Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Australian Navy Divers Survey Wreck of Japanese WWII Submarine


By Ed Johnson
May 23, 2006

Australian navy divers surveying the sunken wreck of a Japanese midget submarine that attacked Sydney Harbor during World War II will present sand collected from the site to relatives of the two dead crewmen, the government said.

The M24 vessel was one of three Japanese submarines that raided the harbor in 1942 and fired torpedoes at U.S. and Australian ships.

Two of the submarines were destroyed and found within days of the attack. The fate of the third remained a mystery until it was discovered by amateur divers at Bungan Head, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of the harbor, in November.

``The submarine is of international historical significance and is presumed to still contain the remains of its commander and navigator, Sub-Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban and Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe,'' said Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull in a statement yesterday. The sand collected from the seabed will be presented to their relatives later this year, he added.

The Japanese raid on May 31, 1942, killed 19 Australian and two British sailors when torpedoes hit the HMAS Kuttabul. The U.S. battle cruiser, USS Chicago, was unscathed.

One of the submarines became entangled in a defense net strung across the harbor and its crewmen blew themselves up along with the craft. The other was sunk by a depth-charge before it could fire its torpedoes.

The discovery of the wreck at Bungan Head has raised further questions about what happened in the hours after the attack, as the M24 was supposed to return to a mother-submarine waiting south of the harbor at Port Hacking.

Ocean Floor

The submarine is lying upright on the ocean floor and is mostly intact, although its shell has been damaged by commercial fishing trawling over the past 65 years, the Australian government said.

Navy divers mapped and surveyed the wreck two days ago and assessed possible battle damage and the status of undetonated scuttling charges, Turnbull said.

The government has declared the wreck site a protected zone to ensure the submarine and any human remains are not disturbed.

``We are committed to ensuring this internationally significant wreck is protected and treated with honor and respect,'' said Turnbull.



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