Mystery Behind A Missing World War II Submarine And Its Crew Finally Solved

During World War II, in 1944, a United States Navy submarine and it’s crew of 80 members disappeared off of the coast of Japan. During its time in operation, the submarine was in working order with researchers still questioning what may have happened to it. Today, Tim Taylor and his team are on the search for it, utilizing modern technology to aid in the search. However, due to technical difficulties, the expedition had to be cut short. Yet, when he checked the footage, he noticed something interesting about the data that led him to search once more.

The USS Grayback

Picture of the Grayback
Naval History and Heritage Comand
Naval History and Heritage Comand

The United States submarine that went missing in 1944 was the U.S.S. Grayback or the S.S. -208, although that name is not as commonly known.

Currently, searching for the submarine is part of what is known as the Lost 52 Project, which is a project that was dedicated toward finding the 52 submarines that had gone missing over the course of World War II. Unfortunately, the Grayback itself was reported missing in the latter part of March 1944.

The Sounds Of Victory

Aerial of Pearl Harbor
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

On January 28, 1944, Grayback was sent out from Pearl Harbor on a combat patrol mission. This would be the submarine’s tenth voyage during the war, and nobody would have guessed that it was going to be the last.

A few weeks before it went missing off of the radar, it sent several messages of victory to its base, noting its defeat of two rival subs, the Japanese freighters Toshin Maru and Taikei Maru. These messages were received on February 24.

There Was A Second Radio Message

Sub on the water
Arkivi/Getty Images
Arkivi/Getty Images

The following day, on February 25, 1944, the crew aboard the Grayback sent another victorious radio message, claiming that they had destroyed Asama Maru, a Japanese submarine that was used primarily as a troop carrier.

In addition, they also sunk the Napo Maru tanker. However, since this last report, there were no more victorious messages as they had to move to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific to re-supply, as they only had two torpedoes left.

It Was Reported Missing

Man looking through periscope
Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The message received from Grayback on February 25 would be the last that anyone ever heard from them. Based on the location when they sent their last message, it was estimated that they should have reached the re-supply station by March 7.

The situation became even more alarming when the submarine still didn’t arrive that their expected destination at Midway Atoll an entire three weeks later. Finally, the vessel was reported missing on March 30, 1944.

Building Grayback Was No Easy Feat

Man polishing ship
Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture alliance via Getty Images
Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture alliance via Getty Images

On April 3, 1940, the U.S.S. Grayback was laid on the grounds of the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut. The Electric Boat Company was known for having skilled workers and engineers, so it was clear that the project of building the submarine was in good hands.

The company had been building submarines since 1899, with their first vessel being the U.S.S. Holland, the first US Navy submarine. Furthermore, during World War I, the United States and the United Kingdom greatly benefited from the company’s 85-submarine project.

They Manufactured A Lot Of Subs During World War II

Man working on submarine
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Over the course of World War II, the Electric Boat Company was commissioned to build another 74 submarines, with one of them being the Grayback. The Grayback was what is known as a Tambor-vessel class and was one of 12 built by the company, with seven of them being destroyed previously in World War I.

The other Tmbor submarines were withdrawn from operation, although the Grayback went missing before it could be recalled like the others.

The Grayback Was An Impressive Vessel

Submarine docking
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The Grayback was designed to measure at a length of 300 feet from stern to stern, with the ability to submerge to a maximum of 2,410 tons of pressure beneath the waves.

Furthermore, the width of the boat measured 27 feet and had a surface speed of 20 knots and an underwater speed of just under nine knots. On top of that, the Grayback could impressively remain submerged underwater for up to 48 hours, covering many miles.

It Ran On Diesel

Submarine in the yard
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Four electric motors drove the propellers of the submarine that was also operated by diesel engines that allowed the submarine to go to a diving depth of up to 250 feet.

Unfortunately, the submarine was over capacity when it was lost at sea. It was designed to fit a crew of 54 enlisted men and six officers. On its final voyage in February 1944, it had a crew of 80 men.

