Thousands of ships that went missing during WWI and WWII found their last refuge deep under the ocean waves. Researchers have discovered the exact or approximate locations of at least a few hundred vessels, but the fate of some still remains a mystery.
Search expeditions scour the waters of the world’s oceans, checking the archives in the hope of finding information pointing to the location of this or that ship. One such discovery was made in 2019, in Japanese waters by the research project “Lost 52,” which aims to find all 52 submarines that disappeared during World War II. One of those subs was the USS Grayback (SS-208), which became the last refuge for 80 crew members and was the first one found in Japanese waters, 435 meters under the surface.
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Using the latest cutting-edge technologies such as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV and ROV) and fancy camera equipment, allowed the team to get all the available data and take the best shots of the wrecks. USS “Grayback” was a Tambor-class submarine launched on 01/31/1941 and was under the command of Lieutenant Commander John Anderson Moore and was one of the deadliest submarines during World War II. In ten combat patrols, she sank 14 ships, including an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine at the very beginning of the war.
From the archival information, the researchers were able to learn that on 02/26/1944, several imperial aircraft attacked a submarine in the East China sea, allegedly sinking it. But the next day, USS “Grayback” sent the Japanese Navy ships to the Kraken. After a successful attack, the sub was bombarded by a Japanese carrier plane. According to the pilots, the submarine exploded and sank, leaving an oil slick and a lot of air bubbles behind it. Even though the location was recorded by the pilots, the vessel had remained a ghost for nearly 75 years.
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SS-208 received two commendations from the Military naval units and eight battle stars for service in World War II. The discovery of the USS Grayback honors the memory of the brave sailors who sacrificed themselves in the battle to save our freedom. The Lost 52 Project found the submarine documents discovered and translated by a Japanese historian and researcher, Yutaka Iwasaki. These authentic papers contained accurate information about the location where the submarine was sunk, but the translations were a bit off. As it turned out later, the mistake was made in 1946 when the document was translated from Japanese. This tiny little typo became the reason why no one was able to locate the submarine all these years.
The new information allowed the search expedition to correctly locate the previously suggested area stated in World War II’s historical records. After a while they finally found USS Grayback sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, 50 miles southwest of Okinawa, which was around 100 miles from the previously reported spot. The ship’s hull rests at a depth of 1,400 ft with its deck gun thrown off by about another 400 ft from the wreck. The crew had no chance of surviving the impact.
Each discovered sunken ship is an opportunity for the world to honor the memory of deceased sailors who laid their lives for a better future. Knowing their final resting place allows the relatives of the fallen sailors to understand the circumstances of their death better.