The camera CSIRO researchers used to survey the ship. Credit: CSIRO
The camera CSIRO researchers used to survey the ship. Credit: CSIRO

Aussie mystery of lost WWII sailors solved

A World War II mystery, the final resting place in Victorian waters of 38 Australian sailors killed by a Japanese submarine attack, has been solved after CSIRO located the sunken wreck of the merchant navy vessel, SS Iron Crown.

After being lost for 77 years, the Australian freighter has been located in Bass Strait using hi-tech radar and underwater equipment launched from the CSIRO's research vessel, Investigator.

The sinking of the Iron Crown, a 100m long ore freighter on June 4, 1942, marks the only lethal torpedo attack by Japan in southern region waters and is among the most costly losses of life off the Victorian coast.

The freighter, heavily loaded with manganese ore, sank within 60 seconds of being struck by the enemy torpedo and only five crew members survived.

The SS Iron Crown was lost for 77 years, but CSIRO researchers have found it in Bass Strait. Credit: CSIRO
The SS Iron Crown was lost for 77 years, but CSIRO researchers have found it in Bass Strait. Credit: CSIRO

"The Iron Crown is historically significant as one of only four World War II shipwrecks in Victorian waters and is the only ship to have been torpedoed by a submarine in Victorian waters," Heritage Victoria maritime archaeologist Peter Harvey said.

"Locating the wreck after 77 years of not knowing its final resting place will bring closure for relatives and family of those that were lost at sea, as well as for Australia's maritime community."

Iron Crown was located using multibeam sonar equipment and a special drop camera on research vessel Investigator, which returned to its home port of Hobart this morning.

The wreck was located about 100km off the Victorian coastline south of the border with New South Wales, Australian National Maritime Museum voyage chief scientist Emily Jateff said.

"The wreck of Iron Crown appears to be relatively intact and the ship is sitting upright on the sea floor in about 700m of water," Ms Jateff said.

"We have mapped the site and surrounding sea floor using sonar but have also taken a lot of close up vision of the ship structure using a drop camera. This will allow us to create a composite image of the whole site to assist in follow up surveys for its conservation and management."

The science team watches the survey in the operations room. Credit: CSIRO
The science team watches the survey in the operations room. Credit: CSIRO

Images show the intact bow of the ship, with railings, anchor chains and both anchors still in position, as well as other deck structures.

Ms Jateff said that it was an exciting but solemn moment for all on board when they realised that the wreck had been located.

"The fact that so many lives were lost in the sinking of Iron Crown was something that hit home with all scientists, staff and ship crew working on board Investigator."

A memorial service is now being planned for the site.

 

Images show chains and anchors stil in place. Credit: CSIRO
Images show chains and anchors stil in place. Credit: CSIRO
The camera CSIRO researchers used to survey the ship. Credit: CSIRO
The camera CSIRO researchers used to survey the ship. Credit: CSIRO