It Was Designed For Warfare

Man on top of a submarine
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

On top of its ability to travel fast and deep beneath the water, it was also equipped for battle. The Grayback was fitted with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes with six located towards the bow and four at the stern.

Furthermore, the ship had a 50-caliber gun, Oerlikon 20mm cannons, and Bofors 40mm, which lined the deck. The weapons were designed to provide both defense and attack abilities both beneath the water and when it surfaced.

It Was Ready For Battle In No Time

Ships wrecked
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Just ten months after the vessel’s construction was completed by the Electric Boat Company, Rear Admiral Wilson Brown’s wife personally announced the launching of the Grayback on January 31, 1941.

The submarine was then commissioned into the United States Navy on June 30 that same year. This was just five months before the United States declared war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor which took place on December 7, 1941.

It Was Put On Patrol

Submarine on the water
Arkivi/Getty Images
Arkivi/Getty Images

After being brought into the United States Navy, the submarine fell under the command of Lieutenant Willard A. Saunder on Long Island Sound. Its initial voyages were used as a test to see the submarine’s capabilities were and for its crew to get a feel for her and learn all of her technical aspects.

Once everyone on board was comfortable running the ship, the Grayback went on patrol, where she covered parts of the Caribbean and the Chesapeake Bay in September 1941.

Preparing For War

Off the coast of Guam
PhotoQuest/Getty Images
PhotoQuest/Getty Images

After undergoing a series of checks and maintenance at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on the coast of Maine, the vessel made its way back to Pearl Harbor in 1942. By the time the Grayback arrived in Pearl Harbor, the United States was already deep into World War II, and it was clear that the crew of the Grayback would be seeing action sooner rather than later.

Its first taste of war was one February 15, 1942, as it sailed along the coasts of the island of Guam, where Japan had invaded in 1941.

Heading Into Enemy Territories

Bow of a submarine
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

On top of patrolling the coasts of Guam, the submarine also went into close range of Saipan, a Japanese territory. The patrol lasted a total of three weeks, with the submarine becoming involved in a series of “hide and seek” games with one particular Japanese submarine.

During that time, the Japanese submarine fired two torpedoes at the Gray, with both of them missing. The Grayback was then able to attack and return fire.

The Taste Of Battle

Explosion in front of submarine
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

While still patrolling around enemy territories, the Grayback managed to escape from several other enemy ships, even managing to sink an impressive 3,291-ton submarine.

However, on her second voyage, the vessel encountered little to no fighting, and she ended up docking at Fremantle. There, for a period of her military career, the Grayback remained docked at this base that was located in Western Australia.

The Grayback Experienced Some Troubles

Submarine docked
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

During its next two missions at sea, the Grayback found itself sailing across South China’s territory and had several issues with enemy patrol, low-lit nights, and waters that were perilous to cross at times.

Nevertheless, the Grayback was overall successful, managing to destroy several enemy boats and merchant ships. Then, on December 7, 1942, the Grayback set sail for the port of Australia once more in preparation to complete its fifth mission.

A Christmas The Crew Would Never Forget

Drawing of ship sinking
DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

On Christmas day, 1942, the Grayback experienced what might have been their most dangerous day yet. They were faced with four enemy landing barges when surfacing from the depths. Luckily, the Grayback managed to sink them, using their deck guns.

Just four days later, the submarine was attacked again by a fighter boat that shot at the Grayback with torpedoes, although the submarine was able to evade them. In 1943, the Grayback was caught in a cat and mouse game with the Japanese Vessel I-18, eventually destroying the ship and killing all on board.

They Were Sent On A Rescue Mission

Bomber in flight
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

On the submarine’s fifth tour, the Grayback was involved in a rescue mission that many consider being one of their most daring. In Japanese territory, a Martin B-26 Marauder crash-landed, leaving six Americans stranded.

