Divers have found what they believe is the wreck of a U.S. 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 other evidence from six dives they made from October 2019 to March this year to the United States Naval History and Heritage Command for verification that they have found the USS Grenadier, one of 52 American submarines lost during the conflict.
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 their 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 meters (270 feet) underwater somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, about 150 kilometers (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, Horowitz said in an interview with The Associated Press, and Rivoire had a suitable boat to explore the leads he found. 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 sea floor for distinct shapes.
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.
“And so we went back looking for clues, nameplate, but we couldn’t find any of those,” recalled Horowitz. “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. So we’re pretty confident that it is the USS Grenadier.”
The Navy command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch on average receives two to three such requests a year from searchers like the Grenadier divers, said its head, Dr. Robert Neyland, in an email to The Associated Press.
“A complete review, analysis, and documentation may take two months to a year to complete,” he said, adding that it will likely take a few months in the case of this potential discovery.
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.
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