LOST 52 PROJECT
Tim Taylor and his team searched for a U.S. submarine that disappeared without a trace 75 years ago with 80 sailors aboard.
But while attempting to solve the decades-old mystery, his underwater vehicle developed a fault. Frustrated, Taylor brought the craft back to the surface, not expecting to find much. Then he glanced at the recorded data, and the truth was enough to make his arm hairs stand on end.
The sub the researchers were searching for is the U.S.S. Grayback. Or, as it was less lyrically known, the S.S.-208. This salvage operation was carried out on behalf of the Lost 52 Project, which is dedicated to locating the 52 U.S. submarines that disappeared in WWII. That’s right: the U.S. Navy had posted the Grayback as missing in late March 1944, over 75 years ago. And little is known about the sub’s mysterious disappearance.
On January 28, 1944, the Grayback embarked on a combat patrol from Pearl Harbor. It was her tenth mission – and, as it happens, it would be her final one. The sub sent a message back to base on February 24, reporting that she’d sunk the Japanese freighters Toshin Maru and Taikei Maru and hit two others. But that wasn’t the last anybody heard from her.
Never Reached Its Destination
The sub made another report on February 25. Her crew said the craft had done serious damage to the liner Asama Maru – a Japanese troop carrier – and sunk the tanker Nanpo Maru. But these attacks over two days had left the Grayback with just two torpedoes. So she had to set sail to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific for resupply. Yet the craft never arrived.
Three Weeks Missing
That February 25 radio message was the last anyone heard from the Grayback. Navy commanders had anticipated that the submarine would dock at Midway Atoll on March 7, 1944 – but there was no sign of her on that date. Even more alarmingly, the Grayback still hadn’t appeared three weeks later. So the authorities had no choice but to declare her and her crew of 80 as lost at sea. They did this on March 30. Still the question remained: what had happened to the Grayback?
Dozens of men had seemingly perished, leaving their devastated loved ones looking for answers. But there was simply no trace of the submarine that had proved to be a huge asset to the U.S. Navy. And make no mistake about it: the Grayback and her crew had played their part in many WWII battles. That’s perhaps not surprising when you consider the craft was built at the legendary Groton, Connecticut’s Electric Boat Company.
Lost 52 Project
And it wasn’t until 2018, when American Tim Taylor decided to re-examine the case of the Grayback’s disappearance, that the mystery was untangled. Taylor is the founder of the Lost 52 Project – a private enterprise working to find the remains of the 52 submarines that disappeared without trace during the Second World War.
But in fall 2010 Taylor and his crew aboard Research Vessel Tiburon discovered the remains of the R-12 using a high-tech remotely controlled robot. The team also went on to revisit the area on further expeditions, mapping the site and taking images of the wreck. In addition, they made every effort to contact surviving relatives of the submariners who had died in the accident.
And it was that successful hunt for the wreck of the R-12 that prompted Taylor to found the Lost 52 Project. The organization takes its name from the fact that 52 submarines were sunk without a trace during World War II. These tragedies had an extremely high human cost, too, with 3,505 submariners perishing in total.
In particular, Taylor wants to both uncover the fates of these sunken subs for posterity and, crucially, to give family members of the lost seamen some closure. And along with locating the craft, Lost 52 works to create comprehensive surveys of the wreckage found, collects artifacts and makes material available for educational purposes.
What’s more, the Lost 52 Project has discovered two other WWII submarines alongside the R-12 and the Grayback. The U.S.S. Grunion was found off the coast of Alaska, while the U.S.S. S-28 was located in Hawaiian waters. A Cold War-era vessel, the U.S.S. Stickleback, was similarly found off Hawaii. Altogether, then, Taylor and his team’s efforts have been rewarded by notable successes.
Amazingly, the Lost 52 Project team did indeed find the lost submarine, whose hull was almost entirely in one piece even after several decades had passed. Yet this discovery was a cause for mixed emotions among the divers and researchers.
Clancy's comment: Well done, guys. Great determination.