Japanese midget submarine damaged, but intact

May 21, 2007

The wreckage of a Japanese midget submarine lost off Sydney during World War II is largely intact but showing signs of damage from fishing nets, navy divers discovered today.

Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who observed the dive from aboard a Royal Australian Navy ship five kilometres off Bungan Head on Sydney's northern beaches today, said the vessel's discovery last year solved one of Australia's most baffling maritime mysteries.

Mr Turnbull said the submarine, M24, most likely still contained the remains of its crew, Sub-Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban and Petty Officer Memoru Ashibe.

He said the divers' footage of the wreck showed the submarine sitting upright and largely intact on the ocean floor but with damage to the exterior from commercial trawling operations over the past 65 years.

"The inspection, which was conducted by Navy Clearance Diving Team One, will allow archaeologists to analyse the physical and chemical condition of the hull and associated relics, assess any possible battle damage and the status of the undetonated scuttling charges and provide further clues as to whether the remains of the submariners are still aboard," he said in a statement.

M24 was one of three Japanese midget submarines which penetrated Sydney Harbour on the evening of May 31, 1942.

M24 fired two torpedoes at the cruiser USS Chicago but missed.

However, one torpedo sank the depot ship HMAS Kuttabul, killing 19 Australian and two British ratings asleep inside.

Both of the other submarines were sunk in the harbour and their crews killed. A composite of the two vessels now enjoys pride of place in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

M24 managed to escape the harbour but never made a rendezvous with parent submarines.

It was found last year by amateur divers.

Mr Turnbull said the government had sought to protect the wreck, declaring a protected zone to ensure it remained undisturbed.

He said the navy divers had collected some sand from the seabed near M24 to be presented to relatives of the two submariners later this year.

"We are committed to ensuring this internationally significant wreck is protected and treated with honour and respect," he said.

"The survey work being undertaken today is part of our ongoing management planning."