California Dive Team Finds USS Mississinewa (AO-59), Sunk in WWII by Japanese Suicide Sub

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California Dive Team Finds USS Mississinewa (AO-59), Sunk in WWII by Japanese Suicide Sub


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On 6 April, in Ulithi Lagoon, an independent team of three divers from the San Francisco Bay Area located and were the first to dive on the wreck of the 553-foot USS MISSISSINEWA (AO-59), the only American naval ship sunk by a kaiten, a one-man Japanese suicide submarine.

Since WWII, the ship's exact position has been in question, despite numerous prior attempts by both American and Japanese dive groups to find the wreck. James P. Delgado, Director of the Vancouver, B.C., Maritime Museum, and an expert on Japanese midget submarines, has described the lost USS MISSISSINEWA as "the last great unsolved WWII Pacific sinking".

The dive team consisted of Lewis "Chip" Lambert, his wife Pam Lambert both of Fremont, California; and Pat Scannon from San Francisco, California. Chip Lambert, the team leader, working with Mike Main, the ship's historian and author of the USS MISSISSINEWA story (in progress), obtained photographs, taken by Sid Harris, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, from the rescue tug ATF-107 MUNSEE at the time of the sinking on 20 November 1944. Using observations from the photographs, Chip Lambert narrowed the search area from almost 200 square miles to five square miles. After seven straight days of searching in a small dive boat using a portable sonar unit, the team, working with Ulithians, located the tanker on a sandy bottom in 120 feet of water.

Chip Lambert, describing his first view of the ship, stated, "While descending, we saw the sea reluctantly releasing the USS MISSISSINEWA from its grasp. I was finally convinced we were no longer looking at a photograph, a chart plot, or a detector signal, but a grave for fifty war heroes, a memorial for the surviving crew members and families and a symbol of honor for the people of Ulithi."

The USS MISSISSINEWA was at berth at this key WWII U.S. Navy installation when the kaiten, probably released by Japanese mother sub I-36 just outside Ulithi Lagoon, crept into the harbor and struck the tanker on the starboard bow, taking the lives of fifty American officers and sailors. The bow section with the forward crew berthing, where it is believed the greatest loss of lives occurred, lies on its port side with hatches open. The submarine's site of impact just aft of the bow and a secondary explosion created a huge opening in the hull. Today, the lifeless twisted metal is home for large schools of fish and other sea life.

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California Dive Team Finds USS Mississinewa (AO-59), Sunk in WWII by Japanese Suicide Sub
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