radio speech is there as well.

Close examination of the midget submarine display in ANZAC Hall makes it possible to argue that it provides two perspectives, one Australian and one Japanese, even though the initial impression is quite different. The visitors enter ANZAC Hall at the mezzanine level and view the sound and light show from the viewing platform, which enables them to understand the submarine attack from an Australian point of view. The viewer feels present in the story as an Australian civilian or member of the military, seeing the submarine either from the land surrounding Sydney Harbour or from the harbour’s surface. When the visitors go downstairs to the ground floor and see the submarine from underneath, their physical perspective shifts. Moving the viewers from above the surface of the water to beneath it produces a change of mental perspective, which allows them to reflect on the experience of the Japanese crew. The story narrated now is a Japanese one, as the visitors view the exploded submarine and the personal effects of the men who died in the vessel, and learn about the military funeral conducted by the Australian Navy.

Thus, the exhibition in ANZAC Hall allows visitors to shift their perspective according to where they stand, a shift from above the surface of the water to beneath it, from an Australian view to a Japanese. This shift makes it possible to tell two stories with one exhibit. Such an effect might not have been planned by the exhibition’s curators initially, but their intention of treating both friendly and enemy sides, both Australian and Japanese perspectives, has probably influenced the exhibition.

The Japanese midget submarine was displayed in various cities between 1942 and 1943 and has become an iconic display of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra over the last 65 years. Many people have had the opportunity to see it. During the national tour, the public purchased parts of the submarine as memorabilia and touched the vessel. Such a style of display had the effect of transforming the Australian perception of the midget submarine from a secret enemy weapon to an object which could be owned and touched. This shift had the effect of overcoming fear of the enemy and convinced the public that they had thoroughly beaten the enemy.

The attack on Sydney by the submarines was a battle between Japanese and Australian combatants and did not involve civilians. Furthermore, this attack occurred before the horrendous jungle warfare in the South-western Pacific islands and before strong anti-Japanese feeling emerged owing to the ill treatment of Allied prisoners of war. This may have been one of the main reasons that the attack did not stir strong hostility towards Japan. Consequently, the Sydney attack has been generally interpreted as an occasion on which the Australian public experienced the real danger of war and learned a valuable lesson. The aftermath of the attack, including the repatriation of the crews’ remains, also played a crucial role in the post-war reconciliation process between Australia and Japan, a point I would like to discuss further in the future.

The current midget submarine exhibition clearly has an emphasis on the Australian perspective. Yet it also provides space for the Japanese story to be told when the visitors shift their view to different levels in the hall and consequently gain a different perspective.

1. The transcript of the panel discussion was published as “Paneru disukasshon: Gunjishi kenkyu to senso tenji” (Panel Discussion: Military History Research and War Exhibitions) in Gunji Shigaku Vol. 44, No.4, pp.9-37. (2009).
2. BAN’s vessel is protected as a historical shipwreck on the seabed by the Commonwealth Department of Environment, Heritage and Arts and the New South Wales State Department of Environment. Tim White, marine archaeologist, has compiled a detailed report on the vessel. (
3. See articles in the Sydney Morning Herald between 1 and 4 June 1942.
4. Some of the relics at the Australian War Memorial were initially kept by the individuals who worked on the vessel or at the dock, and later donated to the Memorial. In June 2008, a steering wheel which was said to be from the midget submarine was offered for auction.
5. It is not clear whether the recording was broadcast in Australia. The ABC Sound Archive holds the recording. (Tape no. 72/7/395-1, W(AP)22). In 1951, the recorded disc was taken to Japan by Fred Simpson, who worked for ABC and had narrated the commentary in the recording. Later, the Japanese version, with a commentary in Japanese, was produced there.
6. The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 June 1942 and 11 June 1942.
7. The text of Muirhead-Gould’s speech was deposited at Mitchell Library (ML Aw102/1).
8. Personal communication with Gary Oldman, curator at the Australian War Memorial.
9. David Jenkins, Battle surface!: Japan’s submarine war against Australia, 1942–44, (Sydney: Random House Australia, 1992), p. 61.
10. Steven Carruthers, Australia under seige: Japanese submarine raiders 1942. (Sydney: Solus Books, 1982), p.162.
11Ogasawara Shinya, Senkan “Yamato” no hakubutsukan, (Tokyo: Fuyo Shobo Shuppan, 2007), p.142.

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Midget Submarine


AWM 012422

AWM 042982

AWM P00455.018

AWM P00455.007

AWM P00455.017

AWM P00455.005

AWM REL30501

AWM REL/21193.009

Click images to enlarge. Current display of the Japanese Midget Submarine in Anzac Hall of the Australian War Memorial
AWM PAIU2002/287.01
Visitors inspect the Midget Submarine from the mezzanine and ground floors in Anzac Hall.
AWM PAIU2002/248.10
A visitor inspects the display cases which exhibit relics of the midget submarine and its crew.
AWM PAIU2002/275.18
A view of the Midget Submarine display on the ground floor with its torpedo. The exploded section of the vessel is evident and inside the conning tower can been seen.
AWM PAIU2002/285.17

The AJRP has wound up its activities at the Memorial for the moment.
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