Мировой океан хранит в себе сотни, если не
тысячи, загадок. Некоторым из них века,
некоторым годы или десятилетия. Одна из
таких недавних загадок – место гибели
японского линкора «Ямаширо», который
затонул на юге Филиппин в последнем
крупном столкновении между японским и
Текст: БОРИС КОЛЬЦОВ, ЕЛЕНА КОНСТАНТИНУ
LOST IN THE DEPTH
World Ocean is still a place concealing multitudes of secrets – some of them ancient as time itself, some of them relatively new – just centuries or even dozens of years old. One of the more recent mysteries is the sinking of Yamashiro, a Japanese WWII Battleship that was sent to the bottom of Surigao Straits, Southern Philippines, by US Forces in the last major naval battle of the Second World War. Ever since, historians have been arguing about the exact location of Yamashiro’s final rest, and the 60-year old argument is still continuing. John Bennett, the former champion in deep scuba diving, made it the purpose of his life to resolve that mystery, people say that even his 1000-foot record-braking dive was aimed more at attracting enough sponsors to find the elusive battleship than at record-breaking as such. Alas, John died tragically, before he could live the dream of his life – touch the Yamashiro with his own hand.
NARRATOR: John Bennett went diving exactly because he was attracted by the mystery of sunken ships or “wrecks” as the divers call them. As you swim along a wreck claimed by one of the wars, he said once, you feel your link to human history, you see the ship and you feel it, you become one with it for that short duration of a deep dive…
The depth, however, was not the only thing that attracted John to Yamashiro, although the battleship is supposed to be anywhere from a mind-boggling 350 to 500 feet. There was more to it than the sheer challenge of the depth: no one had seen the battleship since the night of its sinking, and John wanted to break through the shroud of mystery, to be the first to discover it in its watery grave.
In the fall of 1997 the remains of once-mighty Imperial Navy of Japan set out on one of its last voyages. Their target was the Gulf of Leyte where the US forces were engaged in a major landing operation in order to secure an all-important strategic beachhead in the Philippines. The biggest Japanese force under the command of Vice Admiral Kurita was approaching Leyte from the North, spearheaded by the two super-battleships Yamato and Musashi, still considered by many the most powerful and beautiful warships ever made. Another force, somewhat less powerful, was closing in on Leyte from the south, going through the Surigao Straits. The southern force was based around two sister battleships, Yamashiro and Fuso. Both of them were about 600 feet long and 100 feet wide, with the tall superstructures that the Americans dubbed “Pagodas” amidships, slightly toward the bow.
Kurita’s northern force of the IJN was experiencing setbacks from the very start. It was detected and identified by a US submarine when it was still quite some distance from Leyte and was attacked by US aircraft more than once. Suffering losses and slowing down, it was still steaming ahead. The southern force commanded by Rear Admiral Nishimura seemed to be much luckier at first. It reached as far as the Straits of Surigao practically undetected by the enemy, they were only attacked once, early in the morning of October 24, on the eve of their mortal combat. In the evening of the same day the IJN warships led by the battleship Yamashiro entered the narrow Straits, steaming full seed ahead, toward the American beachhead on Leyte. At the exit from the Straits, however, their luck seemed to have run out, for there, lying in wait for them, was deployed a huge assembly of American naval forces. Nishimura’s two old battleships, four destroyers and one heavy cruiser all of a sudden faced a grouping of six battleships in the classic battle line formation across the straits, reinforced by dozens of cruisers, destroyers and PT boats. Seven Japanese major ships against 43 American ones, not to mention the 39 PT boats.
Did Nishimura know they were there? Yes he did, he had exact reconnaissance about the force waiting for him, but he still pressed on with his squadron, straight into the deadly trap.
Why did he decide to proceed on what was looking more and more like a suicide mission? We will never know for sure now, but he probably decided to engage the superior American fleet mainly to distract the attention from Kurita’s force, approaching Leyte from the North. Kurita’s force, consisting of five battleships, 12 cruisers and 13 destroyers, 30 ships all in all, seemed to have a real chance to thwart the American efforts at landing.
