Seventy-six years after it was sunk by a Japanese torpedo during the battle of Guadalcanal, the remains of the USS Juneau were finally found by a shipwreck survey team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
While exploring the South Pacific waters near the Solomon Islands on March 17, sonar readings from the research vessel Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) detected signs of the warship at a depth 4,200 meters (13,780 feet). When they deployed their camera-mounted underwater vehicle to the site the next day, the team was able to visually confirm that the object was the Juneau.
The R/V Petrel team confirming their discovery is the USS Juneau. Video credit: Paul G. Allen
The tragic story behind the light cruiser ship’s destruction on November 13, 1942, became a rallying cry for allied naval forces at the time.
Early that morning, an outnumbered force of American ships, assigned to chaperone a group of cargo and transport vessels, had to battle against an attacking fleet of two Japanese battleships and about 18 smaller ships. The Juneau was hit on the port side by a torpedo and subsequently withdrew alongside the other damaged ships, the Helena and the San Francisco.
As the Juneau tried to leave the area, it was hit by a second torpedo in the same location. Following a huge explosion, the ship broke in two and sank within 20 to 30 seconds.
Of the 687 men on board, only 10 crew members were rescued from the water, although historians estimate that 115 actually survived the explosion. Due to the danger of the ongoing fight, nearby American ships were unable to rescue the crew immediately after the Juneau went down. And due to the continued presence of the Japanese fleet, rescuers waited 8 days to return; at which point many had died in the water. Among the dead were five siblings known as the Sullivan brothers. Wanting to serve together or not at all, the Navy honored their request by willfully ignoring their own ban against family members being assigned to the same ship.
In death, the Iowa-born Sullivans were transformed into folk heroes. Enlistment posters featured an image of the smiling, uniform-clad brothers were created shortly after, bearing the call to action: “They did their part”.
“We certainly didn’t plan to find the Juneau on St Patrick’s Day. The variables of these searches are just too great,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Paul Allen, in the organization’s announcement. “But finding the USS Juneau on St Patrick’s Day is an unexpected coincidence to the Sullivan brothers [who were of Irish heritage] and all the service members who were lost 76 years ago.”
Kraft and his colleagues have previously used the advanced technology-equipped research vessel Petrel to discover remains of the USS Lexington, USS Indianapolis, USS Ward, and the Japanese battleship Musashi, among others.
Footage of the USS Juneau wreckage. Video credit: Paul G. Allen