For the first time in eight decades, explorers have pictured a Japanese aircraft carrier sunk during World War II’s Battle of Midway.
Japan’s aircraft carrier Akagi was pictured for the first time since it disappeared under the water in 1942 during the battle that helped during the Pacific campaign in America’s favor.
‘This expedition is not only rewriting history and our understanding of these special places, but also pushing the limits of what we thought was possible in terms of interdisciplinary collaboration,’ said Daniel Wagner, chief scientist for Ocean Exploration Trust.
The trust led the exploration efforts from September 8 to September 12 to photograph the Akagi along with other vessels sunken during the pivotal battle that saw 3,000 Japanese fighters perish.
The group also surveyed in detail the USS Yorktown, which was the lone US carrier sunk during Midway and not found until 25 years ago.
The USS Yorktown, lost during the Battle of Midway, was found three miles below the surface 25 years ago, but has now been photographed in detail for the first time
The battle of Midway took place between June 4 and June 7, 1942 – six months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Pictured: USS Yorktown photographed after being hit by Japanese bombs just after midday on June 4. This view was taken shortly after the ship lost power. Note the F4F-4 fighters are still spotted forward, their location during the attack
For the first time, deep-sea explorers have given a detailed survey of Japan’s aircraft carrier Kaga. The ship was sunk during the Battle of Midway and is now pictured with a gun still in tact
The Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi – before it was sunk during the Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway began on June 4, 1942, and lasted until the 7th. The naval campaign has gone down in US lore for its ability to flip the momentum in America’s favor.
Four Japanese aircraft carriers -including the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu – were sunk along with a heavy cruiser. The Americans lost the carrier Yorktown and the destroyer Hammmann.
The loss of the four carriers by Japan proved difficult to overcome. The Imperial Empire also lost well-trained pilots in the battle. Meanwhile, America’s industrial capabilities grew allowing it to replace the losses.
In total, Japan lost more than 3,000 men during the fight. The US lost only 362,
The sunken ships were lost to the sea for years, until deep-sea explorers helped find some of the ships.
The Akagi was found in 2019, but this month’s exploration marked the first complete survey of the vessel.
Japanese aircraft carriers – the Soryu and Hiryu – and the cruiser Mikuma are still unaccounted for.
The Battle of Midday occurred some 1,300 miles northwest of Hawaii – and served as a turning point for the Pacific campaign
Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga is seen on the open waters of the Pacific
This is one of the very first close-up photographs of a Japanese aircraft carrier since its sinking in 1942. The Japanese Imperial Navy Akagi
The USS Yorktown was discovered three miles below the surface in May 1998 The USS Yorktown was discovered 25 years ago in May 1998 during a joint US Navy and National Geographic Society expedition led by Robert Ballard, the founder of Ocean Exploration Trust, in conjunction with the Navy.
For the most recent exploration, remote-controlled vehicles were utilized to capture images of the shipwrecks with the mission involving more than 100 experts from various countries who ‘helped guide the mission and providing valuable real-time interpretations throughout the surveys.’
The expedition team also conducted ‘non-invasive visual surveys’ of the wrecks during three deployments at depths exceeding 16,700 feet – the deepest remotely operated vehicle dive ever completed by the Exploration Vessel Nautilus.
‘On this occasion, we meet on those same Pacific waters in which Japan and the U.S. once met in battle, but this time as allies and fellow researchers,’ said Kosei Nomura, Minister, Head of Economic Section, Embassy of Japan.
‘We are reminded that today’s peace and tomorrow’s discoveries are built on the sacrifices of war, and so in my view, it is meaningful that Japan and the U.S. are now deepening their cooperation at Midway, utilizing such cutting-edge technology.’
The strong starboard list of USS Yorktown on the seafloor can be seen in the flight deck, also collapsing towards the starboard side at the bow with an anti-aircraft gun tub below
One of the guns from the side of the USS Yorktown is clearly visible in this photo
The USS Yorktown has now been revealed in even greater detail
The team was able to conduct the first detailed surveys of the USS Yorktown
The wreck of the USS Yorktown lies at the bottom of the Pacific but it still appears to be relatively intact
In this June 4, 1942 file photo provided by the U.S. Navy the USS Astoria steams by USS Yorktown shortly after the carrier had been hit by three Japanese bombs in the battle of Midway
A US Navy Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter preparing to launch off USS Yorktown to attack a target in the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands
‘During over 43 hours at depth, we methodically circumnavigated these historic wrecks, bringing to light many features in great detail, including their armament, battle, and sinking-related damage,’ said Daniel Wagner, the chief scientist for the Ocean Exploration Trust.
The wrecks were meticulously examined and included looking for damage related to battles they fought and their subsequent and sinking.
‘Many anti-aircraft guns were still pointing up, providing clues about the final moments on these iconic ships,’ Wagner explained.
Each dive ended with poignant ceremonies paying tribute to those who lost their lives in the Battle of Midway.
Frank Thompson, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, D.C., who is onboard the Petrel said: ‘We read about the battles, we know what happened. But when you see these wrecks on the bottom of the ocean and everything, you kind of get a feel for what the real price is for war.
