Ocean explorer Tim Taylor is searching for a US submarine that mysteriously vanished 77 years ago, with 80 men on board. Nobody had any trace of the lost craft or had any clue what happened to her. Tim had endured lots of frustration, but one day, as he brought his underwater vehicle back to the surface, he spotted something that made the hairs on his arms stand on end.
The sub Tim and his team were looking for was the U.S.S. Grayback, and it's part of the Lost 52 Project, a salvage operation that aimed to locate the 52 US submarines that were lost during WWII. The Grayback was declared as missing in March 1944, and ever since, nothing had been revealed about the vessel's mysterious disappearance.
The Grayback embarked on her 10th patrol on Jan. 28, 1944 from Pearl Harbor, and it would prove to be her final one. On Feb. 24 and Feb. 25, the sub sent two reports back to base, saying she'd sunk several Japanese freighters and damaged some others but had been left with only two torpedoes. So the craft decided to sail to Midway Atoll for resupply, but she never arrived.
And that message was the last anyone heard from the Grayback. It was anticipated that the sub would dock at the Midway Atoll on Mar. 7, but she never appeared. More alarmingly, there was no sign of her 3 weeks later. So on Mar. 30, the authorities posted the Grayback and its 80 crew members as lost at sea. Yet the question remained: what had happened to the sub?
80 submariners disappeared without a trace, leaving their beloved ones devastated and looking for answers. But no trace of the missing craft was ever found, even after years of searching. The lost Grayback and her crew had played their role during WWII and were a huge asset to the US navy. And that came as no surprise when you learnt who built the craft.
The Grayback was made by the legendary Electric Boat Company that had been creating subs since 1899. The shipyard built 85 subs in WWI, including the US Navy's very first sub - the U.S.S. Holland. The Grayback was one of the 74 subs the company constructed in WWII and one of the 7 Tambor-class vessels that didn't survive the war.
The size of the Grayback makes it improbable that she'd been brought down. The craft measured over 300 feet from stem to stern, over 27 feet at the widest point, and displaced 2,410 tons underwater. Her maximum surface speed was roughly 20 knots, but underwater, she traveled at below 9 knots, which allowed her to stay submerged for up to 48 hours or cruise up to 12,500 miles.
The Grayback was powerful and well-equipped. Her two propellers were driven by a quartet of electric motors, charged by four diesel engines. She was armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, a 50-caliber machine gun, and Bofors 40mm and Oerlikon 20mm cannons. These weapons had played their part in both defense and attack, but failed to prevent the sub's final fate.
Launched on Jan. 31, 1941, the Grayback was commissioned into the US Navy on Jun. 30. She then embarked on her shakedown cruise on Long Island Sound to test out her systems and familiarize the crew with the craft. With things going well, the sub went on to patrol the Chesapeake Bay and the Caribbean Sea in Sep. 1941. Then the Pearl Harbor incident happened.
The Grayback started her first wartime patrol on Feb. 15, 1942, when the US was embroiled in WWII. She cruised along the coast of Guam island that had previously been attacked by Japan in Dec. 1941. The patrol lasted three weeks and saw a skirmish, but the sub managed to remain unscathed and even sunk her first ship - a Japanese cargo ship of 3,291 tons.
The Grayback's second patrol was relatively uneventful, but her next two tours of duty in the South China Sea were unfortunately blighted. Nevertheless, she succeeded in hitting an enemy sub and several merchant ships. On Dec. 7, 1942, her fifth patrol, a comparatively eventful one, started from Australia.
On Christmas Day 1942, the Grayback surfaced and sank four landing barges after catching them unawares. At the beginning of 1943, the sub - alongside the destroyer U.S.S. Fletcher - sank the Imperial Japanese Navy vessel I-18 and her 102 crewmen. Plus, the American craft executed a daring rescue operation.
The Grayback's submariners were assigned to ferry six airmen, who were stranded on the Solomon Islands after their bomber had been attacked. This action won her captain the Navy Cross and a US Army Silver Star. She continued to torpedo a few Japanese crafts but was heavily damaged on her hull, which forced her to return to Australia.
After her sixth patrol without any successful attacks in Feb. 1943, the Grayback set off on her seventh from Brisbane on Apr. 25, 1943. On this cruise, she seriously damaged an enemy destroyer, two cargo vessels and sank two merchant ships. After these triumphs, the sub sailed back to Pearl Harbor and then on to San Francisco for a refit.
On Sep. 12, 1943, the Grayback began her eighth mission from Pearl Harbor alongside the U.S.S. Shad. At the Midway Atoll, the two were joined by the U.S.S. Cero, which constituted a joint attack force known as "wolfpack." This new tactic proved to be successful. The trio sank 38,000 tons of Japanese shipping and damaged another 3,300 tons.
On Dec. 2, 1943, the Grayback set off on her ninth patrol for the East China Sea again from Pearl Harbor. Over this tour, the sub sank four Japanese ships in five days, using up all her torpedoes. She then returned to Pearl Harbor once again for a layover. And just three weeks later, the Grayback set sail for her tenth and final mission.
As we learned earlier, the Grayback's last message was heard on Feb. 25, 1944. After that, nothing more was ever heard from the sub and her 80 sailors. No one had expected that it'd be over seven decades before somebody found out where the missing Grayback was laid to rest and what exactly had happened to her.
Initially, the US Navy thought the Grayback had sunk somewhere 100 miles to the southeast of Japan's Okinawa island. But this assumption depended on data that had a crucial error. The relevant file kept by Japan included a wrongly transcribed single digit in a map reference. As a result, the Grayback's location was actually far from what had been assumed since 1949.
The crucial single-digit mistake was discovered by Japanese researcher Yutaka Iwasaki, who joined Tim at his invitation. Iwasaki combed through all the relevant documents and verified that the problematic file had been transcribed from a report the Grayback radioed from Naha to Sasebo on Feb. 27, 1944 - just two days after she had reported back to base for the last time.
The report also unraveled the mysterious disappearance haunting the Grayback. It detailed that on Feb. 27, a Japanese Nakajima B5N torpedo bomber had discharged a 500-pound bomb, and had hit the sub to the rear of the conning tower. The craft had then blown up and quickly sunk without any apparent survivors.
In Nov. 2019, Iwasaki spoke about his astonishing discoveries to The New York Times. "In that radio record, there [are] a longitude and a latitude of the attack, very clearly," he described. But these coordinates marked a location that was over 100 miles away from what the US Navy has thought to be the Grayback's graveyard.
Armed with this new information, Tim and his Lost 52 Project team assumed that they had now a realistic chance of finding the remains of the Grayback. And as expected, they did locate the lost submarine. To their surprise, the sub's hull was almost in one piece even after seven decades under the sea. And this discovery caused mixed emotions for everyone involved.
Tim and his team "were elated. But it's also sobering because we just found 80 men." The discovery was especially momentous for the relatives of the 80 lost seamen aboard the Grayback. They felt shock, grief and finally got peace. One said, "The discovery brings closure to the questions that surrounded the Grayback as far as its sinking and location. I believe it will allow healing as relatives of crew members come together to share their stories."