Scientists discovered the missing 75-foot stern section of a ship that sank during a largely overlooked early campaign of World War II, after being torn off by an explosion while conducting an anti-submarine patrol.
Seventy-one US Navy Sailors were lost in the aftermath of the blast.
For almost 75 years, the stern of the destroyer USS Abner Read lay somewhere below the dark surface of the Bering Sea off the Aleutian island of Kiska, one of only two US territories to be occupied by foreign forces in the last 200 years.
Heroic action by the crew saved the ship, but for the families of the doomed Sailors, the final resting place of loved ones lost in the predawn hours of August 18, 1943 remained unknown.
"This is a significant discovery that will shed light on this little-known episode in our history," said retired Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, Acting Administrator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
"It's important to honour these US Navy Sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation," said Gallaudet.
The ship was on patrol at about 1:50 am Alaska time when the massive explosion -- presumed to be from a Japanese mine -- ripped the destroyer apart.
Somehow the crew kept the main part of ship's hull watertight, and two nearby Navy ships towed it back to port.
"This was catastrophic damage that by all rights should have sunk the entire ship," said Sam Cox, curator of the Navy and director of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Within months, the destroyer was back in the war. It went on to fight in several battles in the Pacific Theater before being destroyed in November 1944 by a Japanese dive bomber in a kamikaze attack during the battle of Leyte Gulf.
Meanwhile, the ship's shorn stern was lost but not forgotten. Finding it was a primary goal of the July mission to document the underwater battlefield off Kiska.
Historians have been able to study battles on Kiska and Attu, the Aleutian islands that were attacked and occupied by as many as 7,200 Japanese forces from June 1942 to mid-August 1943, but this Kiska mission was the first to thoroughly explore the underwater portion of the battlefield.
Many ships, aircraft and submarines from both the US and Japan were lost during a punishing 15-month campaign to reclaim this distant wind- and fogbound corner of America.
After multibeam sonar mounted to the side of the research ship Norseman II identified a promising target, the team sent down a deep-diving, remotely operated vehicle to capture live video for confirmation.
"There was no doubt," said expedition leader Eric Terrill, an oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
"We could clearly see the broken stern, the gun and rudder control, all consistent with the historical documents," said Terrill.
Wrecks like Abner Read are protected from activities that disturb, remove, or damage them or their contents by the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, though exceptions can be made for activities that have archaeological, historical or educational purposes.
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