USS Juneau: Another Historic Find for RV Petrel

March 22, 2018

On March 17, 2018, an autonomous underwater vehicle operating from the Research Vessel Petrel discovered the wreckage of the American light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52). The explorations of the Petrel are led by Paul Allen, the philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder. During her journeys in the South Pacific, Petrel has also been responsible for locating the remains of the USS Lexington (CV-2), the USS Ward (DD-139), and the USS Indianapolis (CA-35), among others. Allen has been scouring the waters for over a year, attempting to discover the lost vessels of World War II.

Petrel's Latest Discovery

The wreckage of the USS Juneau was found 13,000’ below sea near the Solomon Islands. The exact condition of the vessel’s frame has yet to be determined, but it can be assumed that after 75 years sitting on the ocean floor, it’s likely to be in rough shape. Allen’s expeditions don’t attempt to raise their discoveries, instead studying them where they lie. It’s unlikely that he will change his mind about the Juneau. Petrel's crew did take video of the latest discovery, and found that the wreckage was covered in barnacles and flourishing sea life.

USS Juneau and the Sullivan Brothers

The Sullivan brothers, from left to right: Joe, Frank, Al, Matt and George

The Sullivan brothers, from left to right: Joe, Frank, Al, Matt and George

The USS Juneau is perhaps best known for being the ship where the Sullivan brothers served and ultimately perished. The five brothers are believed to be unique in joining the Navy together and serving aboard the same vessel. In response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Sullivan brothers—George, Frank, Joe, Matt, and Al—were inspired to enlist in the United States Navy. After multiple sets of brothers serving aboard the USS Arizona (BB-39) were killed when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, the US Navy instituted a policy not to place family members aboard the same ship. Despite this rule, the Sullivan brothers refused to be separated and would only serve if they could do so together.

During the Battle of Guadalcanal, the USS Juneau came under fire from Japanese vessels. On November 13, 1942, after being damaged by a torpedo, she was attempting to make her way to port for repairs when the Japanese submarine I-26 launched two torpedoes intended for the nearby USS San Francisco (CA-38). Both missed their target and one struck Juneau in the same spot where she had already sustained damage. Within 20 seconds of being struck, the USS Juneau and most of her crew were gone. Two of the Sullivan brothers, along with around 100 other sailors, survived the initial sinking but ultimately perished while waiting to be rescued. As with the survivors of the USS Indianapolis, prolonged exposure to the elements made the chances of survival almost zero, and only ten men were ultimately rescued.

The Legacy Lives On

USS The Sullivans (DDG-68)

USS The Sullivans (DDG-68)

In recognition of their unimaginable sacrifice, the US Navy has named two destroyers after the brothers. The first USS The Sullivans (DD-537), was launched in April of 1943 and was the first American naval ship to be named for more than one person. The second destroyer to be named for the brothers, USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), was commissioned on April 19, 1997.

In a press release about the discovery, commanding officer of the current USS The Sullivans, Vice Admiral Rich Brown wrote, “The story of the USS Juneau crew and Sullivan brothers epitomize the service and sacrifice of our nation’s greatest generation.”

Allen plans on keeping the Petrel scouring the waters for even more artifacts from World War II.

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