The WWII Battleship That Was Disguised As A Tropical Island To Evade Japanese Aerial Attacks

It’s March 1942, and the Dutch ship the Abraham Crijnssen is sailing in the Java Sea. She’d been on a mission to defend what was the Dutch East Indies – today known as Indonesia. But days earlier, the Japanese Navy had crushed the Allied fleet of which the Abraham Crijnssen was a part. And while the only option for the vessel is to escape to the safety of Australia, her lack of speed and armaments will put her in real danger during the crossing. There’s nothing else for it, then, but to deck the ship in an ingenious form of camouflage.

Before the crew of the Abraham Crijnssen found themselves on board a makeshift tropical island, though, they had been busy dealing with the Japanese. The Pacific War had broken out in late 1941, and the territory involved in the skirmish included the Dutch East Indies.

And the Pacific War had begun after the Japanese had made their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii – dragging the U.S. into the Second World War as a consequence. This assault famously took place on December 7, 1941, and President Roosevelt would memorably describe this as “a date which will live in infamy.”

Then, after hitting Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched a variety of offensives across the Pacific – including an attack on the Dutch East Indies. The colony was regarded as a prime target because of its wealth of natural resources, and both oil and rubber were essential for the Japanese to sustain their war effort.

The Netherlands had already been effectively annexed by Nazi Germany after the country’s surrender on May 7, 1940. Even so, the Dutch government-in-exile, based in London, still laid claim to its Pacific colony. In November 1941 the Dutch therefore sent a Royal Netherlands Navy force to defend their possession. And the day after Pearl Harbor, the Netherlands government declared that the nation was at war with the Japanese Empire.

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Surprisingly, in the face of the Dutch declaration, the Japanese bided their time, only formally going to war with the Netherlands weeks later on January 11, 1942. But by then, they were already moving on the Dutch East Indies territory of Borneo – opposed along the way by an alliance of Dutch, British, American and Australian troops, or ABDA.

As well as the Dutch naval contingent, the Allied forces consisted of a few British and Australian ships along with vessels from the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. The Americans had just been involved in the unsuccessful defense of the Philippines, failing then to stem the seemingly unstoppable Axis onslaught in the Pacific. And, unfortunately, the Japanese would similarly overwhelm the ABDA craft.

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There was seemingly no stopping the Japanese, either, as they systematically captured island after island. This was despite the fact that their tactics amounted to advancing only as far as their air cover would allow. The historian Samuel Morison described the Japanese movement across the islands of the Dutch East Indies in his 1948 book, The Rising Sun in the Pacific.

“The manner of the Japanese advance resembled the insidious yet irresistible clutching of multiple tentacles,” Morison wrote. “Like some vast octopus, it relied on strangling many small points rather than concentration on a vital organ. No one arm attempted to meet the entire strength of the ABDA fleet. Each fastened on a small portion of the enemy and, by crippling him locally, finished by killing the entire animal.”

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And the ABDA fleet was summarily routed in a series of sea battles. The first and most devastating of these for the Allies was the Battle of the Java Sea on February 7, 1942, which saw the Dutch commander of the ABDA fleet, Rear-Admiral Karel Doorman, killed in a decisive victory for the Japanese Navy. Then, in the days that followed, the Japanese pushed home their advantage in smaller naval skirmishes.

For example, the Battle of Sunda Strait would commence mere hours after the Java Sea success. Then there was the Second Battle of the Java Sea a couple of days after the first crushing defeat of the Allied naval force. And following these attacks, the ABDA fleet was now reduced to just one full-scale warship: the antiquated U.S.S. Marblehead.

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But while the ABDA forces had effectively ceased to exist, the old Marblehead was not the only Allied vessel to have somehow escaped the carnage. Another survivor was the Abraham Crijnssen – the Dutch ship we met earlier.

The full title of this Royal Netherlands Navy craft was the H.N.M.L.S. Abraham Crijnssen, with that acronym standing for “Her Netherlands Majesty’s Ship” when translated from Dutch to English. The majesty in question was the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, who was living in exile in Britain at the time of the Battle of the Java Sea.

