JAPANESE RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHT
OVER MELBOURNE AND PORT PHILLIP BAY
ON 26 FEBRUARY 1942
Warrant Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita completed a recce flight in his "Glen" float plane over Sydney Harbour from submarine I-25 on Tuesday 17 February 1942.
Commander Tagami then pointed I-25 southwards for their next mission - a similar flight over Melbourne. Tagami decided to launch the aircraft from Cape Wickham at the northern end of King Island at the western end of Bass Strait about half way between Victoria and Tasmania.
By midday on Wednesday 18 February 1942 they were nearly 400 miles south east of Sydney still heading southwards. Their course took them down the east coast of Tasmania and back up the west coast.
At 10.30 am on 19 February 1942 they were travelling on the surface 200 miles east of Hobart. They swung south west about 80 miles off Cape Bruny lighthouse. That afternoon they hit a fierce storm as they headed westwards below Tasmania. By midnight they had passed Maatsuyker Island off the south west coast of Tasmania.
As they travelled up the west coast of Tasmania on 20 February 1942, the seas moderated. Before he launched the float plane near Cape Wickham, Tagami made a submerged daylight trip across Bass Strait to Cape Otway. He made a number of periscope inspections of the south west Victorian coastline when he was about 10 miles offshore.
They travelled the 37 miles back to Cape Wickham submerged. They saw a number of freighters travelling east through Bass Strait. They waited in sight of the northern end of King Island for a few days for conditions suitable to launch the aircraft. After sunset on Wednesday 25 February 1942, Tagami surfaced his submarine and for an hour made his way between the reefs and shoals to a position 10 miles north of Cape Wickham.
Nobuo Fujita and Shoji Okuda were ready for their flight over Melbourne. They could still see the beam of the unmanned Cape Wickham lighthouse in the distance through the light fog. I-25 moved forward to generate sufficient wind for take-off.
They were in the air about 2 hours before dawn on Thursday 26 February 1942. Fujita flew north across Bass Strait headed for Cape Otway where he banked to the north east and followed the coastline to the Point Lonsdale lighthouse near the narrow entrance to Port Phillip Bay. He then headed north east towards the city of Melbourne. Fujita struck a few heavy banks of cloud. He flew across the Bellarine Peninsula towards Portarlington. The city of Geelong was 16 kms away to the left of his aircraft on the other side of Lake Connewarre.
He was flying NNE as he flew over Portarlington. He then flew another 24 kms along the western edge of Port Phillip Bay. He continued to encounter heavy cloud and was unsure of his position. They eventually dropped down from 1,500 metres into a gap in the clouds. At about 6.45 a.m. Fujita cleared the base of the clouds when he reached 300 metres. They had exited the clouds directly above the RAAF's Laverton airfield. There were about 12 Wirraways based at Laverton along with some Lockheed Hudsons and some Avro Ansons.
About nine RAAF personnel at Laverton reported sighting the Japanese aircraft. Two RAAF aircraft were scrambled to try to locate the intruder. They found nothing. Three Wirraways were sent to Bairnsdale.
Fujita climbed back into the relative safety of the clouds and headed for Melbourne. He passed over Altona. He used a tactic of dropping down out of the clouds every now and then to make some observations and then climbing back into the clouds for safety. His unexpected descent above RAAF Laverton had made him very nervous about the rest of their flight.
The crews of the 4 ack ack guns at Williamstown beside the rifle range were in the middle of a routine inspection of their guns when the telescope person spotted the aircraft identifying it as a Japanese aircraft. Aubrey Auton from Melbourne, spotted the prominent red roundel. The roundel was easy to spot as the aircraft was flying so slow and was very low.
The Lieutenant in charge of the gun battery unfortunately did not give the order to open fire. Instead he got on the phone to headquarters to obtain permission. By that time it was too late. Fujita turned right and headed across the rifle range butts towards Port Phillip Bay.
Fujita continued his charmed journey across Melbourne at a height of 300 metres obtaining a birds eye view of the Yarra River, the central business district of Melbourne and the docks at the mouth of the Yarra River. He spotted a number of docks along the river used to repair ships. The other thing that struck him was the red, green and yellow roof tiles on all the houses and the beautiful countryside and the large flocks of sheep.
Fujita continued southwards over St. Kilda, Brighton and Sandringham. He then turned towards Frankstown. Okuda, with the canopy back, spotted 19 vessels anchored in the harbour through his binoculars. He also spotted 6 warships headed in single file towards the Port Melbourne dock area. Fujita confirmed through his binoculars that the leading ship was a light cruiser, and the others were all destroyers.
Fujita crossed the shore again near Dromona and continued on towards Cape Schanck where he was able to re-establish his position via the Cape Schanck lighthouse. He then set a direct 175 kms course for the Cape Wickham lighthouse. He spotted the submarine only 6 nautical miles east of the lighthouse. It had drifted 4 nautical miles closer to the lighthouse since they first took off.
Fujita and the crew of the submarine were concerned that the large submarine would be sighted by the lighthouse keepers at the Cape Wickham lighthouse. Little did they know that "downsizing" was alive and well in the 1940's. The superintendent and his 3 assistants had been withdrawn from the island when the original kerosene wick lamps were replaced by an acetylene flasher way back in 1918. Despite this, Fujita reported sighting 3 or 4 men dressed in white running around the lighthouse. He was sure they had been spotted. The aircraft was disassembled and as it was being stowed I-25 speed away from the area doing 14 knots.
Tagami set a course back down the west coast of Tasmania. He travelled on the surface.
The city of Melbourne had held a brownout trial 15 nights prior to this reconnaissance flight. Like a similar trial in Sydney, there were reports of many lights still burning.
Fujita's next reconnaissance flight was planned for Hobart on 1 March 1942.
Rifle Range Butts
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 09:50:59 +0800
From: "JVW" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I recently saw an article in the paper Re Jap plane Herald Sun 26/2/2002.... I am interested in the photo of the Gunnery .as my family lived in the Butts 1946-1953, as a child we played in the remnants of gun emplacements and I was wondering if these were the same ones.... we were in the Army huts in the corner of the rifle range nearest to the Nth Williamston railway station. Kororiot Creek Rd.... Would it be possible to contact Aubrey Auton/Norm Oorloff.....Our address was 6 Fifth Avenue....
Regards John V Wragg
Japanese Recce flights over Australia during WW2
Jenkins, David, "Battle Surface - Japan's Submarine War against Australia 1942 - 44", Random House Australia, 1992
Can anyone help me with more information?
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This page first produced 29 October 2000
This page last updated 14 February 2019