Quiet Evening When Sydney Harbour Became Cauldron Of Hell

Have you even heard of Howard D. Bode?

Of course you haven’t. No one has. It’s a silly question. Sorry.

But Howard Bode played a pivotal - albeit shameful and soaked - role in the history of Kings Cross, Sydney and Australia and was an integral part of a mystery that was only solved by intrepid explorers and military historians a few short years ago.

It all began on the night of the last day in May, 1942, Captain Bode, US Navy, skipper of the heavy cruiser USS Chicago was drinking in Kings Cross.

He was a short walk from where his ship was berthed at Garden Island when he heard the unmistakeable roar of his own 14-inch rifles.

The skipper hastily finished his drink and ran out of the bar into the freezing night, hotfooting it down the hill. He went hastily aboard and in a classic case of projection accused his officer of the watch of being drunk and placed him under arrest.

A painting by world renowned artist, Ken Done, depicting the night of the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour, 01 June 1942.
Image Credit: Defence Image Gallery

The Chicago’s guns had been depressed as low as they could go, firing at three Japanese midget submarines that were of course, (as we now know), bent on destroying the American cruiser as the Harbour was turned into a seething cauldron of death and destruction on that late autumn evening.

The three Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarines, each with a two-member crew, had entered the harbour and had easily avoided the unfinished anti-submarine boom net – one even followed the Manly ferry into the kill zone.

Two of the midget submarines were detected and attacked before they could successfully engage any Allied vessels, and the crews scuttled their boats and shot themselves dead.

These two subs were later recovered by the Australians – one of them is at the War Memorial in Canberra and kids can climb all over it today.

The third submarine attempted to torpedo the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, but instead sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors.

The shellshocked Sydneysiders interred the suicide sailors with full military honours – oddly, this at a time when Japanese troops were under Imperial High Command orders to do quite the opposite.

A diver and Japanese submarine in Broken Bay
Image Credit: Liam Allen

As for the skipper of the Chicago, he tried to blow his brains out after losing his ship – for reals this time - in the Battle of Savo Island, one of the US Navy’s worst ever defeats a couple of months after the Sydney debacle.

It was the opening naval battle of Guadalcanal, where the US Navy dropped their Marines on the Solomon Islands’ beaches then backed off to slug it out with the Imperial Japanese Navy.

As for Bode – he died of his wounds in agony some days later.

And what of the last submarine?

This final sub’s fate was unknown until 2006, when amateur scuba divers solved the mystery by finding its rusting hull off Sydney's northern beaches.


Lead Image: A Japanese Midget sub being pulled from Sydney Harbour.
Image Credit: Defence Image Gallery

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