Famous World War II Submarine Found Off Japan

The U.S. Navy has confirmed that a shipwreck found off northern Japan is the World War II submarine USS Albacore. A Japanese research group found the wreckage last year and has been waiting for corroboration from the U.S. military.

The USS Albacore was one of the most successful American subs in World War II. In its two years of active duty, it conducted 11 patrols and sank 10 enemy vessels. In June 1944, the Albacore sank the Taiho torpedo aircraft carrier, Japan’s newest and largest vessel.

The Albacore sank on November 7, 1944. Japanese ships in the area detected an underwater explosion, indicating that the submarine had struck a mine. All 85 crew members died.

The crew of the Albacore submarine.

The Albacore crew in 1944. Photo: CNN/William Bower II


Identifying the submarine

Finding the wreckage was no easy feat. The Japanese team found it off the island of Hokkaido, in an area known for strong currents. Researchers initially searched the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records for any data that mentioned the loss of a U.S. sub. Using a multi-beam sonar, they discovered a 50m vessel on the sea floor. They then used a small remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to inspect the wreckage.

When they saw the bridge of the wreck, they knew it was a submarine and were convinced that it was the Albacore. The ROV then spent months gathering video footage. It was not possible for divers to access the area, which lay 237m below the surface.

The wreckage of the Albacore submarine.

The wreckage. Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command


After 79 years underwater, the wreck had accumulated a lot of marine growth. Combined with poor visibility, this made identifying the submarine challenging. Fortunately, modifications made to the submarine before her final patrol allowed for identification by the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), including some unusual vent holes and the lack of steel plates on the upper edge of the sail — the tower atop the sub.

The U.S. Navy says that because of the immense loss of life aboard the ship, the wreck is now considered a war grave and is protected by U.S. Law.


Closure for families

Since the ship was found, the government has notified relatives of 76 of the 85 crew members. One man spoke of the closure the news gave him. William Bower II lost his father on the submarine. Bower recalls that although it sank on November 7, 1944, the military only notified his mother a few days before Christmas that the crew was missing in action.

“He was a good engineer and liked the Navy. He wanted to serve his country, as all the men lost in the submarine wanted to do. I know that he was lost somewhere off the coast of Japan. But to actually know the spot where the remnants of the submarine are is much more meaningful. That to me was a major step in having better closure for his life,” Bower told CNN.

The USS Albacore, pictured in Groton, Connecticut, May 9, 1942.

The USS Albacore in Groton, Connecticut, May 9, 1942. Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.