A new virtual reality experience has been developed by maritime archaeologists to provide access to the wreck of the first Japanese submarine sunk by a Royal Australian Navy warship in World War Two.
20 January marked the 80th anniversary of the sinking of I-124 while on a secret mission in northern Australian waters. Some 80 crew died when the vessel sank 65km out from Darwin in 1942.
The historic wreck, regarded as one of the most important in Australian waters, lies upright at a depth of up to 50m and is a protected Commonwealth war grave, so recreational scuba divers are ordinarily unable to visit the site.
However, last October the Northern Territory Government Heritage Branch undertook a joint project with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) to map the wreck, using remote sensing equipment from the AIMS research vessel Solander.
“Drawing on our data, and historic ship plans and photographs, we’ve created a virtual dive experience in which the video takes the viewer through the data-gathering process, and then takes you down into the deep, to experience the wreck first-hand,” says the creator of the digital experience, Dr John McCarthy, a maritime archaeologist at Flinders University’s College of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences.
“The archaeological survey shows that the wreck is in good condition, but with some signs of degradation of the outer hull that require further investigation.”
I-124 was an Imperial Japanese Navy minelaying submarine built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries in 1926-1928. According to the Australasian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database, the 1383-tonne, 85m-long vessel entered active service in 1937 during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, and in WW2 was assigned to the Philippine Submarine Group.
During December 1941 she conducted patrols and minelaying operations across the South China Sea and was credited with sinking the British steamer Hareldawins, the US vessel Corregidor and the Panamanian-flagged steamer Daylite.
She was reassigned to operate in the Flores Sea and Torres Strait in early 1942, tasked with assisting in invasions, disrupting Allied lines of communication and fleet movements, and laying mines off north-west Australia.
On 20 January in the Beagle Gulf, Japanese 6th Squadron submarines launched a torpedo attack against the Darwin-bound US fleet oil-tanker Trinity, escorted by USS Edsall and USS Alden. The two destroyers responded with depth charges as Australian minesweeping corvette HMAS Deloraine was ordered to the scene, where I-124 fired torpedoes at the approaching ship.
Deloraine evaded the attack and countered with depth charges. As I-124 was forced to surface briefly she was depth-charged by Deloraine and other arriving corvettes and bombed by a US seaplane, eventually sinking to the seabed.