Video: Wreck of WWII Destroyer Found in Aleutian Islands

By The Maritime Executive 08-17-2018 04:36:13

A research team with partners from Scripps, NOAA and the University of Delaware has discovered the stern section of the destroyer USS Abner Read. The wrecked section was lost in action in the Bering Sea in 1943. 

In the early hours of August 18, 1943, the Read was off the island of Kiska, Alaska, which had recently been retaken from Japanese forces. At about 0150 hours, she was struck by a massive explosion, likely from a Japanese mine. The blast tore the ship in half and sank the stern. 70 sailors were killed or missing after the blast, and another 47 were wounded. The surviving crew managed to keep the bow section afloat long enough for two other Navy vessels to arrive on scene, and the destroyer was successfully towed back to port. 

The Read was quickly given a new stern and redeployed to the Pacific theater, where she served in support of the New Guinea campaign and the landings at Leyte. On November 1, 1944, she was destroyed and sunk by a Japanese dive bomber off Leyte, with the loss of 22 members of her crew.

The Read's original stern section was lost for decades, but this July, researchers with NOAA, Scripps and the wreck discovery initiative Project Recover launched a campaign to survey the waters off Kiska with the intention of finding it. The initiative was the first mission of its kind to explore the underwater portion of this little-known WWII battlefield in detail. Many ships, aircraft and submarines from both the United States and Japan were lost during a 15-month campaign to reclaim Kiska and Attu from Japanese forces. NOAA believes that there are a dozen Japanese ships sunk in the island's harbor and two sunken Japanese submarines nearby, in addition to numerous downed aircraft. 

The Norseman II, a chartered research boat based in Mercer Island, Washington, conducted a sidescan sonar survey of the area and located a promising object on the bottom. An ROV survey confirmed the find. “There was no doubt,” said expedition leader Eric Terrill, an oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and co-founder of Project Recover. “We could clearly see the broken stern, the gun and rudder control, all consistent with the historical documents.”

The wreck is a military war grave, and it is legally protected from activities that could disturb it or its contents. “We take our responsibility to protect those wrecks seriously,” said Sam Cox, curator of the Navy and director of the Naval History and Heritage Command. “They’re the last resting place of American sailors.”