A World War II-era Imperial Japanese Navy mega-submarine, the I-400, lost since 1946 when it was intentionally scuttled by U.S. forces after its capture, has been discovered in more than 2,300 feet of water off the southwest coast of O‘ahu. The discovery resolves a decades-old Cold War mystery of just where the lost submarine lay, and recalls a different era as one war ended and a new, undeclared conflict emerged.
Longer than a football field at 400 feet, the I-400 was known as a “Sen-Toku” class submarine—the largest submarine ever built until the introduction of nuclear-powered subs in the 1960s. With a range of 37,500 miles, the I-400 and its sister ship, the I-401, were able to travel one and a half times around the world without refueling, a capability that, to this day, has never been matched by any other diesel-electric submarine.
The new discovery of the I-400 was led by veteran undersea explorer Terry Kerby, Hawaiʻi Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) operations director and chief submarine pilot. Since 1992, HURL has used its manned submersibles Pisces IV and Pisces V to hunt for submarines and other submerged cultural resources as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) maritime heritage research effort.
Heritage properties like historic wreck sites are non-renewable resources possessing unique information about the past. This discovery was part of a series of dives funded by a grant from NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). Working with Steven Price of HURL, Kerby has researched the subject of lost submarines off O‘ahu for decades. On these recent dives, Kerby was joined by two NOAA archaeologists with experience in documenting World War II vessels and submarines, Drs. James Delgado and Hans Van Tilburg.
“The I-400 has been on our ‘to-find’ list for some time. It was the first of its kind of only three built, so it is a unique and very historic submarine,” said Kerby. “Finding it where we did was totally unexpected. All our research pointed to it being further out to sea. The multi-beam anomalies that appear on a bottom survey chart can be anything from wrecks to rocks—you don’t know until you go there. Jim and Hans and I knew we were approaching what looked like a large wreck on our sonar. It was a thrill when the view of a giant submarine appeared out of the darkness.”
The I-400 and the I-401 aircraft-carrying submarines held up to three folding-wing float-plane bombers that could be launched by catapult just minutes after the submarines surfaced. Each aircraft could carry a powerful 1,800-pound bomb to attack the U.S. mainland. But neither was ever used for its designed purpose, their missions curtailed by the end of armed conflict in the Pacific.
“The innovation of air strike capability from long-range submarines represented a tactical change in submarine doctrine,” said Delgado, director of NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program, within the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Washington, D.C. “The large I-400, with its extended range and ability to launch three M6A1 Seiran strike aircraft, was clearly an important step in the evolution of submarine design.”
Up until the Sen-Toku’s day, submarines had been almost exclusively dedicated to sinking surface ships (and other submarines) by stealth attack from under water.
“The I-400 is technologically significant due to the design features associated with its large watertight hangar,” Delgado said. “Following World War II, submarine experimentation and design changes would continue in this direction, eventually leading to ballistic missile launching capabilities for U.S. submarines at the advent of the nuclear era.”
At the end of WWII, the U.S. Navy captured five Japanese subs, including the I-400, and brought them to Pearl Harbor for inspection. When the Soviet Union demanded access to the submarines in 1946 under the terms of the treaty that ended the war, the U.S. Navy sank the subs off the coast of Oʻahu and claimed to have no information on their precise location. The goal was to keep their advanced technology out of Soviet hands during the opening chapters of the Cold War. HURL has now successfully located four of these five lost submarines.
The HURL crew identified the wreck site by carefully combing through side-scan sonar and multi-beam sonar data to identify anomalies on a deep sea floor littered with rocky outcrops and other debris. The wreck was positively identified as the I-400 based on features including its aircraft launch ramp, deck crane, torpedo tube configuration, and stern running lights. The remains of the submarine’s aircraft hangar and conning tower appear to have been separated from the wreck, perhaps in the blunt trauma of the three U.S. Navy torpedo blasts that sunk the ship in 1946.
The I-400 was discovered in August 2013 and is being announced today after NOAA has reviewed its findings with the U.S. state department and Japanese government officials.
