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Wreckage of Kaga

During our September, 1999 expedition to image seafloor sonar targets at the site of the Battle of Midway, the Nauticos/NAVO team used a system called TOSS (Towed Optical Search System). Dangled from a cable over 17,000 feet below the surface, the instrument captured video and still images of a huge debris field of wreckage. Some of these pieces had unique features that confirmed we had found the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga. Other artifacts, including a Japanese sailor’s boot, preserved for nearly seventy years, was evidence of the loss of life in battle. Three hundred and seven American sailors, Marines, and airmen perished in the battle, against over 3,000 Japanese.

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Pieces of wreckage, large and small, were scattered in profusion around the area as seen in this montage. In the bottom photo, a deep sea worm left a trail as it gathered sustenance from the muddy bottom, evidence of life at extreme depths. The seafloor was thickly sprinkled with nodules of pure manganese. Nauticos.

New Book on Sale Now

David W. Jourdan’s Newest Book

 Published June 2015, from Potomac Books (an imprint of University of Nebraska Press)

The Search for the Japanese Fleet

USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway 

by David W. Jourdan, with Foreword by Philip G. Renaud

In The Search for the Japanese Fleet, David W. Jourdan, one of the world’s experts in undersea exploration, reconstructs the critical role one submarine played in the Battle of Midway, considered to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific. In the direct line of fire during this battle was one of the oldest boats in the navy, USS Nautilus. The actions of Lt. Cdr. William Brockman and his ninety-three-man crew during an eight-hour period rank among the most important submarine contributions to the most decisive engagement in U.S. Navy history.

MidwayPotomacBooksdraft2

Fifty-seven years later, Jourdan’s team of deep-sea explorers set out to discover the history of the Battle of Midway and find the ships that the Allied fleet sank. Key to the mystery was Nautilus and its underwater exploits. Relying on logs, diaries, chronologies, manuals, sound recordings, and interviews with veterans of the battle, including men who spent most of June 4, 1942, in the submarine conning tower, the story breathes new life into the history of this epic engagement. Woven into the tale of World War II is the modern drama of deep-sea discovery, as explorers deploy new technology three miles beneath the ocean surface to uncover history and commemorate fallen heroes.

 

 

 

 

Kaga versus Sōryū

In The Search for the Japanese Fleet, I argue that Nautilus attacked the aircraft carrier Kaga, not Sōryū as Captain Brockman thought, owing to outdated recognition guides. The information in his possession showed Kaga in its pre-war configuration, with a three-quarter length flight deck and uncovered bow. Otherwise, the two ships resembled one another, and both had a unique starboard-side island superstructure. (Kaga was significantly heavier, 39,000 tons vs. 16,000 tons, as it was built on an armored battlecruiser hull, but that did not affect its appearance through the periscope.) Wreckage from a vessel identified as Kaga was found in 1999 at the position of the Nautilus attack. Yet Captain Brockman and his crew recovered a life ring from Sōryū! How can this be?

Nautilus made her attack at around 1400 local time and evaded depth-charging destroyers by heading south. Nautilus first surfaced that evening at 1941. By that time she was twenty miles south of the attack location, but much closer southwest of the location of the dive bomber attacks that mortally wounded both ships (as well as Akagi) that morning at 1020. With winds and currents pushing floating debris to the west, it is likely that Nautilus fell among flotsam from the morning attacks on all three ships rather than from the particular ship they attacked at 1400.

Regardless of which ship Nautilus attacked, the old boat and her gallant crew were key members of the team of aviators and sailors that caused the destruction of the carriers of Kidō Butai that June day in 1942 and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.

 

Excerpt from The Search for the Japanese Fleet. Location of dive bomber attacks at 1020 is closer to Nautilus position at 1941 than attack at 1400. Illustration by Bethany Jourdan.
Excerpt from The Search for the Japanese Fleet. Location of dive bomber attacks at 1020 is closer to Nautilus position at 1941 than attack at 1400.     Illustration by Bethany Jourdan.

Letter from Larry Brockman

Shortly after release of The Search for the Japanese Fleet, I received a wonderful letter from Larry Brockman, nephew of William Brockman, captain of Nautilus. He began with:

“I want to thank you on behalf of the entire Brockman family for the wonderful tribute to my uncle.  I have often hoped that something would be written about Uncle Bill’s Nautilus Days, and your book is the fulfillment of that hope and so much more.”

