The U.S.S. Samuel B Roberts, also known as the “Sammy B,” was discovered in the Philippine Sea at a depth of 22,916 feet last week by a team of explorers. The wreck is the deepest ever found, per the Associated Press. The Navy confirmed the wreck site in a statement on Monday.
Explorer and former naval commander Victor Vescovo of Caladan Oceanic Expeditions found the ship along with EYOS Expeditions, a U.K.-based exploration company.
“It was an extraordinary honor to locate this incredibly famous ship, and by doing so have the chance to retell her story of heroism and duty to those who may not know of the ship and her crew’s sacrifice,“ Vescovo says in a statement.
The Sammy B was the first ship named after Coxswain Samuel Booker Roberts, Jr., who was killed in World War II during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, per the Navy. Roberts took part in a mission to rescue a company that had been surrounded by Japanese forces, steering his boat directly into their fire to provide time and cover for the rescue. His ship was hit and he was mortally wounded in the process.
The ship bearing his name, a John C. Butler-class destroyer (a type of escort ship), was commissioned in 1944 and was sunk by Japanese forces during the Battle of Samar later that year. Two other ships, another destroyer and a frigate, were also later named the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts.
During the Battle of Samar, a “small US naval force successfully defended against the vastly superior Japanese Center Force, consisting of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 11 destroyers—including the largest and most heavily armed battleship ever constructed, the Yamato,” writes EYOS Expeditions in a Facebook post. The Sammy B damaged the Japanese fleet and delayed it for so long that it retreated, but the destroyer took a hit from the Yamato and sank. Eighty-nine people aboard the Sammy B died and 120 were saved, per the Associated Press. The rescued crew members were forced to cling to wreckage in the water for up to 50 hours, according to BBC News’s Jonathan Amos.
“The Sammy B bore evidence of the incredible, ferocious fight that she waged against the cream of the Imperial Japanese Navy,” Vescovo tells Amos. “There were shell holes. She obviously had taken a massive hit from a battleship on her stern quarter [the rear of the boat], with it basically blown apart.”
Vescovo tells BBC News that he was surprised they were able to locate the ship because there was so little debris pointing them in the right direction. Despite the ship being broken into two pieces, it was relatively intact, he tells the outlet. The team was searching for several vessels, and the Sammy B was the smallest.
The depth that the Sammy B’s wreckage was found at is particularly extreme—98 percent of the world’s oceans are shallower than the nearly 23,000 foot depth of its resting place, according to BBC News.
“Using a combination of detective work and innovative technology, everyone has pulled together to reveal the final resting place of this tenacious ship,” Kelvin Murray, expedition leader and director of Expedition Operations & Undersea Projects for EYOS, says in a statement. “It’s been challenging, thrilling and poignant expedition, one that recognizes the ships and sailors from all nations who fought so hard during this battle.”
The team discovered the U.S.S. Johnston last year in the Philippine Sea, which, at over 21,000 feet, was previously the deepest wreck ever discovered.
“At that depth, there’s so little oxygen that you don’t get near as much biological growth on the wrecks,” Vescovo tells BBC News. “So they can appear very much like they did when they were fighting back in 1944.”