Bangkok – Divers have found what they believe is the wreck of a submarine from the US Navy that was lost 77 years ago in Southeast Asia, giving a code for a touching but not so well-known story from World War II.
The divers have sent photos and other evidence from six dives they made from October 2019 to March this year to the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command to verify that they have found the USS Grenadier, one of 52 U.S. submarines lost during the conflict.
The 1,475-ton, 307-foot-long Grenadier was thrown by the crew after bombs from a Japanese plane nearly sent them to a watery grave. All 76 of its personnel survived the bombing and sinking, but their pain to follow would be prolonged. After being captured, they were tortured, beaten, and nearly starved by their Japanese captives for more than two years, and four did not survive that ordeal.
The wreck lies 270 feet underwater somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, about 150 km south of Phuket, Thailand. It was discovered by Singapore-based Jean Luc Rivoire and Benoit Laborie from France and Australian Lance Horowitz and Belgian Ben Reymenants, who live in Phuket, Thailand.
Reymenants was one of the divers who participatedand their football coach who was trapped in a cave in northern Thailand two years ago.
The Belgian has been researching possible locations for shipwrecks for many years, Horowitz said in an interview with the Associated Press, and Rivoire had a suitable boat to explore the wires he found. Reymenants would ask the fishermen if there were any odd spots where they had lost gear, and then the team would use sonar to the side to scan the ocean floor for various shapes.
When they dived to look at a promising object, it was much larger than expected, so they dug back into the archives to try to figure out what lost vessel it could be, and then dived again.
“And then we went back looking for tracks, type plates, but we couldn’t find any of them,” Horowitz recalled. “And in the end, we took very accurate measurements of the submarine and compared them to the Navy records. And they are exactly, according to the drawings, exactly the same size. So we’m pretty sure it’s USS Grenadiers.”
The Navy Command’s underground archeology department receives an average of two to three such requests a year from searchers like Grenadier divers, said the leader, Dr. Robert Neyland, in an email to the Associated Press.
“A complete review, analysis and documentation can take two months to a year to complete,” he said, adding that it will likely take a few months in the event of this potential discovery.
The grenadier left Pearl Harbor on February 4, 1942 on his original war patrol. Its first five missions led it to Japanese home waters, Formosa shipping lanes, the southwestern Pacific, the South China Sea, and the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). It sank six ships and damaged two.
It sailed on March 20, 1943 from Fremantle, Australia, on its sixth patrol, to the Strait of Malacca and north into the Andaman Sea.
The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Cdr. John A. Fitzgerald, recorded what happened in a report written after being liberated from a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1945.
On the night of April 20, the submarine saw a glimpse of two small cargo ships and set course to intercept them the next morning and sailed on the surface to gain speed.
In the morning a plane was seen; an immediate crash dive was ordered, but the ship did not sink far enough, fast enough. Explosions from two bombs hit the base; key parts of the ship were missing; power and light were lost and a fire broke out. All hands worked desperately to fix what they could when Fitzgerald ordered the ship to stay on the seabed.
When it appeared after 13 hours, it was clear that the Grenadiers were too paralyzed to flee or fight. Efforts were made to rig temporary sails in a periscope to reach the shore before the ship exploded, but there was peace of mind.
When dawn broke, two ships on the horizon closed in. Codebooks and sensitive equipment were destroyed as preparations were made to push the submarine. A Japanese plane ran by the ship, but was fought off with handguns and a bomb dropped harmlessly about 200 meters away. The crew left the ship at 0830 and an hour later were pulled aboard an armed merchant ship leading them to Penang, a major port city on the Malaysian Peninsula.
At a Catholic school that the Japanese had requisitioned for use as a prison, events took an even darker turn.
“The harsh treatment started the first afternoon, especially in the (recruited) men. They were forced to sit or stand in silence in an alert setting,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Any deviation resulted in a gun, a kick, a snail in the face or a bayonet dot. In the question room, persuasive measures, such as clubs, about the size of an indoor ball bat, pencils between the fingers and pushed on the blade by a pen knife under the fingernails trying to get us talking about our submarine and the location of other submarines. “
After a few months, the entire crew was transferred to camps in Japan, where the abuse continued. Four died from lack of medical care.
“This was an important ship during the war, and it was very important to the entire crew who served on it,” Diver Horowitz said last week. “When you read the book about the survivors, it was, you know, quite an ordeal they went through, and to know where she finally lies and rests, I’m sure it’s very satisfying for them and their families. to be able to have some closure. “