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Akagi – The magnificent aircraft carrier seen for the first time since its sinking

Published: October 2, 2023 - 14:52
Updated: October 2, 2023 - 14:52
Akagi – The magnificent aircraft carrier seen for the first time since its sinking

Japan’s World War II-era battleship Akagi was one of the largest aircraft carriers at the time, and now we could see it for the first time since it sank in 1942.

Although the wreck of the aircraft carrier Akagi was found in 2019, it is only now that researchers have managed to reach the wreck and prepare video footage documenting its condition. This allowed the legendary Japanese warship to be seen by human eyes for the first time since it was sunk by US Navy.

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Akagi warship wreck
First photos of IJN Akagi, Photo: Ocean Exploration Trust, NOAA

Exploring historical shipwreck

A survey mission carried out at the site of the sinking of several warships involved in the pivotal battle in the Pacific – the Battle of Midway – made it possible to examine the wrecks and evaluate their state of preservation. Experts, using high-tech equipment, conducted an in-depth inspection of three World War II aircraft carriers that sank as a result of the battle – IJN Akagi, USS Yorktown and IJN Kaga.

The main goal of the research was to create documentation of these extremely important warships that have made history. During three descents to the wrecks to a depth of more than 5,100 meters (16,600 feet), extensive material was collected that will serve scientists on the surface. It’s also worth noting that for the E/V Nautilius unit, which has more than 1,000 underwater operations on its record, these were the deepest descents so far.

This expedition is not only rewriting history and our understanding of these special places but also pushing the limits of what we thought was possible in terms of interdisciplinary collaboration. During over 43 hours at depth, we methodically circumnavigated these historic wrecks, bringing to light many features in great detail, including their armament, battle, and sinking-related damage. Many anti-aircraft guns were still pointing up, providing clues about the final moments on these iconic ships – says Daniel Wagner, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for Ocean Exploration Trust.

Between September 8-12, 2023, a joint U.S.-Japanese research team, operating under the direction of the Ocean Exploration Trust, conducted the survey on board of the Nautilus, a vessel perfectly suited for the purpose. People around the world were also able to follow the wrecks exploration live thanks to an online video stream available through NautilusLive.org.

US Navy WW2 aircraft carrier USS Yorktown
The island of aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, Photo: Ocean Exploration Trust, NOAA

An important part of our mission here at the Naval History and Heritage Command is to locate, interpret, and protect lost U.S. Navy ships and aircraft, particularly those that represent the last resting place of American sailors. We’re incredibly grateful for collaborative relationships – such as that with the Ocean Exploration Trust and NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration on this expedition – which enable us to document and assess the condition of these important war graves of both American and Japanese sailors – says Samuel Cox, Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command. 

Locating the wreck of the Akagi aircraft carrier

The wreck of the legendary Japanese ship was located in 2019 by a research team operating from the RV Petrel unit. The IJN Akagi was the flagship of the First Air Fleet (Kido Butai) and one of the largest aircraft carriers that fought during World War II. Built in 1925, the ship was sunk by US Navy units during the Battle of Midway, which became a turning point in the war in the Pacific.

On October 18, 2019, a research team from RV Petrel reported jointly with the US Navy that the wreck of the Japanese ship Kaga had been found at a depth of 5,400 meters. It was one of four Japanese ships (Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu and Akagi) captured and sunk in an ambush set up by the US Navy. With such a clue, it was a matter of time when explorers would locate the wrecks of the other ships.

IJN Akagi was the only completed aircraft carrier, built by converting the hulls of two unfinished Amagi-type cruisers. Its construction began on December 7, 1920 and the completed vessel was launched on April 22, 1925.The Akagi measured 260.68 meters in length and was 31.32 meters wide. The aircraft carrier developed a top speed of 31.2 knots, and its operational range at an economy speed of 16 knots was 8200 Mm.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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