Delaware professor helps locate World War II ship hidden for 75 years

Project Recover searches for the stern of the USS Abner Read near Kiska, Alaska, in July. (Project Recover)

Project Recover searches for the stern of the USS Abner Read near Kiska, Alaska, in July. (Project Recover)

Calling themselves Project Recover, several scientists are on a mission to find the remains of World War II soldiers still listed as missing in action.

In July, the team made a big discovery off the coast of the Alaskan island of Kiska — the stern of the USS Abner Read, which is believed to have sunk after striking a Japanese mine in 1943. The sinking claimed the lives of 71 American sailors. Of those killed that day, only one body was recovered.

“This, hopefully, will provide some closure for those families, knowing that now, in fact, it’s found, and the wreckage is still there,” said University of Delaware professor Mark Moline, a member of Project Recover. Moline also directs the university’s School of Marine Science and Policy.

After an explosion in the early morning hours of Aug. 18, 1943, a 75-foot section of the ship’s stern sank nearly 300 feet to the bottom of the sea. Somehow, the crew kept the remainder of the ship from sinking as it was towed back into port. After a few months of repairs, the Abner Read returned to fighting before it was completely destroyed by a Japanese kamikaze attack in 1944 during the battle of Leyte Gulf. The ship was awarded four battle stars for service during the war.

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Members of Project Recover lower a remotely operated apparatus to search for the stern of the USS Abner Read near Kiska, Alaska, in July. (Project Recover)

The location of the stern made it difficult for the Project Recover team to find. The site is in a very remote area of Alaska, close to Russia. Weather conditions frequently pose a challenge for research efforts in the area, but the team caught a lucky break early in the mission and made a big discovery less than an hour into their survey of the sea floor. After using side-scan sonar to identify the ship, the team followed up with underwater cameras that captured images and video of the wreck.

The work, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, teams University of Delaware  researchers with scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. The report on the Abner Read will be delivered to NOAA and the Department of Defense.

“We’ll provide all the information that we have to the agencies, and then it’s really in their decision making what happens next,” Moline said.

More sunken ships await on the ocean floor, perhaps the resting place of 1940s-era soldiers and sailors.

“Almost 20 percent of all casualties from World War II never got home and are still missing,” Moline said. “One in five families still don’t have a full accounting or closure for their loved ones.”

In the five years Moline has been with Project Recover, the team has found 17 aircraft and has recovered and repatriated the remains of a number of military members in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense.

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