The Battle of the Surigao was not very long, “just” about three hours, from 2 am to 5 am. Six Japanese ships were sent to the sandy bottom, just one destroyer survived to see the light of day. American forces suffered no losses to speak of. A deadly battle in the dead of night. All the details of the real motives of the IJN, complete with logs, records and participants are hidden deep under the warm blue waters. How exactly the Americans finally had their revenge for Pearl Harbor and the Japanese lost their last chance at keeping the control of the Philippines, is still in many respects a matter of conjecture and educated guesses rather than hard facts.
That was the birth of the mystery.
Remaining true to the samurai ideals, the Japanese sailors chose to die with their ships, refusing any American efforts at rescue , so out of many thousands of them only a few people survived to tell their tales after the battle of Surigao. The few survivors gave the most confusing testimony about the last minutes of their ships, that’s why the historians are still arguing after all these years. Was it Fuso that was hit first and lagged behind, exploding and braking in half, never even reaching the American battle line, the last battle line in the history of naval warfare? Or was it the flagship Yamashiro?
American historians, including the Naval War College and the most venerated expert of all, Anthony Tully, believe it was the flagship that finally faced the deadly barrage of American flying metal, while some Japanese and eve Polish experts still insist it was Fuso.
Inspired by Anthony Tully, John Bennett, the British diver and the then holder of the world record for the depth reached using open-circuit scuba mentioned as such by the Guinness Book of Word Records. was well versed in those arguments and the history of the War in the Pacific. It seemed he came awfully close to resolving the mystery once and for all, diving and identifying the battleship personally. During his last trip to the Surigao Straits, he spend several days studying the minute details of the bottom in the area of the battle with depth sounders and just as he was ready to leave, Fortune smiled at him, and an enormous 600 ft shape finally appeared on their sounder screens. It was not far from the spot where Yamashiro was supposed to be, according to the best available sources, but at that time John did not have either the equipment or the time to make the dive – the sounders showed the depth of about 600 feet, and no one had ever dived to any wreck at that depth.
John was planning o return given the slightest opportunity but in the spring of 2004, when a new expedition to Surigao was almost ready with everything finally lined up for it, he disappeared on a routine commercial dive “just” to 150 feet in the cold and murky waters off South Korea. Thus are the paradoxes of life – the world record holder who had successfully returned from a thousand feet – the first human ever to break the 1,000 feet barrier, did not come back from a dive that was in the category of “nothing to tell your grandchildren about”. His body was never found – just like the famous battleship he was the first to find, but never to see with his own eyes.
John’s efforts, however, were not in vain – unwittingly, he seemed to have started a whole movement for “Diving the Yamashiro”. In the years 2005-2006 his closest friends, his support divers, the people who were there, as they say, when he found the lost battleship at 600 feet.
Jim Nobel and Barry Mather who turned John on to the mystery in the first place, hired an experienced technical diver Paul Nielssen who even tried to go down and reach the bottom of Surigao using a rebreather, a diving unit based on cutting-edge technology still claiming the lives of 15 per cent of its users. The attempt failed, the currents were too strong, for Surigao is notorious for them.
Last spring, in May 206, Joe McLarry, a participant in the original expedition and Jon Bennett’s famous irreplaceable “Diving Doc”, summoned yet another of JB’s brothers in arms, Jongkin “the Magician” Mr. Lee, famous among divers for his unsurpassed technological wizardry, set out to re-track the original expedition and re-discover the elusive battleship – but in vain, nothing was found on what was believed to be exactly the same spot!
In the summer of 2006, an international team of three experienced technical divers made yet another attempt that they believe was finally successful – at least partially so.
