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