A US Navy destroyer sunk in 1945 by kamikaze aircraft during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II has been discovered by a group of civilian underwater explorers deep in the Pacific Ocean, it said on Wednesday the leader of the group.
The USS Mannert L. Abele was the first warship hit by what was then a new japanese weapon called Ohka – essentially a flying bomb capable of reaching speeds of 600 miles per hour.
A group called Lost 52 Project, which searches for Navy submarines and warships sunk in World War II, found the vessel in December.
The US Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, which is responsible for tracking the 3,000 ships and submarines the service has lost at sea in peacetime and wartime, confirmed the find in April .
“The Battle of Okinawa was the biggest battle of the Pacific campaign,” said Tim Taylor, who leads the Lost 52 project. “Fifty thousand casualties on the American side alone, so that’s a monumental find.”
“And that’s a very deep connection for me,” he added. “My father’s ship was hit by a suicide bomber just 10 days before the Abele was sunk in the same area – perhaps 90 miles south of there.”
The small warship was one of many that circled Okinawa during the campaign to take the island by force during World War II. It used its radars to spot enemy aircraft coming from the Japanese mainland and relayed the information to aircraft carriers, which could then launch fighter jets to intercept them.
The Abele, pronounced ABLE-ee, repelled numerous attacks by Japanese kamikaze pilots, who flew suicide missions towards the end of World War II. But he succumbed after two planes crashed into his starboard side and exploded, sending him to the bottom. Its precise location – until recently – was unknown.
A total of 84 Abele sailors were killed by the double explosions, the sinking of the ship, or the Japanese pilots who then strafed and shelled the survivors in the water.
Sam Cox, a retired Navy rear admiral who leads historic Navy command, said identifying the ship was fairly easy given the evidence provided by the Lost 52 team.
The navy regards the Abele, and others like her sunk in battle, as a tomb and will leave the ship in place undisturbed.
About a dozen Navy destroyers like the Abele were sunk during the Okinawa campaign along with other ships, killing around 5,000 sailors, Admiral Cox said.
Project Lost 52, named after the number of United States Navy submarines that went missing during World War II, has located a number of wrecks, including the USS Grayback – a submarine that sank in combat off Okinawa the year before the Abele. Mr. Taylor uses autonomous underwater vehicles to locate and inspect wreckage.
Family members of former crew members hailed the discovery of the Abele.
“I think my dad would have been extremely intrigued and wanted to see all the details,” said Scott Andersen, whose father, Roy, served as a junior officer aboard the Abele. “But I don’t know what trauma it could cause.”
In 2007, Roy Andersen wrote a book about the ship’s wartime service called “Three Minutes Off Okinawa”. He died in 2014 aged 94, his son said.
“He once told me that he had rarely had a good night’s sleep since the ship sank,” Mr Andersen said.
The ship’s namesake, Lt Cmdr. Mannert L. Abelecommanded the USS Grunion, a submarine that disappeared at sea. He was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for sinking three Japanese ships in a single day during the war. The Navy commissioned a ship in his honor on July 4, 1944.
According a naval history from the Abele on April 12, 1945, the ship “suddenly found itself surrounded by hostile aircraft” while patrolling 75 miles off the northern coast of Okinawa. At 1:38 p.m., the ship’s gun crews hit a Japanese dive bomber, igniting it on fire and sending it crashing into the ocean. About an hour later, three Japanese Zero fighter jets approached. The Abele shot down one but a second crashed into the starboard side of the ship and exploded, killing nine sailors.
A minute later, the Abele was hit again, but this time by a rocket-powered aircraft called Ohka, Japanese for “cherry blossom”. The pilot of the Ohka crashed into the ship and the more than 2,600 pounds of explosives he was carrying detonated, breaking the Abele in two and sinking it in 4,500 feet of water.
The Abele and other Navy warships around Okinawa helped steer kamikaze attacks away from personnel carriers and supply ships supporting the battle ashore, Admiral Cox said.
“The ships couldn’t get away,” Admiral Cox said. “They had to stay and fight.”