Sunday, January 01, 2006

1942's missing subs found

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The Age
November 26, 2005

Off Sydney Heads lies what could be the M24 and her gallant crew, reports Steve Meachem.
HAS the Japanese midget submarine that terrorised Sydney 63 years ago finally been found? If so, should it be raised? Or left in peace, in honour of the two submariners — Sub-Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban and Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe — who briefly turned the harbour city into the front line of World War II?

The answer to the first question is, almost certainly yes. Now debate will focus on what should happen to it. The RSL has already said that the submarine should not be touched, but honoured as an official war grave.

At 7pm on Monday the man who believes he has found the wreck will present his evidence in a live TV special, M24: The Last Sunrise, from Garden Island in Sydney Harbour.

Officially, Sydney-based filmmaker Damien Lay is not claiming he has definitely found the M24, the last of three midget submarines that launched a surprise attack on Sydney on Sunday, May 31, 1942, sinking HMAS Kuttabul and killing 21 Australian sailors and British marines.

Protocol demands that declaration must come from the NSW Heritage Office, the body responsible for historic shipwrecks around Sydney.

But Lay is clearly confident his team has solved the most fascinating enigma in Australian maritime history. His divers have inspected the wreck, which lies 20 metres down in sand off Sydney Heads.

Lay spent nearly four years researching the attack on Sydney for his 90-minute documentary, He's Coming South, which had its world premiere on Foxtel's history channel on November 11.

"We didn't set out to find the M24," says Lay. But halfway through his research he came across two things — "a theory, and a discovery" — which convinced him he had a good chance of solving the mystery.

One was "a theory based on historical evidence that was really quite extraordinary", the other a sighting by a diver who said he saw something 15 years ago that might be the M24.

After tests with seismic and other equipment, Lay was even more certain divers should investigate. "We did a number of technical surveys of the site, and that's all in the evidence we will present on Monday night," he says.

"It is difficult to locate the precise site. It's a challenging area and comes with a number of difficulties, including visibility and weather conditions."

The divers found something "lying in a sandy area, in approximately 20 metres of water, accessible to an experienced diver". That worries Don Rowe, president of the NSW Returned and Services League, who believes it could attract recreational divers. "If it's found to be the Japanese mini-submarine, it is a war grave and should not be desecrated or interfered with," Mr Rowe said."

There are a number of Australian ships which sank with sailors aboard. None of those have been disturbed or raised. It should not be any different for the crew of a Japanese submarine.

We have always respected the skills of the submariners who launched the attack."John White, senior curator of military technology at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, says M24 "is a Japanese warship and … Japan will ultimately have the final say".

Lay says: "These were courageous men, extremely dedicated to their mission and their country.

Putting aside the atrocities of war, they were men, and they had families. They deserve the utmost respect, the same respect their submariner colleagues were given in 1942."

M24: The Last Sunrise, will be on Foxtel's History Channel, FOX8 and Sky News Australia from 7pm, on Monday.


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www.schnorkel.blogspot.com

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