SEEKING SUNKEN SHIPS. In this October 7, 2019 image taken from
underwater video provided by Vulcan Inc., the Japanese aircraft
carrier Kaga is shown in the Pacific Ocean off Midway
Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Deep-sea explorers
scouring the world’s oceans for sunken World War II ships are
honing in on a debris field deep in the Pacific. Grid searches
have already led the Petrel research vessel to sunken
ships. (Vulcan Inc. via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #20 (October 21, 2019),
pages 9 & 13.
Deep-sea explorers seek out sunken World War
By Caleb Jones
The Associated Press
MIDWAY ATOLL, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands — Deep-sea
explorers scouring the world’s oceans for sunken World War II
ships are homing in on debris fields deep in the Pacific, in an
area where one of the most decisive battles of the time took
Hundreds of miles off Midway Atoll, nearly halfway between
the United States and Japan, a research vessel is launching
underwater robots miles into the abyss to look for warships from
the famed Battle of Midway.
Weeks of grid searches around the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands have already led the crew of the Petrel to one
sunken warship, the Japanese ship the Kaga. The crew is
deploying equipment to investigate what could be another.
Historians consider the Battle of Midway an essential victory
for the U.S. and a key turning point in World War II.
"We read about the battles, we know what happened. But when
you see these wrecks on the bottom of the ocean and everything,
you kind of get a feel for what the real price is for war," said
Frank Thompson, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage
Command in Washington, D.C., who is onboard the Petrel.
"You see the damage these things took, and it’s humbling to
watch some of the video of these vessels because they’re war
Until now, only one of the seven ships that went down in the
June 1942 air and sea battle — five Japanese vessels and two
American — had been located.
The expedition is an effort started by the late Paul Allen,
the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft. For years, the crew of
the 250-foot Petrel has worked with the U.S. Navy and
other officials around the world to find and document sunken
ships. It is illegal to otherwise disturb the underwater U.S.
military gravesites, and their exact coordinates are kept
The Petrel has found 31 vessels so far. This is the
first time it has looked for warships from the Battle of Midway,
which took place six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor
and left more than 2,000 Japanese and 300 Americans dead.
The attack from the Japanese Imperial Navy was meant to be a
surprise, a strike that would give Japan a strategic advantage
in the Pacific. It was thwarted when U.S. analysts decoded
Japanese messages and baited their enemy into revealing its
As Japanese warplanes started bombing the military
installation at Midway Atoll, a tiny group of islands about
1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu, U.S. forces were already on
their way to intercept Japan’s fleet. U.S. planes sank four of
Japan’s aircraft carriers and a cruiser, and downed dozens of
its fighter planes.
One of the American ships lost was the USS Yorktown,
an aircraft carrier that was heavily damaged and being towed by
the U.S. on the battle’s final day when it was hit by torpedoes.
The other, the USS Hammann, went down trying to defend
Retired Navy Capt. Jack Crawford, who recently turned 100,
was among the Yorktown’s 2,270 survivors.
Japanese dive bombers left the Yorktown badly damaged,
with black smoke gushing from its stacks, but the vessel was
Then the torpedoes hit, Crawford told The Associated Press by
telephone from his home in Maryland.
"Bam! Bam! We get two torpedoes, and I know we’re in trouble.
As soon as the deck edge began to go under, I knew she wasn’t
going to last," said Crawford, whose later military career was
with the naval nuclear propulsion program. He also served as
deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy in the Department
The Yorktown sank slowly, and a destroyer was able to
pick up Crawford and many others.
In May 1998, almost 56 years later, an expedition led by the
National Geographic Society in conjunction with the U.S. Navy
found the Yorktown three miles below the surface.
Crawford doesn’t see much value in these missions to find
lost ships, unless they can get some useful information on how
the Japanese ships went down. But he wouldn’t mind if someone
was able to retrieve his strongbox and the brand-new sword he
left in it when he and others abandoned ship 77 years ago.
He was too far away to see the Kaga go down.
A piece of the Japanese aircraft carrier was discovered in
1999, but its main wreckage was still missing — until this
After receiving some promising sonar readings, the Petrel
used underwater robots to investigate and get video. It compared
the footage with historical records and confirmed it had found
The other three Japanese aircraft carriers — the Akagi,
Soryu, and Hiryu — and the Japanese cruiser
Mikuma are still unaccounted for.
The Petrel crew hopes to find and survey all the
wreckage from the entire battle, an effort that could add new
details about Midway to history books.
Earlier this year, they discovered the USS Hornet, an
aircraft carrier that helped win the Battle of Midway but sank
in the Battle of Santa Cruz near the Solomon Islands less than
five months later. More than 100 crew members died.
The Petrel also discovered the USS Indianapolis,
the U.S. Navy’s single deadliest loss at sea.
Rob Kraft, director of subsea operations on the Petrel,
says Allen gave him and his crew a mission to preserve history,
educate people about the past, and honor those who fought on
these great ships. Allen died last year.
"We’re still carrying on Paul’s legacy to honor our service
members," Kraft said. "This originated from his desire to honor
his father’s service to his country, and to remember our service
members and to make sure that future generations remember that
as well, and they actually understand what that means and to
Associated Press writer Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska,
and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this