“These historic properties in the Hawaiian Islands recall the critical events and sacrifices of World War II in the Pacific, a period which greatly affected both Japan and the United States and shaped the Pacific region as we now know it,” said Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator for NOAA in the Pacific Islands region. “Our ability to interpret these unique weapons of the past and jointly understand our shared history is a mark of our progress from animosity to reconciliation. That is the most important lesson that the site of the I-400 can provide today.”
Video from I-400 initial sighting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmjmPHNYXO8
Video from HURL submarine operations: https://www.youtube.com/user/HURLSubOps/videos
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Dubbed U-CAT or by the team that developed it, this small, pill-shaped bot is designed to explore deep-sea shipwrecks, where its unique design allows it to access places too dangerous, deep, or small for humans to reach. In order to help it do its job more effectively, it’s got a number of unique design features not present in exploration drones.
U-CAT and its kin are the result of an EU-funded initiative aimed at making underwater archaeology easier, known as the Arrows Project. In addition to U-CAT, several larger underwater robots will be tested in tandem in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Seas. Together, these robots will not only revolutionize the field of underwater archaeology, but provide an opportunity to study real-world deep-sea animals.
The robot is equipped with four small, independently-driven flippers instead of propellers, allowing it to achieve an unprecedented degree of underwater maneuverability. As a result of its flippers, U-CAT is able to swim both backwards and forwards, travel directly upwards, and even change direction in tight spaces.The flippers have another added benefit, as well – unlike propellers, which tend to stir up obstructing dirt and sediment, Arrow’s manner of propulsion is relatively calm and quiet, driving the robot without disturbing the water around it.
The little bot is furthermore capable of operating remotely for periods of up to several hours, recording everything it sees with its onboard cameras. This, in turn, allows archaeologists to reconstruct a map of the boat without ever having to set foot underwater. Even better, it’s designed to be cheaper than other underwater exploration vehicles, meaning smaller organizations will be able to afford the use of it, and even if it gets stuck somewhere “it won’t bankrupt the expedition.”
Along with U-CAT, a number of robots were showcased over the weekend at at the London Science Museum’s Robot Safari Exhibit. These included a cheetah cub, bat, school of fish, salamander, and even a tumbleweed. These robots were all presented in simulations of the environments their inspirations would have inhabited.
See, U-CAT is part of a new breed of “biomimetic robots;” which imitate animals and plants. This is, says Centre for Biorobotics Professor Maarja Kruusmaa, “an increasing trend in the world of robotics, where we try to overcome the technological bottlenecks by looking at alternative technical solutions provided by nature.”
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The course is open to those already learning traditional skills in the maritime sector, and could be used to enhance an apprenticeship in boatbuilding or marine engineering. It is also available to experienced shipwrights and boatbuilders, managers of conservation projects or private vessel owners and enthusiasts. The course consists of seven modules which can be taken concurrently, or spread over a period of time. It is the only course of its kind available in Britain and follows the development of NHS-UK’s three volume guidance publication ‘Understanding Historic Vessels’ – which has been designed to cover the key principles behind the history and conservation of historic vessels.
Commenting on the announcement, Martyn Heighton, Director of National Historic Ships UK, said: “The course has been designed to bridge the gap between boatbuilding, or marine engineering courses, and the specialist knowledge required to plan and implement any historic vessel conservation strategy. We are very pleased to be able to start offering it and excited to see the reception it receives.”
In 2010, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded £17million to 54 projects through its ‘Skills for the Future programme’; set up to fund work-based training in a wide range of skills. In partnership with the Canal & River Trust, NHS-UK was one of the successful applicants receiving an initial award of £110,000, with a further grant increase of £100,600 in 2013. With match-funding from the Headley Trust, they went forward to develop the BTEC Diploma in Historic Vessel Conservation as a legacy for their training scheme, Keeping History Afloat.
For further enquiries and enrolment information, contact Andy Barratt or Nat Wilson at IBTC at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Eloise Jakeman or Kate O’Sullivan at ADPR
The wreck is only visible for around a few hours a day either side of low water in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland – and first appeared in June.
