The sinking of a Japanese submarine off the coast of Darwin during a fearsome WWII battle will be examined as part of a historic scientific project.

For the first time since the I-124 submarine was destroyed in January 1942, divers will descend 50 metres in a bid to capture vision of the vessel to inform future research and site management.

The submarine 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. 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 sank the Japanese warship.

All 80 crew members died on board, and continue to rest in their watery grave between Darwin and Bathurst Island.

The submarine was the first wreck in Australia to be protected under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (now replaced by the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018).

Previous surveys of the I-124 have been restricted to remote sensing which provides valuable data, but is limited in comparison to diving down to the site.

The expedition will depart Darwin on Paspaley Pearls’ research vessel Marilynne tomorrow with survey dives scheduled for 17-19 November.

The team is made up of archaeologists, technical divers, crew, a film maker, and a cultural liaison officer from the Australia-Japan Association of the Northern Territory.

A short documentary of the expedition will be launched on the anniversary of the bombing of Darwin next year.

The expedition is jointly funded by the Northern Territory Government and Commonwealth Government’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Program.