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U.S. Navy ship sunk in WWII becomes deepest wreck ever discovered

The wreck of the USS Samuel B. Roberts, also known as the Sammy B, was found in two pieces on a slope off the Philippines last week at a depth of more than 22,600 feet.

The remains of a U.S. Navy destroyer escort that sank in a World War II battle against Japan have been found in what is believed to be the deepest wreck ever discovered.

The wreck of the USS Samuel B. Roberts, also known as the Sammy B, was found in two pieces on a slope off the Philippines last week at a depth of more than 22,600 feet, according to a statement by the American explorer Victor Vescovo and the British company EYOS Expeditions. That's more than four miles deep.

“It was an extraordinary honor to locate this incredibly famous ship, and by doing so, have the chance to retell her story of heroism and duty to those who may not know of the ship and her crew’s sacrifice,” said Vescovo, a former Navy commander and the founder of Caladan Oceanic, a marine-technology development company based in Dallas.

Vescovo also identified what was previously the world’s deepest wreck, the USS Johnston, in the same area last year at a depth of more than 21,200 feet.

Both ships contributed to American victory in the October 1944 Battle off Samar, part of the broader Battle of Leyte Gulf, which has been called the largest naval battle in history.

From left: The aft gun mount and the pilot house section of the USS Samuel B. Roberts are seen along the ocean floor.
From left: The aft gun mount and the pilot house section of the USS Samuel B. Roberts are seen along the ocean floor. Caladan Oceanic / via AP

Despite being outgunned, the Sammy B attacked a fleet of imperial Japanese navy ships led by the Yamato, the largest battleship ever constructed, before sinking under fire in the Philippine Sea, earning it a description as “the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship.” Among its 224 crew members, 89 were killed. 

“This small ship took on the finest of the Japanese Navy, fighting them to the end,” Vescovo said on Twitter, where he shared underwater video of parts of the Sammy B’s stern.

According to Samuel J. Cox, a retired admiral and director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, the Sammy B’s commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. Robert Copeland, said he was honored to lead his men in a battle in which they faced “overwhelming odds.”

“This site is a hallowed war grave, and serves to remind all Americans of the great cost borne by previous generations for the freedom we take for granted today,” Cox said in the statement.

In June, the expedition team conducted six dives over eight days in its search for the Sammy B, as well as the escort carrier USS Gambier Bay, using what Caladan Oceanic says is the deepest side-scan sonar ever installed and operated on a submersible. 

“Using a combination of detective work and innovative technology, everyone has pulled together to reveal the final resting place of this tenacious ship,” Kelvin Murray of EYOS Expeditions said.

The wreck of the Gambier Bay has yet to be found.

CORRECTION (June 28, 2022, 8:14 a.m. ET): The headline and text of a previous version of this article incorrectly described the USS Samuel B. Roberts. It was a destroyer escort, not a destroyer.