Since then a team of archaeologists has been studying its timber to try to find out more about the vessel – and tests have now revealed the wood used to build the ship was felled in around 1768.
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The call for papers for the IfA conference has been extended to the 8th November. MAG in conjunction with the artefacts group are running a joint seminar called “Creating Research Communities: bridging the gap between sectors”. This session aims to approach research from two different ways firstly considering how different groups can intergrate to ensure that research occurs, and secondly considering how when research has been done it is accessible, and can be used and intergrated by other users. Some excellent maritime papers have been submitted, but there is still room for more. A full abstract of the session (S3) is available at http://www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/node-files/IfA2014-Call-for-papers.pdf
If you are interested please contact email@example.com by the 8th November to discuss.
A US marine salvage company is being investigated by Britain’s marine watchdog for allegedly exploring the wreck of a 276-year-old British naval warship without permission. Odyssey Marine Exploration hailed the discovery of the HMS Victory, the predecessor to Nelson’s famous flagship, as one of the most important maritime finds ever when they announced its discovery in the English Channel in 2008. It sank in 1744 with Admiral Sir John Balchen on board, and it was thought the wreck could well be carrying bullion and bronze cannon worth more than £600m.
But the discovery of the vessel has sparked controversy, with archaeologists and descendants of the 1,000 men who died, saying any attempt to recover gold or artefacts for profit is wrong and “distasteful”.
The row has taken a further twist after it was revealed that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), the UK’s marine watchdog, is investigating allegations that Odyssey explored the wreck without a licence last year. Investigators are understood to be studying footage from a TV documentary filmed on an Odyssey vessel that seems to show the discovery of a human skull in mud on the sea floor. MMO is “currently undertaking an investigation into alleged activity in relation to the site of HMS Victory”.
It is understood that one of the issues being considered is whether this activity required a licence.
Under maritime law, all naval vessels lost at sea are considered to have “sovereign immunity” and cannot be disturbed without governmental approval. But following the discovery of the Victory, the wreck was given a different status by the Ministry of Defence by being “gifted” to a new charity, the Maritime Heritage Foundation (MHF).
Founded by Lord Lingfield, a descendent of Admiral Balchen, following the wreck’s discovery, the MHF negotiated an agreement with Odyssey to explore the wreck and potentially recover artefacts including the ship’s bronze cannons. The Victory may have also carried gold coin bullion worth up to £620m. Odyssey is to receive the equivalent of 80 per cent of the value of recovered bullion and 50 per cent of the value of artefacts such as cannons.
But, under the terms of the original agreement between the MHF and the Government, any work to explore the site by disturbing silt or digging trenches can only be carried out once ministers have approved a programme in keeping with Britain’s obligations under a Unesco underwater archaeology agreement.
Experts advising ministers agreed that the site, already raided by rogue Dutch salvers who stole a cannon, may need preservation by raising to the surface some artefacts already dragged by fishing vessels.
In a letter to David Cameron, Richard Temple West, a descendant of Admiral Balchen’s daughter, said: “We appreciate that HMS Victory is an important historic wreck, but we feel this very fact, coupled with the fact that she is a both a grave and memorial, makes it entirely inappropriate that she should be subject to a commercial salvage contract.”
The project still awaits ministerial approval. In an 2012 email to the Ministry of Defence, Lord Lingfield wrote that the MHF’s scientific advisers had approved the “dusting of mobile surface sediment” on the wreck site as well as ensuring that cannon had been “prepared for lifting”. In a second email to the MoD, Lord Lingfield wrote: “PLEASE could ministers give the go-ahead soon, we really need the summer time to carry out careful archaeological work as the at-risk items are recovered. It is now very urgent.”
Odyssey insisted it was working closely to “ensure the protection of this important piece of the UK’s maritime heritage”.
The statement added: “Odyssey always seeks to fully comply with applicable regulatory regimes on projects that fall under the jurisdiction of government agencies, including the regulations of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).”
Original article by Cahal Milmo from the Independent