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Navy Warplanes May Come Back To Life

TBD's Submerged Since WWII In South Pacific

Divers and other crew members from USS Safeguard assisted the Naval Historical Center (NHC) and The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) in a scientific survey of two submerged World War II aircraft in waters near Jaluit Atoll, Republic of Marshall Islands on October 12.

The submerged aircraft — lost since the early days of World War II — are two U.S. Douglas Torpedo Bomber Devastators (TBDs). The teams collected samples from the wrecks to determine their suitability for recovery and preservation.

"This was a unique opportunity for Safeguard to be involved in the conservation and preservation of an important part of naval history," said Lieutenant Commander Doyle Hodges, Safeguard’s commanding officer. "Just the process of getting to the wreck site in the Marshalls gives you a good appreciation for the bravery of the Sailors who took these aircraft with rudimentary navigation systems across thousands of miles of open ocean. Additionally, the diving conditions in the lagoon were terrific."

These planes were lost after attacking the Japanese headquarters on the Marshall Islands immediately following the bombings of Pear Harbor. They launched from USS Yorktown, but couldn't find a path through the weather back to the ship. They ran out of fuel, and ditched in the large central lagoon near the Jaluit Atoll.

TBDs served with distinction at the Battle of Midway. At Midway, the "Devastators" suffered horrendous losses, but by diverting the Japanese fighter cover, they enabled the American dive bombers to do their deadly work in destroying Japanese carriers. That victory would turn the tide of the Pacific War.

One of the two TBD Devastators rests on a coral ledge at only 50 feet and the other on the bottom at 130. The shallower airplane was found and identified in 1997. The deeper Devastator was located in 2002.

In 2004, TIGHAR, a civilian nonprofit historical foundation, conducted an initial survey of the possibility of recovery and preservation for the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

Dr. Robert Neyland, NHC underwater archaeologist, accompanied the TIGHAR expedition. Neyland recommended that Navy salvage experts provide support to plan the logistics of recovery and transport; Safeguard was chosen for the role.

During the recent survey operation, the TIGHAR team, at their own expense, mapped the extent of corrosion to both wrecks and conducted analysis of water chemistry, aluminum thickness measurements and site mapping. The data collected will tell if recovery and preservation is feasible.

"Safeguard divers were proud to be a part of a survey effort that shows promise of leading to a successful recovery of a TBD Devastator," said Senior Chief Navy Diver Jeffrey Sampson, Safeguard’s master diver. "The data recovered while working with TIGHAR and the Naval Historical Society will be an integral part in future salvage and preservation operations."

ANN salutes the men and women of the USS Safeguard and Task Force 76.

FMI: www.navy.mil

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