Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Japanese battleship Musashi found

I'm a little late to this particular party, but a party it is: an expedition led by Microsoft co-founder  (and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers) Paul Allen has found the wreck of the Japanese battleship Musashi, sister ship to the famous superbattleship Yamato:
The construction of a vessel that would come to represent the might of Japan’s navy was so secretive, according to historical accounts, that workers hid it underneath a camouflage of rope. There was good reason to try to keep construction secret. It would become a fearsome creature of war: Said to be at that time “the largest battleship in naval history,” it extended nearly 900 feet in length, weighed 73,000 tons and was equipped with a massive arsenal of guns.
“I couldn’t believe how enormous they were!” American Helldiver gunner Joe Anderlik recalled of the vessel during a massive naval battle that sank the beast. Musashi “was huge!” another gunner said, according to World War II Database. “I had never seen anything as big in my entire life. It was a magnificent sight.”
Indeed, she was.
But despite such magnificence, the end of the Musashi would be as cloaked in opacity as its origins. Allied forces pummeled its mighty frame with 20 torpedoes and 17 bombs, and on that day in October 1944, it sank somewhere in the Sibuyan Sea near the Philippines. It took with it 1,023 lives. And it was never seen again.
Uh, most ships that sink are never seen again. Not the best writing by the Washington Post here, but let's just move on.
That was until this week, when the Musashi reemerged in the most unexpected of places: Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen’s Twitter page. “WW2 Battleship Musashi sank 1944 is FOUND 1,000 meters deep. … Huge anchor,” wrote Allen, who has been looking for the ship for more than eight years. “RIP crew of Musashi.”
The announcement brought a startling end to the story of the Musashi: sank by an American naval force, discovered by an American billionaire. “Since my youth, I have been fascinated with World War II history, inspired by my father’s service in the U.S. Army,” Allen said in a statement. “The Musashi is truly an engineering marvel and, as an engineer at heart, I have a deep appreciation for the technology and effort that went into its construction.”
As do I. And he does appear to have found her. This photograph from Allen's expedition appears to be of a chrysanthemum crest, which was placed on the bow of only the Imperial Japanese Navy's largest warships:

As you can imagine, this discovery has significant emotional meaning in Japan:
A former crew member of the Musashi, a battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy that was sunk by U.S. forces during World War II, said he felt "a sense of destiny" in the apparent discovery of the battleship by a U.S. billionaire almost 70 years after the war's end.
"I never thought the Musashi would be found," said Reiichi Chigira, 90, of Yokosuka, Japan, on Friday. "I want to see her with my own eyes." His eyes were glued to video footage of what appeared to be the Musashi.
The Musashi was the second Yamato-class battleship. It was sunk in the Sibuyan Sea in the Philippines in October 1944.
Chigira became a Musashi crew member at the age of 18 in August 1943. When he saw the Musashi, said to be the world's largest ship at that time along with her sister ship the Yamato, he thought it was "just like an iron castle" and would never be sunk.
After the course of the war worsened for Japan, the Musashi joined an operation off the Philippine island of Leyte in October 1944.
However, the ship came under attack by numerous U.S. warplanes when she was sailing in the Sibuyan Sea on October 24. Chigira said his comrades were tossed by a bomb blast and the deck was covered with blood.
After five hours of bomb and torpedo attacks, the Musashi tilted by nearly 90 degrees and sank that evening. Many crew members were pulled into the sea. Chigira was rescued after drifting for about four hours.
Of the 2,399 people aboard, more than 1,000 died.
"The time I spent on Musashi was my entire life," Chigira said. He said he had wondered where the battleship lay, and that he hopes the personal belongings of the dead and their remains will be recovered from the wreck on the seabed.
There are not a lot of pictures of either the Musashi or the Yamato out there (and even fewer for the Shinano, the third sister ship that was converted into a bizarre aircraft carrier and sunk under even more bizarre circumstances). Below is one of the more famous ones: The Musashi under US Navy air attack in the Sibuyan Sea. You can barely see her bow and bridge tower (a departure from the famous pagoda mast design of Japanese battleships) amidst the smoke, flames, splashes, and explosions.

Below is, as I understand it, the last known photograph of the Musashi, down by the bow after receiving some 19 torpedo and 17 bomb hits and desperately staggering to find some place to beach herself. She failed.

The good folks at the Imperial Japanese Navy Page have the Musashi's record here.

This is indeed reason to celebrate. These are the times when history comes alive.

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