Beneath the Glassy Surface Exploring Wreckage of Pearl Harbor

December 29, 2016

On December 7th, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor left behind a wake of mayhem and destruction that can be viewed in exhibits like the USS Arizona Memorial. American forces suffered the loss of over 2,400 servicemen, 188 aircraft, four battleships, and three cruisers, overshadowing the Japanese loss of four midget submarines, 29 aircraft, and 64 soldiers. For 75 years, the wreckages of many mechanical losses rest at the bottom of waters near the harbor, corroding beneath heavy pressure and interactions with natural processes.

While it’s possible to view the wreckage of the USS Arizona, the rest of the destroyed vessels remained lost and invisible to average travelers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sought to change some of that on the 75th anniversary of the attacks by streaming a live exploration of two Japanese mini-submarines. What was once only available to handfuls of researchers and explorers was made available to the public through NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer in crystal clear clarity.

The Mini Submarines

As mentioned, the Japanese suffered considerably fewer losses during the attack, but among them were a series of four midget submarines. NOAA’s stream pinpointed two of these wrecks, one a vessel that was actually sunk 90 minutes prior to the bombardment on Pearl Harbor. Prior to the attacks, USS Ward, a battleship ironically sunk by Japanese kamikazes on December 7th, 1944, spotted the Japanese mini-sub attempting to enter the harbor. The battleship fired on and sunk the mini vessel, marking the first shots fired by the United States in the war.

a rare look into the USS Arizona Battleship

The second submarine, which was lost early in the attack, was discovered 10 years after sinking and moved to deeper waters by the U.S. Navy. In 1992, the University of Hawaii’s Undersea Research Laboratory rediscovered it. Eleven years later, the university would revisit the sub using its own submersibles.

The Dive

On December 7th, 2016, NOAA live streamed two separate dives – the first one surveying the ship that the USS Ward sank and the second one moved by the U.S. Navy. The fascinating stream, performed by the Okeanos Explorer, showed the magnitude of how the wreckages were overtaken by the sea. Covered in algae and coral, life grew around the wreckages in which life was lost. Holes in the vessels served as hiding spots for bottom-dwellers and fish seem to regard it as just another massive feature in their underwater world.

Despite overgrowth and destruction done to them during the attack, both vessels remain fairly intact and were easily distinguishable from the ocean floor. The eruption points from the fatal blows still present, the vessels are easily recognizable to anyone that knows their aquatic history.

Submarine 5

A Second Expedition

While NOAA was busy surveying the two mini subs, drone company, Deep Trekker, took to their own excursion and used a small drone to explore the remains of the USS Arizona. A haunting scene, Deep Trekker found that the interior of the wreckage is nothing but a maze of impossible to navigate obstacles, making any sort of human exploration impossible.

To dive deep into Pearl Harbor’s history and get a feel for what these dives were looking at, the World War II Valor in the Pacific Memorial is brimming with information on the attacks and the wreckages left behind.

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