Tue, Aug 07, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Australia honors lost Japanese WWII submariners


Australia and Japan put aside their wartime past yesterday as the relatives of Japanese submariners who died attacking Sydney in 1942 remembered them in a ceremony at sea and at the naval base they targeted.

Relatives of four of six sailors, who are all war heroes in Japan, gathered at the Garden Island navy base in Sydney Harbor to honor the men who died 64 years ago in an audacious attack that brought World War II to Australia's biggest city.

"I was a little boy when my brother was lost," Kazutomo Ban said, holding close an aged photograph of his brother Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban in his Imperial Japanese Navy uniform.

Three small submarines slipped in darkness past protective nets stretched across the harbor entrance on May 31, 1942, to attack the US battle cruiser USS Chicago.

Two of the 46-tonne subs were damaged and then scuttled by their crews. The third, named the M-24, fired two torpedoes, one of which sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 19 Australian sailors and two Britons before vanishing under heavy fire. The other torpedo failed to explode.

Divers discovered the M-24 wreck last November in deep water off Sydney's northern beaches. The site has been declared a war grave and the bodies of Lieutenant Ban and Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe were believed to be still inside.

"This memorial is a solemn reminder not to repeat the mistakes of the past," Japanese Ambassador to Australia Hideaki Ueda told the ceremony at the naval base.

Japanese relatives visited the site yesterday to remember lost family.

`I am very honored to know that the Australian people remember him even today,'' said Kazutomo Ban, 74, told reporters. "I am very happy that finally Australian divers found the submarine and we are here to commemorate."

Ashibe's niece, Hiromi Takemoto, was given sand from the wreck site to place on his empty grave in Japan.

At the ceremony an honor guard of 150 Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force sailors sang Umi Yukaba, the anthem of the Imperial Japanese Navy, as family members wiped away tears.

After a wreath-laying ceremony, relatives held a private viewing of relics from the three submarines, parts from which make up an almost complete submarine at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Families will lay wreaths at the Canberra memorial today.

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