YEAR IN REVIEW
Over the past year, the team on the Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel has been dedicated to finding and documenting shipwrecks from World War II. Its unique technology package has enabled Petrel to locate more than a dozen World War II warships that had been missing for decades, including the USS Indianapolis, USS Lexington as well as ships from the Imperial Japanese Navy. Scroll down to learn more about these ships and Petrel’s ongoing mission.
USS Indianapolis is shown off the Mare Island Navy Yard, in Northern California, July 10, 1945, after her final overhaul and repair of combat damage. U.S. Navy Photo
USS Indianapolis' survivors en route to a hospital following their rescue, circa early August 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
The Indianapolis’s tragic sinking in the final days of World War II and the story that followed—retold in the movie Jaws—made her wreck one of the most famous not yet located. After two Imperial Japanese torpedoes slammed into her in the early morning hours of July 30, 1945, the Indianapolis sank in 12 minutes, making it impossible to deploy much of its life–saving equipment. Prior to the attack, the Indianapolis had just completed its secret mission of delivering components of one of the two nuclear weapons that were dropped on the Empire of Japan. Of the 1,196 sailors and Marines onboard, only 316 survived.
Wreckage from the USS Indianapolis was discovered on August 19, 2017 by RV Petrel. The Indianapolis was found more than 18,000 feet below the surface, resting on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean.
Wreckage from the USS Indianapolis was discovered on August 19, 2017 by RV Petrel. The Indianapolis was found more than 17,000 feet below the surface, resting on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean.
USS Lexington off Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, with Diamond Head in the background, February 2, 1933. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
The USS Lexington, nicknamed the “Lady Lex,” was originally commissioned as a battlecruiser but was launched as an aircraft carrier in 1925. She had a significant impact before WWII during “Fleet Problems” or war games, and its use during these exercises developed the tactics for carriers that would be used in WWII. She took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea along with the USS Yorktown against three Japanese carriers. This is where Lexington made her mark on history.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was notable not only for being the first carrier versus carrier battle in history, but also the first naval engagement where opposing ships never came within sight of each other. Ushering in a new form of naval warfare via carrierndash;based airplanes, “Lady Lex’s” aircraft gave Imperial Japanese forces their first significant setback in its advances on New Guinea and Australia.
During the fight, the Lexington was hit by multiple torpedoes and bombs but a secondary explosion caused uncontrolled fires that finally warranted the call to abandon ship. With U.S. ships standing by, 2,770 sailors were rescued before the USS Phelps delivered the final torpedoes on May 8, 1942, that sank the crippled “Lady Lex” and her 35 aircraft.
Wreckage from the USS Lexington was discovered by RV Petrel on March 4, 2018. The Lexington was found nearly 10,000 feet below the surface, resting on the floor of the Coral Sea more than 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia.
USS Juneau in New York Harbor, February 11, 1942. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
The five Sullivan brothers on board USS Juneau at the time of her commissioning ceremonies at the New York Navy Yard, 14 February 1942. All were lost with the ship following the 13 November 1942 Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The brothers are (from left to right): Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
The USS Juneau, an Atlanta–class light cruiser, was in service for just under a year before her sinking in World War II.
During the Battle of Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942, an Imperial Japanese torpedo hit on her port side sparking a significant explosion that cut the ship in half and killed most of the men onboard, including all five of the Sullivan brothers.
Because the Juneau sank in 30 seconds and due to the risk of further Japanese attacks, the American task force was unable to stay to search for survivors. Although approximately 115 of Juneau‘s crew reportedly survived the explosion (reports suggest two, maybe three, of the Sullivans survived the explosion), naval forces did not undertake rescue effort for several days and only 10 men were rescued from the water eight days after the sinking.
Wreckage from the USS Juneau was discovered on March 17, 2018, by RV Petrel. The light cruiser was found about 13,800 feet below the surface, on the floor of the South Pacific off the coast of the Solomon Islands.
USS Helena anchored in President Roads, Boston, Massachusetts, June 15, 1940. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
Covered with oil of their torpedoed ship, USS Helena, survivors respond to a roll call aboard the destroyer which picked them up. Three times the destroyer had to leave off its rescue work to do battle with Japanese warships. Naval Subjects Collection.
Few ships can claim a history like that of USS Helena. Her distinguished and storied World War II service began at Pearl Harbor and ended with a dramatic rescue of her crew.
