Divers find WWII U.S. submarine 77 years after its loss

Military Tech

MYSTERY WIRE — Divers have found what they believe is the wreck of a US Navy submarine lost 77 years ago in Southeast Asia, providing a coda to a stirring but little-known tale from World War II.

The divers have sent photos and evidence from their dives to the United States Naval History and Heritage Command for verification that they have found the USS Grenadier, one of 52 American submarines lost in the war.

The Grenadier left Pearl Harbor on Feb. 4, 1942, on its initial war patrol.

Its first five missions took it to Japanese home waters, the Formosa shipping lanes, the southwest Pacific, the South China Sea and the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

It sank six ships and damaged two.

It sailed on March 20, 1943, from Fremantle, Australia, on its sixth patrol, to the Malacca Strait and north into the Andaman Sea.

The commanding officer, Lt. Cdr. John A. Fitzgerald, recorded what happened there in a report written after being freed from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in 1945.

The 1,475-ton, 307-foot long Grenadier was scuttled by its crew after bombs from a Japanese plane almost sent them to a watery grave.

All 76 of its personnel survived the bombing and sinking, but the agony to follow would be prolonged.

After being taken prisoner, they were tortured, beaten and nearly starved by their Japanese captors for more than two years, and four did not survive that ordeal.

The wreck lies 82 metres (270 feet) underwater somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, about 150 kilometres (92 miles) south of Phuket, Thailand.

It was discovered by Singapore-based Jean Luc Rivoire and Benoit Laborie of France,  and Australian Lance Horowitz and Belgian Ben Reymenants, who live in Phuket, Thailand.

Reymenants was one of the divers who took part in the dramatic rescue of a dozen boys and their soccer coach who got trapped in a cave in northern Thailand two years ago.

The Belgian has been researching possible locations for shipwrecks for many years, says Lance Horowitz and Rivoire had a suitable boat to explore the leads he found.

“So, to collect these positions, Ben will get in touch with the fishermen, ask them, you know, if they had found any strange anomalies someplace where they’d lost nets often. And, we spent several days searching several positions, mowing the lawn, driving back and forth with our sonar until we picked up a, you know, very distinct shape on the bottom. And then we started to dive on it and try to decipher the mystery of what it actually was.”

Reymenants would ask fishermen if there were any odd spots where they’d lost nets, and then the team would use side-looking sonar to scan the seafloor for distinct shapes.

“You know, it’s quite an amazing, amazing feeling. It’s not often that you get to be the first one to see something that’s thought to have been lost but hasn’t been seen for so many years. And it’s not quite, quite deep, over 80 meters, so it’s not that you’ll require a lot on artificial light. And as you come down and the shape opens up in front of you and your flashlight starts to hit it. It’s definitely a very powerful feeling. I think everyone always looks forward to discovering and exploring, that’s something that all of us share from when we’re young,” says Horowitz.

When they dived to look at one promising object, it was a lot bigger than expected, so they dug back into the archives to try to figure out which lost vessel it could be, and then dived again.

“So we went back looking for clues, nameplates, but we couldn’t find any of those. And in the end, we took very precise measurements of the submarine and compared those with the naval records. And they’re exactly, as per the drawings, the exact same size. Thus we’re pretty confident that it is the USS Grenadier. But we’re waiting for confirmation of this from the US Navy Department, Naval Department,” says Horowitz.

It is hoped the wreck will be turned into a heritage and historical site so it can be protected.

“This was an important ship during the war and it was very important to all the crew that served on her. I think it’ll bring a lot of closure to their families. You know, when you read the book of the survivors, it was, you know, quite an ordeal they went through and to know where she finally lies and rest. I’m sure it’s very satisfying for them and their family to be able to have some closure,” says Horowitz.

“There’s been cases of a lot of looting, of wrecks in the area for scrap metal. So by being able to identify and confirm the identity, we’d like to be able to possibly make it into a heritage site, an historical site so that it’s protected and other people can enjoy it as well. You know, the history of it and just the beauty of it. Such an amazing shipwreck,” he adds.

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