The wreck of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Hornet has been discovered in the South Pacific, 77 years after Japanese forces sunk the ship in a fierce battle.
The research vessel Petrel, owned by the estate of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, discovered the Hornet three miles under the ocean surface off the Solomon Islands late last month.
The Hornet, the last U.S. fleet carrier to be sunk by enemy fire, lost 140 hands under a relentless Japanese air bombing attack at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, 1942.
As Imperial Navy surface forces closed in, all hands were ordered to abandon ship, and the Hornet was finished off by enemy torpedoes and sent to its watery grave.
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The Hornet is seen under heavy attack by Japanese dive bombers at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, 1942, where it later sunk
Inside the online room of the R/V Petrel as the team views the USS Hornet for the first time
A sonar image of USS Hornet as researchers discover the wreck in the South Pacific last month
Two of the 20 mm Oerlikons located on the port quarter of USS Hornet are seen
The Hornet was a Yorktown-class carrier, best known for launching the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and participating in the Battle of Midway.
‘With the loss of Hornet and serious damage to Enterprise, the Battle of Santa Cruz was a Japanese victory, but at an extremely high cost,’ said Rear Admiral (Ret.) Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, in a statement.
‘About half the Japanese aircraft engaged were shot down by greatly improved U.S. Navy anti-aircraft defenses. Asa result, the Japanese carriers did not engage again in battle for almost another two years,’ Cox said.
To locate the wreck, the 10-person expedition team on the 250-foot R/V Petrel pieced together data from national and naval archives that included official deck logs and action reports from other ships engaged in the battle.
Researchers charted positions and sightings from nine other U.S. warships on a chart to generate the starting point for the search grid.
An Army B-25 takes off from the deck of the USS Hornet on its way to take part in the first U.S. air raid on Japan, the Doolittle Raid
Major General Jimmy Doolittle (third from right) with his bombing crew and some Chinese allies are pictured here in China, after the airmen bailed out following Doolittle’s Raid on Japan, on April 1, 1942
A five-inch gun on USS Hornet is seen in the first images to be captured of the sunken ship
A remote submarine captured this image of the signal horn atop the tower of the USS Hornet
An international harvester aircraft tug is seen on the USS Hornet in images from the Petrel
The researchers discovered the wreck on the first dive mission of Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle
Video footage from a remotely operated vehicle confirmed the wreck when the Hornet’s designation, CV-8, showed up on camera.
‘We had Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as an aircraft carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles,’ said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for
‘Paul Allen was particularly interested in historically significant and capital ships, so this mission and discovery honor his legacy,’ Kraft said.
Images from the sunken wreck show gun turrets and other images from the deck of the carrier, as well as pieces of Allied aircraft.
Planes crowd the flight deck of the USS Hornet somewhere in the Pacific
B-25 flown by a Doolittle’s Raider takes off from the deck of the USS Hornet in April 1942
An F4F-4 Wildcat with its wings folded is seen on the ocean floor near the Hornet wreck
A five-inch gun director on USS Hornet is captured by the remote sub’s cameras
Damage is seen on the hull of the USS Hornet, which sustained heavy bombing
A station is seen on the Hornet’s deck 77 years after the carrier sank to the ocean floor
Richard Nowatzki, now 95, was an 18-year-old gunner on the Hornet, and watched via remote camera link as the remote sub discovered his old station at a gun turret.
‘If you go down to my locker, there’s 40 bucks in it, you can have it!’ he told
Nowatski recalled the terror of battle, as Japanese dive-bombers and torpedo planes relentlessly pummeled the ship.
Richard Nowatzki, now 95, was an 18-year-old gunner on the Hornet when it sank
Elevated view of B-25 bombers on the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier, April 1942. The planes were being prepared for a Tokyo raid to be led by Major Jimmy Doolittle
‘They used armor piercing bombs, now when they come down, you hear ’em going through the decks … plink, plink, plink, plink … and then when they explode the whole ship shakes,’ he said.
‘When they left, we were dead in the water,’ he recalled.
Though most of the ship’s crew of about 2,200 survived the battle, 140 perished.
‘I know I’ve been a very fortunate man,’ said Nowatzki. ‘The actual fact that you can find these ships is mind boggling to me … I want to thank you for honoring me this way.’