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Famous sunken submarine USS Albacore discovered after 78 years

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The mystery of what happened to the American submarine USS Albacore has been solved more than 78 years after the warship disappeared on its 11th and final combat patrol.

The Albacore holds the distinction of sinking the highest warship tonnage of any U.S. submarine.

On February 16, the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) confirmed the identity of a wreck site off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan, as the USS Albacore (SS 218).

NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch was provided imagery and the exact location of the sunken submarine from Dr. Tamaki Ura, from the University of Tokyo, to confirm the identity of the USS Albacore.

“As the final resting place for Sailors who gave their life sic in defense of our nation, we sincerely thank and congratulate Dr. Ura and his team for their efforts in locating the wreck of Albacore,” said NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, U.S. Navy rear admiral (retired). 

“It is through their hard work and continued collaboration that we could confirm Albacore’s identity after being lost at sea for over 70 years,” he added.

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USS Albacore’s illustrious record

The Albacore was believed to have been lost on November 7, 1944, off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan. At the time, a Japanese patrol boat witnessed an underwater explosion, presumably of an object that had hit a mine. The Japanese commander reported that the crew witnessed heavy oil, cork, bedding, and food supplies rise to the surface.

The USS Albacore (SS-218) was launched on February 17, 1942, and commissioned on June 1, 1942, with Lt. Comdr. Richard Cross Lake in command. The sub sailed from Groton, CT via the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor.

During its second combat patrol, on December 18, the Albacore spotted what it believed to be a destroyer and a transport. The Albacore fired torpedoes at the “transport,” and it exploded in a mass of fire and quickly sank off the coast of Madang, New Guinea. 

The Albacore had actually sank the light cruiser Tenryu, a 3,300-ton warship and only the second Japanese cruiser sunk by an American submarine in World War II.

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The Taiho was USS Albacore’s largest kill. (Wikimedia Commons)

On her next combat patrol, the crew of Albacore was credited with sinking a destroyer and a frigate. After an uneventful fourth combat patrol, Lt. Cdr. Oscar E. Hagberg relieved Lt. Cdr. Lake as the new commander. 

In November 1943, after another combat patrol, Lt. Cdr. James W. Blanchard relieved Hagberg of command. In January of 1944, the submarine sank a destroyer and a freighter before heading to Vallejo, CA for an overhaul. 

During the U.S. invasion of Saipan in late June 1944, the Albacore spotted the Japanese main aircraft carrier group of Japanese Admiral Ozawa that was counterattacking against the American forces. 

The Albacore allowed the first carrier to pass by before launching a six-torpedo spread against the second carrier, the 31,000-ton carrier Taiho, Ozawa’s flagship. The crew heard a distinct explosion but had to dive deep to avoid three destroyers, which dropped 24 depth charges. Unbeknownst to the crew, who thought the carrier had escaped, the Taiho sank due to a mistake by its damage control officer.

On subsequent patrols, the Albacore damaged another carrier and sank a cargo ship and a sub-chaser. In late October 1944, she left on her final patrol from Midway and was never seen again. She was considered lost in December and was stricken from the rolls in March of 1945.

Feature Image: USS Albacore in May 1942. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

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Steve Balestrieri