Over the course of the Pacific War, the Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States Navy engaged in many deadly encounters. Scattered throughout the Pacific Theater are the sunken remains of ships that didn’t survive the engagements. In recent years, several projects have made it their mission to locate these wrecks. One of the most recent discoveries to be announced was USS Grayback (SS-208), a submarine sunk by a Japanese aerial bomb in the East China Sea.
Lost on February 26, 1944, the wreckage of USS Grayback was located by private researchers at a depth of 1,400’ below the ocean’s surface. She was found roughly 50 miles off the coast of Okinawa by Tim Taylor and Christine Dennison, who have made it their mission to find the wrecks of every American submarine lost during the War in the Pacific. They’ve dubbed their efforts the Lost 52 Project as they seek out the missing 52 submarines. As of November 2019, they’ve located five, USS Grayback included.
USS Grayback was found off Okinawa, mostly still intact. Her plaque was still attached to the vessel’s bridge, making it easier to identify, but the submarine did show evidence of explosive damage. It was never known exactly what happened to Grayback, only that she never arrived after being ordered home from her tenth patrol. She was scheduled to reach Midway on March 7, 1944, but was listed as missing 23 days later. Her wreckage is the watery grave of 80 US Navy sailors.
The Fate of USS Grayback
Launched on January 31, 1941, Grayback carried out ten patrols in the Pacific, and was responsible for the sinking of 14 Japanese ships over the course of her service. What happened to the submarine could be surmised based on records retrieved from the Japanese Navy. It’s believed that Grayback engaged the Japanese freighter Ceylon Maru, but was spotted by a carrier-based plane that launched an attack on the submarine. The report alleged that the bombing attack was successful, but additional depth-charges were ordered until an oil slick rose to the surface.
The Lost 52 Project
The Lost 52 Project originally came about when Tim Taylor located USS R-12 (SS-89), a submarine that was lost on June 12, 1943, when her forward battery compartment flooded. She sank within 15 seconds, killing 42 of her crew. Along with Dennison, Taylor produced a documentary on locating R-12, which showcased the equipment and processes used. As the documentary caught the eye of sponsors, the pair raised the funding needed to launch an expedition to locate all 52 missing submarines.
In total, nine missing US Navy submarines have been located since 2006 by the Lost 52 Project and other expeditions.