Dr John McCarthy, Flinders University

New virtual reality experience reveals secrets of WWII Japanese submarine wreck

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January 20th 2022 marks 80 years since the first sinking of a Japanese submarine by an Australian ship during World War II. Now, a new virtual reality experience developed by maritime archaeologists offers unprecedented access to the submarine sunk while on a secret mission in northern Australian waters.

Organisation/s: Flinders University

Funder: Flinders University, NT Heritage and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)

Media release

From: Flinders University

January 20th 2022 marks 80 years since the first sinking of a Japanese submarine by a Royal Australian Navy warship during World War II and now a new virtual reality experience developed by maritime archaeologists offers unprecedented access to the submarine sunk while on a secret mission in northern Australian waters.

80 Japanese crew members died aboard submarine I-124 in 1942 when it was sunk by Allied forces 65 kilometres off the coast of Darwin Harbour during mine laying operations.

The historic wreck is a war grave, protected by Commonwealth legislation with diving near the site strictly controlled, so this new virtual reality experience is the only way the Australian and Japanese public can see the submarine.

In anticipation of the 80th anniversary, the Northern Territory Government Heritage Branch undertook a joint project with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) from the AIMS research vessel Solander to map the wreck using state-of-the-art remote sensing equipment in October 2021.

Dr John McCarthy, a maritime archaeologist at Flinders University was then commissioned to create a virtual dive experience to show how this data is being used to understand and monitor this site, one of Australia’s most important wrecks.

“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 firsthand,” says Dr McCarthy, Maritime Archaeology Lecturer in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University.

“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. Our aim was to create a realistic virtual experience with an accurate digital reconstruction of the submarine given the historical significance of the wreck in Australia and Japan.”

The wreckage is considered a highly significant site of shared heritage between Australia and Japan and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a 2018 memorial service in Darwin honouring the Japanese  sailors who died.

Dr McCarthy says developments in virtual technology are making it possible to finally explore wrecks and submerged landscapes previously hidden to the wider public.

The wreck is protected by the Commonwealth Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018, which is administered by the Northern Territory Government’s Heritage Branch in Commonwealth Waters off the Northern Territory coast. This project was undertaken with funding assistance from the Commonwealth.

The ‘virtual experience’ is published through YouTube in both English and Japanese and is available to anyone with a VR headset, smart phone, or tablet. [English: https://youtu.be/mHlySgpCEso]. [Japanese: https://youtu.be/VGHmXNhobz4]

Media note:

Online media covering the story may be able to embed the actual VR video within their articles, by using the following html embed code:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://youtu.be/mHlySgpCEso" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

This link will be stable, and the video will be left online indefinitely.

For those media who do not wish to embed YouTube videos, an alternative option is to download and post the 2D preview video on their own server, the file for which is circulated with the Dropbox link in the press release.

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Multimedia:

  • Sonar survey data for the I-124 submarine wreck
    Sonar survey data for the I-124 submarine wreck

    Sonar survey data for the I-124 submarine wreck captured by the Australian Institute of Marine Science in October 2021 from survey vessel RV Solander

    File size: 6.9 MB

    Attribution: (image John McCarthy CC_3.0)

    Permission category: No right reserved (waive all rights)

    Last modified: 21 Jan 2022 12:01am

    NOTE: High resolution files can only be downloaded here by registered journalists who are logged in.

  • Preview of the I-124 virtual dive experience
    Preview of the I-124 virtual dive experience

    Preview of the I-124 virtual dive experience (image John McCarthy CC_3.0)

    File size: 1.7 MB

    Attribution: (image John McCarthy CC_3.0)

    Permission category: Free to share (must credit)

    Last modified: 21 Jan 2022 12:10am

    NOTE: High resolution files can only be downloaded here by registered journalists who are logged in.

  • 3D reconstruction of the I-124 submarine wreck on the seabed
    3D reconstruction of the I-124 submarine wreck on the seabed

    3D reconstruction of the I-124 submarine wreck on the seabed (image John McCarthy CC_3.0)

    File size: 244.6 KB

    Attribution: (image John McCarthy CC_3.0)

    Permission category: Free to share (must credit)

    Last modified: 21 Jan 2022 12:11am

    NOTE: High resolution files can only be downloaded here by registered journalists who are logged in.

  • Location map of the I-124 submarine wreck, outside Darwin Harbour
    Location map of the I-124 submarine wreck, outside Darwin Harbour

    Location map of the I-124 submarine wreck, outside Darwin Harbour (image John McCarthy, contains bathymetric data from Geoscience Australia (CC_3.0)

    File size: 8.4 MB

    Attribution: John McCarthy, contains bathymetric data from Geoscience Australia (CC_3.0)

    Permission category: Free to share (must credit)

    Last modified: 21 Jan 2022 12:16am

    NOTE: High resolution files can only be downloaded here by registered journalists who are logged in.

  • Virtual dive on the wreck of I-124, a WWII Japanese submarine off Darwin

    The I-124 Japanese submarine was sunk off Darwin Harbour, Australia, on the 20 of January 1942. This VR experience demonstrates a recent multibeam sonar survey completed in October 2021 by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, as well as animations of the sinking of the submarine, the various data sources to understand its design, and finishes with a virtual dive across its decks as they may have appeared in the years after the sinking. This research and visualisation by John McCarthy was commissioned by the NT Heritage Branch, whose future plans for the site include dive surveys to establish the current condition of the wreck

    Attribution: John McCarthy CC_3.0

    Permission Category: Free to share (must credit)

    Last Modified: 19 Jan 2022 4:47pm

    Note: High resolution video files are only available for download here by registered journalists who are logged in.

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