August 15, 2018 – Project Recover Discovers Stern of World War II U.S. Destroyer off Remote Alaskan Island in NOAA-supported Mission. Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Delaware collaborate on find

For almost 75 years, the stern of the destroyer USS Abner Read lay somewhere below the dark surface of the Bering Sea off the Aleutian island of Kiska, where it sank after being torn off by an explosion while conducting an anti-submarine patrol. Seventy-one U.S. Navy sailors were lost in the aftermath of the blast, during a brutal and largely overlooked early campaign of World War II.

Heroic action by the crew saved the ship, but for the families of the doomed sailors, the final resting place of loved ones lost in the predawn hours of Aug. 18, 1943 remained unknown.

On July 17, a NOAA Office of Exploration and Research-funded team of scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the University of Delaware aided by four U.S. Navy sailors assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Group discovered the missing 75- foot stern section in 290 feet of water off Kiska, one of only two United States territories to be occupied by foreign forces in the last 200 years.

“This is a significant discovery that will shed light on this little-known episode in our history,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, PhD, acting under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “It’s important to honor these U.S. Navy sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.”

Abner Read was on patrol at about 1:50 a.m. when the massive explosion — presumed to be from a Japanese mine — ripped the destroyer apart. Somehow the crew kept the main part of Abner Read’s hull watertight, and two nearby Navy ships towed it back to port. “This was catastrophic damage that by all rights should have sunk the entire ship,” said Sam Cox, curator of the Navy and director of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Within months, the destroyer was back in the war. It went on to fight in several battles in the Pacific Theater before being destroyed in November 1944 by a Japanese dive bomber in a kamikaze attack during the battle of Leyte Gulf. Abner Read received four battle stars for her World War II service.

Meanwhile, the ship’s shorn stern was lost but not forgotten. Finding it was a primary goal of the July mission to document the underwater battlefield off Kiska. In addition to NOAA and Scripps, the project was supported by Project Recover.

Historians have been able to study battles on Kiska and Attu, the Aleutian islands that were attacked and occupied by as many as 7,200 Japanese forces from June 1942 to mid-August 1943, but this Kiska mission was the first to thoroughly explore the underwater battlefield. Many ships, aircraft and submarines from both the United States and Japan were lost during a punishing 15-month campaign to reclaim this distant windy and fogbound corner of America.

Now, recent advancements in undersea technology, many developed by the Office of Naval Research, are helping to reveal the forgotten histories of long-ago valor.

After multibeam sonar mounted to the side of the research ship Norseman II identified a promising target, the team sent down a deep-diving, remotely operated vehicle to capture live video for confirmation. “There was no doubt,” said expedition leader Eric Terrill, an oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and co-founder of Project Recover. “We could clearly see the broken stern, the gun and rudder control, all consistent with the historical documents.”

“We’ve entered a new age of exploration,” added Mark Moline, director of the School of marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware and co-founder of Project Recover. “New sensors and improved underwater robots that can bring back real-time images are driving new discoveries.”

Wrecks like Abner Read are protected from activities that disturb, remove, or damage them or their contents by Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, though exceptions can made for activities that have archaeological, historical, or educational purposes. The twisted metal and sharp edges of sunken military wreckage can pose life-threatening risks to divers, but according to the Naval History and Heritage Command, there’s a more important reason to protect sites like the Abner Read. They are often war graves, recognized by the U.S. Navy as the fit and final resting place for those who perished at sea.

“We take our responsibility to protect those wrecks seriously,” said Cox. “They’re the last resting place of American sailors.”

  • Reply

    Preston [ Burt] Arthur Burtis 3

    16 08 2018

    The news of this just totally floored me…i couldnt help but shed a tear.My father Preston A.Burtis jr.was on the ship he was a gunnery officer…he too was lucky enough to survive both episodes.He passed away in 2006…he would have loved knowing about this….will you look for the whole ship in Leyte Gulf.From what i remember watching the History channel it was the first destroyer sunk by kamakasie in ww2.

    • Reply

      hbatchelor

      16 08 2018

      On behalf of the Project Recover team, please accept our sympathies for the loss of your father. I am sending your contact information to our Historians, surviving both tragedies on the ship is truly remarkable. Any further details you may have from your father would be wonderful additions to our database. Very Respectfully, Project Recover

  • Reply

    Cheryl

    16 08 2018

    Thanks for finding this ship and bringing attention to the Aleutian Islands war. All those soldiers who died can now be honored. My dad, 101, was stationed by the Army there 1941-1944. He likes to refer to the June 1942 time as the Williwaw War. The base was constantly on full alert and he is full of stories. We have not found much information about soldiers still living, so it’s a nice surprise for him to know not all have forgotten the war fought in the Aleutians.

    • Reply

      hbatchelor

      16 08 2018

      Please accept our gratitude as Americans for your father’s service. I am sending your information to our Historians, they will contact you soon. Any additional information your father can share would be wonderful to include our database. Very Respectfully, Project Recover

  • Reply

    Becky Burtis

    16 08 2018

    My father, Preston Burtis, Jr. was in the bow both times the Abner Reed was sunk. Once he was in a lifeboat, the other, he was alone in the water.Hes shared a few stories with me that I treasure. But these remarkable photos, I had never seen.
    I went. In sorrow, in gratitude, in love, in honor. With all my heart, I thank you for your efforts. You may contact me if you wish. With deep gratitude…

    • Reply

      hbatchelor

      16 08 2018

      On behalf of all Project Recover members, we gratefully acknowledge your father’s service as well as the consequent sacrifices made by you and your family. I am sending your contact information to our Historian team, they will contact you soon. Very Respectfully, Project Recover

  • Reply

    Kayla Jardine

    16 08 2018

    Hi there,

    I work for Radio.com and we’d love to do a produced piece on your discovery. Can we use the video and images you shared with credit to you? We’ll also link back to the original.

    Thank you,
    Kayla

  • Reply

    Becky Burtis

    19 08 2018

    Again I warmly thank you for your treasured efforts.My sister, brother and I can barely contain our enthusiasm and gratitude. Your keeping these memories alive is a grand and Noble effort. I only have pieces of stories to share but would joyfully share them, should anyone want to hear them. What an irreplaceable gift you have given us through Project Recover.
    Deepest thanks.

  • Reply

    Larry Phillips

    20 08 2018

    Thank you for this work. My grandfather was one of the Sailors that lost his life on the Abner Reed. His name was Sidney Augustine Phillips, Jr. My father was three years old and my aunt was just three days old. Obviously the family was devastated. The Navy would not confirm the deaths so the family held out hope he was a POW. To read all of the letters from that time is very touching. It was a dream of mine that this would happen and these sailors would at last be found. I do wish my grandmother was still alive to see this. I know my father and aunt will be very comforted by this find. We have all been very proud of the saccrafice made by our grandfather and I am truly grateful for all involved in making this discovery possible.
    With Greatest Regards,

    Larry Phillips

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