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And the Abraham Crijnssen had been constructed at the Werf Gusto shipyard in the Netherlands city of Schiedam – effectively a suburb of the major port of Rotterdam. She was one of eight minesweepers of the Jan van Amstel class that had been built for the Dutch Navy during the 1930s, in fact. Then, in September 1936, the ship was launched from the Schiedam yard, being commissioned as a navy vessel eight months later.

But who exactly was the ship named for? Well, Abraham Crijnssen was somewhat of a swashbuckling naval hero. Back in the 17th century, he had fought in various sea battles in European waters, although he is arguably best remembered for his exploits in claiming Suriname for his country. Crijnssen was instrumental in defeating the British in a 1667 battle that was part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, with Suriname remaining in Dutch hands until 1975.

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The ship that bore Crijnssen’s name, meanwhile, came in at 525 tons, 184 feet from stern to prow and 25 feet across at her widest point. The two engines powering a pair of propellers also gave her a maximum speed of 15 knots – or about 17 mph. And she was armed, too, with one three-inch cannon and two smaller 20 mm guns as well as an array of anti-submarine depth charges.

So, when the Japanese began their attack on the Dutch East Indies in 1941, the Abraham Crijnssen was put into action. At that time, she was stationed at Surabaya, the principal city of East Java. After the comprehensive defeat of the Allied naval force, however, all surviving ships were ordered to make for Australia – a good 2,000 miles away from Surabaya.

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Yet while the Abraham Crijnssen was supposed to make the journey in a small flotilla with three other ships, she ultimately set off on her own. This was an extremely perilous undertaking, as with a maximum speed of 15 knots and just a trio of guns for defense, the vessel was highly vulnerable.

If any Japanese plane spotted the Abraham Crijnssen – or if she encountered any enemy ships on the open sea – her chances of survival were slim. In fact, the only way that she could conceivably succeed in reaching the safety of Australia was if she could do so unseen by Japanese eyes. But how could a 184-foot-long vessel keep itself hidden during such a lengthy journey?

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And there was no doubt that the danger faced by the Abraham Crijnssen was all too real. After all, three of her sister minesweeper ships had already been lost during the Japanese onslaught on the East Indies. One had been deliberately scuttled on March 2 at Surabaya to avoid her capture, with a second having suffered the same fate on March 8.

Also on March 8, the Jan Van Amstel minesweeper encountered the Japanese destroyer the Arashio – and was ultimately sunk. So, it was imperative that the captain and crew of the Abraham Crijnssen could settle on a plan that would maximize their chances of reaching Australia.

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And the answer they came up with was camouflage. Interestingly, though, the camouflaging of naval ships was a knotty problem that experts had wrestled with at least as far back as the First World War. At that time, one apparently counterintuitive response had been to make vessels more rather than less conspicuous.

This strange WWI strategy was known as dazzle camouflage, and it had been dreamed up by a Briton called Norman Wilkinson – a navy man who was also an artist. British shipping had been suffering badly at the hands of the German U-boats during WWI, and so the Royal Navy had become desperate to minimize the losses to both merchant and naval craft.

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In practice, Wilkinson’s theory involved painting ships in bright colors with jagged, geometric shapes – reminiscent in some ways of Cubist art. These irregular shapes, he believed, would confuse U-boat captains enough that they would not be able to fire their torpedoes with any accuracy. And the commanders at the British Admiralty decided that the bizarre plan was worth a try.

Many British ships were painted with these outlandish patterns, and the idea spread to the U.S., where more than 1,200 vessels were given the dazzle treatment during WWI. But whether this peculiar camouflage strategy was effective or not remains an open question. Analyzing sometimes contradictory data, experts have been unable to give a conclusive answer.

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In any case, the crew of the Abraham Crijnssen had neither the time – nor presumably the paint – to start redecorating their ship with a camouflage technique that may or may not have been effective. But they were desperate, and what they did come up with was arguably just as unlikely as the dazzle maneuver.

So, what did they decide to do? They formulated a cunning plan to make their ship look to all intents and purposes exactly like a small Pacific island. The Abraham Crijnssen therefore lowered her anchors at the first likely island she came across. And once they had moored, the 45 crew members set to work with a will.

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Using whatever tools that came to hand, the men, toiling in the intense tropical heat, hacked down all the vegetation they could. After that, they took the greenery to the ship and attached it to its superstructure. Meanwhile, those parts of the ship uncovered by foliage were painted gray to give the impression of rocky outcrops amid the lush jungle growth.

