• Fri. Feb 17th, 2023

Lost WWII Submarine USS Albacore Rediscovered After Nearly 80 Years

ByDon Coyle

Feb 16, 2023 , ,
Albacore (SS-218) in Measure 9 camouflage (dull black) off Groton, 9 May 1942. (Image credit US Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has confirmed the identity of a wreck site off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan as the USS Albacore (SS 218). The submarine was lost at sea on November 7, 1944 and had been missing for over 70 years.

The second Albacore (SS-218) was constructed by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut and was commissioned on June 1, 1942, with Lieutenant Commander Richard Cross Lake in command. After her shakedown, the submarine sailed to Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and began her first war patrol on August 28, 1942. Albacore was successful in sinking a Japanese tanker and damaging a cargo vessel on this patrol. However, she was also forced to undergo several depth chargings, but was eventually able to escape and head for Midway.

On her second patrol, Albacore sank the light cruiser Tenryu, a 3,300-ton vessel, and became the second Japanese cruiser sunk by an American submarine in World War II. Albacore also attacked several convoys and claimed to have damaged a transport, but failed to sink any vessels. After a brief overhaul and training, Albacore began her third patrol and was credited with sinking one destroyer and a frigate for a total of 2,250 tons lost.

Albacore continued to patrol the waters around the Solomon and Bismarck Islands, as well as off the north coast of New Guinea. Despite several opportunities to score, Albacore recorded no hits on her fourth and fifth patrols. However, on her sixth patrol, Albacore sank the cargo vessel Heijo Maru with three torpedo hits. On her seventh patrol, Albacore was bombed by American aircraft and suffered considerable damage, but managed to continue the patrol while making repairs. Albacore also sank the destroyer Sazanami and was credited with damaging a Shokaku-class carrier on her ninth patrol.

One of Albacore’s most significant actions occurred on June 19, 1944, when she encountered Admiral Ozawa’s main carrier group in the middle of the Philippine Sea. Albacore fired six bow tubes and sank the 31,000-ton carrier Taiho, the newest and largest floating air base in the Japanese fleet. Albacore’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander James W. Blanchard, was awarded a Navy Cross for this action.

On her tenth patrol, Albacore was credited with sinking two Japanese vessels, a cargo ship, and a submarine chaser. Albacore sailed from Pearl Harbor on October 24, 1944, and was never heard from again. According to Japanese records captured after the war, Albacore struck a mine close to the shore off northeastern Hokkaido on November 7, 1944, and was assumed lost. Her name was struck from the Navy list on March 30, 1945.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Tamaki Ura and his team from the University of Tokyo, the identity of the USS Albacore was finally confirmed. The team used information and imagery provided by Dr. Ura and Japanese records from the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) to guide their mission. The team collected data using a Remotely Operated Vehicle to confirm the historical data.

Despite challenges such as strong currents, marine growth, and poor visibility, several key features of a late 1944 Gato-class submarine were identified in the video. Indications of documented modifications made to Albacore prior to her final patrol, such as the presence of an SJ Radar dish and mast, a row of vent holes along the top of the superstructure, and the absence of steel plates along the upper edge of the fairwater, allowed the NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) to confirm the wreck site as Albacore.

The wreck of the Albacore is protected by US law as a sunken military craft and is under the jurisdiction of the NHHC. While non-intrusive activities, such as remote sensing documentation, are allowed, any intrusive or potentially intrusive activities must be coordinated with the NHHC and, if appropriate, authorized through a relevant permitting program.

The discovery of the USS Albacore is a significant moment in naval history and serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by the Sailors who lost their lives in defense of the nation. Albacore earned nine battle stars and four Presidential Unit Citations during its career. Six of the ten enemy sinkings were enemy combatant ships, ranking it as one of the most successful submarines against enemy combatants during World War II. To this day, Albacore remains a significant part of American naval history and serves as a testament to the bravery and determination of the men who served aboard her.

A screenshot of the wreck site USS Albacore (SS 218). which was lost at sea Nov. 7, 1944. Indications of documented modifications made to Albacore prior to her final patrol such as the presence of an SJ Radar dish and mast, a row of vent holes along the top of the superstructure, and the absence of steel plates along the upper edge of the fairwater allowed Naval History and Heritage Command to confirm the wreck site finding as Albacore. Screenshot captured from video courtesy of Dr. Tamaki Ura, from the University of Tokyo.