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Navy thinks it’s found long-lost WWII sub

The U.S. Navy says a wreck found at the bottom of the Gulf of Thailand appears to be the USS Lagarto, a World War II submarine thought lost in the final days of the war.
/ Source: The Associated Press

For 60 years, Nancy Kenney wondered what happened to her father.

The submarine that William T. Mabin was in disappeared while he and his crewmates were on a mission to attack a Japanese convoy in the last months of World War II.

Now, the Navy says a wreck found at the bottom of the Gulf of Thailand appears to be the sub, the USS Lagarto.

“I have never in my life, unequivocally, felt such a high,” said Kenney, who was 2 years old when her father and the submarine did not return from their mission in May 1945.

“We can just feel a sense of relief and a sense of peace in knowing what happened and where they are,” said Kenney, of Lake LeeLanau, Mich.

Navy divers on Friday completed a six-day survey of the wreckage site. They took photos and video of the 311-foot, 9-inch submarine for further analysis by naval archeologists.

The divers found twin 5-inch gun mounts on the forward and rear parts of the ship — a feature believed to be unique to the Lagarto.

They also saw the word “Manitowoc” displayed on the submarine’s propeller, providing a connection to the Manitowoc, Wis., shipyard that built the Lagarto in the 1940s.

Aiming for a sense of closure
Eighty-six sailors died when the Lagarto sank in May 1945. The Japanese minelayer Hatsutaka reported dropping depth charges and sinking a U.S. sub in the area, though it was never known what ship it destroyed.

The Navy sent its divers to examine the ship to provide the sailors’ families with some answers after a British professional shipwreck diver last year found what looked like the Lagarto, said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force.

“It was important to bring a sense of closure to these families and it was important to do it in a way that would honor our fellow submariners,” Davis said.

The Navy wouldn’t do anything with the ship even if it conclusively determined it was the Lagarto, considering the sea to be a proper final resting place for “our people who are killed in action,” he said.

The wreckage site over 100 miles off the eastern coast of Thailand is also likely to go undisturbed.

U.S. laws and international agreements already protect sunken U.S. warships from looters or others who would disturb the site, Davis said.

Since Kenney was just a toddler when her father went to war, she has no conscious memories of their life in LaGrange, Ill. But she said news of the Navy’s dive “was the most important piece” of a puzzle about her father that she’s been trying to put together for six decades.

The children of the Lagarto sailors feel closer to their fathers now more than ever, she said.

“We feel like we’ve found our fathers,” Kenney said.