Then, once the crew had finished their work, the Abraham Crijnssen looked just about as much like a tropical island as any minesweeper could. And the idea was not as hare-brained as it may seem at first. There are after all some 18,000 islands dotted around the waters of the Java Sea – many of them covered in thick jungle foliage.

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Furthermore, as those islands come in all sizes and shapes, at least some of them could have fit the dimensions of a WWII minesweeper. But, of course, the Dutch Navy’s strategy was a little more sophisticated than just disguising the ship as a tropical landmass. In addition, the Abraham Crijnssen would take care not to sail on the open sea during daylight hours.

When the sun was up, then, the ship would remain securely moored at the edge of one of the real islands. And as photographs show, this tactic of blending into the background was surprisingly effective, as only the closest inspection would reveal the Abraham Crinjssen’s hiding place.

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Finally, after what must have been at times a hair-raising eight-day voyage, the Abraham Crijnssen reached the safety of the Western Australian port of Fremantle. She arrived on March 20, 1942, and had been the last ship to escape the Japanese forces in the Dutch East Indies.

But this was by no means the end of the war for the Abraham Crijnssen, as she was subsequently pressed into service for the Australians. Now known as H.M.A.S. Abraham Crijnssen – with that acronym standing for His Majesty’s Australian Ship – the vessel formally joined the nation’s navy in September 1942.

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And Lieutenant Arthur Irwin Chapman took command of what was now to be an anti-submarine escort ship. Some three decades later, Chapman was to recall the moment when he arrived at his new vessel with two framed photographs: one of the British King George VI, the other of Rita Hayworth “in a very fetching black negligee.”

“In the interest of international goodwill, it was agreed that HM Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands would remain in the Crijnssen’s wardroom, and so King George was installed in my cabin,” Chapman added. “It was agreed, however, that Miss Hayworth was worthy of wardroom status, and she was installed on the bulkhead opposite Queen Wilhelmina.”

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But it wasn’t all lighthearted moments for the Abraham Crijnssen and the Dutch and Australian sailors who made up her crew. During escort duty on January 26, 1943, the ship’s sonar equipment gave a reading that seemed to suggest an enemy submarine just 700 yards away. Action stations were duly called, and the Abraham Crijnssen’s engine room was given the order, “Full speed ahead.”

The ship then launched two of her depth charges, calibrated to explode just 50 feet below the sea’s surface. These were followed by more charges, which detonated at 100 feet. But while lookouts subsequently saw some detritus on the surface, no one observed definitive evidence of a downed sub.

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The Abraham Crijnssen had sustained some damage to her stern in the process, although she was fortunately able to sail back to her base in Sydney for repairs. And later, Chapman explained what had happened, writing, “The Crijnssen had not picked up sufficient speed from her patrol speed, and two depth charges set at 50 feet severely shook up the after section, smashing every bit of crockery, tearing off light switches and fittings and fracturing several minor pipelines.”

Chapman continued, “Queen Wilhelmina crashed to the deck, King George was hanging crazily on one screw, but Miss Hayworth was completely secure.” Luckily, there did not seem to be any lasting problems, and so the ship returned to the Dutch navy in May 1943, continuing her escort duties for the rest of the war.

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Then, after peace had broken out, the Abraham Crijnssen was involved in ultimately unsuccessful attempts to deny independence to the Dutch East Indies. In 1960 she also became a training vessel before finally moving to her current home at the Dutch Navy Museum. And to this day, the ship remains almost certainly the only craft of its kind to survive WWII by pretending to be an island.

She’s certainly not the only ship to see the other side of the way, though. In late January 2019, for instance, the crew of the R/V Petrel sent one of its remotely controlled vehicles almost 17,700 feet down into the frigid depths of the South Pacific. And the researchers chose this spot carefully; after extensive investigations, they believed that they’d finally uncovered the U.S.S. Hornet’s watery resting place. But were they about to confirm their theory? The drone continued to dive, and the team waited with bated breath to see if they were about to strike gold.

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There’s a reason why the Petrel’s crew are so keen to unearth this particular craft. You see, the U.S.S. Hornet has a fascinating history – and she’s had her fair share of adventure. Originally built as a Yorktown Class U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, Hornet was the seventh ship to go by that name. Construction of the vessel began in September 1939 – a little more than three weeks after the outbreak of the Second World War, but before the U.S. had entered the conflict.

