Seas and oceans of the world hold many secrets about warships and submarines that sunk during World War II. Although more than 70 years have passed since the end of the war, researchers around the world continue their work to unravel the mysteries of that time.
National Geographic offers seven most mysterious stories of warships that sunk in WWII.
USS Arizona battleship
The fate of USS Arizona is one of the most interesting stories left from WWII. The 185m-long ship met its fate during the attack of the Japanese military on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. US President Franklin Roosevelt had sent the ship to Hawaii specifically to deter the Japanese from attacking Pearl Harbor. During the attack, one of the bombs hit the ship’s powder magazine, causing a violent explosion. 1,117 crew members were killed. Because USS Arizona was no longer salvageable, some of its armaments were transferred to USS Nevada, which then took part in battles against the Japanese military. Some of the cannons salvaged from USS Arizona were also used for the defence of Hawaii. A memorial was set up on the ship’s wreck to commemorate the victims of the attack.
The Bismarck was one of two Bismarck-class battleships manufactured by Nazi Germany during WWII. This giant battleship was operational for only eight months when it engaged and destroyed a British battlecruiser HMS Hood in the Gulf of Denmark in May 1941. After that, the British fleet gave chase to Bismarck. Four British ships fired a total of 2,800 shots at the German giant battleship. 400 of those shots hit their target. In spite of major damage dealt to the ship, the Bismarck remained afloat. To make sure Bismark would not fall into enemy hands, the High Command in Nazi Germany ordered the crew to sink the ship. The exact location of the wreck of the ship was discovered by oceanographer Robert Ballard’s expedition in 1989.
USS Indianapolis cruiser
On 30 July 1945, a mere several days after the first components of the first atom bomb were delivered to USA’s military base at Tinian, USS Indianapolis cruiser was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. This hip sunk in a matter of minutes. 300 crewmembers lost their lives. More than 900 service personnel were left to their fate, facing exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks while floating with the few lifeboats and little to no food or water in the open sea. Survivors were located four days later by the crew of PV-1 Ventura, who were on a routine patrol flight. 317 survivors of USS Indianapolis were rescued. The sinking of USS Indianapolis is considered the most tragic catastrophe for the US Navy in WWII also because it turned out later that distress signals from the ship were ignored. The cruiser’s wreck remains undiscovered to this day. This is because the possible depth of the area where the cruiser went down reaches 3,600 m.
Musashi was the flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy and one of the largest and most advanced battleships in the world. This battleship, which was commissioned in 1942, was fitted with two catapults, which allowed up to seven planes to take off. Musashi met its fate on 24 October 1944, when it was seriously damaged in the fight with TBF/TBM Avenger and Helldiver-class aircraft. It is estimated that the ship was damaged by 19 torpedoes and 17 bombs. The search for the wreck of this ship continued for more than eight years when it was finally found in the Sibuyan Sea near the Philippine Islands. The search was financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Icebreaker Krisjanis Valdemars
Krisjanis Valdemars was Latvia’s only new steamer in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century. The main function of this vessel was breaking ice to clear the way for other ships. It was also used by the state president and members of the government for foreign visits. For example, President Janis Cakste traveled to Finland on this vessel in 1924. After Latvia’s occupation, Krisjanis Valdemars was nationalized. At the beginning of the war, the ship and other ships of the trade fleet were evacuated to Tallinn. In August 1941, the icebreaker and more than 220 other ships of the Baltic fleet were evacuated to Kronstadt. On 28 August, the ship ran on a mine and sunk. The wreck was found in the Gulf of Finland in 2011.
Patrol ship Prezidentas Smetona
In 1923, Lithuania regained control over Klaipeda Port and began developing its navy. Unfortunately, mine sweeper Prezidentas Smetona was the only ship that was made before the beginning of WWII. It was originally planned to use the patrol ship, which was bought from Germany in 1927, for training and the president’s needs. After the Soviet occupation, the patrol ship was assigned to coast guard duty, mine sweeping. It also engaged the German fleet in combat. Prezidentas Smetona ran against a mine a sunk near Aegna Island on 11 January 1945. The wreck was finally located in the Gulf of Finland in 2007.
Kalev was one of two submarines built in the UK for Estonia. The submarine was commissioned in 1936. For the first couple of years after the Soviet occupation the submarine was being used to set up mines at Latvian ports and patrol waters near Uzava and Ovisa. In 1941, the submarine was ordered to deliver a Soviet recon group to a specific location, but the submarine ultimately disappeared. Most likely the submarine ran across a mine near Naisara Island and sunk. The location of the submarine’s wreck remains undiscovered to this day.