Canberra, Australia. A wreck found underwater in a Papua New Guinea harbor was probably a Japanese midget submarine from World War II, a historian said on Friday.
Australian and New Zealand warships found the vessel while working in the area to clear WWII-era explosives on Thursday. Simpson Harbor is in the town of Rabaul, which was a major Japanese military base on the northeast coast of the South Pacific nation.
New Zealand Navy Lt. Commander Matthew Ray told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio that the find was initially identified as “a 20-meter long solid, man-made object.”
Closer inspection confirmed it was a submarine, although its nationality was not yet known, he said.
The only submarines involved in fighting around Rabaul were US and Japanese, and both sides have accounted for most, if not all, of their subs in the area, said Gary Oakley, a Australian War Memorial curator.
As Rabaul was Japan’s major base in the Southwest Pacific for most of the war, most of the submarines in the harbor had been Japanese. Previously known submarine wrecks in the harbor were also Japanese, he said.
“My best guess would be it’s a Japanese midget submarine. It doesn’t look big enough to be an ocean-going” submarine, Oakley said after examining indistinct images of the wreck released by the Australian military.
One- and two-man Japanese midget submarines were transported by ship or larger submarines and used covertly to infiltrate enemy targets including Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and Sydney Harbor.