Virtual reality dive experience marks 80 years since sinking of Japanese submarine I-124

NT Government

The wreck of a Japanese submarine destroyed during a dramatic battle with a Royal Australian Navy corvette 80 years ago today, can now be explored through a virtual reality dive into deep sea.

Resting in her watery grave off the Northern Territory coast, the I-124 was part of an Imperial Japanese Navy squadron that had been waging covert operations against Australia’s north, laying mines in waters near Darwin in a bid to intercept Allied vessels and close down the port.

An unsuccessful attack on a US oil tanker in the region by a sister submarine prompted the Royal Australian Navy to send three corvettes to the scene between Darwin and Bathurst Island. The I-124 fired a torpedo at the first ship to arrive, the HMAS Deloraine, which in turn detonated dozens of depth chargers in a sustained attack that irreparably damaged the submarine.

All 80 crew members died on board the I-124, which was the first Japanese warship sunk by the Royal Australian Navy.

The virtual reality experience has been launched to mark the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the I-124 on 20 January 1942, just one month before the Japanese bombing of Darwin.

The Northern Territory Government’s Heritage Branch undertook a joint project with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and internationally-recognised leader in digital underwater archaeology, Dr John McCarthy, to conduct a high-resolution sonar survey using state-of-the-art technology. Maritime archaeologist from the Heritage Branch, David Steinberg, joined the team in October 2021 on the first dedicated voyage aimed at recording the site for archaeological and heritage management purposes.

Drawing on this data, and historic ship plans and photographs, Dr McCarthy has created a virtual dive experience, now online at here.

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.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chansey Paech:

“The launch is a proud moment for our Heritage Branch, which has taken the lead in this project to commemorate one of the most significant shared heritage sites between Australia and Japan.

“This virtual reality dive experience is an innovative and inclusive way to be able to explore the wreck of the submarine and to gain a better understanding of the Northern Territory’s critical involvement in the defence of Australia during World War II.”

Quotes attributable to Flinders University Maritime Archaeology Lecturer Dr John McCarthy:

“Drawing on our data, and historic ship plans and photographs, we’ve created a virtual reality dive experience which takes the viewer through the data gathering process, and then down into the deep, to experience the wreck firsthand.

“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 I-124 wreck was recently mapped using state-of-the art remote sensing technology.

· The location of the I-124 submarine, now a war grave.

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