At dusk, two crew members of the Grayback launched a search-and-rescue mission that resulted in the finding and the saving of the Americans that were shot down. By dawn, the Grayback was beneath the waves, successfully evading Japanese aircraft.

The Grayback Was Eventually Damaged

Submarine in the water
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The following evening, after the men had been found and the submarine was safe underneath the water, the two crewmen carefully guided the stranded men to the location of the submarine.

For his efforts, Commander Edward C. Stephan, who took command in September 1942, was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery as well as the U.S. Army Silver Star. Nevertheless, as their mission continued, the submarine continued to damage enemy ships but was eventually damaged herself by depth charges from an enemy destroyer.

Returning To Australia

Submarine being hit by charges
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The enemy weapons had severely damaged a hatch on the Grayback’s hull, resulting in a leakage that forced them to dock at the Brisbane port in Australia.

After some repairs as well as improvements, the submarine’s next mission was a patrol in February 1943. However, it saw no attacks due to manufacturing radar and other newly installed technologies. Nevertheless, the Grayback managed to push through to see its seventh tour, which began in April of 1943.

Back In Action

Painting of American submarine
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

The submarine’s seventh tour proved much more eventful than its sixth, and she went on to sink the Yodogawa Maru, a Japanese merchant ship. Then, just a few days later, the Grayback managed to sink another Japanese boat with only one torpedo, and the following day an incredible three more.

After this string of victories, the Grayback set sail back to Pearl Harbor and eventually San Francisco, California, where she would undergo a refitting process.

In Comes Commander Moore And The Creation Of The “Wolfpack”

Submarine on the water
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On September 12, 1943, the Grayback found itself in Pearl Harbor, preparing for more missions on the Pacific. Being the ship’s eighth mission, the submarine was now under the command of Commander John Anderson Moore.

Just two weeks after docking in Pearl Harbor, the ship set out once more to Midway Atoll, but this time with the U.S.S. Shad. While at Midway Atoll, the U.S.S. Cero joined the Grayback and Shad, forming what is known as the “Wolfpack.” Submarines teaming up had proven to be successful and was a tactic used by German U-boats.

The Wolfpack Was Fierce

Multiple submarines
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Implemented by the United States Navy, the Wolfpack proved to be as successful as anyone had hoped. Together, these three submarines managed to sink over 38,000 tons of Japanese shipping.

By November 10, 1943, the three boats had returned to Midway Atoll after they had run out of all of their ammunition. By the end of this tour, Commander Moore was the second officer to receive a Navy Cross while being in command of the Grayback.

The Submarine’s Ninth Tour Was Short Yet Effective

Explosion in the water
Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

On December 2, 1943, the Grayback was commissioned to set sail once again, but this time to the East China Sea. This ninth patrol saw the Grayback incredibly firing all of their torpedoes in just five days in which four Japanese warships were destroyed.

Out of ammunition, the Grayback was forced to return to Pearl Harbor, where commander John Anderson Moore was awarded yet again with another Navy Cross.

The Last Time Setting Sail

Submarine on the water
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

After nine incredibly successful mission, the Grayback found itself back at the port of Pearl Harbor before going on her tenth, and unknowingly, final mission. The submarine set off onto the ocean open for its last time on January 28, 1944, and as mentioned earlier, its final message to base was on February 25, 1944.

By March 30, the legendary submarine had been officially declared as missing, with no contact being able to be sent or received to the submarine.

The Final Task

Men standing on the deck
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Upon leaving Pearl Harbor, the Grayback’s final mission was a dangerous one, which was to sink a significant 21,594 tons of Japanese shipping. At this point, this was the third time that Moore would be the commander of the vessel.

And, when the ship was never seen on land again, Commander Moore was posthumously awarded his third Navy Cross. Grayback was also awarded her eighth battle star for her service during World War II.

An Attempt At Research And Investigation

Ship taking fire
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After the Grayback had disappeared, it would be decades before the truth was eventually revealed as to what had happened to the submarine. Not only did the Navy lose the vessel, but most likely all of the 80 souls on board.

