Historians Discover Two World War II Shipwrecks in a Week

Historians aboard the Petrel research vessel have located a deep-sea wreck in the Pacific, which they have matched to the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi.

This discovery comes hot on the trail of another World War II-era find—the Kaga, a second Japanese aircraft carrier that the team found last week.

The Associated Press reports the ship was located in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, roughly 1,300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor.

The bow and the stern are clearly visible in the images taken of the carrier, researchers told reporters at AP. It is possible to discern some of the gun emplacements, but much of the flight deck is missing.

Battle of Midway
This official United States Navy photo, released in Washington July 14, shows the American aircraft carrier Yorktown, already listing badly to port, as she received a direct hit from a Japanese bomber in the Battle of Midway Island, June 3rd to 6th. The black puffs in the photo are exploding U.S. antiaircraft shells. Bettmann/Getty

The Akagi was last seen during the Battle of Midway, more than 75 years ago. The 1942 battle between Japanese and the American forces was described as "the decisive battle of the war in the Pacific" by the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Prior to the US Navy's attack on the Japanese at Midway, the Americans were on the back foot, having experienced heavy losses at Pearl Harbor.

When the US got wind of Japanese plans to capture Midway for use as a military base, they launched a covert attack and, despite being outnumbered, managed to sink four Japanese carriers, losing only one in return.

Battle of Midway
A fire-fighting detail works through a pall of smoke aboard the USS Yorktown after its bombing by Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway. June 1942. | Location: aboard the USS Yorktown, Pacific Ocean, off Midway Islands. © CORBIS/Corbis/Getty

The team responsible for finding the Akagi and the Kaga, two of those lost ships, work for Vulcan Inc, an organization established by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Japanese aircraft carriers are just the latest in a string of recent discoveries made by the company—Vulcan Inc has been responsible for finding more than 30 ships considered to be historically important.

The size and weight of the vessel in combination with its location suggests it must be the Akagi, the researchers say.

"I'm sure of what we're seeing here, the dimensions that we're able to derive from this image [are] conclusive," Rob Kraft, Vulcan Inc.'s director of undersea operations, told AP. "It can be none other than Akagi."

The discovery required an autonomous vehicle that used sonar to locate and then take images of the wreck. Kraft and the rest of the team hope they will find the other vessels lost during the Battle of Midway using a similar method.

"We read about the battles, we know what happened. But when you see these wrecks on the bottom of the ocean and everything, you kind of get a feel for what the real price is for war," Frank Thompson, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, told AP.

"You see the damage these things took, and it's humbling to watch some of the video of these vessels because they're war graves."