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75 Years Ago the USS Grayback Was Lost in the Pacific Ocean: This is the Doomed Submarine’s Epic Story.

75 Years Ago the USS Grayback Was Lost in the Pacific Ocean: This is the Doomed Submarine’s Epic Story.

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Americas

Here is the story of what happened.

On February 27, 1944, a Japanese Nakajima B5N torpedo bomber patrolling over the East China Sea near Okinawa spotted the glinting hull of a submarine surfaced above the water.

Earlier that very day, the freighter Celyon Maru had been sunk by two torpedoes.

The three-man bomber swooped down and reported a direct hit with a 500-pound, causing the submarine to “explode and sink immediately.”

To play it safe, Japanese warships closed in on a trail of bubbles left at the scene and laced the ocean with depth charges. As concussive blasts wracked the water, a black oil slick surged to the surface.

Ten days later, on March 7, the submarine USS Grayback failed to return to Pearl Harbor from her tenth war patrol as scheduled. Nor did she reply to a radio inquiry three days later.

After waiting three weeks, the Navy listed Grayback and the eighty sailors aboard her as “missing, presumed lost with all hands.”

After the Japanese surrender, researchers correlated Grayback’s disappearance with Japanese records. They concluded 1,652-ton submarine had been on something of a rampage before meeting her last patrol, possibly sinking as many as four ships totaling 21,000 tons.

Grayback Found at Last

Seventy-five years later, a privately funded expedition set out to find Grayback’s lost wreck. Team leader Tim Taylor and partner Christina Dennison had previously located the wrecks of four other U.S. World War II submarines as part of a project called Lost 52, leveraging new autonomous underwater vehicle technology that could search wide areas without having to be continuously tethered to a boat. 

Two years earlier, I chatted with Taylor and Dennison about their first find in 2010: Navy coastal defense submarine R-12, which sank mysteriously off the coast of Florida, taking with her forty-three crew. They expressed their wish to preserve the memory of the heroic submariners who sacrificed their lives in the conflict and give relatives a sense of closure by identifying the sites of their remains.

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