Star WW2 sub Albacore located off Japan

Underwater image of the Albacore (University of Tokyo / NHHC)
Underwater image of the Albacore (University of Tokyo / NHHC)

A 200m-deep wreck-site off the coast of Esan on Hokkaido in Japan has been confirmed as that of the long-lost WW2 submarine USS Albacore by Naval History & Heritage Command (NHHC). 

Its Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) was able to use data and underwater imagery provided by Dr Tamaki Ura from the University of Tokyo to confirm the wreck’s identity. The Gato-class submarine, which had an outstanding record in the Pacific war, had been lost on 7 November, 1944.

Dr Ura carries out wreck-survey projects using the underwater technology he develops. Initially trawling through the Japan Centre for Asian Historical Records, his team found references to the location of a lost American submarine that matched a separate search being carried out by UAB volunteers.

They went on to collect video data using multi-beam echo sounding and deploying an ROV to dive onto the wreck. Strong currents, marine growth and poor visibility made it challenging to fully document the wreck or obtain comprehensive images, but the UAB experts were able to identify several key features in the video.

They spotted modifications documented before Albacore’s final patrol, including an SJ radar dish and mast, a row of vent-holes along the top of the superstructure, and the absence of steel plates along the upper edge of the fairwater plane that controls depth.

USS Albacore with its large conning tower in 1942

Albacore had been built by the Electric Boat Company in Connecticut and commissioned on 1 June, 1942. During 11 war patrols the submarine was credited with 10 confirmed enemy vessel sinkings, with another three unconfirmed.

With nine battle stars and four presidential unit citations, Albacore ranks as one of the most successful US submarines in action against enemy combatants during WW2. Six of her confirmed sinkings were of Japanese warships, including two destroyers, a light cruiser and the aircraft-carrier Taiho

The vessel was 95m long, had a surface speed of 20 knots (9 knots submerged) and carried 60 men. She was initially armed with one 3in, two .50 and two .30 calibre machine-guns and ten 21in torpedo-tubes.

Final patrol

Albacore left Pearl Harbor on her final patrol on 24 October, topped up her fuel tanks at Midway four days later and was never heard from again. According to Japanese records captured after the war, a submarine assumed to be Albacore had struck a mine close to the shore off north-eastern Hokkaido on 7 November. 

A Japanese patrol-boat had witnessed the explosion of a submerged submarine, with its crew reporting seeing heavy oil, cork, bedding and food supplies rising to the surface. On 21 December Albacore was assumed to have been lost.

The USA lost 52 submarines during WW2. “As the final resting place for sailors who gave their life in defence of our nation, we sincerely thank and congratulate Dr Ura and his team for their efforts in locating the wreck of Albacore,” said NHHC director Samuel J Cox. “It is through their hard work and continued collaboration that we could confirm Albacore’s identity after being lost at sea for over 70 years.”

Also on Divernet: American Sub Found In Japan, Stickleback Sub Found At 3.3km, Wreck Tour 141: The P555



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