The letter went on to tell more about his uncle and memories of his service. Included was this passage about the controversy surrounding which ship Nautilus attacked:

“In 1976, I … drove up to Boca Raton to see Uncle Bill.  We had a nice long chat.  It seems that he was all steamed over a book writer who had interviewed him about the Midway encounter.  He described in great detail how they argued about which carrier he had attacked, and whether or not the torpedoes had sunk the carrier.  After raving about the encounter with the writer, Uncle Bill told me that he really didn’t care what the guy said or did because he was certain that he was right.  I asked him how he could be so sure.  He got up, went to a closet, and pulled out the life preserver.  I took a photo of him with the preserver, which I have attached to this note.  Then he said to me, ‘When it was safe, I surfaced and fished this out of the water.  And there were hundreds more just like it all around me’.”

In my book, I report that the ship that Nauticos found, based on the position of the Nautilus attack, was clearly identified to be Kaga. Brockman was equally certain he attacked Sōryū . How do we resolve this contradiction? See next week’s blog post for a possible explanation.

William Brockman departed on eternal patrol from Boca Raton, Florida, January 2, 1979, at the age of seventy-four.

brockman
Rear Admiral William H. Brockman, Ret., posing with life preserver from Japanese carrier IJN Sōryū, in Boca Raton, Florida, 1976. Photo and excerpts from letter courtesy Larry Brockman, with permission.

 

 

U.S. Submarines in World War II

With the dramatic exception of USS Nautilus, U.S. submarines made a poor showing at the Battle of Midway. However, with more experienced and aggressive commanders, better torpedoes, newer boat designs and growing numbers, the tide turned. By war’s end, the submarine force, representing less than two percent of the Navy, accounted for fifty-five percent of Japan’s maritime losses. This achievement came at high cost – nearly 3,500 U.S. submariners perished during the war, over twenty percent of those who made patrols. This was the highest casualty rate for any branch of the U.S. military. May those brave men be … never forgotten!  Excerpt from The Search for the Japanese Fleet.

USS Nautilus - 5
USS Nautilus taking on provisions prior to departing Pearl Harbor, 11 December 1942. Note the huge six-inch caliber deck guns. U.S. Navy.

 

The 73rd Anniversary of the Battle of Midway

Servicemen and women are recognized annually during Veterans’ Day, but another day of commemoration is coming up: the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Midway. Fought from June 4 to 7, 1942, the epic engagement halted Japanese expansion and was the Pacific turning point of World War II. My new book, The Search for the Japanese Fleet, remembers the heroes of Midway, particularly the ninety-three men of USS Nautilus, who fought bravely, played a key role in the U.S. victory, and risked all to stand for freedom. The book features interviews with some of the men who were there. Though most have passed on to “Eternal Patrol,” a few remain with us. I have recently become acquainted with Henry “Hank” Kudzik, who served on Nautilus from 1942-44, and Jerry Gross, who was a young Machinist Mate on board during the battle, and sailed with the submarine through 1943. Kudzik will be attending this year’s annual Midway commemoration hosted by the Naval Submarine League (http://www.midwaycommemoration.org), and will be presented an autographed copy of my book in recognition of his service. In the words of Harold “Buzz” Lee, radioman on board Nautilus during the battle, “… that terrible day of June 4th, 1942 should never be forgotten by any American, ever.”

Buzz Lee with ADM Nimitz
Radioman First Class Harold “Buzz” Lee is decorated by Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet, on the occasion of the award of the Presidential Unit Citation to USS Nautilus, December 1942. The citation read in part, “For outstanding performance in combat during three aggressive war patrols in enemy-controlled waters.” Courtesy Harold Lee.

The Connection between Ocean and Space Exploration

There is a strong connection between ocean and space exploration, both in terms of technology as well as in the spirit of discovery. Over the last few years, Nauticos has been working with World View Enterprises, a company that works in extreme environments in space and underwater. Their latest project is developing a system to loft a manned capsule to the edge of space using a stratospheric balloon. At 100,000 feet, Voyagers will see the black of space, the atmosphere below, and the curvature of the earth, as shown in this test flight footage. The World View system will be used for science, technology, and tourism. See http://worldviewexperience.com.

World View’s high-altitude balloon
World View’s high-altitude balloon will let Voyagers gently soar for hours along the frontier of space.