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Sydney Marks 50th Anniversary of Harbor Assault

May 31, 1992 GMT

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ The fireworks that blasted over Sydney Harbor were festive to some, but to others it evoked fearful memories of the Japanese submarine attack 50 years ago Sunday.

In an attempt to re-create the confusion of the attack, streetlamps and houselights were turned off, as were the lights of the famed Harbor Bridge; the wail of sirens sliced through the darkness.

Japanese diplomats and other officials were among those who attended the commemoration.

″I don’t want people thinking it’s just another harbor fireworks display,″ organizer Bill Richards said. ″It’s not celebrating an event here but is a realization of just how close we came to war.″

World War II had already come frighteningly close to Sydney by May 31, 1942. The Japanese had launched scores of air attacks on the Northern Territories that year, and the Battle of the Coral Sea was fought off the northeast coast.

In the mini-sub attack, 21 Australian sailors died. Two of the three two- man submarines were destroyed.

The tiny subs failed in their mission to attack the USS Chicago, which was moored in the harbor with a load of 1,000 seamen and enough ammunition to blow up the dozen other warships nearby.

Five large Japanese submarines waited off the coast but abandoned any further plans when the assault failed.

The night of May 31, 1942, was overcast and dark. As the trio of mini-subs tried to slip through the heads of Sydney Harbor, one became entangled in an anti-submarine net, setting off eight hours of chaos.

Searchlights frantically crisscrossed the water and flares lit the sky. Tracer bullets streamed from the Chicago’s guns.

Depth charges disabled a second sub and forced it to the bottom. The two officers aboard shot themselves in the head.

The third sub managed to fire two torpedoes at the Chicago. One torpedo came to a halt harmlessly on the harbor bottom, but the other hit a concrete wall of the Garden Island navy base.

The explosion sank the accommodation ship HMAS Kuttabul and killed 19 sailors. Two others died on the wharf.

The sub vanished beneath the waves again. Despite several sightings throughout the early morning, it disappeared.

The attack, and shelling a week later of Sydney’s eastern suburbs and Newcastle to the north terrorized East Coast residents. Many sold their homes and moved.

Bob Dulhunty, who was 24 at the time, believes he saw the third sub early the following morning from a balcony. He fired two shots from a .22-caliber rifle, then handed it to his father, who also let loose with a couple of rounds.

″It sounds pretty silly doesn’t it?″ he recalled. ″But I wasn’t trying to sink it. I just wanted to see if I could get a reaction from it. I don’t even know if I hit it.″

He said the sub dived. Dulhunty ran to a public telephone to call the Navy. A patrol boat sped across the harbor in pursuit but went into the wrong cove.

″We ... thought it must have either sunk in the harbor or made it out to sea and sank there trying to get back to the mother ship,″ said Japanese historian Hiromi Tanaka.

″The two officers on board were never heard from again in Japan.″