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Passage Maker - - News & Notes -

File photo of the USS prior to get­ting dam­aged. USS Ab­ner Read, afire and sink­ing in Leyte Gulf, Novem­ber 1, 1944, af­ter be­ing hit by a kamikaze. A sec­ond Ja­panese sui­cide plane (cir­cled) is at­tempt­ing to crash into an­other ship; how­ever, this one was shot down short of its tar­get. Be­low: R/V Norse­man II at sea in the Aleu­tian Is­land chain. (Photo: Kiska: Alaska’s Underwater Bat­tle­field ex­pe­di­tion)

de­stroyer built by the Beth­le­hem Ship­build­ing Cor­po­ra­tion in San Fran­cisco, Cal­i­for­nia, and launched Au­gust 18, 1942, ap­prox­i­mately nine months af­ter the U.S. en­tered WWII. Be­tween Au­gust 12 and Au­gust 15, 1943, the ship shelled Kiska Is­land, pro­vid­ing fire sup­port for the U.S. land­ing op­er­a­tions to re­take con­trol of the is­land from the Ja­panese. Once it be­came ap­par­ent that the fire sup­port was not needed, the ship was re­as­signed to an­ti­sub­ma­rine pa­trol off the west coast of Kiska Is­land.

At 1:50 a.m. on Au­gust 18, an ex­plo­sion, pre­sumed to be caused by a Ja­panese mine, caused a large sec­tion of the ship’s stern to break away from the ves­sel and sink. Swift ac­tion by the crew of the Ab­ner Read pre­vented the to­tal loss of the ship. Res­cue boats from the USS Ab­ner Read, as­sisted by the USS Ban­croft, pulled 20 men from the wa­ter. The USS Ban­croft and USS Ute towed the stricken ves­sel to Adak for re­pairs. In to­tal, 47 men were in­jured and 71 sailors lost their lives. Sev­enty of th­ese sailors were still listed as MIA as they sank with the aft sec­tion of the ves­sel, which had un­for­tu­nately in­cluded berthing/sleep­ing quar­ters.

On the fifth day of our ex­pe­di­tion, light winds from the south­east were ex­pected to per­sist for 36 hours, pro­vid­ing the win­dow we were look­ing for to re­po­si­tion the Norse­man II to con­duct the search for the miss­ing sec­tion of the de­stroyer. De­tailed log­books from the ship doc­u­mented the 4-mile sub­ma­rine pa­trol lane they were in­structed to fol­low and their use of an ex­per­i­men­tal nav­i­ga­tion radar for mea­sur­ing dis­tances from geo­graphic points of in­ter­est on the is­land. The log­books also in­di­cated the lo­ca­tion that they were put into tow, pro­vid­ing valu­able clues for bound­ing the search box for where the encounter with the mine and the loss of the stern oc­curred.

Due to the range of wa­ter depths in the area, we used a multi­beam sonar that we mounted to the side of the ves­sel us­ing a long steel pole. The sonar can hop across dif­fer­ent acous­tic fre­quen­cies, al­low­ing us to op­ti­mize set­tings for a given wa­ter depth. Multi­beam was cho­sen as it would al­low us to “see” to deeper wa­ter should the re­mains of the USS Ab­ner Read be lo­cated at a depth be­yond the 300-foot op­er­at­ing range of the four un­manned underwater ve­hi­cles brought on the ex­pe­di­tion. The down­side of multi­beam is that the imag­ing res­o­lu­tion is coarse rel­a­tive to the high-fre­quency sides­can sonar on our ve­hi­cles. How­ever, we were op­ti­mistic that an ap­prox­i­mately 75-foot sec­tion of miss­ing ship, if

still in one piece, would be a clear sig­nal in our sonar data.

Ar­riv­ing at the search area on a spec­tac­u­lar morn­ing, one of the few that had glimpses of blue sky and a view of the cin­der cone of Kiska’s vol­cano, we es­tab­lished a set of sur­vey tracks on the ship’s nav­i­ga­tion com­puter and set about sur­vey­ing the seabed. Driv­ing in a “mow the lawn” pat­tern per­pen­dic­u­lar to the es­ti­mated drift track, we worked from the start­ing point of our sur­vey to a cou­ple miles off­shore, care­fully look­ing at data from the 512 beams that com­prise the sonar im­age.

Af­ter ex­haust­ing an off­shore search box in the first three hours of the search, the search was ad­justed to move into shal­lower wa­ters. On the sec­ond pass of the in­shore leg, we found a sonar tar­get that our team as­sessed to be the one we were look­ing for, with the high-fre­quency multi­beam data clearly show­ing the aft sec­tion of a ship.

On the fol­low­ing day, we used a com­bi­na­tion of high­fre­quency sides­can sonar op­er­ated from our un­manned underwater ve­hi­cles to acous­ti­cally im­age the hull. While the wa­ter was too deep to an­chor our ves­sel near the wreck­age, the cap­tain of the Norse­man II was able to ex­pertly hold sta­tion in the wind and waves for sev­eral hours while we low­ered our re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cle (ROV) so that we could cap­ture high-def­i­ni­tion video of the wreck site.

Need­less to say, it was a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence for all on­board as the ROV glided along­side and above the wreck site, clearly imag­ing the bro­ken stern sec­tion, stern gun, and rud­der con­trol of this watery gravesite for the sailors who had been lost for close to 75 years.

With the in­ten­tion of hon­or­ing and re­mem­ber­ing the heroes who lie at this site, we held a cer­e­mony on the fan­tail of the Norse­man II, plac­ing a wreath of re­mem­brance over the wreck site while taps was played. Two ac­tive-duty U.S. Navy divers sail­ing with us folded a U.S. flag in honor of those lost.

Op­po­site: The dive team de­ploy­ing to in­ves­ti­gate sonar tar­gets col­lected via the REMUS 100 AUV, with the R/V Norse­man II sail­ing in the back­ground. (Photo: Kiska: Alaska’s Underwater Bat­tle­field ex­pe­di­tion) Top right: USS Ab­ner Read un­der­go­ing re­pairs to the dam­aged stern on Oc­to­ber 6, 1943, in the Puget Sound Navy Yard. (Photo: Na­tional Ar­chives and Records Ad­min­is­tra­tion) Be­low: Multi­beam sonar im­age of the stern sec­tion of the USS Ab­ner Read. (Photo: Kiska: Alaska’s Underwater Bat­tle­field ex­pe­di­tion) To this day, there are still more than 72,000 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers un­ac­counted for from World War II, leav­ing fam­i­lies with unan­swered ques­tions about their loved ones. n

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