Deepest Ever Shipwreck Dive Explores Famed WW2 Pacific Warship

Shipwreck. The USS Johnston in the murky waters of the Pacific. Image credit: Victor Vescovo/Caladan Oceanic.

The world's deepest known shipwreck, the USS Johnston, has been successfully relocated, surveyed, and filmed in a recent exploration in the depths of the Pacific. 

The wreck of the US Navy destroyer can be found some 6,500 meters (21,180 feet) in the Philippine Sea off the coast of Samar Island. The 115 meter (376 foot) ship met its fate on October 25 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II, often said to be the largest naval battle in human history, when combined American and Australian forces were pitted against the formidable Imperial Japanese Navy.

The famed ship was not seen for decades until the wreck was located in 2019 by a remotely-operated vehicle launched from R/V Petrel, the research ship owned by the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Now, a submersible crew has completed a survey of the shipwreck, according to an announcement by Caladan Oceanic. The funder of the expedition was Victor Vescovo, an underwater explorer and former US Navy Commander, who personally piloted his submersible DSV Limiting Factor down to the wreck during two eight-hour dives. This submersible has previously been to the deepest points of the world’s five oceans as part of the “Five Deeps Expedition” in 2019. It also recently returned from its 14th dive to the Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth found in the Mariana Trench approximately 10,925 meters (35,843 feet) beneath water's surface. 

Shipwreck.
Image credit: Victor Vescovo/Caladan Oceanic.

At a depth of 6,500 meters (21,180 feet), the latest venture to the wreck of the USS Johnston is the world’s deepest shipwreck dive in history. For perspective, the wreck of RMS Titanic lies at a depth of about (3,800 meters) 12,500 feet. 

The location of the wreck was identified with the work of naval historian Parks Stephenson who used Japanese and US accounts to piece together the final moment of the ship. 

“Reading the accounts of the Johnston’s last day are humbling and need to be preserved as upholding the highest traditions of the Navy. This was mortal combat against incredible odds,” Parks commented in a statement.

“We could see the extent of the wreckage and the severe damage inflicted during the intense battle on the surface. It took fire from the largest warship ever constructed -- the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato, and ferociously fought back. All of the accounts pay tribute to the crew’s bravery and complete lack of hesitation in taking the fight to the enemy, and the wreckage serves to prove that,” added Parks

Wreckage.
Image credit: Victor Vescovo/Caladan Oceanic.

Along with being a record-breaker, Vescovo says the recent feat also holds some historical value. All of the sonar data and high-quality imagery collected by the expedition is not being released publicly to ensure the shipwreck remains undisturbed, but it will be given to the US Navy for analysis, who may later release the information if they see fit. 

“We have a strict ‘look, don't touch’ policy but we collect a lot of material that is very useful to historians and naval archivists. I believe it is important work, which is why I fund it privately and we deliver the material to the Navy pro-bono,” explained Vescovo.

Correction 11:30am 06/04/2021: The first sentence of this article originally said "USS Johnson" due to a spelling error. It has since been edited to say "USS Johnston."

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