BRUCE KONEFE: (Tape 2, 00.08.00)That was John Bennett who told me about the Yamashiro wreck, that’s how I heard about the wreck first time in my life. From John… And he was a very nice guy, I met several times with him, JB had a real dream, a goal. After his deepest record dive his next plan was to dive the Yamashiro and when I heard that John died in Korea, I understood that his Yamashiro project was a true challenge for the technical diver, very difficult but very interesting project, real adventure. So I was very interested in it myself. And apart from the dive itself there was another significant part included: the sinking of the ship was a kind of heroic deed and I felt that it had to be done, we had to find the wreck..
NARRATOR: In the12 years of his life in Thailand, Bruce as teaching divers at all possible levels as an instructor, but in addition to that, he researched 19 different wrecks from 400 to 700 years old, explored flooded caves in the south of the country, some of them up to 600 ft deep. He was closely co-operating from time to time with another prominent technical diver, Cedric Verdier, so when they decided to go looking for Yamashiro, they did not have any differences in opinion: it simply HAD to be done!
CERIC VERDIER: That was very exciting. Pure challenge for the technical diver and it became a sort of a dream. No one has ever been to the wreck, so the site has never been explored, literally “virgin dive site”. I was attracted to the idea, I had no doubts that became my true goal, I knew I was going to do it one day.
NARRATOR: The expedition took almost 9 months in preparation, considering the remote nature of the site, absence of the necessary infrastructure and less than favorable conditions for the dive, putting it mildly: ripping currents, low visibility that you face there more often than not, as well as the depth, dept at the very edge of human capability. When they finally arrived, the weather was bad, the sea was stormy and the currents were flowing strong, which confirmed their worst fears. The only thing that was good was that they already had the exact co-ordinates of the battleship, so they found it without a problem, using the modern GPS technology. After that, alas, Bruce, Cedric and Pym, the third member of the dive team, spent the whole day trying to anchor to the wreck and deploy a shot line – basically, a nylon rope with a buoy facilitating the descent to the exact location. Without this nylon “path” it is all too easy to get lost and disappear forever in the vastness of the ocean. The wreck was finally anchored – but only on the second day, mostly due to the currents. In the process our adventurers had lost two anchors and about 1500 ft of rope!
On the day before the big dive everybody seemed to understand exactly HOW risky it all was and did their best to being their emotions under control.
CEDRIC: Absolutely no feelings: My mind was running through the equipment’s set up, I check if everything functions OK, I am not focused on my inner feelings, just am trying to be focused at the task at hand: the dive itself. But to be honest ;ots of things were out of hand, - that was pretty scaring…
BRUCE: This time everything went wrong. The whole day was screwed up. And we were terribly nervous so to say, I was freaking out: what if something goes wrong with the electronics, computer or rebreather, I tried to literally clock these negative thoughts, but we all were stressed due tot the strong currents..
NARRATOR:: Cedric was the first to reach the buoy that was serving as the gate of the long road leading down down down. He descended to 10 feet and waited for the others. Within ten minutes, however, first Pym, and the Bruce, joined him there – only to tell him that they decided NOT to proceed to the bottom – too risky, too much even for them.
NARRATOR: (Tape 4, 00.24.58 or 00.26.58) They were returning to the boat one by one, each one had his own reason to abort the dive. Something was going wrong all the time. First the video housing was flooded, then the underwater still camera. Then Cedric’s expensive light – he was the only one who proceeded to dive – just failed, leaving him in total darkness. They were getting the impression that the ocean itself rose against their venture…. A few weeks later they actually received an explanation for all that bad luck, although of a rather mystical nature.
NARRATOR: Pym was too exhausted by the current to even think about this inordinately complex dive. Bruce was having doubts about his equipment, so all he could do is to sign to Cedric that he would meet him at a shallower depth with extra decompression tanks, just in case. Cedric, however, decided that he had already gone too far to even think about aborting the dive.
CEDRIC: I decided I should go down. And I had literally to fight with the current pulling the line step by step. And this is very exhausting. This is very exhausting to pull yourself to the depth, more far from the surface, - the stronger the current was and the more difficult it was. It liked like this: I pull myself along the line, then I stop, I catch my breathe. Instead of 8-9 min planned it took me 14 min to get to the wreck!