At first, the US Navy assumed that the submarine had been sunk around 100 miles southeast of the Japanese island of Okinawa. However, after several investigation attempts, it turned out that the information provided was based on data that had an error.

There Was A Single-Digit Error

Map of the Pacific Ocean
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The information that the Navy was using to try and pinpoint where the Grayback may have sunk came from Japanese war records. However, as it turns out, there was a single-digit in a map that had been transcribed that was wrong.

This meant that where the Navy originally thought the submarine might have been was nowhere close to where it actually was. Knowing that investigators had been looking in the wrong place for years, they had a whole new set of problems.

A New Investigation In 2018

Sunken boat
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

In 2018, researchers Tim Taylor started up the investigation once again to re-examine the disappearance of the submarine and see where the Navy went wrong in the first place.

Luckily, this time, there was a key to the mystery that was discovered about the truth of what happened. Taylor then spearheaded the Lost 52 Project, a private investigation designed to find the various remains of the 52 submarines that went missing during the conflict of World War II.

A Japanese And United States Collaboration

GettyImages-549037525
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Ironically, Taylor ended up teaming up with Yutaka Iwasaki, a Japanese researcher, to help decipher the files that were found on the Sasebo base.

The Japnese used this base during the Second World War that housed much of the Japanese Imperial Navy at times. This location was the site of daily radio contacts from both Naha and Okinawa and was also the location for Japanese naval air.

Figuring Out The Mistake

Men on the phone
Picture Post /Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Picture Post /Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Iwasaki got to work immediately on the project, and before long, discovered the error that was in the transcription on the report that was collected on February 27, 1944, at Sasebo from Naha.

Incredibly, the data that was collected was only a few days before Grayback had docked on the base. Furthermore, there was also a detailed report of an attack by a Nakajima B5N bomber collected from an aircraft carrier.

It Was The Bomber

Japanese bombers
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

On February 27, the Nakajima B5N Japanese bomber reported that they had released a 500-pound bomb on a submarine that had surfaced. The report detailed that the bomb was dropped to the rear of the conning tower, which caused an explosion that supposedly killed all on board and sank the submarine.

In 2019, Iwasaki told the New York Times that “In that radio record, the longitude and latitude of the attack were outlined clearly.” He then admitted that previous investigations were over 100 miles off.

The Search Was On

Diver investigating submarine
IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images
IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images

With this new information revealed, Taylor was now confident that he would be able to find the wreckage site of Grayback.

So, during the spring of 2019, Taylor and his team set out to find the truth. Miraculously, it was a success, and the Lost 52 team managed to locate the once lost submarine’s hull that had remained on the ocean floor after so many years.

They Also Found The Bodies

Diver underwater
IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images
IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images

Although it was exciting to finally find the lost submarine, the team came to the painful realization that they would most likely also discover the bodies.

In an interview with the New York Times, Taylor explained, It was a great feeling but also sad as we found the 80 men.” This made the discovery not hard for the team, but also those who had lost loved ones aboard the Grayback.

Personal Stories

Man underwater with submarine
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Gloria Hurney was one of the living individuals that was personally affected by the discovery of the Grayback, 75 years after it had gone missing. Her Uncle, Raymond Parks, was a member of the submarine as an electrician’s mate, first class.

In her past, Gloria recounts that she had read a book that claimed only God could tell you where the lost ships were, which left her without any closure. Luckily, the team’s findings proved different. Of course, she was not the only person that was impacted by the discovery.

More Discoveries To Come

Submarine plaque
YouTube/Ocean Outreach
YouTube/Ocean Outreach

While the discovery of the Grayback was an incredible find, its important to remember that this is just one out of the many ships that were lost during World War II. Plenty of these still haven’t been found with researchers still unsure where to look.

Not only are they a crucial part of history, but they are also the vessels that countless lives were lost on. We owe it to those who died on them to honor their memory.