Australia to protect Japanese sub wreck

27 November 2006
Online edition, 2.49pm

Australia's government has placed a protective heritage order over the site of the wreck of a Japanese midget submarine that attacked Sydney Harbour in 1942.

The missing two-man submarine M24 was one of a trio that slipped in darkness past protective nets stretched across the harbour entrance on May 31, 1942, with a plan to attack shipping, including the American battle cruiser USS Chicago.

Two of the 46-tonne subs were sunk. But the M24 fired two torpedoes, one of which sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 19 Australian sailors and two Britons before vanishing under heavy fire. The other torpedo failed to explode.

The wreck of the long-sought submarine was found by recreational divers in deep water 3 nautical miles (5.5 km) off Sydney's north coast.

"We just saw this long shape with a little lump sticking out of it and the heart, you know, started going and you think 'No, it couldn't be'," diver Tony Hay told Australian television.

Television footage showed the weed- and barnacle-encrusted wreck of the 24-metre sub sitting upright on its keel, its propeller and punctured hull clearly visible.

Australia's government on Monday placed a protective heritage order over the still-secret site to guard against looting and ensure any crew remains were not disturbed.

"It was a very brave, a brazen, incursion right into the heart of one of the biggest harbours in the world. For the secret and the sub to have been lost for over 50 years is quite phenomenal," Environment Minister Ian Campbell told reporters.

The wreck was yet to be officially identified, but Australian navy divers were inspecting the site on Monday and navy heritage chief Shane Moore was convinced the M24 had at last been found.

The Japanese government, Campbell said, had been informed and the wreck would stay in place pending a decision on whether the sub would be raised or stay where it was as a war grave.

"I think we have to respect the sensitivities of the families of those who've been lost," he said.

A Japanese embassy spokesman said the mission was awaiting official confirmation.

One of the wreck's discoverers, diver Alan Simon, said a wreath had been placed over the site as a mark of respect to the missing Japanese sailors.

Parts of the two other submarines sunk in the raid were raised and have been on display in Australia's National War Memorial in Canberra since 1943.

One was destroyed by its crew after becoming entangled in anti-submarine netting, while the other was sunk with depth charges and its crew committed suicide.

This article can be found in The Age Online - Monday, 27 November 2006.

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