Trivia Question: Which was the first submarine to travel under the arctic ice cap? Answer: USS Nautilus … WRONG! “Nautilus” is correct, but it was NOT the nuclear powered USS Nautilus (SSN-571) of fame. Yes, USS Nautilus was the first submarine to transit the ice cap and visit the North Pole. But an earlier submarine, USS O-12 (SS-73) has the distinction of being the first to dive under the ice cap. This vessel, launched in 1917, was a post World War I vintage O-Class submarine, displacing 500 tons and able to dive to 200 feet. It was decommissioned in 1924, then leased for $1 per year to Hubert Wilkins’s and Lincoln Ellsworth’s Arctic Expedition. The vessel was re-christened “Nautilus” (sans the military moniker “USS”) and baptized with a bucket of ice cubes (champagne forbidden under Prohibition laws at the time). With funding promised by William Randolph Hearst, the boat got underway for Arctic waters in June, 1931 with a plan to rendezvous at the North Pole with the German airship Graf Zeppelin. A series of mishaps, storms, and equipment failures thwarted all attempts until August, when under pressure from Hearst the damaged submarine managed to submerge under the ice. Unable to travel far, and with malfunctioning radios, the ship was presumed lost. However, she had managed to surface through a polynya (area of open water within an ice pack) and was able to return safely. The crew carried out investigations and published scientific papers; however, Hearst considered the venture a failure and refused to pay for the expedition. I learned this bit of history through a re-reading of Rachel Carson’s 1950 book The Sea Around Us.
NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer and the ashore team made a historic discovery while exploring the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument near Wake Island. On August 11 the team imaged a World War Two Japanese armed tanker, IJN Amakasu Maru No. 1, torpedoed and sunk by the submarine USS Triton (SS-201) on December 24, 1942. The team was aiming to locate the wreck of IJN Hayate, a Japanese destroyer sunk by U.S. Marine shore batteries during the Battle of Wake Island in December 1941. Earlier multi beam sonar surveys suggested a target of the right size and in the predicted location. Explorers (including those watching live video via telepresence) were rewarded with stunning views of a shipwreck early in the dive. But soon it became apparent that there were subtle differences between the wreck and details of Hayate. With the aid of historian Tony Tully, explorers were able to verify that the vessel was in fact Amakasu Maru, a ship of almost identical size and with a similar bow configuration. The identification was confirmed when Japanese characters welded on the stern were imaged and translated.
Amakasu Maru No. 1 was an auxiliary water tanker, delivering precious fresh water to occupied islands such as Wake and to ships at sea. One of 26 built between 1937 and 1943, the ships were armed for anti-aircraft defense. All were sunk during the Pacific war by various causes. Three torpedoes fired by Triton hit the port side of Amakasu Maru and sealed her fate. Viewers were able to clearly see evidence of torpedo damage on the stern. Other features imaged as the ROV Deep Discoverer surveyed the wreck included deck guns, anchors, piping, masts, the pilot house and many other details. The wreck was festooned with sea life and sprinkled with a light coating of sediment. Explorers were surprised to see significant remnants of wooden deck planking, surviving after nearly 74 years in the sea. Twelve crewmen were lost in the sinking, but no evidence of remains was noted (or expected).
Observers ashore were very impressed with the cool professionalism of the at-sea team, including ship crew, ROV operators, camera operators, and scientists, such as we have come to expect from prior dives. Scientists ashore were able to direct the ROV to image specific features through live hi-def video feeds and a teleconference link, while archaeologists and translators worked to research identifying markings in real time. Many interested members of the public watched from their home computers as undersea mysteries were revealed thousands of miles away and nearly a thousand meters deep.
The location of Hayate remains a mystery. The team imaged two other possible targets that turned out to be huge rocks. Since the ship was blown in half and sunk near an active region with high currents and a steep drop off, its wreckage may have been lost to the abyss. Okeanos will move on and will continue its current mission to conduct scientific baseline characterization of cultural and natural resources in the Wake Atoll unit of the monument, returning to Kwajalein on August 19. Daily dives can be followed on our Expedition Portal or on the Okeanos website.
You can join live tonight, August 10 beginning around 5PM, on our Expedition Portal as NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research searches for the WWII Japanese destroyer Hayate, sunk at the Battle of Wake Island on Dec 11, 1941. Struck by a shell from U.S. Marine coastal defense guns, Hayate was the first ship sunk by American forces in the Pacific war. The search for the shipwreck is part a three-year campaign with NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, to explore the waters of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments. The ship is currently conducting scientific baseline characterization of cultural and natural resources in the Wake Atoll unit of the monument. A mapping cruise earlier this year discovered several objects in the vicinity of where Hayate sank. NOAA will use the ROV on Okeanos Explorer to identify the targets and if they find it, to document the shipwreck. Portal viewers can watch as it happens through the remote telepresence capability of Okeanos.
Born July 24, 1897, today marks the 119th anniversary of the birth of Amelia Earhart. She and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared without a trace on her attempt at an around the world flight on July 2, 1937, just short of her 40th birthday. So what’s all the fuss? There is something about Amelia – her beauty, daring, and drive; her compassion, wisdom, and independence; and the sad, tragic end of her young life – that make her the classic heroine. A life of service in the public eye, a world traveler who called kings and presidents friends, a touch of passion with a famous partner, and a death shrouded in mystery, Earhart lived a remarkable life in fascinating times. There is Amelia appeal for everyone. – Excerpt from The Deep Sea Quest for Amelia Earhart
In 1999, then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jay L. Johnson announced that June 4 would become as significant as October 13 — the Navy’s birthday. “Twice a year, we will pause as a Navy to reflect upon our proud heritage and to build in all hands a renewed awareness of our tradition and history,” Johnson said. This year’s Battle of Midway Celebration Dinner was held at the Army-Navy Club in Arlington, VA, and I was honored to be the keynote speaker. In attendance were several veterans of the battle, representing the air, sea, and undersea forces that secured victory at the turning point of the war in the Pacific. My address focused on the role of the submarine Nautilus in the battle. Along with James Delgado, NOAA Director of Maritime Heritage, I was very pleased to receive a commemorative silver coin from the International Midway Memorial Foundation. Other sponsors included the Naval Historical Foundation, the Navy League, the Naval Submarine League, and the Naval Institute.
