Photos: USS Samuel B. Roberts, The Deepest Wreck Ever Discovered

samuel b
The destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts (USN)

Published Jun 27, 2022 4:23 AM by The Maritime Executive

The investor and private explorer Victor Vescovo and his crew have found what they believe to be the deepest shipwreck ever discovered - the remains of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), which was destroyed in a famous battle with far more powerful Japanese warships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. 

The "Sammy B" was a relatively lightly-armed warship, weighing in at just 1,300 tonnes displacement and armed with two five-inch guns and three torpedo tubes. In late October of 1944, the Roberts was operating off Samar Island in the Philippine Sea. She was serving as part of a task force of six escort carriers, which were supporting and covering American troopships in Leyte Gulf. On the morning of October 25, a 23-ship force of the Japanese Imperial Navy appeared on the horizon. The small and slow American carriers withdrew, while their vanguard of destroyers and destroyer escorts (including the Roberts) made a valiant last stand against a better-armed enemy. They took heavy losses but successfully fended off the attack, inflicting serious damage on the Japanese force. It would be Japan's last major naval engagement of the war.

As the Japanese task force closed on the escort carriers, the Roberts made a torpedo run at the cruiser Chokai, damaging her and forcing her to reduce speed. She then exchanged fire with the heavy cruiser Chikuma at a range of less than three miles, distracting the cruiser's attention from the carriers and badly damaging its superstructure in a rapid exchange of fire. Roberts then came under heavy fire from other attacking Japanese warships, damaging her propulsion and finally sending her below. 120 men survived, including her captain, and 90 were lost. 

On June 22, Vescovo's team and Eyos Expeditions found the wreck of USS Samuel B. Roberts at a depth of 22,621 feet, making it the deepest shipwreck ever discovered. According to Vescovo, the destroyer still had depth charges ready and sitting in their racks, prompting the manned submersible to keep its distance.

“It was an extraordinary honor to locate this incredibly famous ship, and by doing so, have the chance to retell her story of heroism and duty to those who may not know of the ship and her crew’s sacrifice,"said Vescovo. “I always remain in awe of the extraordinary bravery of those who fought in this battle agains truly overwhelming odds – and won."

It is the second ultra-deep wreck that Vescovo has discovered from the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Last year, he and his team found the famous destroyer USS Johnston at a depth of 21,000 feet - at the time, the deepest wreck yet identified.