A memorial service at HMAS Kuttabul has commemorated the 27 lives lost in an Imperial Japanese Navy midget submarine attack in Sydney Harbour in May 1942.

Dignitaries including Commodore Flotillas, Commodore Paul O’Grady and Ambassador of Japan to Australia, Mr Yamagami Shingo, laid wreaths at the HMAS Kuttabul Memorial on the eastern shore of Garden Island.

Master of Ceremonies, HMAS Kuttabul Executive Officer, Commander Darryl Scott said the gathering took place to publicly and solemnly remember the 21 Australian and British sailors and six Japanese sailors and officers who perished during the Battle of Sydney.

“This memorial service is not about glorifying battle but is about celebrating the peace and freedom we enjoy as a result of the gallant effort of those who gave their lives 80 years ago today alongside this wharf and beyond me in the harbour,” Commander Scott said.

“In addition to the men who lost their lives aboard HMAS Kuttabul and the three Japanese submarines, we also publicly acknowledge those who survived but who carried the physical and emotional scars of that action.”

Royal Australian Navy Chaplin Catherine Wynn-Jones reads the Naval Prayer during a memorial service to mark the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the requisitioned ferry HMAS Kuttabul, held at Garden island, Sydney. Photo: Able Seaman Jarryd Capper

On the night of May 31, 1942, three Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour to attack Allied warships, including the cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago.

The submarine M-24 aimed two torpedos at Chicago but both missed the intended target. 

One ran ashore at Garden Island while the second exploded against the sea wall, sinking the requisitioned Sydney Harbour ferry Kuttabul.

Commander Scott told the gathering that M-24’s fate was not known for decades.

"It was discovered off the Northern Beaches of Sydney in 2006, where she remains to this day," he said.

The war grave, 54 metres below the waves, is protected by Heritage NSW in consultation with the Commonwealth and Japanese governments.

More photographs can be viewed on the Defence image gallery