Commissioned in 1939 and assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, Helena’s first taste of war came on December 7, 1941, when she was struck by a torpedo while moored at the naval base. After receiving an overhaul, Helena engaged her enemy in the Battles of Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal before being sunk during the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 6, 1943.
Helena’s history closed with the almost incredible story of what happened to her crew in the hours and days that followed. As various rescue efforts got underway over the course of 10 days, amazing stories of Sailor toughness unfolded in which 732 of the 900 crew survived the sinking and were ultimately rescued.
The St. Louis–class cruiser was found by RV Petrel on March 24, 2018 nearly 3,000 feet below the surface, resting on the floor of the New Georgia Sound off the coast of the Solomon Islands.
Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Asashio. Kure Maritime Museum (public domain)
One of five Imperial Japanese Navy warships found by RV Petrel in the Surigao Strait off the coast of the Philippines, the IJN Asagumo was found 600 feet below the surface with her hull and superstructure mostly intact on November 24, 2017.
As part of the Imperial Japanese fleet during the Battle of Surigao Strait, one of the series of battles in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Asagumo sank on October 25, 1944, after a torpedo from the USS McDermut blew off her bow splitting the ship in two. Of her crew, 191 were killed and 39 survived.
Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Fusō undergoing post-reconstruction trials. Kure Maritime Museum (public domain)
IJN Fuso was considered an old battleship by the time World War II broke out. Built during World War I but seeing no action, Fuso was modernized just months before Pearl Harbor. Playing mostly an auxiliary role, she was thrust into the fray in the fall of 1944.
As part of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Southern Force during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Fuso, her sister ship Yamashiro and five other warships were dispatched to the Philippines to repel the Allied invasion. As the force approached the Surigao Strait they were ambushed. Heavily outnumbered by the American fleet waiting for them, Fuso found itself quickly battered by not only a line of battleships blocking her entrance to the Leyte Gulf but also the cruisers and PT boats that surrounded her. Slammed by torpedoes on the early morning of October 25, 1944, Fuso broke in half sinking rapidly killing an estimated 1,620 sailors with only 10 survivors.
The Fuso was found 73 years later when RV Petrel discovered the ship upside down on November 25, 2017.
Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Michishio. Photo taken on October 31, 1937. Kure Maritime Museum (public domain)
Michishio participated in the battles of Badoeng Strait, Guadalcanal and the Philippine Sea before being assigned to Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s Southern Force at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. As one of seven warships, Michishio and another destroyer led the force up through Surigao Strait. Met by five U.S. destroyers on either side of her, Michishio was soon under attack. Crippled by a torpedo from the USS McDermut, Michishio’s demise came when a torpedo sent by the USS Hutchins missed the IJN Asagumo but struck the destroyer. The Michishio blew up and immediately sank on October 25, 1944 killing an unknown number of men. Four survived the fight and were rescued by the Americans.
Wreckage from IJN Michishio was discovered by RV Petrel on November 27, 2017, in the Surigao Strait off the coast of the Philippines. The Asashiondash;class destroyer was found in less than 600 feet below the surface and just a mile apart from her sister ship, IJN Yamagumo. Because both ships had substantial marine growth on them, it made it impossible for Petrel crew to positively identify the ships from each other.
Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Yamagumo. Photo taken on September 15, 1939. Kure Maritime Museum (public domain)
IJN Yamagumo was an Asashio–class destroyer that served the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Yamagumo saw early action when it led the invasion of the Philippines early in December of 1941. But on December 31, 1941, Yamagumo suffered severe damage when she struck a Japanese mine. She was in repairs for much of the year before being dispatched to escort convoys through April of 1944. After seeing no action in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Yamagumo was sent to escort Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s Southern Force at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
As the Yamagumo enters the Sarigao Strait on October 24, 1944, she and the rest of her force come under fire from U.S. aircraft but she escapes damage. The following day, the Yamagumo is hit. One or more torpedoes from the USS McDermut strike the Yamagumo breaking her in two and sinking her with only two survivors.
Possible image of IJN Yamagumo's boiler for steam turbine propulson. Because Yamagumo and her sister-ship, IJN Michishio, were found next to one another with substantial marine growth on them, the crew of RV Petrel could not positively identify the ships from each other. Image courtesy of Paul G. Allen. Copyright Navigea Ltd. China.jpg -- Some china was scattered around the wreckage of either the Yamagumo or IJN Michishio. This one had a pattern on it indicating that it was from the officer mess. Image courtesy of Paul G. Allen. Copyright Navigea Ltd.