With the specter of war still a faint blur on the horizon, the talented ship builders of the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company set about constructing Hornet at Newport News, Virginia. The craft was subsequently launched on December 14, 1940, and she was commissioned ten months later. Captain Marc Mitscher – an experienced Navy hand with 21 years of service under his belt – first took command of Hornet at the Naval Operating Base in Norfolk, VA.

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Mitscher was no doubt honored to be in charge of such a craft, too, as the Hornet’s vital statistics were particularly impressive. She was a few inches short of 810 feet in length and measured 114 feet across at the widest part of her flight deck. Four Parsons Marine engines powered one propeller each, and the vessel could sail through the seas at a maximum speed of over 32 knots.

Assuming that there was a full complement aboard, Captain Mitscher was in charge of 1,280 sailors and 86 officers – all of whom manned the vessel. Another 141 officers and 710 crew members were responsible for flying and maintaining the planes. And Hornet’s formidable armament included eight 5-inch multi-purpose firearms and 16 anti-aircraft weapons.

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As it happened, Hornet was docked at Norfolk Navy base when the Japanese launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 – thereby plunging America into WWII. So when news of the attack reached the Navy installation, Mitscher received the order to put his ship on a war footing. And not long later, the Hornet would be in action on the high seas.

But before Hornet could get a real taste of battle, she was part of an experiment that apparently baffled her crew. You see, at the beginning of February, the craft set sail from Norfolk. And parked on her deck were two B-25 Mitchell mid-sized bombers that belonged to the Army Air Forces – the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force, which wasn’t actually formed until 1947.

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Once Hornet had reached the open sea, then, the B-25s took off. In fact, while Mitscher’s craft had still been docked at Norfolk, the captain had been in discussions about the practicality of his ship carrying some 15 B-25s onboard. The jaunt itself had actually been arranged as a dry run to find out just how practical the idea was. And happily, the experiment was a success: the two planes took to the skies with no problem.

So with this trial complete, Hornet now traveled to the West Coast via the Panama Canal, docking at California’s Naval Air Station Alameda on March 20, 1942. Once at the base, she took on board 16 of the Mitchell B-25s. And after the planes had been safely lugged onto the craft, the men were finally told what Hornet’s mission was: they were going to bomb Japan.

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Hornet now joined Task Force 16 and sailed off into the Pacific on what was dubbed the Doolittle Raid. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle was in charge of the B-25s as well as their ground and flight crews, with the latter two groups including 64 men and 70 Air Corps officers. Their original plan was to drop anchor approximately 460 miles away from Japan’s coastline – but this soon went awry.

Yes, the operational strategy had to be modified, as a Japanese patrol boat – designated No. 23 Nitto Maru – spotted the American ships. And although U.S.S. Nashville sunk the Japanese vessel, the Allied forces still feared that the enemy now knew the location of Task Force 16. An emergency change of plan was now essential – and Hornet would prove pivotal to its success.

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You see, although Hornet was still around 650 miles from Japan’s coast, all 16 of the B-25s that she was carrying took flight. The pilots began launching their crafts into the air one after another, and the takeoffs all went off without a hitch – until the last plane attempted to fly, that is. One unfortunate man toppled into the path of a propeller, and he lost an arm as a result. All 16 of Doolittle’s planes were now airborne and bound for Japan, ready to unleash the first load of bombs on the country’s Home Islands.

The planes now reached their targets in Japan, flying high over urban centers, including Yokohama, Yokosuka, Kobe and Tokyo. The bombers succeeded in inflicting considerable damage, too. But now, as the aircrafts had flown for hundreds of miles more than their pilots had anticipated, they were unable to reach the airfield on which they were meant to land in China.

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Fifteen of the planes crash-landed on Chinese territory that was occupied by the Japanese. Some came down on land, while others ditched in the sea and struggled to the shore. The 16th plane actually made it all the way to Russia and ran aground near Vladivostok. Miraculously, only three of the 80 aircrew died as a result of these dangerous descents, while 69 lived to tell the tale. And, with the help of friendly locals, a number of them avoided falling into the Japanese’s clutches, too.

