HMAS Kuttabul & The Midget Submarine Attack – Searching For Relatives Of Our Sailors

Contact from an Australian Militaria Collector to Medals Gone Missing has indicated that a set of war service medals, belonging to a sailor from the ‘wartime’  H.M.A.S Kuttabul have recently been sold on ebay.  Whilst at this time, the naming of the medals is only known as “SMITH”, it is evident that two sailors from the Royal Australian Navy were on board this vessel at the time of her sinking on the early hours of the 1st of June, 1942.  These men were Arthur James SMITH from Perth in Western Australia and Herbert Arthur SMITH, from Taree in New South Wales.

On the 31st of May, 1942 – the Japanese launched an attack upon Sydney Harbour, which would shake the Australian population to the core.  Of course, Darwin had already been attacked by Japanese aircraft over three months before (on the 19th of February, 1942) however scant details were known at this time by other Australians, far from the danger of the far north.

However this attack, launched by three midget submarines (each with a two man crew) was so audacious in it’s planning and execution – that if Australians had any complacency left after the fall of Singapore and the subsequent bombing of our northern shores; then this surely was the wakeup call that which would shake the nation from it’s slumber.  Much has been written of this attack, upon the very heart of Australia’s population.  For a detailed account of this incident, please visit the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Website titled “Australia’s War 1939-1945” by Clicking Here.

IMAGE RIGHT:  H.M.A.S KUTTABUL circa 1st June, 1942 in Sydney Harbour after the Japanese midget submarine attack.

It is a well known fact that the 21 Naval Ratings whom lost their lives aboard the ill-fated H.M.A.S. KUTTABUL were unwitting victims aboard a target, not of the Japanese choosing.  The intended target of Midget Submarine M24 during this Japanese raid was fhe American Heavy Cruiser; the U.S.S. Chicago which had been spotted by a Japanese observation plane launched by the ‘mother’ submarine I-24 the previous day.  Of course, any other large allied vessel would also be fair game – however a former harbour ferry, converted into a Naval Depot ship would not be worth “wasting” a torpedo on (especially when each midget sub only carried two torpedoes each).

Whilst the date ’31st of May, 1942′ will go down in the history books as the day that Sydney Harbour became a battlefield …… I was a touch surprised to discover that the 21 men who lost their lives on the KUTTABUL, actually have their date of death recorded as the 1st of June, 1942.  When speaking of this incident over the years during numerous speeches and presentations; it simply had not occurred to me that H.M.A.S. KUTTABUL had been hit – after the stroke of midnight.  It was just a common assumption that these men perished on the 31st of May; the date which history records as that of the actual attack.  The 1st of June, 1942 is confirmed by both the World War Two Nominal Roll and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records; as well as the inscription on the H.M.A.S KUTTABUL memorial, Garden Island. 

IMAGE LEFT: The memorial to H.M.A.S. KUTTABUL on the shore of Garden Island.  Photo image courtesy of David Stockman, Garden Island Heritage c/o Building 2 L2, Garden Island.

In accordance with this very important moment in time for us as Australians, memorials have been built and commemorations have been held in the past.  But with the approach of the 70th Anniversary in 2012 of the sinking of H.M.A.S. KUTTABUL; it is fitting that these men are once again – commemorated by a grateful nation and their names remembered.

As such, Medals Gone Missing is seeking to make contact with the relatives of the 19 Australian Naval Ratings and the 2 sailors of the Royal Navy who tragically lost their lives aboard H.M.A.S KUTTABUL on the 1st of June, 1942.  Servicemen of the Royal Australian Navy.  Their names, in alphabetical order are:-

1.  John Samuel ASHER (Service Number PA1913) Stoker II Class, born in North Adelaide on the 18th of May, 1922.  Next of kin recorded as Rudolph ASHER.

2.  Leslie William BLAND (Service Number S/4023) Able Seaman, born in Paddington, NSW on the 18th of December, 1921.  Next of kin recorded as Rose SHAW.

3.  William Richard BOUNDY (Service Number 23893) Stoker, born in Hallaroo – South Australia on the 12th of July, 1921.  Next of kin recorded as Ethel (last name unknown)

4.  Sydney William BUTCHER (Service Number 23734) Leading Stoker, born in Kurri Kurri – NSW on the 11th of December, 1920.  Next of kin recorded as Violet BUTCHER.

