US Navy destroyer sunk by kamikaze in WWII found in Japan

Washington | The New York Times

A US Navy destroyer sunk by kamikaze aircraft during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa in World War II has been located in the Pacific Ocean by a civilian research team. The announcement was made on Wednesday (24).

The USS Mannert L. Abele was the first warship to be hit by a thennew Japanese weapon called the Ohka a flying bomb capable of speeds of nearly 1,000 km/h. The Lost 52 Project, a group searching for submarines and warships sunk in the 20thcentury conflict, located the ship in December.

The US Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, which is responsible for tracking the 3,000 ships and submarines the Navy has lost at sea in times of war and peace, confirmed the discovery in April.

“The Battle of Okinawa was the biggest of the Pacific Campaign,” explains Tim Taylor, director of the Lost 52 project. He describes the discovery as “monumental” because of the number of fatalities 50,000 on the American side alone. For the leader of the group, however, the find has a personal meaning. “My father’s ship was hit by a kamikaze ten days before the Abele sank in the same area, maybe 150 km to the south.”

The small warship was one of many that formed a ring around Okinawa during the campaign to take the island by force in World War II. Using its radars, it identified enemy aircraft approaching from central Japan and relayed information to American aircraft carriers, which could then launch fighters to intercept them.

The Abele defended itself against several attacks by Japanese kamikaze pilots conducting suicide missions towards the end of World War II. But it failed when two planes hit it on the starboard side, exploding and sinking it. Until recently, the exact location was unknown.

A total of 84 sailors died on the Abele in the explosions either during the sinking or afterwards when Japanese pilots fired and bombed survivors in the water.

Sam Cox, a retired rear admiral who heads the Navy’s historical command, said it was fairly easy to identify the ship from the evidence presented by the Lost 52 team. The ship will remain intact where it is. About a dozen destroyers like the Abele were sunk along with other ships in the Okinawa campaign, killing an estimated 5,000 sailors, Cox says.

The Lost 52 project was named after the number of US Navy submarines that disappeared during World War II. Using autonomous underwater vehicles, the group has already located several wrecks, including that of the USS Grayback, a submarine sunk in combat near Okinawa a year before the Abele sank.

Relatives of former crew members welcomed the discovery of the Abele. “I think my father would have been very interested and wanted to see all the details,” says Scott Andersen, whose father, Roy, was a noncommissioned officer aboard the Abele. “But I don’t know what the discovery could have meant for him.”

In 2007, Roy Andersen wrote a book about Abele’s wartime service entitled Three Minutes Off Okinawa. He died in 2014 at the age of 94. “My father once told me that since the ship went down he has hardly slept well at night.”

Lieutenant Commander Mannert L. Abele, for whom the Abele is named, commanded the submarine USS Grunion, which was lost at sea. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for sinking three Japanese ships in a single day during the war. On July 4, 1944, the Navy commissioned a ship in his honor.

It is said that on April 12, 1945, while the Abele was patrolling 120 km off the north coast of Okinawa, the ship was suddenly surrounded by aircraft. At 1:38 p.m., the ship’s guns struck a Japanese kamikaze aircraft, which caught fire and crashed into the sea. About an hour later, three Japanese fighters approached. The ship shot down one of them, but a second struck the starboard side and exploded, killing nine sailors.

A minute later, the Abele was hit again, this time by a rocketpowered aircraft called Ohka, which means “cherry blossom” in Japanese. The Ohka’s pilot crashed into the ship and detonated the 1,200 kilograms of explosives the plane was carrying. The Abele broke in two and sank into the sea at a depth of 1,400 meters.

According to Cox, the Abele and other naval warships around Okinawa helped repel kamikaze attacks from supply and transport ships supporting troops fighting ashore. “The ships couldn’t escape,” Xo said. “They had to stay and fight.”

Translated by Clara Allain