NARRATOR: Finally Cedric could detect an enormous dark shape on the bottom. The visibility down there was better than expected for a change. The size of the shape, in Cedric’s view, was that of a battleship, Yamashiro or Fuso – they were sisters, very hard to tell apart. At this depth all that t diver has is a very short few minutes, so Cedric set about exploring immediately.
CERDRIC: That was very exciting to see the wreck. Just imagine how many months I spent getting prepared for this dive, and here I am, next to the wreck. Finally. That caused deep feelings of fascination; I was swimming not far away from the line attached to the wreck. I saw the guns, deck constructions, part of which were destroyed when the ship sank, I can’t stay for sure where I was, which part of the wreck, it seemed like the middle, but I am not sure… I saw the passages through which I could go inside the wreck but the time was ticking and I told myself it’s the time to go up. My computer showed more than 6 hours of decompression.
NARRATOR:: The maximum depth reached by Cedric was 587 feet. In addition to losing his powerful light, Cedric also felt a leak in his drysuit, so he was starting to get really cold and miserable. When he finally made it back to the boat, he says he had only two desires left: to sit down and to drink some water to quench his thirst.
CEDRIC: As far as I am concerned I am absolutely sure that was the Yamashiro wreck. But in order to prove it… we have to find some kind of a “tablet” with a “Yamashiro sign” And until we find this evidence to prove it, this is will be still the mystery!
BRUCE: Before we start to plan this dive I talked to the locals in the villages, so me of them could still recall seeing the huge battleship sinking, they remembered how Americans bombarded the big ship with the Japanese flag, that made me think it should be the Yamashiro, the flagman battleship, I will be very surprised if the wreck we found was not the Yamashiro..
NARRATOR: Almost a month later Cedric received a letter from a Japanese war veteran who, it turns out, was monitoring closely every online report of this difficult expedition. It was that letter that provided the mystical reason for practically everything being so botched up.
CEDRIC: There were 1100 Japanese sailors who went down to the bottom of the Suriagao Sraits with this ship and the souls of these sailors are still there “Attached to the sunken ship”_ he the Japanese survivor wrote,- “and if you want to come back there, to dive the wreck, to enter their territory or the underworld, you should get in contact with their souls first, you should please them. Next time take some flowers with you, spill sake at the site the wreck is located, and I am sure they will let you touch their world. They will let you be there”
NARRATORS: The divers of the team do not have a definite opinion about whether there will be a next time on the site for them. If they decide to return to Surigao, they would like to find the other battleship, Fuso, the one that lagged behind, was torn in half by a powerful explosion but whose both halves remained strangely afloat for hours after that… Or maybe a destroyer – at least one of them should be pretty close to Yamashiro, historians say… Six WWII Japanese wrecks are sleeping undisturbed so far at the bottom of Surigao… all of them victims of that bloody battle in the darkness of a hot night more than 60 years ago.
Of course, Cedric’s certainty notwithstanding, the only ship found so far may still turn out to be something other than Yamashiro, what with the co-ordinates that Cedric’s team used slightly DIFFERENT from those than John Bennett was planning to use… The two sites are miles apart!
In short, the mystery of Yamashiro may hardly be deemed resolved.
There are still many doubts an still not much in the way of proof. Just impressions of a single individual who did see an enormous shipwreck at an enormous depth. The situation will continue until finally someone produces detailed video footage or divers salvage something that will provide conclusive evidence. Which only means that there will be new expeditions to the Straits of Surigao, with many of the participants willing to risk their lives to confirm or disprove the words of Cedric Verdier who believes that he finally did what no one before him could do – to actually touch Yamashiro with his own hand and become one with its history for a very brief moment.# vimeo.com/34672596 Uploaded 6,347 Plays 14 Likes 3 Comments
Elena Konstantinou documentaries
Browse This Channel
More stuff from “Elena Konstantinou documentaries”
Heads up: the shoutbox will be retiring soon. It’s tired of working, and can’t wait to relax. You can still send a message to the channel owner, though!