R/V Petrel Finds the Sullivan Brothers' Ship

By The Maritime Executive 03-19-2018 09:53:00

On St. Patrick's Day, the research vessel Petrel found the wreck of the USS Juneau, which went down in the Battle of Guadalcanal with the loss of 687 men. The fallen included five brothers - the Sullivans - who had enlisted in the Navy on the condition that they be allowed to serve on the same ship. They are part of Navy lore, and the destroyer DDG-68 (USS The Sullivans) bears their name. 

The Petrel is owned by real estate and software magnate Paul Allen. Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) first identified the Juneau by side scan sonar on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. After analysis of the sonar data, the Petrel crew deployed their remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) on March 18 to verify the wreckage.

“We certainly didn’t plan to find the Juneau on St. Patrick’s Day. The variables of these searches are just too great,” said Robert Kraft, Allen's director of subsea operations. “But [it] is an unexpected coincidence to the Sullivan brothers and all the service members who were lost 76 years ago.”

During an engagement with Japanese forces off Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942, the Juneau was struck by a torpedo and badly damaged. She broke off the fight and headed for Espirito Santo for repairs. During her retreat, a Japanese submarine torpedoed her a second time. The munition hit on her port side and cut the ship in half, and she sank in about 30 seconds, killing most of those on board. Due to the risk from the enemy submarine, the other members of Juneau's task force did not stay to check for survivors. About 115 of Juneau‘s crew reportedly survived the initial explosion and the sinking, likely including two of the five Sullivan brothers. U.S. naval forces did not launch a search and rescue effort for several days, and only 10 survivors were ever found. 

Over the last three years, the Petrel has also found the USS Lexington, USS Indianapolis, USS Ward, USS Astoria, the Japanese battleship Musashi and the Italian destroyer Artigliere. The Allen-led team also recovered the ship's bell from the ill-fated HMS Hood for presentation to the Royal Navy.