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A Parting Shot – Shelling of Australia by Japanese Submarines, 1942

In the early morning hours of 8 June 1942, residents of Sydney and Newcastle were abruptly awoken by gunfire from Japanese submarine raiders lurking off the coast. The bombardments followed air raids on northern Australia and a midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour a week earlier.

A Parting Shot traces the story of the Japanese submarine shelling of the two cities—a story that until now, has not been fully told. Although casualties and damage were slight, the bombardments fuelled the real fear of an impending Japanese invasion. Revealing for the first time the contents of the bomb disposal squad war diary, the authors painstakingly reconstruct events that occurred in both cities, including the search for, recovery and disposal of unexploded shells.

In recounting this legendary tale, the authors also examine Australia’s east coast defences, the activities of the National Emergency Service, and the management and communications structures that were implemented during the early stages of the Pacific War. To put it all into context, they offer a Japanese perspective to the story through a critical account of Japan’s submarine operations, not only off the east coast of Australia, but also along America’s west coast and in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Why then did the Japanese launch submarine operations in Australian waters when they had no intention of invading? Were the bombardments revenge attacks following the Japanese defeat at Midway? What were the Japanese targets in Sydney and Newcastle? Were all the unexploded shells recovered? The authors answer these and other long-standing questions, dispelling many rumours and urban myths surrounding the Japanese submarine attacks.

A Parting Shot is more than an account of a significant event in Australia’s wartime history—it is a landmark story about good luck, tragedy and courage.

Steven Carruthers has written for Inside History magazine in our Issue 10: Remembering the Kuttabul and Issue 13: Remembering the east coast sea war to highlight the untold stories of the Japanese submarine campaign off Australia’s east coast in World War 2. A campaign that took more Australian lives than those lost on the Kokoda Track, the bombing of Darwin or the sinking of the HMAS Sydney.

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