World's deepest shipwreck from Second World War found off Philippines

US Navy destroyer escort 'USS Samuel B Roberts' went down in largest sea battle of conflict

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A US Navy destroyer sunk in the largest sea battle of the Second World War has become the deepest wreck yet discovered, explorers say.

The USS Samuel B Roberts, which was part of a flotilla that engaged a superior Japanese force off the Philippines in October 1944, was identified on Wednesday, broken into two pieces lying at a depth of 6,985 metres.

The vessel, referred to as the Sammy B, sits 426 metres deeper than the destroyer USS Johnston, the previous deepest wreck discovered last year in the Philippine Sea. The Johnston and the Roberts sank in the same week.

Both wrecks were found by US explorer Victor Vescovo, founder of Dallas-based Caladan Oceanic Expeditions, who announced his latest find together with UK-based EYOS Expeditions.

“It was an extraordinary honour to locate this incredibly famous ship, and by doing so have the chance to retell her story of heroism and duty to those who may not know of the ship and her crew’s sacrifice,” said Mr Vescovo, a former navy commander.

The Sammy B took part in the Battle off Samar, the late phase of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944, when the Imperial Japanese Navy suffered its biggest loss of ships and failed to dislodge the US forces from Leyte, which they invaded as part of the liberation of the Philippines.

The three-tube torpedo launcher aboard the 'USS Samuel B Roberts' underwater off the Philippines in the western Pacific Ocean. AP

According to some records, the destroyer escort disabled a Japanese heavy cruiser with a torpedo and significantly damaged another while battling the group led by the command battleship, Yamato.

After having expended nearly all its ammunition, it was critically damaged by the battleship Kongo and sank. Of a 224-man crew, 89 died and 120 were saved, including the captain, Lt Cmdr Robert W Copeland.

According to Samuel J Cox, a retired admiral and naval historian, Copeland, who died in 1973, said there was “no higher honour” than to have led the men who displayed such courage in battle against overwhelming odds, from which survival could not be expected.

“This site is a hallowed war grave and serves to remind all Americans of the great cost borne by previous generations for the freedom we take for granted today,” Mr Cox said.

The explorers said that up until the discovery, the historical records of where the wreck lay were not very accurate. The search involved the use of the deepest side-scan sonar yet installed and operated on a submersible, well beyond the standard commercial limitations of 6,000 metres, EYOS said.

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Updated: June 28, 2022, 8:25 AM