Although Paul Allen passed away in October of 2018, R/V Petrel continues its search for sunken relics of World War II. The research vessel’s most recent discovery is the wreckage of the Japanese battleship Hiei. The find is the latest of more than a dozen wrecks located by the research operation funded by the co-founder of Microsoft.
Early Service of Battleship Hiei
Hiei was launched in November, 1912 and commissioned into the Imperial Japanese Navy on August 4, 1914. When launched, she was the second of four Kongo-class battlecruisers. One of the most heavily-armed ships of her time, she was equipped with eight 14” guns and nine-inch-thick armor. Hiei patrolled off China’s waters during the First World War and took part in the rescue efforts of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.
Hiei was converted into a gunnery training ship in 1929, and was later reclassified as a battleship to accompany Japan’s growing fleet of aircraft carriers.
Hiei in World War II
In November of 1941, the battleship Hiei set sail with the six aircraft carriers that launched the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, leading the United States to enter World War II.
After participating in the invasion of the Dutch East Indies in early 1942, Hiei was ordered to the Solomon Islands for an eventual push on Guadalcanal. Her convoy approached Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942 and was met with fire from the American destroyer USS Laffey (DD-459) and others. The multiple shells caused significant damage, but it was fire from the cruiser USS San Francisco (CA-38) that crippled her steering capability. Unable to escape, Hiei circled the water for a day as American fighters and bombers struck her repeatedly. The battleship Hiei sank on the night of November 14, with a loss of 188 officers and crew. She was the first Japanese battleship sunk by the US Navy in the War in the Pacific.
Locating the Wreckage
The wreckage of Hiei was first spotted by a Japanese research group, but R/V Petrel was the first remote-operated vehicle to investigate and confirm the identity of the ship. Hiei joins USS Ward (DD-139), USS Astoria (CA-34), USS Indianapolis (CA-35), and USS Lexington (CV-2) among many other World War II warships discovered by Petrel researchers.
Petrel captured images of the sunken battleship showing two five-inch gun turrets. She was located in an area known as “Ironbottom Sound” for the large number of warships lost there during the Solomon Islands campaign.