Divers may have found US submarine lost in WWII

  • Thailand
  • Thursday, 17 Sep 2020

Piece of history: This 1941 photo released by US Navy showing USS Grenadier off Portsmouth. It sank on its sixth patrol mission to the Strait of Malacca and north into the Andaman Sea in April 1943. — AP

Divers have found what they believe is the wreck of a United States Navy submarine lost 77 years ago in South-East 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 US 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, 94m 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 they were taken prisoner and tortured by their Japanese captors for more than two years.

The wreck lies 82m underwater somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, about 150km south of Phuket.

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.

The Belgian has been researching possible locations for shipwrecks for many years, Horowitz said in an interview.

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.

“We went back looking for clues, nameplate, but we couldn’t find any of those,” recalled Horowitz.

“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 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.

It sailed on March 20, 1943, from Fremantle, Australia, on its sixth patrol, to the Strait of Malacca and north into the Andaman Sea.

On the night of April 20, the submarine glimpsed two small freighters and set course to intercept them the next morning, sailing on the surface for speed.

In the morning, a plane was sighted and an immediate crash dive was ordered, but the ship did not descend far enough, fast enough.

Blasts from two bombs battered the sub and when it surfaced 13 hours later, it was clear the Grenadier was too crippled to flee or fight.

As dawn broke, two ships on the horizon were closing in.

A Japanese plane made a run at the ship, but was fought off with small arms, dropping a bomb harmlessly about 200m away.

The crew abandoned ship at 8.30am and later were hauled aboard an armed merchant ship, which took them to Penang. — AP

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