News

Sunken World War Two Dutch sub discovered


3 November 2011

The HNLMS K XVI was torpedoed in 1941.
The HNLMS K XVI was torpedoed in 1941.

Associate Professor Ross Coleman from the School of Biological Sciences has taken the first photographs of the sunken remains of a Dutch submarine that was torpedoed off the coast of Borneo by a Japanese submarine on Christmas day in 1941.

Associate Professor Ross Coleman took the images while on a private diving expedition with a group of Australians on the Empress, a boat skippered by Vidar Skoglie, a Norwegian who has long been searching for the submarine, the HNLMS K XVI.

"The HNLMS K XVI wasn't where it was supposed to be when it was sunk," explains Coleman. "It hadn't reported in for 24 hours, and the Japanese submarine which torpedoed it didn't know exactly where they were either."

The Japanese submarine reported sinking an enemy submarine 60 miles north west of Kuching, Borneo. But it wasn't until October 4 this year that Skoglie, Coleman and the other members of a technical diving expedition found the submarine on a deep exploration dive.

The HNLMS K XVI, which sunk with all 36 crew perishing, had been trying to stop the Japanese invasion of Borneo. As a war grave, the exact location of the submarine is a closely guarded secret. Since the discovery the Dutch Navy has confirmed the ship's identity by comparing Coleman's photographs with old pictures and construction drawings.

Associate Professor Ross Coleman found the vessel while on a private diving expedition.
Associate Professor Ross Coleman found the vessel while on a private diving expedition.

"The skipper Vidar had spoken to some fishermen who had reported a snag in an area that Vidar considered a likely sinking ground," explains Coleman, Director of the Centre for Research on Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities.

Actually finding the wreck left him feeling both excited and relieved, he said.

"I was excited, as the last person to see that submarine was the Japanese commander of I-66. But I also felt relief that it had finally been found. And as we looked closely, it became more interesting to try and piece together what had happened."

The damage to the 75-metre long vessel was consistent with a torpedo hit, Coleman said. "It had broken its spine just behind the conning tower. It is covered in fishing nets and fishing line, but was otherwise largely intact apart from the damage due to the passage of time."

Vidar brought the submarine's steering wheel to the surface to help with identification. The skipper, Coleman and the other members of the diving team have now been invited to the Netherlands as guests of the Admiral Netherlands Fleet to hand over the steering wheel of KXVI to the relatives of the crew.