“The credit belongs to the man … who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”–Theodore Roosevelt
Critical to the American victory at the Battle of Midway, fought 74 years ago today, were the heroic actions of the submarine USS Nautilus, as chronicled in my book The Search for the Japanese Fleet. The commander of the famous submarine was Lt. Cdr. William H. Brockman, Jr.
William Brockman was born November 18, 1904, in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Class of 1927. During the Battle of Midway, Brockman led Nautilus and the attack on the Japanese fleet from his position in the conning tower as the approach officer. His leadership, competence, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy were recognized with the award of the Navy Cross, the highest honor the Navy can bestow, topped only by the Medal of Honor (awarded by the President in the name of Congress). The citation reads:
“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander William Herman Brockman, Jr., United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of USS Nautilus (SS-168), in the Battle of Midway. On 4 June 1942, Lieutenant Commander Brockman aggressively developed a contact with major enemy forces and doggedly pushed home a torpedo attack on a screened aircraft carrier against determined and repeated enemy counter measures by gunfire barrage, depth charging and bombing from the air. The attack culminated successfully and Lieutenant Commander Brockman is credited with closing and sinking of a 10,000 ton enemy aircraft carrier. His skill, determination, courage and fortitude were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.”
He won two more Navy Crosses and a Silver Star for further exploits as commander of Nautilus, including sinking of enemy ships, transporting of troops, and evacuation of civilians from enemy occupied territory. William Brockman departed on eternal patrol from Boca Raton, Florida, January 2, 1979, at the age of seventy-four.
The tragic loss of Egypt Air Flight 804 and the sixty-six lives on board poses yet another challenge for aircraft investigators and deep-sea recovery teams. Like the Air France Flight 447 accident and the Malaysian Airlines MH-370 disappearance, the aircraft went down over ocean, coordinates only approximately known. The flight recorders for Flight 447 were found two years later at over 13,000 foot depth by a team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. No trace of MH-370 has been found despite dogged efforts. The disappearance of Flight 804 is reminiscent of the mysterious case of the Israeli submarine INS Dakar, which vanished in almost exactly the same spot in the Mediterranean in 1968. Though the two events are certainly coincidental, there are similarities. The location, in a deep-sea site known as the Herodotus Basin, is the deepest part of the Mediterranean at 10,000 feet. Sixty-nine sailors were lost on Dakar, and their fate could not be determined until the wreckage was found. A single piece of wreckage washed ashore, but swirling, hard to predict winds and currents made it impossible to calculate from where the piece had originated with any accuracy. In the case of Dakar, over thirty years passed before its discovery by Nauticos in 1999, revealing that its demise was the result of a tragic accident. It is certainly hoped that the families of Egypt Air Flight 804 will soon learn what happened to their loved ones, but experience suggests that they may have to wait for some time.
I recently had the pleasure and privilege of scuba diving with Phil Renaud (Director of the Living Oceans Foundation) and other friends off the island of Grenada in the southern Caribbean. Besides being an avid diver, Phil has a great underwater camera, and knows how to use it! Below is a short (3 minute) video typical of what you can see if you venture below the surface. We dove on a small shipwreck and enjoyed closeup views of corals & critters, including a number of large sea horses. In the end, we gathered for a group photo among the Circle of Children, part of the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park, the world’s first underwater sculpture gallery.
Phil leads the Living Oceans Foundation in the one of the largest coral reef studies in history. Called the Global Reef Expedition, it will circumnavigate the globe surveying some of the most remote reefs on the planet. It will take five years to complete the field research alone.
Though our Nauticos team was disappointed that bad weather forced cancellation of our dives on the site of the Battle of Midway, we took heart in what was accomplished. The expedition yielded a great wealth of baseline information about the largely unexplored Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument. Eight ROV dives identified 249 different types of organisms, and 34 geological and biological specimens were collected including 13 species unknown to the region (or in some cases the planet). Dozens of scientists and students from around the world participated via telepresence, and many followers watched live feed through our Expedition Portal. A video of mission highlights can be seen here, courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.
After a short port visit in Kwajalein for resupply, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is conducting mapping operations to explore the largely unknown region surrounding the Wake Island Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Our Expedition Portal continues to connect to live feeds from the ship, so check in for updates and continue to follow and explore the deep sea with us!
It was my first time watching live video from the deep seafloor via telepresence–from the comfort of my home computer. I was astonished to witness amazing imagery of a beautiful translucent pale blue octopus, and the mission scientists seemed just as excited and flummoxed. Turns out this strange finless cephalopod was the first of its kind seen by humans, and at 14,075 feet was the deepest ever seen of this type.
In this video, courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, on-board scientist Daniel Wagner narrates the scene as shore-based scientists express their feelings of thrill and awe.
The discovery was made by the ROV D2 deployed from the Oceans Explorer on February 27th while exploring Necker Ridge, southwest of Kauai in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine Sanctuary. All of us following this groundbreaking expedition are privileged to witness this and other undersea discoveries as they happen. Live feed and replays of earlier dives can be seen though our Expedition Portal.