Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 25, 2009

A Very Rude Awakening (2007), by Peter Grose, read by James Wright

I’ve come across two books by Peter Grose, both of them myth-busters.  An Awkward Truth is the story of the Japanese raid on Darwin during World War II in 1942, and A Very Rude Awakening is about the three midget submarines that entered Sydney Harbour on May 31st 1942, and sank HMAS Kuttabul, a converted ferry which was moored at Garden Island.

Both these books show just how unprepared Australia was for war.  Having relied on the British Navy for security since settlement, Australia had not long realigned its foreign policy towards the US, but was still shocked by the Fall of Singapore on February 15th, 1942.  However government censorship meant that civilians didn’t know much about the subsequent bombing of Darwin on February 19th and according to Grose, the war still seemed remote and there was no rush to enlist in Australia’s defence.

Grose painstakingly recounts the catalogue of errors that enabled three Japanese midget submarines sneaked through the harbour defences.  Past indicator loops, navy patrols and an anti-submarine net across the entrance.  When the subs were finally observed and a report was brought to the attention of the navy, it was ignored.  Grose’s argument is, and it seems hard to refute, that the only reason there was so little loss of life that night was sheer luck.  Although there were instances of courage, there was also crass stupidity, laziness and incompetence, and the damage that could have been done to Allied shipping should give everyone pause for thought.  The 27 men who died, should not have;  heads should have rolled, and didn’t.

Unfortunately Grose’s scorn sometimes gets the better of him, and it makes me wonder a bit about his objectivity.

If you are interested in learning more about the attack, Australia’s War 1939-1945 is an excellent site with maps, images, animations and video.

Author: Peter Grose
Title: A Very Rude Awakening:  the night the Japanese midget subs came to Sydney Harbour, read by James Wright.
Publisher: Louis Braille Audio, 2007
ISBN: 978 0 7320 3349 1
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library


  1. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy A Very Rude Awakening by Peter Grose as it was very difficult to read and follow as he tended to jump from one point in history prior to the Sydney raid in May 1942 to post war then back again. Also pages 59 to 96 were absent from the book.
    Very disappointed, would not recommend this book as a reference for history students as it fails to mention the reasons the harbour was so poorly defended.
    1. Both Churchill and Roosevelt had to defeat Hitler first, therefore the European theatre had priority.
    2. America and British were in retreat and the U.S. had only just entered the war so Australia was considered to be expendable.
    3. Then, as it still is today, defence was not a priority for democratic countries following WW1.
    4. HMAS Perth was lost along with USS Houston in the Sunda Strait yet Peter fails to mention this when he takes great care to mention the Houston was lost.
    5. The reason the defences around both Sydney harbour and Newcastle took a while to respond to the shelling of both harbours by the “I” Class mother submarines was that the Battery Commanders had to contact Canberra for permission to open fire. Fortunately the Battery Commander took the initiative and returned fire as it had taken to long to contact the minister responsible for this and did not receive this until the action had been concluded.


    • Hello Allen, thank you for refreshing my memory about this book, it’s been rather a while since I read it.
      There’s always a difficulty with popular histories about events like this: the research may not always be as thorough as it might be, the historical analysis may be wanting, and sometimes there is an authorial agenda that gets in the way of historical objectivity. On the other hand, more scholarly works tend to be of less interest to the general reader. On balance, I think Grose does a useful job of presenting an overview of this event which tends not be well-known, despite our nation’s preoccupation with military history. But he is more critical of human frailty than I like, and sometimes his contempt gets the better of him.
      Thanks for your input about the reasons for the unpreparedness:)


  2. […] when Australia came under attack on home soil: An Awkward Truth: The Bombing of Darwin and A Very Rude Awakening: The night the Japanese midget subs came to Sydney Harbour.  This new history, A Good Place to Hide is a departure for Grose because it focuses on events in […]


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