5.  Leslie Joseph DENNISON (Service Number W2277) Stoker, born in Kensington – Victoria on the 29th of August, 1917.  Next of kin recorded as Thomas DENNISON.

6.  Arthur William FRANCIS (Service Number 16076) Stoker, born in Wighton – England on the 22nd of December, 1900.  Next of kin recorded as Sarah FRANCIS.

7.  John Edward GANNON (Service Number S5161) Stoker, born in Liverpool – England on the 31st of December, 1906.  Next of kin recorded as Edna GANNON.

8.  Jack Albert GARDNER (Service Number W/1418) Stoker, born in Caulfield – Victoria on the 23rd of September, 1918.  Next of kin recorded as Veronica GARDNER.

9.  Frederick Arthur GLANFORD (Service Number B3414) Stoker II Class, born in Brisbane – Queensland on the 24th of September, 1920.  Next of kin recorded as Rebecca GLANFORD.

10.  Walter George GORDON (Service Number PM3354) Engine Room Artificer 4th Class, born in South Melbourne – Victoria on the 26th of July, 1912.  Next of kin recorded as F. GORDON.

11.  Leonard Walter HOWROYD (Service Number 19667) Petty Officer, born in Richmond – Victoria on the 25th of August, 1915.  Next of kin recorded as Joyce HOWROYD.

12.  Lester Richard JAMIESON (Service Number W2244) Stoker II Class, born in Ararat – Victoria on the 27th of June, 1921.  Next of kin recorded as Thomas JAMIESON.

13.  Kenneth Francis KILLEEN (Service Number 25753) Stoker II Class, born in Sale – Victoria on the 4th of October, 1921.  Next of kin recorded as Francis KILLEEN.

14.  Jack Edmund NUMAN (Service Number 23807) Stoker, born in Brisbane – Queensland.  Next of kin recorded as Sarah JEFFS.

15.  Norman Leslie ROBSON (Service Number S/5654) Stoker II Class, born in Leichhardt – NSW on the 10th of June, 1922.  Next of kin recorded as Ena ROBSON.

16.  Arthur James SMITH (Service Number F3222) Able Seaman, born in Perth – Western Australia on the 2nd of May, 1919.  Next of kin recorded as Hilda SMITH.

17.  Herbert Arthur SMITH (Service Number S6131) Stoker II Class, born in Taree – NSW on the 20th of January, 1924.  Next of kin recorded as Arthur SMITH.

18.  Raymond Owen VENNING (Service Number S6116) Ordinary Seaman, born in Pinnaroo – South Australia on the 4th of June, 1923.  Next of kin recorded as Annetta VENNING.

19.  Thomas Joseph WATSON (Service Number S/5511) Stoker II Class, born in Cootamundra – NSW on the 15th of November, 1917.  Next of kin recorded as Florence WATSON.


1.  Frank KIRBY (Service Number D/JX238696) Able Seaman, born in the United Kingdom and died – aged 26 years.

2.  David Black TRIST (Service Number C/JX170204) Ordinary Seaman, he was the son of David B. TRIST & Jean TRIST of Newtowngrange, Midlothian – Scotland.  He died, aged only 18 years.

IMAGE RIGHT:  Honour board at the Australian Naval Base which bears her name; H.M.A.S. KUTTABUL – commemorating the 21 men who lost their lives on the wartime KUTTABUL in 1942.  Photo image courtesy of David Stockman, Garden Island Heritage c/o Building 2 L2, Garden Island.

The collectability of War Service Medals has increased in recent years and online auction sites (such as ebay) have “created a monster” in regards to the accessibility that overseas buyers now have on war medals sold, in any particular country.  For example, medals previously advertised and sold by a British – would likely to have been noticed and purchased only by a British resident.  Nowadays, ebay has made it possible for a buyer in Canada or Australia for example – to view a medal advert “online”  and then make the purchase.  Subsequently these medals are sold to an overseas buyer and leave their ‘native’  country ….. possibly never to return.  With technical monsters such as this, what chance has a family member of recovering the war medals of their ancestor which are now in the hands of an overseas or local collector.