Wreckage of the Yamagumo and her sister ship, IJN Michishio, were discovered by RV Petrel just a mile apart from each other. Found just 380 feet below the surface, both ships had substantial marine growth on them making it impossible for the crew to positively identify the ships from each other.
Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamashiro at Tateyama, Decemeber 1934. Naval History and Heritage Command
IJN Yamashiro at Tateyama, Japan, December 1934. Naval History and Heritage Command.
Commissioned for World War I, the IJN Yamashiro was the first Imperial Japanese battleship equipped with aircraft. Like her sister ship, the IJN Fuso, the Yamashiro saw no action in WWI and was modernized between the wars.
However, by the time World War II broke out, the Yamashiro and her pagoda style mast were considered old. As a result, the Yamashiro’s spent much of her WWII service around Japan. After a series of decisive defeats, the Yamashiro was dispatched to defeat the Allied invasion of the Philippines.
Serving as the flagship under Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s Southern Force at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Yamashiro meets her U.S. enemy upon entering the Surigao Strait on October 24, 1944. A bomb and strafing hits Shigure and Mogami of the Southern Force, but Yamashiro doesn’t receive damage. Heavily outnumbered, Admiral Nishimura’s force presses on. While Yamashiro is able to dish out hits to the U.S. fleet but as she was attempting to flee the scene she’s hit a series of torpedos and sunk killing the 1,636 aboard including Admiral Nishimura. Only 10 survive the fight.
On November 25, 2017, RV Petrel discovered the Yamashiro updside down in more than 600 feet below the surface of the Surigao Strait.
Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Hamanami underway on 10 October 1943. Kure Maritime Museum (public domain)
The IJN Hamanami was a destroyer which served the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Built in October of 1943, the Hamanami saw action in the battles of the Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf and Samar before being sent to Manila, Philippines to assist troop transports.
On November 11, 1944, as she was escorting a troop convoy reinforce and resupply Imperial Japanese forces, US Navy aircraft spotted the ship and sank the Hamanami in Ormoc Bay killing 63. The destroyer Asashimo rescued Hamanami’s 167 survivors.
While leaving Ormoc Bay on January 18, 2018, the crew of RV Petrel discovered the Hamanami at a depth of more than 1,000 feet below the surface with her stern collapsed.
Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Naganami in June 1942 at time of her completion. Kure Maritime Museum (public domain)
IJN Naganami was a Yugumo–class destroyer of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Although, she saw action at the battles of Empress Augusta Bay and Tassafaronga, Naganami’s mainly served as a troop transport and escort through much of her World War II service.
After escorting a troop convoy to reinforce and resupply Japanese forces on Ormoc in the Philippines, the Naganami was deployed to assist with another convoy, joining just before it approached Ormoc on November 10, 1944. On the following day, the Naganami and other warships came under attack from U.S. aircraft. The Naganami sank on November 11, 1944 after an explosion amidships broke her in two. Of the 228 sailors onboard, 156 went down with the ship.
On December 1, 2017, RV Petrel discovered the Naganami in shallow water 800 feet below the surface of Ormoc Bay. Naganami’s sister ship, IJN Hamanami along with destroyers IJN Wakatsuki and Shimakaze were sunk in the convoy and also discovered by RV Petrel in the bay.
Imperial Japanese Navy Destroyer Shimakaze underway. Public domain.
IJN Shimakaze was ordered by the Imperial Japanese Navy as an experimental “super destroyer” during World War II. Fitted with six 127 mm dual–purpose guns, conventional anti–aircraft and anti–submarine weaponry, the Shimakaze was the only Japanese destroyer armed with the ability to fire the deadly “Long Lance” torpedo. The impressive armament wasn’t the only thing unique about the Shimakaze, her experimental steam turbines made her one of the fastest destroyers in the world.
Commissioned in 1943, the Shimakaze immediately saw service when she helped evacuate Japanese troops from Kiska Island as part of the Aleutian Islands campaign. In June of 1944, the Shimakaze was part of the Japanese fleet during the Battle of the Philippine Sea and also participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf but didn’t see any action, though she did rescue survivors of the battleship IJN Musashi.
On November 9, 1944, the Shimakaze was deployed to lead the escort of troops from Manila to Ormoc in the Philippines. On November 11, as she was entering Ormoc Bay, the Shimakaze and the rest of the troop convoy came under fire from U.S. Navy aircraft and was disabled early in the Battle of Ormoc Bay. Drifting and burning all afternoon, the Shimakaze exploded and sank with an unknown number of crew.
