Researchers for the first time have performed a detailed search of three deep-sea shipwrecks from the Battle of Midway, discovering new details that could help researchers better understand a critical turning point in World War II.
The three shipwrecks were recently surveyed by a crew aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus, according to the Ocean Exploration Trust, a nonprofit group dedicated to seafloor exploration.
The crew used remote-controlled vessels to film and photograph the USS Yorktown, as well as the wreckage of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s Akagi and Kaga.
“We methodically circumnavigated these historic wrecks, bringing to light many features in great detail, including armament, battle and sinking-related damage,” Daniel Wagner, the chief scientist for the Ocean Exploration Trust, said in a news release. The trust led the project in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The site is the final resting place for hundreds of sailors on both sides of the conflict; the expedition team conducted ceremonies to honor the site’s history.
Samuel Cox, director of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, said the project would help “document and assess” important war grave sites for American and Japanese sailors.
The shipwrecks are more than 16,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. The crew’s equipment took about 43 hours to survey the three historic wrecks, according to Wagner.
The Battle of Midway took place over several days in June 1942 about 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu. The Japanese navy aimed to expand its reach in the Pacific Ocean by launching an attack on a U.S. base on Midway Atoll, a small group of islands that were of strategic importance.
U.S. forces had broken the Japanese navy’s code and were able to prepare a counterattack, which ultimately devastated its fleet and helped America gain the upper hand in the Pacific, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Between the two sides of the conflict, more than 3,400 service members died.
Seven major ships were sunk, including the Akagi, Kaga and Yorktown. The two Japanese ships — both aircraft carriers — were scuttled by Japanese destroyers after fires burned on board. A Japanese torpedo sank the Yorktown.