US Navy confirms destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts wrecksite off Philippines

The US Navy John C. Butler-class destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts underway off Boston, Massachusetts, June 1944 (Photo: US Navy)

The US Navy has confirmed the location of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts 78 years after its loss during World War II.

As announced on social media late last week by retired naval officer and underwater explorer Victor Vescovo, he and a team from the undersea technology company Caladan Oceanic located the John C. Butler-class destroyer escort beneath the surface in the waters of the eastern Philippines.

Vescovo said that he piloted the submersible Limiting Factor to the wrecksite of Samuel B. Roberts.

Vescovo said that, resting at 6,895 metres, it is now the deepest shipwreck ever located and surveyed. This distinction was previously held by USS Johnston, a Fletcher-class destroyer that, like Samuel B. Roberts, was lost in action during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in late October 1944.

Johnston‘s wreck was found at a depth of 6,220 metres by the crew of the research vessel Petrel in late 2019.

Samuel B. Roberts became known among historians as “the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship” when it, along with several other US warships, engaged Japanese forces off the Philippine coast and selflessly put itself in harm’s way to protect US invasion forces in Leyte Gulf.

Now that the ship has been positively identified, the wrecksite is considered a Department of the Navy sunken military craft protected from unauthorised disturbance by the Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA). Violations of the SMCA can carry penalties of up to US$100,000 a day, confiscation of the vessel used to disturb the sunken military craft, and liability for damages caused.

Permission to disturb US Navy sunken military craft for archaeological, historical, or educational purposes is sought from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

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