In the month of February, 2019 alone, the expedition organized by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen found the wreckage of three World War II warships at the bottom of the Pacific ocean. In 2018, they had found more than half-a-dozen, while 2017 proved fruitful with five discoveries. In mid-March, 2019, Research Vessel Petrel added yet another to its 2019 tally with the discovery of the wreckage of USS Wasp (CV-7), a US Navy aircraft carrier that was lost early in the War in the Pacific, after supporting the invasion of Guadalcanal. USS Wasp was first located by Petrel’s crew in January, 2019 but the identification wasn’t confirmed until March. Her damaged frame was located nearly 14,000’ deep in the waters of the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia.
USS Wasp at War
USS Wasp was first launched in 1939, and when World War II broke out she was part of the Atlantic Fleet, where she played a role in assisting the British in maintaining their hold on Malta. The attack on Pearl Harbor brought the war to the Pacific, and the ensuing Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway reduced the Pacific Fleet to just three aircraft carriers. In June of 1942, USS Wasp joined the Pacific Fleet as part of Task Force 37.
The Loss of USS Wasp
While ferrying troops to Guadalcanal on September 15, 1942, USS Wasp came under fire.
The Japanese submarine I-19 launched six Type 95 torpedoes, three of which hit the aircraft carrier. When she was launched, Wasp had virtually no armor, which greatly reduced her ability to sustain direct hits. One of the torpedoes rose above the waterline, striking Wasp after breaching the surface of the sea. The torpedoes struck near gasoline tanks and magazines, causing explosions that killed 193 of her crew. With help from the destroyers USS Laffey (DD-459) and Lansdowne (DD-486), and the cruisers USS Helena (CL-50) and Salt Lake City (CA-25), 1,946 of her crew were rescued while American destroyers prevented I-19 from doing any more damage.
For her wartime service, USS Wasp was awarded two battle stars attached to the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.
USS Wasp Located
When USS Wasp was located by the R/V Petrel expedition, she was found to be sitting upright with tears apparent in parts of her hull. The discovery of the World War II aircraft carrier is just the latest for an expedition that clearly has no intention of slowing down in their mission to locate additional wrecks throughout the Pacific.
R/V Petrel was one of Paul Allen’s crowning achievements before he passed away in October of 2018. Her ongoing mission is to scour the seas in search of wrecks that have historical significance. To stave off treasure seekers and black marketeers, the team keeps the location of the wrecks secret from all but a few national governments and museums.