American destroyer sunk in Battle of Leyte Gulf is deepest shipwreck ever found

The US Navy Fletcher-class destroyer USS Johnston in 1943 (Photo: US Naval History and Heritage Command)

A group of researchers has confirmed that an American warship recently found at the bottom of Leyte Gulf in the Eastern Philippines is the deepest sunken shipwreck ever discovered.

Found at a depth of 6,220 metres is what the crew of the research vessel Petrel have identified as a US Navy destroyer that was lost to enemy action in October 1944 at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a massive naval engagement involving over 300 American and Japanese surface ships and submarines.

The announcement of the discovery was made in the days following the 75th anniversary of the opening phase of the four-day battle, which took place during the final year of World War II.

Petrel‘s crew said the wreck is of a US Navy Fletcher-class destroyer but could not state for certain whether it is USS Johnston (pictured) or USS Hoel, both of which were sunk off Samar province on the third day of the battle on October 25, 1944.

Researchers on Petrel remarked that the wreck is “completely decimated” with no hull numbers clearly visible, making it difficult to positively identify.

Both Johnston and Hoel had formed part of “Taffy 3,” a small US Navy task force of six escort aircraft carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts that had fought against the numerically superior Imperial Japanese Navy Center Force consisting of four battleships including the celebrated Yamato, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 11 destroyers in a battle off Samar on October 25, 1944.

In addition to Johnston and Hoel, the escort carriers USS St. Lo and USS Gambier Bay and the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts were lost on the American side while the Japanese heavy cruisers Chikuma, Chokai, and Suzuya were sunk in the same engagement. Despite the Americans’ heavy losses, Taffy 3’s actions have been regarded by many historians as critical in preventing the Japanese from disrupting the landings of General Douglas MacArthur’s ground forces at Leyte in the first phase of the Allied campaign to liberate the Philippines.

Petrel‘s discovery of the yet unidentified Fletcher-class destroyer in Leyte Gulf comes just weeks after the vessel had located the wrecks of Akagi and Kaga, two of the four Japanese aircraft carriers sunk in the pivotal Battle of Midway in June 1942.

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