Those Chinese who had assisted the Americans were then subjected to vicious reprisals at the hands of the Japanese. At the time, the fates of two crews – a total of ten men – were unknown. Subsequently, it emerged that two had drowned after ditching and eight became prisoners. And at a 1946 war crimes trial, it became apparent that the Japanese had executed three of the men and that one had died in captivity. The remaining four, however, had managed to survive the ordeal.

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Meanwhile, Hornet sailed away from Japan and docked at Pearl Harbor. On April 30, 1942, she took to the seas again, heading for a rendezvous with  U.S. Navy ships Yorktown and Lexington, which were engaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Yet by the time that Hornet had sped to the battle – which saw the loss of the Lexington – the fighting was over.

But there would be plenty of action for Hornet soon enough. She set out from Pearl Harbor once more on May 28, 1942, again as part of Task Force 16. Captain Mitscher charted a course for Point Luck – a location some 325 miles to the northeast of the diminutive Midway Atoll island that’s situated in the North Pacific.

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The major Battle of Midway was about to begin. The Americans planned to launch a surprise attack on a strong Japanese force that included four aircraft carriers. And trying to take out these vessels would be crucial, as this conflict would be largely fought by planes launched from carriers. This style of fighting was still very new indeed: the aforementioned Battle of the Coral Sea had been the first of its type in military history.

Unfortunately, the battle did not start well for Hornet. Dive bombers from the ship could not locate their Japanese targets, and some of them – along with every fighter escort – were forced to ditch into the sea when their fuel reserves hit empty. And while 15 torpedo bombers managed to at least reach the enemy vessels, they were all shot down, as they lacked sufficient fighter protection. In all, of the 30 men aboard those planes, just one survived.

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But the Americans persevered with their attacks, and dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown attacked three of the Japanese carriers, setting them ablaze and putting them out of action. A fourth, Hiryu, was the vessel that had downed Hornet’s torpedo planes. But her luck didn’t last: planes launched from the Enterprise now destroyed the Hiryu.

By June 6, the Japanese fleet was in retreat, and Hornet’s planes were on the attack. They played a part in sinking the Mikuma, which was a heavy cruiser, as well as inflicting damage on a destroyer. Then Hornet attacked and severely harmed another heavy cruiser called Mogami. And this turned out to be the final action in the battle of Midway – a conflict that ended in victory for the U.S.

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Consequently, Midway Atoll was preserved for the Americans as a forward air base from which to attack Japan. And the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers had struck a devastating blow against the Japanese Navy, sinking four of its carriers. The destruction of these ships had also resulted in the loss of 250 Japanese planes along with a substantial number of key personnel.

As a result, historians have recognized the U.S. victory at Midway as a key moment in the fight against the Japanese in the Pacific. And after playing its part in this momentous battle, Hornet returned to Pearl Harbor where Mitscher handed her over to a new skipper: Captain Charles P. Mason. The ship was now fitted with extra anti-aircraft guns and the latest radar technology.

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Hornet sailed from port on August 17, 1942, to go on what was effectively guard duty at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Yet damage to other U.S. Navy ships – along with the sinking of U.S.S. Wasp – left Hornet alone in the South Pacific for a time as the sole effective U.S. carrier. But the vessel wasn’t alone for long: towards the end of October, she teamed up with the carrier Enterprise.

After meeting to the northwest of the New Hebrides Isles, the two carriers set course to counter a Japanese naval force that was heading for Guadalcanal. The scene was set for the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands – and so fighting got under way on October 26, 1942. The battle began for Hornet when she attacked a carrier called Shōkaku and two cruisers, while Enterprise simultaneously bombed another carrier: Zuihō.

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Hornet herself was in turn bombarded by torpedo aircraft and Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers. The strike was a forceful one, with the dive bombers hitting Hornet three times in just 15 minutes. Then one of the Vals was hit by anti-aircraft fire. And consequently, the plane smashed into the control island atop the flight deck, killing seven of the ship’s crew.

Yet things went from bad to worse for Hornet, when Nakajima B5N “Kate” planes successfully directed two torpedoes into the vessel. This brought the U.S. ship to a standstill, and now another damaged Val dive bomber took the opportunity to strategically pitch into her. Since Hornet was without power, her planes could neither take off nor land. And this meant that those in the air were forced to head over to Enterprise or opt for the sea.

