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Researchers discover Japanese carrier from the World War II Battle of Midway

A team of deep-sea explorers and historians have discovered a Japanese aircraft carrier that sank during the historic Battle of Midway in World War II.

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Alaa Elassar
CNN — A team of deep-sea explorers and historians have discovered a Japanese aircraft carrier that sank during the historic Battle of Midway in World War II.

The wreckage of Akagi, which was sunk on June 5, 1942, during the significant four-day naval battle that killed 3,057 Japanese and 307 Americans, was located on Sunday, Vulcan Inc. said in a press release.

Crew aboard the Research Vessel Petrel, which is owned and operated by Vulcan Inc., determined the ruins belonged to Akagi by taking sonar images identified by the vessel and matching them with the dimensions and location of the lost warship.

"Every shipwreck we find reminds us all of the ultimate sacrifice made by those who served their countries," said Robert Kraft, Vulcan Inc.'s director of undersea operations, in a press release. "Our team is truly honored to have discovered the Japanese Flagship Carrier, Akagi."

The ruins of Akagi were found in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, resting more than 17,000 feet below the surface of the Central Pacific ocean about 1,300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, the press release said.

The carrier was found by an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, according to Vulcan. The vehicle uses a side-scan sonar which records a specific search area of the ocean floor. When the vehicle returns, the sonar data is analyzed for anomalies that could be debris or an actual wreck. Once located, the AUV is sent down again to do a high-frequency scan.

"It's been a privilege to work as part of this team during this expedition," said Frank Thompson, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command who was on the Petrel for the expedition. "I hope the discoveries we made shed new light on this pivotal battle and inspire others to study history."

Second wrecked ship found this week

This marks the second Japanese carrier from the Battle of Midway to be discovered in the past week.

The carrier Kaga discovered on October 16 was the first sunken Japanese aircraft carrier to ever be found. Kaga and Akagi are two of four Japanese fleet carriers that sunk during the battle.

"Unlike land battles, war at sea leaves no traces on the surface," Thompson said. "The efforts made by the Vulcan team aboard Petrel in finding the wrecks of Kaga and Akagi will give historians a new perspective of one of World War II's pivotal battles."

The Battle of Midway took place six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack, the Imperial Japanese Navy planned to invade and capture Midway Island by luring American aircraft carriers into an ambush.

However, US cryptographers were able to intercept Japanese communications about the strike and determine when and where the Japanese were planning to attack. The US Navy was waiting for the Japanese when they arrived.

On June 4, US torpedo bombers attacked the Japanese fleet, which included four carriers, the Akagi, the Hiryu, the Kaga, and the Soryu. The initial wave of torpedo bombers was nearly wiped out, but the attack drew Japanese fighters away from the carriers.

A second wave of American dive bombers from the USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown attacked the fleet, fatally damaging the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu. A third attack caught the Hiryu and inflicted major damage. The four carriers were eventually scuttled by Japanese destroyers.

The US lost one carrier, the USS Yorktown, in the battle. According to US Navy's Naval History and Heritage Command, the four Japanese carriers that sank participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese lost 100 trained pilots at Midway, who could not be replaced.

"In a larger strategic sense, the Japanese offensive in the Pacific was derailed and their plans to advance on New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa postponed. The balance of sea power in the Pacific had begun to shift," according to the naval history command's account of the battle.

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