Cultural signficance

The wreck of a Japanese midget submarine found at Pearl Harbour in 2002. Courtesy of the Hawaii Underwater Research Laboratory

The midget submarine M24 joins a rare group of Imperial Japanese Navy midget submarine wrecks around the world. It is one of only five wrecks remaining underwater. It is the only vessel from the 31 May 1942 conflict in Sydney Harbour, which remains in its original battle context.

The wreck has great significance to both Australia and Japan. It is a lasting legacy of the dramatic midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour on 31 May and 1 June 1942, and is emblematic of the broader conflict, between Australia and its allies, and the Japanese during World War II.

Following Australia’s declaration of war in 1941, until mid 1943, the Japanese conducted repeated bombing raids on the Australian mainland, and a submarine campaign centred along its east coast.

As probably the last resting place of the Japanese midget submarine’s two crew members, twenty-three-year old Sub-Lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban, and twenty-four-year-old Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe, the wreck is also a potent reminder of the tragic consequences of this conflict. Twenty-seven lives were lost — 19 Australian, two British and six Japanese.

The shipwreck has the potential to add to our knowledge of the Japanese Type A 'Ko-Hyoteki' midget submarines. Studying the steel shipwreck will allow further insights into how shipwrecks deteriorate in marine environments, and how they are colonised as 'artificial' reef habitats.