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On the orders of Rear Admiral George D. Murray, a heavy cruiser called U.S.S. Northampton attempted to transport Hornet away from the danger. And as she slowly moved away, maintenance crews found themselves close to getting her power running again – until nine more Japanese torpedo planes bore down on the damaged carrier.

Of the nine Japanese planes now on the attack, eight were gunned down or missed their target. But the final aircraft landed a shot with deadly accuracy, and Hornet began to list heavily. At this point, it was no doubt clear that the vessel was doomed. And “abandon ship” was the only sensible order left to be given.

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Hornet’s crew was picked up by escort vessels, with Mason the last man to leave his ship. Before the crew members had been rescued, though, Vice Admiral William Halsey had ordered for the stricken vessel to be sunk – once the men were clear, of course. In an attempt to comply, a number of American ships fired nine torpedoes into Hornet, but she failed to go down. Then two destroyers, Mustin and Anderson, bombarded her with over 400 5-inch shells – yet she remained stubbornly above the waves.

Eventually, the Americans gave up and sailed away. It was left to two Japanese destroyers, Makigumo and Akigumo, to finally send her to the bottom of the Pacific in the early morning darkness of October 27, 1942. Of the 2,200 men who had been aboard the American carrier, 140 lost their lives. From launch to sinking, Hornet’s action-packed career had lasted a little less than two years.

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In the short term, taking into account the ships lost by the Americans, the Battle of Santa Cruz was a win for the Japanese. But many of Japan’s most experienced pilots never returned from the battle – and the shortfall was never made good. So the short-term victory came at a high price, fatally weakening the Japanese war machine.

After the Hornet had sunk, she lay rusting at the bottom of the sea and went undiscovered for nearly eight decades. But there were those that were keen to find her, such as Vulcan – the group set up by Microsoft’s late co-founder: Paul Allen. Although he died in October 2018, his organization lives on.

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Vulcan is involved in a variety of enterprises, ranging from technology to arts and charitable works. But it has also made a name for itself in the field of undersea exploration. Specifically, the organization has found and explored several vessels lost at sea using the research ship R/V Petrel.

And vessels that have been found or explored by Petrel include the U.S.S. Juneau – sunk near Guadalcanal in 1942 – and the U.S.S. Indianapolis – lying 18,000 feet below the surface of the Philippine Sea. The latter plunged to the sea bed after being hit by a Japanese torpedo in July 1945. In March 2018 Petrel found the wreck of U.S.S. Lexington. The Japanese had sunk her during the 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea – the fight to which Hornet had arrived too late.

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In a quirk of fate, the next target on the Petrel’s list was indeed the Hornet. But the first of the researchers’ tasks was decidedly less glamorous than undersea exploration: they decided to trawl through naval archives, including Japanese records, to find out as much information as they could about the ship’s most likely final position. The team also examined reports from other vessels that had fought in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands to build an even more comprehensive view of events.

In a statement from Vulcan’s subsea operations section, director Robert Kraft said, “We had the Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as a capitol carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles.” And speaking to CBS in February 2019, Kraft revealed that their research had given them a very strong lead on the ship’s whereabouts.

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So, the mission began in January 2019. Once the researchers had navigated the Petrel to the spot where they suspected the Hornet’s wreck might be, they sent down an underwater drone. This high-tech piece of equipment would search the seabed using sonar. To get to the sea bottom – a staggering 17,700 feet or so below the surface – took the drone some 90 minutes. And the data it collected indicated the possible wreckage of a ship.

Perhaps in light of these encouraging first results, Kraft then decided that it was worth sending down another remotely controlled underwater vehicle – but this one would be equipped with cameras. And what the crew aboard the Petrel were then able to see via a video feed left them in no doubt. They had discovered the wreck of U.S.S. Hornet – 76 years after she’d ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

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And one man perhaps felt the emotion of this discovery more than any other. Richard Nowatzki – 95 when the discovery was made – was an 18-year-old sailor aboard the Hornet on the day that the Japanese sank it. Speaking to CBS in February 2019, Nowatzki said, “I know I’ve been a very fortunate man. The actual fact that you can find these ships is mind-boggling to me… I want to thank you for honoring me this way.”

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