REPORTS DISCOVERY OF JAPANESE WORLD WAR II SUBMARINE
August 29, 2002 — A routine training dive in a submersible in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor turned out to be a historical event for a member of NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program. “We were participating in an exercise in an area littered with war debris and there it was,” said Al Kalvaitis, safety and operations director for NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program. “I can’t believe it. It was like finding the Titanic.” (Click NOAA image for larger view of Al Kalvaitis who is all smiles after the discovery of the Japanese submarine, which can be scene on the submersible’s monitor. Click here for high resolution version of this image. Please note this is a large file. Please credit "NOAA.")
The discovery is a Japanese Imperial Navy submarine believed to be the first casualty of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The discovery confirms accounts that the USS Ward fired the first shots on that day.
Kalvaitis was one of three people aboard the Pisces IV, a submersible used in underwater research, on August 28. He was also one of the first people to set eyes on the submarine in 61 years. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Al Kalvaitis as he prepares to leave the submersible Pisces IV, after the discovery of the Japanese submarine. Click here for high resolution version of this image. Please note this is a large file. Please credit "NOAA.")
“We had been out about four hours after we began the dive when we came across it,” said Kalvaitis. “The exercise also used another submersible, Pisces V. This was only the second time both submersibles had dived together.”
The submersibles were engaged in a routine training mission for safety and operations when they came upon the missing submarine. In his role as safety and operations director, the six-foot seven-inch-tall Kalvaitis has been in five different types of submersibles, checking safety protocols and operating standards. This was his first dive in a 20-foot-long Pisces.
“We were at the very last target of the training day and the training year when we came across it,” Kalvaitis said.
A side scan sonar was done last year of the field, which is a watery military junkyard of vehicles, barges and other debris left over from the war. The area provides a great training ground for maneuvering and locating exercises for the submersibles, said John Wilshire, acting director of NURP’s National Undersea Research Center at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Pisces IV submersible being lowered into the ocean for the mission that led to the discovery of the Japanese submarine. Click here for high resolution version of this image. Please note this is a large file. Please credit "NOAA.")
“We thought there was something, but we weren’t expecting anything this dramatic,” said Kalvaitis. “When we saw the shell hole, we knew what we had found, and it caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up.”
The shell hole was in the conning tower of the submarine. Accounts told of the USS Ward firing upon a Japanese “midget” submarine, but until Wednesday’s find, the story was unconfirmed.
“It was just unbelievable,” Kalvaitis said. “You think ‘it can’t be happening,’ but we identified it right away. It was intact and we got within four feet of the conning tower.”
Two persons were aboard the submarine when it sank. Kalvaitis said he did not know what would be done with the submarine, which is the property of the Japanese government. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Pisces IV, a submersible used in underwater research.)
“The discovery just left me speechless,” Kalvaitis said. “This is a significant find for NOAA, the nation and the world.”
According to historical accounts, the submarine was one of five sent by the Japanese to slip into Pearl Harbor and wait for the air attack. None of the submarines returned to the Japanese fleet. One was rammed and sunk by a U.S. destroyer, another washed ashore in Waimanalo, and a third was found in the waters off of Oahu in the 1960s. The Aug. 28 find now leaves one “midget” submarine unaccounted for.