The fact that only 21 young men (Allied) lost their lives in this particular action, makes these war medals very valuable and sought after to a collector of Australian Militaria.  However, I would suggest that war medals of the Kuttabul crew are more valuable to the descendants of such servicemen.  People who hold the memory of their loved ones dear to them, especially on days of commemoration – such as Remembrance Day and Anzac Day.  It saddens me to think that any war medals are traded on the open market, like a commodity.  The only good thing to come from such things is perhaps, the medals go to a “good home”  of a collector who is going to value such war medals and the meaning behind them.

However, I still cannot help but think that any war medals of a Kuttabul crewman (if not still in the hands of a family member) would be better served – on display at one of the Australian Maritime Museums (such as Garden Island or the National Maritime Musuem in Darling Harbour).  It may even be the case that such medals would be proudly displayed at the current naval base which bears this name, H.M.A.S. Kuttabul in Sydney (where the honour boards, pictured above are displayed).

If you are a relative or descendant of any sailors who lost their lives aboard H.M.A.S. KUTTABUL on the 1st of June, 1942 – please contact the Medals Gone Missing Administrator.  Especially if the war medals of your ancestor are missing.

Alternatively, if you are a medal or militaria collector who happens to have any war service medals of the above mentioned men; please contact us as we would like to hear from you.

The Medals Gone Missing Administrator can be contacted through the “Contact Us” facility of this website or on telephone 044 969 2401 (in Australia) and +61 44 9692401 if outside Australia.


To find out more about Australian Naval History, please visit the Naval Historical Society Website by Clicking Here or contact them on telephone number 9359 2243

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter

About gary

Gary Traynor is the volunteer Administrator of the Militaria based website MEDALSGONEMISSING. The aim of this "NOT FOR PROFIT" website is to reunite families, with lost War Medals and other items of militaria. Anything from medals to items of uniform. What Gary refers to as their "lost heritage". He has been actively involved in the Militaria world and researching of Military History for well over 30 years. As a result, Gary also conducts valuations and offers advice on all items of militaria. He has acted as advisor to a number of television and Foxtel productions; including Sir Tony Robinson's "Tour of Duty" series which featured on the History Channel. Gary is a field historian and conducts tours to Gallipoli, The Western Front, Kokoda and many other major battle sites around the world. He was a member of the Australian Army Reserve (UNSWR & 4/3 RNSWR) and served for 23 years with the New South Wales Police Force. He is perhaps the only person who has been employed at the Australian War Memorial in all three capacities .... as a volunteer, part time and full time employee .... starting as a qualified tour guide, working in the public galleries as an Information Assistant and finally Assistant Curator in Military Heraldry & Technology. Medalsgonemissing is a website that will assist you in locating your family's lost war medals and other awards. If you have an ancestor who served in any of the British Commonwealth Armed Services at any time - and whose medals are lost/stolen or simply missing....then so long as the medals are out there - this site will help you to locate them. However the site also contains articles of interest in relation to Military History, War Memorials & Uniforms / kit. Please explore our website as there is sure to be something of interest to you.
This entry was posted in Honour Roll - Australian Stories, Military Medals and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter

4 Responses to HMAS Kuttabul & The Midget Submarine Attack – Searching For Relatives Of Our Sailors

  1. Pingback: KUTTABUL COMMEMORATION PROJECT 1942 – 2012 70th Anniversary of the sinking of H.M.A.S. Kuttabul in Sydney Harbour | Medals Gone Missing

  2. Prabhu says:

    hi is it possible to buy the HMAS kuttabul ships bell, i believe it’s the same ships bell that was torpedoed by the japanese submarine. as i was wondering if it’s legal or illegal to buy this bell. since i have very less time as it’s in an auction would appreciate if you could call me at 0478096924 . thanks.

  3. Penny Mills says:

    I am a relative of Herbert Arthur Smith and will forward this information onto one of his siblings who have more information than I do.

  4. gary says:

    Thank you Penny. It was nice to talk to you and I am very pleased that your family is keeping alive the memory of the 21 men who lost their lives on Kuttabul. If you are the descendant or relative of a Kuttabul veteran (or if your father / uncle passed through this depot ship) then we would like to hear from you. The 75th Anniversary will take place during 2017 and we would like to find as many descendants as possible to attend the commemoration. Please contact the Medals Gone Missing Administrator. Yours gratefully, Gary Traynor.

Leave a Reply