World War II

Secret atomic role of WWII-era aircraft carrier revealed

A team of underwater archaeologists has pieced together information from declassified government documents and a shipwrecked World War II-era naval vessel to understand the secret role played by one of the most historic U.S. aircraft carriers: the USS Independence. The Independence (CVL 22) was one of 90 vessels assigned to Operation Crossroads — the atomic bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands — but it was deliberately sunk, or scuttled, in 1951 and little was known about its career after the atomic bomb tests. After discovering the location of the Independence shipwreck last year, researchers were able to compare sonar images of the wreck with declassified documents to uncover the carrier’s use as a radiological laboratory and nuclear waste receptacle from 1946 to 1950. “Now we not only know what shape she’s in and where she lies, but also exactly what happened to the Independence,” said lead researcher James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Independence was among the first vessels that were converted to light aircraft carriers following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. It operated in the central and western Pacific from November 1943 through August 1945, said Delgado. Following the war, the Independence was assigned to Operation Crossroads, where it was placed among a fleet of vessels within about 1,700 feet of the “ground zero” blast from the atomic bomb tests to examine the effects of shock waves, heat and radiation. While 21 ships sank outright during the Bikini Atoll tests, the Independence survived, heavily damaged, and was returned to the United States. Using the declassified documents, Delgado’s team found that the ship was then used for decontamination studies. A memorandum to the Chief of Naval Operations from the Bureau of Ships and the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery notes that, “the intensity of the radioactive contamination acquired at Bikini has decreased during the intervening three years, so that many parts of the ship are now below the tolerance level established for peace-time industrial operations.” Yet, the government decided to establish the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory on the ship and hauled more contaminated materials aboard for study, Delgado told Live Science. The laboratory provided the first training and teaching platform for the how to deal with the waste from the aftermath of an atomic explosion, Delgado said. Radiation levels were constantly monitored, and in 1949, four boilers, condenser units and steam turbines were removed from deep inside the ship’s hull to clear more room for depositing radioactive waste, he added. Additionally, the documents reveal that sinking the Independence served multiple functions for the U.S. Navy. The aircraft carrier was too old and too vulnerable to potential espionage to be used any further, explained Delgado. And when the decision was made to sink the ship, waste from other Operation Crossroads vessels and the University of California Radiation Laboratory was also removed to the Independence “for ultimate sinking with that vessel because of lack of adequate storage facilities,” according to one of the memorandums. The Navy used two precisely placed torpedo warheads close to the ship’s keel area, away from where the waste was stored, to sink the ship in January 1951. A memorandum from the Radiological Safety Officer to the Commander of the Task Group noted that all radiological safety precautions had been followed as per orders, and that “all surfaces that had been exposed to possible contamination were scrubbed clean.” “Independence, by the time it was sunk, was at about a level that you would get with an average X-ray,” Delgado said. Anything that might potentially be an issue was enclosed in steel and concrete drums deep inside the ship, he explained, and seeing that the wreck was still intact underwater was reassuring, although the researchers would like to continue monitoring the Independence because of its radiation legacy. “This remains one of the most compelling frontiers in science, given not only the size of the oceans but what rests within them,” Delgado said. Details of the expedition and declassified documents were published online April 21 in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology.

Fascinating!!    🙂

Incredible images reveal US Navy seaplane lost in Pearl Harbor attack

Archaeologists from NOAA and the University of Hawaii have released incredible images of a U.S. Navy plane sunk during the opening minutes of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 1941. Just minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor, aircraft from the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed the nearby U.S. Naval Air Station on the east coast of Oahu, NOAA explained in a press release. Some 27 Catalina PBY “flying boats” on the ground or moored on Kāne‛ohe Bay were destroyed in the attack. A University of Hawaii dive team attempted to photograph the wreck of a Catalina PBY-5 in 1994 but was thwarted by the murky waters of Kāne‛ohe Bay. An attempt by a local sport diving group, Hawaii Underwater Explorers, met with limited success 14 years later. However, in June, with better visibility and using improved camera equipment, a team of students from the University of Hawaii Marine Option Program returned to the wreck and conducted a detailed archaeological survey, NOAA said. The effort was coordinated by Hans Van Tilburg, a maritime archaeologist with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. The plane, which is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, rests in three large pieces at a depth of 30 feet. Van Tilburg explained that while the precise identity of the aircraft remains unknown, it is possible the crew died while attempting to take off in the face of the attack. “The new images and site plan help tell the story of a largely forgotten casualty of the attack,” Van Tilburg said, in the press release. “The sunken PBY plane is a very important reminder of the ‘Day of Infamy,’ just like the USS Arizona and USS Utah. They are all direct casualties of December 7.” “This sunken flying boat is a window into the events of the attack, a moment in time that reshaped the Pacific region,” said June Cleghorn, senior archaeologist at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. “Understanding this site sheds light on the mystery of the lost PBYs and honors the legacy of the Navy and Marine Corps Base in Hawaii.” Catalina PBY seaplanes were used as long-range patrol bombers by the U.S. military. NOAA notes that the strike on the planes’ Oahu base was a significant loss, adding that the bombers could have followed the Japanese planes back to their carriers.

Fascinating!!   🙂

Remains of Japanese WWII soldiers found in sealed cave

The island nation of Palau is preparing for a visit from Japan’s Emperor Akihito next week with an unusual and grim task: It’s investigating long-sealed caves on the island of Peleliu to look for the remains of Japanese soldiers from World War II. The remains of six soldiers have been discovered so far, but that’s just the start. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports they were found in one of about 200 sealed caves on Peleliu. An estimated 10,000 Japanese men were killed in a weeks-long battle with US troops during the war, and the bodies of 2,600 of them were never found. The Japanese used a network of caves and tunnels during the 1944 fighting, recounts the Telegraph, and largely “staged their defense” from within the caves. About 1,600 American troops were killed, but the US military blew up many of the caves (essentially sealing the Japanese within) and eventually gained control. The six newly found bodies were found in the vicinity of an anti-tank gun, and “it’s my understanding that those [bodies] were the crew, perhaps the officer and his men that were manning that gun,” says one of the search officials. “A number of US soldiers died in that vicinity as well.” The task is painstaking because searchers need to guard against booby traps or the detonation of old munitions. An interesting side note from the Telegraph: Some 35 Japanese soldiers who had been hiding in the caves surrendered in April 1947—more than a year after the war’s end.