JAPANESE RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHT
OVER SYDNEY HARBOUR
ON 17 FEBRUARY 1942
On 11 February 1942, Sydney tested its wartime defence systems with an unannounced blackout. The test showed a number of major problems. There were 822 events where lights were not extinguished. A previous trial on 14 January 1942 had only 707 offenders.
Japanese submarine I-25 arrived in the Sydney area on Saturday 14 February 1942. It was initially within a few miles of the coast near Sydney. The searchlights in Sydney could clearly be seen from the bridge of I-25. Lieutenant Commander Tagami then took I-25 to a position 100 miles south east of Sydney.
A number of days of rough swell prevented an immediate launch of the "Glen" floatplane. They stayed submerged during the day and back to the surface at night.
Finally on Monday 16 February 1942, Lieutenant Commander Tagami agreed with his Executive Officer Lieutenant Tatsuo Tsukudo that the "Glen" could be launched. 30 year old Warrant Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita readied himself for a recce flight over Sydney Harbour in the "Glen" . Fujita was a graduate of the Kasumigaura Navy Air Corps.
An hour after sunset Tagami brought I-25 up to periscope depth. After carefully scanning the horizons for any lights he gave the order to surface. Once on the surface, another visual check was made for Allied shipping or aircraft. By midnight the batteries on I-25 had been recharged using one of its diesel engines. The compressed air bottles had also been recharged.
Lieutenant Tatsuo Tsukudo supervised the assembly and launch of the "Glen". He allowed 60 - 90 minutes for the aircraft to be assembled. He planned the take off time such that after an hour's flight over Sydney and its suburbs it would head back for I-25 just after the sun rose at 6.32 am. It was then an hour's flying time between I-25 and Sydney. This ensured the "Glen" found the submarine without any problems.
The assembly of the aircraft began at 3.30am on Tuesday 17 February 1942. 10 mechanics withdrew the fuselage and rotated it on a small turntable so that it faced the conning tower. The wings were attached and the flaps and ailerons unfolded. An hour later the "Glen" was ready for take off. The observer/gunner for this flight was Petty Officer Second Class Shoji Okuda.
I-25 headed northwards at 18 knots in readiness for the launch. After it was launched along the 20 metre long catapult, the "Glen" climbed slowly in the direction of Sydney. It travelled at about 90 knots.
They arrived in Sydney over the low cliffs at La Perouse at a height of 2,500 metres and travelled across Botany Bay on a course of 270 degrees. They swung north west and headed for Parramatta with the city and the harbour on their right. Fujita had to lose height to about 1,000 metres avoid some clouds. This gave him a very clear view of the Sydney Harbour bridge. He then peeled to the right and headed over Ryde and Willoughby with the harbour still on their right.
Despite the brownout, they could still see many lights including the lights at the Garden Island Naval base and the Macquarie lighthouse and its 1.4 million candle power light. Okuda counted 23 ships at anchor in the harbour. Amongst the military ships they saw a large 10,000 ton three funnel warship, 2 destroyers and 5 submarines.
As the early rays of the sun were almost ready to appear, they started to become uneasy as it was becoming quite light. They fully expected the air raid sirens to sound and the anti-aircraft guns to open fire. They continued undetected crossing North Head and began their return flight to submarine I-25. They dropped down to 50 metres for the return flight. They spotted 2 freighters heading down the east coast.
When they reached the anticipated rendezvous area they could not find the submarine. Eventually Fujita decided to attempt to send a very brief coded radio message to locate the submarine. His radio refused to work. They then started a systematic square search pattern to locate the submarine. Their fuel was running extremely low. Fujita eventually spotted I-25 on the horizon.
They waggled their wings as they approached to identify themselves to the lookouts on the bridge. A yellow smoke flare was fired from I-25 to acknowledge their signal. Fujita landed the floatplane and taxied towards the submarine where it was hoisted on board by the retractable deck crane.
By 7.30 am they had disassembled the "Glen" and stowed it in the water tight hangar. Commander Tagami then pointed I-25 southwards on the surface at 14 knots.
Japanese Recce flights over Australia during WW2
Jenkins, David, "Battle Surface - Japan's Submarine War against Australia 1942 - 44", Random House Australia, 1992
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© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 29 October 2000
This page last updated 14 February 2019