The world’s deepest shipwreck to be successfully dived and surveyed has been discovered in the Phillippine Sea. The destroyer escort class USS Samuel B Roberts – affectionately known as the ‘Sammy B’ – lies at a maximum depth of 6,895 metres, 426m deeper than the previous record holder, the USS Johnston.
The wreck was discovered on 22 June by Victor Vescovo, who surveyed the vessel from his submersible DSV Limiting Factor. Vescovo had previously carried out the first complete survey of the wreck of the USS Johnston, a Fletcher-class destroyer sunk during the same naval battle as the Sammy B, and originally discovered by a private expedition funded by the late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.
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Samuel B Roberts sank on 25 October 1944 during the Battle off Samar, part of the wider Battle of the Leyte Gulf, the largest naval conflict of the Second World War. Outgunned by the superior Imperial Japanese fleet, a somewhat unprepared US Navy launched an offensive that would eventually see the Japanese withdraw from the conflict.
Although outfitted with fewer than half as many guns as the USS Johnston, a Fletcher-class destroyer, the Sammy B managed to cripple the Japanese heavy cruiser Chókai and cause heavy damage to the heavy cruiser Chikuma, before being targeted by three Japanese battleships, including the Yamato, the largest and most heavily-gunned battleship ever constructed. Eventually, the Samuel B Roberts succumbed to the onslaught and sank with the loss of 89 crew, but not before earning the title ‘the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship’.
Twelve US ships and seven Japanese vessels were sunk during the battle, with the loss of at least 1,161 US sailors and as many as 750 or more Japanese crew.
Vescovo and his Caladan Oceanic team conducted the search for the Samuel B Roberts between 17 – 24 June, simultaneously searching for the wreck of the USS Gambier Bay, a small escort aircraft carrier also lost during the Battle off Samar, but which has not yet been located.
Evidence of Sammy B’s location was first made from the positive identification of a torpedo launcher, with the main body of the vessel located several days later. The wreck sits on a sloping bottom and is largely intact, although split into two sections separated by around 10m. There is evidence of repeated impacts from Japanese munitions and indication of a large explosion towards the ship’s stern. The crumpled hull indicates that she sank bow-first.
‘We like to say that steel doesn’t lie and that the wrecks of these vessels are the last witnesses to the battles that they fought,’ said Vescovo. ‘The Sammy B engaged the Japanese heavy cruisers at point blank range and fired so rapidly it exhausted its ammunition. It was down to shooting smoke shells and illumination rounds just to try to set fires on the Japanese ships, and it kept firing … an extraordinary act of heroism.’
‘It was an 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,’ said Mr Vescovo. ‘In difficult times, it’s important to reflect on those who sacrificed so much, so willingly, in even more difficult times to ensure our freedoms and way of life.
‘I always remain in awe of the extraordinary bravery of those who fought in this battle against truly overwhelming odds – and won’