HMAS Kuttabul (ship)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMAS Kuttabul.
Naval Depot Ship Kuttabul
Kuttabul after sinking
Career (Australia)
Name: Kuttabul
Namesake: Aboriginal word meaning "wonderful"
Owner: Sydney Ferries Limited
Operator: Sydney Ferries (1922-1940)
Royal Australian Navy (1940-1942)
Port of registry: 1922-1940: Sydney,  Australia
Route: Circular Quay-Milsons Point
Ordered: 1920
Builder: Walsh Island Dockyard and Engineering Works, Newcastle
Launched: 1922
In service: 1922
Out of service: 1940
Identification: O/N 150185
Fate: Sunk on 1 June 1942
General characteristics
Type: Harbour ferry
Tonnage: 448 GT
201 NT
Length: 182.6 ft (55.7 m)
Beam: 36.1 ft (11.0 m)
Capacity: 2,250 passengers as ferry

HMAS Kuttabul was a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) depot ship, and former Sydney harbour ferry. During the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour on 31 May 1942, Kuttabul was torpedoed and sunk, with 21 Commonwealth naval personnel aboard.

Design and construction[edit]

Kuttabul originated as a steam-powered ferry, built in 1922 by the Walsh Island Dockyard and Engineering Works in Newcastle, New South Wales. Kuttabul was rated at 448 gross and 201 net tonnes (1269 and 569 m³), was 183 feet (56 m) long, with a beam of 36 feet (11 m), and capable of seating approximately 2,250 passengers. Kuttabul and identical sister ship Koompartoo were the largest ferries ever operated on the inner harbour ferry routes, however Kuttabul had a larger passenger capacity (2250) than Koompartoo (2089). Both ferries were of steel construction with a wooden superstructure.[1] Both vessels were constructed with 18 watertight compartments, regarded as being unsinkable and therefore were not required to carry lifebelts.[2]

Operational history[edit]

Sydney Ferries[edit]

Kuttabul spent most of its life as a double-ended Sydney suburban ferry, carrying passengers across Sydney Harbour, linking the downtown ferry terminal at Circular Quay with various suburban ferry wharves, but especially the heavy route between the Quay and Milsons Point.

Made redundant by the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, Kuttabul and Koompartoo were laid up, but were later made available for tourist cruises on the harbour.[3][4]


After the outbreak of World War II, Kuttabul was requisitioned by the RAN, and moored at the Garden Island naval base to provide accommodation for Allied naval personnel while they awaited transfer to their ships.[3]

On the night of 31 May-1 June 1942, three Ko-hyoteki class midget submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy entered Sydney Harbour with the intention of attacking Allied warships. Only one of the submarines, designated M-24, was able to fire her torpedoes, but both missed their intended target: the heavy cruiser USS Chicago.[3] The torpedoes, fired around 00:30, continued on to Garden Island: one ran aground harmlessly, but the other hit the breakwater against which Kuttabul and the Dutch submarine K-IX were moored.[5][6] The explosion broke Kuttabul in two and sank her,[3]

The attack killed 19 Royal Australian Navy and two Royal Navy sailors asleep aboard the ferry, and wounded another 10.[7] It took several days for the bodies of the dead sailors to be recovered, with a burial ceremony held on 3 June.[8] One of the ferry's wheelhouses was salvaged and used as a naval police guardhouse at the Garden Island naval base;[citation needed] the base was commissioned on 1 January 1943 as the stone frigate HMAS Kuttabul in commemoration of the ferry and the lives lost.[7] The wheelhouse later came into the possession of the Australian War Memorial, and is on display alongside a composite submarine built from the wreckage of two of the Japanese midget submarines.[9]


  1. ^ Prescott, Anthony (1984). Sydney Ferry Fleets. Ronald H Parsons. ISBN 0-909418-30-6. 
  2. ^ "The Kuttabul. New Ferry Steamer.". Sydney Morning Herald. August 1922. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  3. ^ a b c d Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 215
  4. ^ Gregory's Street Directory of Sydney & Suburbs, p. 214
  5. ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, pp. 213-5
  6. ^ Grose, A Very Rude Awakening, p. 139
  7. ^ a b Elbourne, Wonderful Kuttabul
  8. ^ Carruthers, Japanese Submarine Raiders 1942, p. 151
  9. ^ Grose, A Very Rude Awakening, pp. 253–5


  • Carruthers, Steven (2006) [1982]. Japanese Submarine Raiders 1942: A maritime mystery (Revised ed.). Narrabeen: Casper Publications. ISBN 0-9775063-0-4. 
  • Elbourne, Sean (Winter 2006). "Wonderful Kuttabul - a long history of service" (PDF). Sea Talk (Winter 2006) (Royal Australian Navy). pp. 11–19. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  • Gregory's Street Directory of Sydney & Suburbs (1st (reprint) ed.). 2006 [1934]. 
  • Grose, Peter (2007). A Very Rude Awakening. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74175-219-9. 
  • Jenkins, David (1992). Battle Surface! Japan's Submarine War Against Australia 1942–44. Milsons Point: Random House Australia. ISBN 0-09-182638-1. 

External links[edit]