• Kyodo

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Australians on Friday commemorated the 60th anniversary of the night three Japanese midget submarines invaded Sydney Harbor to attack Allied vessels.

The event that brought the war to Sydney was remembered at a waterfront ceremony in Sydney. Among the 350 people in attendance was Chief of Army Lt. Gen. Peter Cosgrove.

On May 31, 1942, three Japanese midget submarines stole into Sydney Harbor under cover of darkness aiming to sink as many U.S. and Allied warships as possible.

But their efforts did not go as planned and they were discovered.

Torpedoes fired by one of the subs missed their intended target and exploded beneath the HMAS Kuttabul, a converted ferry, killing 19 Australian and two British soldiers who were sleeping onboard.

“The navy sunk one of the submarines, one was scuttled by its crew and the third, believed to be the one that fired the torpedoes which sank Kuttabul, disappeared without trace,” said Cosgrove, who will become the Defense Force chief in July.

He commended the people of Sydney for the wartime honor showed to the submariners’ remains.

“The bodies of the young Japanese crewmen, when they were recovered, were treated with the same respect which we accorded to our own dead,” he said. “They were cremated in accordance with Japanese tradition, and their ashes were returned to their families in Japan, a task not without its difficulties when two nations were in a war such as that of the Pacific War.

“The people of Sydney demonstrated to the rest of the world that, even in the course of a war, Australians understand courage and fair play and have a sense of decency.”

Cosgrove also urged those in attendance to visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where they can view a reconstructed Japanese midget submarine and marvel at the courage of the young men who lived and worked in the cramped and often ultimately lethal conditions.

During his visit to Australia earlier this month, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi highlighted the manner in which Australia treated the Japanese submariners, saying the civility shown toward Japan during and after the war was unparalleled.

During World War II, Japanese troops captured more than 22,000 Australian soldiers and held them in conditions of brutality and forced labor that led to the deaths of 8,000.

Atrocities on the Thai-Burma railroad and in the infamous Changi prisoner of war camp in Singapore dominate images of Australia’s war in the Pacific.

Those incidents still color some Australians’ perceptions of contemporary Japan.

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