Culture and heritage

Heritage of NSW

M24 midget submarine

Following the discovery of the M24 submarine, the NSW and Australian governments jointly protected the site under the NSW Heritage Act 1977 and the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. The NSW Government continues to work collaboratively with the Commonwealth and Japanese governments to protect this highly significant site.

Wreck of the midget submarine M24. Courtesy Heritage Branch/Royal Australian Navy.

Wreck of the midget submarine M24. Courtesy Heritage Branch/Royal Australian Navy.

For over 60 years one of the greatest Australian wartime and maritime mysteries was the whereabouts of the third and last Japanese midget submarine, which invaded Sydney Harbour on the evening of 31 May 1942. That night, the harbour was full of allied naval vessels and the midget submarines were on a mission to inflict maximum damage.

Two of the midget submarines (M22 and M27) were destroyed almost immediately and recovered from Sydney Harbour within a week, but the third (M24) could not be found.

The M24 was the only submarine able to launch its torpedoes and with terrible effect, sinking the ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 men on board and injuring another 10.

There were many theories about what might have happened to the missing submarine and many so called 'discoveries'.

It was not until November 2006, that a group of weekend divers called 'No Frills Divers' located the still intact Japanese midget submarine M24 off Bungan Head, Newport (Sydney, Australia). The submarine was entangled in nets 54 metres below on the seabed.

Like all shipwrecks the M24 has a fascinating story to tell — of the events in Sydney Harbour on the night of 31 May and the early morning of 1 June 1942; the role of the Japanese midget submarines, and the Japanese submarine campaign along Australia’s eastern seaboard during World War II.

The Heritage Division, Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) continues to actively manage the site and undertakes an ongoing program of archaeological surveys.

Diver at M24 Midget Submarine

M24 Midget Submarine. Images courtesy of Steve Trewavas

Diver at M24 Midget Submarine

M24 Midget Submarine. Images courtesy of Steve Trewavas

M24 Public Trial Diver Open Day

For over 10 years, a wide variety of detailed archaeological surveys, research, and conservation have been undertaken on the M24. To enable this valuable work to be undertaken, a moratorium on diving was placed on the wreck with only archaeological and scientific diving permitted.

However, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the 1942 raid OEH, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Program, determined that the M24 site could be opened for limited and controlled public access on a trial basis. To ensure a fair an equitable allocation of permits a public ballot was held with over 300 applications being received for 12 permits.

In November 2017, two groups of six divers were permitted access to the M24 Protected Zone. The trial Diver Open Day was extremely well received and demonstrated that controlled and respectful public access to the M24 site could be achieved. The OEH is currently liaising with the Commonwealth and Japanese Governments to explore options for opening up the site to recreational divers on a regular basis.

Open Day divers inspecting M24 midget submarine. Images courtesy of Liam Allen

Open Day divers inspecting M24 midget submarine. Images courtesy of Liam Allen

M24 3D model

For the first time a high-resolution 3D model of the M24 has been produced. This model provides an unprecedented level of detail of the site and accurately shows what the submarine looks like 54 metres below the sea. The model will provide a baseline recording that will allow OEH to monitor changes to the wreck over time and also allow the public to visit the site without having to get wet. The 3D recording project was initiated by OEH with assistance from the Australian and New Zealand Chapter of the Explorers Club led by maritime archaeologist Matt Carter who was granted a special access permit to undertake the diving survey.  The 3D model was produced in partnership with ARCHAEOTecnic and Tempus Archaeology.

3D model of M24 midget submarine. Images courtesy of ARCHAEOTecnic and Tempus Archaeology

3D Model of divers view of M24 midget submarine. Images courtesy of ARCHAEOTecnic and Tempus Archaeology

Page last updated: 21 December 2018