WWII US destroyer sunk by Japanese named as deepest wreck ever discovered

Credit: AP

A US Navy destroyer sunk by Japanese forces during World War Two and found near the Philippines has become the deepest discovered shipwreck, according to explorers.

The USS Samuel B. Roberts, popularly known as the “Sammy B,” was identified on Wednesday broken into two pieces on a slope at a depth of 6,985 metres (22,916 feet).

That puts it 426 metres (1,400 feet) deeper than the USS Johnston, the previous deepest wreck discovered last year in the Philippine Sea also by American explorer Victor Vescovo, founder of Dallas-based Caladan Oceanic Expeditions.

The aft gun mount of the USS Samuel B Roberts. Credit: AP

He announced the 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,” Vescovo, a former Navy commander, said in a statement.

The Sammy B took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of the war and maybe the largest in history.

The battle was so large it was broken up into four separate theatres with Sammy B engaging in the Battle off Samar, where the ship made a heroic last stand.

The pilot house section of the USS Samuel B. Roberts. Credit: AP

The battle was a victory for the Allies and had been the final push by the Japanese to halt the American naval advance.

The Imperial Japanese Navy suffered its biggest loss of ships and failed to dislodge the US forces from Leyte, which they invaded earlier as part of the liberation of the Philippines.

According to some records, the destroyer disabled a Japanese heavy cruiser with a torpedo and significantly damaged another.

After having spent virtually all its ammunition, she was critically hit by the lead battleship Yamato and sank.

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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 stated there was “no higher honour” than to have led the men who displayed such incredible courage going into 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 born by previous generations for the freedom we take for granted today,” Cox said in a statement.

The explorers said 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 ever installed and operated on a submersible, well beyond the standard commercial limitations of 6,000 metres (19,685 feet), EYOS said.