R/V Petrel Explores Imperial Japanese Navy Wrecks in the Surigao Strait

More than 200 meters below the tumultuous surface of Surigao Strait lay five large and once powerful Japanese naval vessels, untouched since their sinking on the night of Oct. 25, 1944, during the Battle of Surigao Strait. But starting on Nov. 21, 2017 more than 73 years after their sinking, Paul G. Allen’s Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel will embark on an expedition to go to depths in the Surigao and capture footage of these historic ships.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf raged for three long days before the U.S. Navy was able to “cross the T” – the last instance of this naval warfare tactic, in which a line of warships crosses in front of a line of enemy ships – to conclude the final ship-to-ship battle in modern history. The Battle of Surigao Strait was the last time in history battleships faced off against one another, making this expedition unique. At a time in the war when battles were fought with aircraft carriers, Japanese vessels traveled through the straits at night, leading to this final ship-to-ship battle. It was thought that if the Japanese had made it into Leyte Gulf, it could have turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.

Surigao Strait has a strong current, averaging up to 3 knots in a prevailing southerly direction. When the last of the five Japanese ships sunk below the surface, it was hard to imagine that three quarters of a century would pass until they were seen again. Many expeditions have attempted to reach the ships and get a glimpse of the historic vessels, but the current proved too strong for the technology and equipment used. The R/V Petrel is the first vessel to successfully reach these ships with its ROV and send back images to the surface.

The R/V Petrel’s advanced underwater equipment and capabilities make it one of the few ships capable of exploring to 6,000 meters deep (more than 3.5 miles). Armed with the latest side-scan sonar technology, underwater camera equipment, and extensive suite of computers and monitors, the team can collect and analyze visual data very quickly. This cutting edge package and capable team was assembled because of Paul Allen’s passion for uncovering and protecting historic artifacts.

“The Petrel and its capabilities, the technology it has and the research we’ve done, are the culmination of years of dedication and hard work,” said Robert Kraft, Director of Subsea Operations for Allen. “We’ve assembled and integrated this technology, assets and unique capability into an operating platform which is now one among very few on the planet.”

Allen-led expeditions have also resulted in the discovery of the USS Indianapolis (August 2017), the Japanese battleship Musashi (March 2015) and the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere (March 2017). His team is also responsible for retrieving and restoring the ship’s bell from the HMS Hood for presentation to the British Navy in honor of its heroic service.