The remains of an American submarine that went missing during World War II have finally been identified, the U.S. Navy confirmed in a press release on Thursday.
Discovered off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan, last year by a team led by Dr. Tamaki Ura from the University of Tokyo, the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) identified the wreckage of the vessel as the USS Albacore (SS 218) – a submarine that was lost at sea on November 7, 1944. The Albacore was one of 52 submarines lost during WWII and sank at least 10 enemy vessels, according to the NHHC.
“Six of the ten enemy sinkings were enemy combatant ships, ranking her as one of the most successful submarines against enemy combatants during World War II,” the press release said. “The wreck represents the final resting place of Sailors that gave their life in defense of the nation and should be respected by all parties as a war grave.”
Dr. Ura’s team used a remotely operated vehicle to gather data and imagery on the submarine, efforts hampered by strong currents and poor visibility, the Navy explained. The NHHC’s underwater archaeology branch was able to identify the submarine using this imagery, specifically by examining modifications made to the vessel before it embarked on its final patrol. These include a mast, an SJ radar dish, and a row of vent holes along the superstructure, the Navy said.
Naval History and Heritage Command confirmed the identity of a wreck site off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan, as USS Albacore (SS 218). pic.twitter.com/eYZZ7MxKug
— U.S. Naval History (@USNHistory) February 16, 2023
The Albacore departed Pearl Harbor on October 24, 1944, and refueled at Midway, an island in the North Pacific between the U.S. and Japan, four days later. The submarine was presumed lost when it failed to arrive back at Midway on December 12 and, despite lookout efforts, had not been seen or heard from by the 21st. Navy records indicate that the Albacore struck a mine on November 7, 1944, while submerged. The NHHC states that the incident was observed by a Japanese vessel, which saw “much heavy oil and bubbles, cork, bedding and various provisions after the explosion.”
“I know that he was lost somewhere off the coast of Japan,” William Bower II, the son of Lt. William Walter Bower – who was on the Albacore, told CNN. “But to actually know the spot where the remnants of the submarine are is much more meaningful. That to me was a major step in having better closure for his life.”
William Bower II was born two months after the submarine sank, telling CNN that he knew his father through stories and photographs and has established relationships with other families who lost loved ones on the Albacore. He says that his grandmother “never fully recovered” from the news of her son. “And you know how grateful she would have been to have learned this,” he said, “And my mother unfortunately did not learn as well. So, I’m just very grateful that someone in his family was able to learn his final resting place.”
The Albacore was commissioned in 1942 and conducted 11 patrols, earning four Presidential Unit Citations and nine battle stars, according to the Navy press release. The wreck site is considered a war grave and is therefore protected under U.S. law.