In 1944, USS Samuel B. Roberts made the bravest attack in US history. Now the wreck of the small destroyer escort has been discovered.

The small destroyer escort “USS Samuel B. Roberts”, nicknamed “Sammy B”, was discovered at a depth of 6985 meters. The wreck, broken in two, was found by Victor Vescovo, founder of Dallas-based Caladan Oceanic Expeditions. It is currently the deepest wreck ever found in the world. A year ago, the researchers had already tracked down the “USS Johnston”, the “Sammy B.” is 426 meters lower. Both ships sank in the same naval battle in 1944.

The published pictures show the torpedo tubes and the section of the pilot house. “It was an extraordinary honor to seek out this incredibly famous ship and thereby have the chance to tell her story of heroism and duty to those who may not know the ship and the sacrifice of her crew,” said Vescovo, himself a former Navy Commander, in a statement.

“It looks like her bow hit the seabed with some force, which is what caused the kink. Her stern also separated about 5 meters on impact, but the whole wreck was still together. This little ship has it with her picked up the best in the Japanese Navy and fought them to the end.”

Legend of the Tin Can Sailors

The “Sammy B.” is a maritime legend. She took part in the final phase of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, the Battle of Samar. At that time, the Imperial Navy of Japan wanted to drive the Americans out of the Philippines, but they suffered their greatest loss of ships. The naval battle around Midway initiated the turning point in the Pacific War (Midway – the most important naval battle of the Second World War), the defeat in Leyte Gulf sealed Japan’s fate. The discoverers said that historical records of the wreck’s location were not very accurate. The search used the deepest side-scan sonar ever installed and operated on a submersible.

The name “Samuel B. Roberts” is based on a heroic tradition. The destroyer was named after a sailor. A group of marines got stuck on the beach while landing on the island of Guadalcanal and were shot up by the Japanese. The helmsmen of the wooden boats that the soldiers had brought to the beach decided to turn around to rescue the marines. Roberts directed the Japanese fire at his boat to allow the others to land. He was fatally injured in the process. Shortly thereafter, the small destroyer was named after him, he was baptized by his widow.

Fought like a battleship

Actually, the group of small destroyers, to which the “Samuel B. Roberts” belonged, should only form a warning screen for the US aircraft carriers. They should not take part in naval battles. But on the morning of October 25, 1944, Japan’s battle fleet suddenly appeared on the horizon, including three battleships. Among them was the Yamato, the largest battleship ever built.

The destroyer flotilla was the only thing standing between the heavily armed Japanese warships and the defenseless destroyer escorts and troop carriers. With no chance of success or survival, the destroyers set course for the Japanese giants. The Japanese were fooled into believing the attacking swarm to be the vanguard of the US fleet. In the end they turned around and the fully occupied troop transports were rescued.

Before the attack, Captain Robert W. Copeland said to his crew, “We are attempting a torpedo attack. The result is doubtful, but we will do our duty.” The “Samuel B. Roberts” shortened the distance and was able to land a torpedo hit on the stern of the cruiser “Chōkai”. The “Sammy B.” shelled the much larger cruiser with her 12.7-centimeter guns. Copeland brought his ship close enough for the anti-aircraft guns to pound the cruiser, while the cruiser struggled to hit the nearby target with its heavy batteries. Then she set course for the next cruiser, the “Chikuma”. Here, too, the “Samuel B. Roberts” landed several hits.

One hour battle

The team fought doggedly for 60 minutes. Rear gunner Paul H. Carr was posthumously awarded the Silver Star medal. Severely injured with a torn body, he fired all available grenades at the enemy. The ammunition on board ran out when the “Sammy B.” first hit by a volley from a cruiser’s 20-centimeter guns. Then a volley from the battleship “Kongō” hit. The 36 centimeter caliber shells tore a ten by three meter hole in the destroyer’s hull.

The commander abandoned the ship, 30 minutes later it sank. 89 men died, 120 survivors were later fished out. Copeland was among the survivors. He later wrote that his men could not wait to survive. And yet “they manned their stations and fought and worked with such calm, valor, and efficiency that there can be no higher honor than to command such a body of men.”

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