SYDNEY – The Australian government confirmed Friday that a sunken submarine discovered recently off Sydney is that of a World War II-era M24 Japanese midget sub that took part in a historic and daring raid in mid-1942.
Environment and Heritage Minister Ian Campbell, in a statement on his ministry’s Web site, said, “I can confirm the wreck discovered by a group of divers is the Japanese midget submarine that disappeared after the Japanese action in Sydney Harbor in 1942.
“This discovery and the future protection of the submarine is the final chapter in an amazing story that has intrigued Australia for more than 60 years,” he said.
The attack is remembered for having brought the war to Sydney’s doorstep.
Campbell said the confirmation is based on an inspection by divers of the Royal Australian Navy and advice from the Navy Heritage Collection. A comparative analysis of the midget submarine at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra was also conducted.
“To ensure the protection of this wreck, its relics and any human remains, I have declared a protected zone around the site which will extend 500 meters in each direction,” he said.
Under the government restrictions, diving is prohibited in the zone.
Campbell warned that the two-man sub’s demolition charges may not have been discharged, making the wreck extremely dangerous.
As to the fate of the M24’s two crew members, Campbell said the Australian and Japanese governments will work together “to ensure all matters are handled sensitively.”
The wreckage was discovered by amateur divers last month off Sydney’s northern beaches.
On the night of May 31 to June 1, 1942, the M24 entered Sydney Harbor, along with two other midget submarines, and fired torpedoes that missed the American cruiser USS Chicago but exploded beneath the barracks ship HMAS Kuttabul, killing 19 Australian and two British sailors.
Of the other two submarines, one became entangled in a defensive boom net and its two-man crew blew it up, while the other was sunk in a depth charge attack before firing any torpedoes.
Earlier this week, the government provisionally declared the sub wreck to be a “historic shipwreck” to give it legal protection from damage, disturbance or removal.