The crew of RV Petrel found the wreck of the Shimakaze in Ormoc Bay on December 1, 2017, when her torpedo launchers confirmed identity.
Imperial Japanese Navy Destroyer Wakatsuki under attack at Ormoc Bay, Leyte Island, Philippines. Public domain.
Originally designed as an escort for Japanese carrier groups but modified with torpedo launchers to serve as a general destroyer, the Wakatsuki was commissioned on May 31, 1943. Her first mission shortly thereafter on June 8, 1943 defined much of the Wakatsuki’s World War II service. Along with four other destroyers, the Wakatsuki helped rescue survivors of the battleship Mutsu. She would do this five more times when the Minazuki, Shokaku, Taiho, Zuikaku and Zuiho all went down.
After escorting a troop convoy from Manila to Ormoc in the Philippines, the Wakatsuki was deployed to assist with another convoy, joining just before it approached Ormoc on November 10, 1944. The next day, the Wakatsuki and three other destroyers attached to the convoy came under attack. U.S. Navy aircraft dispatched from Admiral Halsey’s Task Force 38 brought the Wakatsuki to a halt sinking her through bomb and torpedo hits on November 11, 1944. Records aren’t clear but the Wakatsuki blew up with heavy loss of life.
The Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Wakatsuki was one of four warships found in Ormoc Bay by RV Petrel. IJN Wakatsuki was discovered on December 1, 2017, less than 900 feet below the surface.
USS Cooper photographed when first completed, circa March 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
The USS Cooper’s history in World War II was brief. Laid down in late 1943 and commissioned on March 27, 1944, the Cooper’s first surface battle on December 3, 1944, was unfortunately her last.
Sent to Leyte Gulf to join the Allen M. Sumner and Moale on patrols, the Cooper engaged in a hectic engagement around midnight, sinking an Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer and inflicting severe damage to another target before succumbing to a Japanese torpedo herself. Just 15 minutes into the battle, the Cooper was split in two and sank in less than a minute according to ship’s captain.
Nearly 73 years after that fateful day, the crew on RV Petrel discovered the wreck of the USS Cooper more than 600 feet below the surface of Ormoc Bay off the coast of the Philippines.
USS Ward photographed on February 26, 1919. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
The USS Ward, a Wickes–class destroyer, had been patrolling the Pearl Harbor entrance on the morning of December 7, 1941, when she spotted an 80–foot–long, midget submarine, trailing the USS Antares into the harbor. The USS Ward accelerated to bear down on the submarine. Just three minutes after first sight of the submarine, the USS Ward fired the first American shot in World War II.
On December 7, 1944, three years to the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, the USS Ward was lost after being struck by a kamikaze. She had been patrolling Ormoc Bay, Leyte serving as a high–speed transport for troops. A direct hit to her hull caused fires that could not be contained, and the crew was ordered to abandon ship. The USS Ward was sunk by gunfire from the USS O’Brien with no fatalities. Interestingly, William W. Outerbridge, the captain of O’Brien that scuttled the Ward, was the captain of USS Ward during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
On December 1, 2017, RV Petrel sent its Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to explore and document the remains of the USS Ward, where she lays nearly 700 feet below the surface of Ormoc Bay.
Starboard side view of the Italian destroyer Artigliere, October 12, 1940. Public domain
The Artigliere was sunk by the Royal Navy’s HMS York on October 12, 1940 during the Battle of Cape Passero. Of the more than 250 sailors aboard the Artigliere, 132 were lost at sea.
Located in the Sicilyndash;Malta escarpment, RV Petrel’s first discovery was almost by accident. As part of Petrel’s sea trials, the crew was testing newly installed equipment when an abnormal shape appeared.
Using Petrel’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the crew found Italian destroyer Artigliere more than 12,000 feet (about 3,700 meters) below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea in March of 2017.
The last known image of HMAS AE1 submarine taken on September 9, 1914. Photo: Australian Navy
The HMAS AE1 was the first submarine to serve in the Royal Australian Navy, commissioned in February 1914, just before the start of World War I.
Just a few months later, in September 1914, the 800–ton AE1 and her 35 crew members were lost off the coast of Papua New Guinea. For more than 100 years, her sinking — the first Allied submarine loss of WWI — was a significant mystery of Australian military history.
RV Petrel joined with the RAN on an expedition to explore the AE1 and capture HD video that will be used to create a 3D image of the wreck that may allow experts to finally explain what happened to cause her sinking.