‘You see the damage these things took, and it’s humbling to watch some of the video of these vessels because they’re war graves.’
Part of the hull of the Akagi can be seen here
Part of the Kaga can be seen here following a lengthy underwater dive
A metal chain on the top of the Kaga can be seen in this photo
The Japanese carrier Akagi, pictured, was found in 2019 but has only been photographed in detail now
Warplanes are seen gathered on the deck of the Akagi
Although Akagi sustained only one direct hit it proved to be a fatal blow
Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga before her destruction during the Battle of Midway
Aircraft sit ready to go into battle on the deck of the the Japanese carrier Kaga
The loss of Kaga and three other IJN carriers at Midway was a crucial setback for Japan, and contributed significantly to Japan’s ultimate defeat
Retired Navy Capt. Jack Crawford, who died in April 2022 at the age of 103, was among the Yorktown’s 2,270 survivors.
Japanese dive bombers left the Yorktown badly damaged, with black smoke gushing from its stacks, but the vessel was still upright. Then the torpedoes hit, Crawford recounted in an interview about the battle.
‘Bam! Bam! We get two torpedoes, and I know we’re in trouble. As soon as the deck edge began to go under, I knew . she wasn’t going to last,’ said Crawford, whose later military career was with the naval nuclear propulsion program.
The Yorktown sank slowly, and a destroyer was able to pick up Crawford and many others.
‘An important part of our mission here at the Naval History and Heritage Command is to locate, interpret, and protect lost U.S. Navy ships and aircraft, particularly those that represent the last resting place of American sailors,’ said Samuel Cox, Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, and one of the explorers to photograph the Yorktown during the recent mission.
Researchers scouring the world’s oceans for sunken World War II ships have honed in on debris fields deep in the Pacific. Rob Kraft, left, looks at images of the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga, off Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Inside the online room where the team is able to view warships underwater
Researchers examine a blueprint for the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga, off Midway Atoll
The Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga is shown in the Pacific Ocean off Midway Atoll
The Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga is shown in the Pacific Ocean off Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
The researchers used an autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, equipped with sonar to find the ship
The vehicle collected data from the surface giving explorer a location to send down the sub to examine the wreck in greater detail
An autonomous underwater vehicle which initially helped find the Akagi in 2019
The entire exploration of the Midway ships was streamed live in real-time, giving the public its first chance to see the vessels along with researchers.
The surveys were non-invasive at about 16,600 feet below the surface.
It is illegal to otherwise disturb the underwater US military gravesites, and their exact coordinates are kept secret. The battle was found about 1,000 miles from Hawaii at about the halfway point between Japan and the US.
A scene on the flight deck of USS Yorktown shortly after it was hit by two Japanese aerial torpedoes. Men are balancing themselves on the listing deck as they prepare to abandon ship.
The USS Yorktown is seen listing heavily to port after being struck by Japanese bombers and torpedo planes in the Battle of Midway
Crewmen aboard the USS Yorktown battle fire after the carrier was hit by Japanese bombs. Later the vessel had to be abandoned and was sunk by a Japanese submarine torpedo hit
The Yorktown was damaged heavily by Japanese aircraft June 4, 1942 in the Battle of Midway
An aerial photo of a Japanese carrier maneuvering in a complete circle in an effort to escape in the Midway Islands, Hawaii
The exploration effort involved more than 100 experts from US, Japan and across the globe.
The goal of the exploration was to help document and assess the important site for both America and Japan.
During the battle, American forces broke Japan’s naval code and prepare for a counter attack. That allowed the US the upper hand in what became a turning point in the war.
The USS Yorktown under aerial and submarine attack during The Battle Of Midway. The ship was later sunk by a submarine torpedo
Smoke billows from the bridge of the USS Yorktown, damaged by aerial attacks on the second day of the battle on 4 June 1942
The Japanese cruiser Mikuma burning after being bombed by American planes during the battle
The Mikuma is seen listing having suffered a fatal blow
What was The Battle Of Midway?
The 1942 battle occurred six months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor after Navy code breakers broke complex Japanese code to reveal a plan to ambush U.S. forces.
The Japanese planned to occupy Midway, a strategic U.S.-held atoll 1,300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, and destroy what was left of the Pacific fleet.
When Japanese planes began bombing Midway, American torpedo planes and bombers counter-attacked in waves, bombing and sinking four Japanese carriers on June 4.
The fighting continued for another three days before the United States proved to be victorious.
Anthony J. Principi, who served as secretary of veterans affairs from 2001 to 2005, wrote in the Military Times in 2017 on the 75th anniversary of the battle that the Navy commanders made ‘coordinated, split-second, life-and-death decisions.’
‘We won because luck was on our side, because the Japanese made mistakes and because our officers and men acted with great courage amidst the chaos of battle,’ he wrote.
Carriers: Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga (discovered last week), Sory
Losing four carriers and one cruiser in total.
Carriers: USS Yorktown
Destroyers: USS Hammann
Losing one carrier and one destroyer in total.
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