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R/V Petrel Finds Wreck of First Japanese Battleship Lost in WWII

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Images copyright Navigea / RV Petrel

By The Maritime Executive 2019-02-06 19:06:15

The crew of the R/V Petrel, the research vessel backed by the late entrepreneur Paul Allen, has found the wreck of the Hiei - the first Japanese battleship sunk by U.S. forces during World War II. A Japanese research group announced that it had likely located the Hiei with sonar last year, but the Petrel's discovery appears to be the first find confirmed by ROV inspection. 

The 1914-built Hiei was a Japanese battlecruiser, and she was one of the most heavily-armed ships of the era, with eight 14-inch guns and armor up to nine inches thick. Hiei served as one of the escorts for the carrier fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, and she supported Japan's invasion of the Dutch East Indies in early 1942. Late that year, she was deployed to the Solomon Islands for the battle for control of Guadalcanal, and she participated in a fierce naval battle during an attempt to land Japanese troops on the island. 

On November 13, 1942, as her convoy approached Guadalcanal, Hiei's superstructure was struck multiple times by the destroyer USS Laffey in a close-quarters engagement. Shortly after, Hiei's steering compartment was hit by a shell from the cruiser USS San Francisco. Hiei's steering gear was disabled by the strike, and she circled slowly for another day as American aircraft hit her repeatedly with bombs and torpedoes. She sank on the night of the 14th with the loss of 188 crewmembers, becoming the Japanese Navy's first battleship lost in combat during the war. (Japan had already lost other warships, including all four of its large fleet carriers, but had not yet lost a battleship.)

In a series of social media posts, the Petrel shared more than a dozen photos showing the wreck in detail - including images of two of Hiei's five-inch gun turrets, lying apart from the hull in the debris field. According to the Petrel's team, the Hiei came to rest upside down in about 3,000 feet of water at a position northwest of Savo Island. The area is also known as "Ironbottom Sound" for the number of warships sent below during the Solomon Islands campaign. 

Expeditions backed by Allen have resulted in the discovery of multiple wrecks from World War II, including the USS Indianapolis, USS Ward, USS Astoria, USS Lexington, the Japanese battleship Musashi and the Italian destroyer Artigliere