Rediscovering History: the USS Independence

Thirty miles off the coast of San Francisco, CA, at  793 m (2,600 ft) depth, lies the watery grave of the decorated United States aircraft carrier, Independence.

USS Independence underway with aircraft on deck–this was the first dedicated U.S. aircraft carrier to conduct night flight operations in World War II. Photo courtesy of US National Archives.

Built in New Jersey (1942), the USS Independence was built for speed; the first of a new class of carriers designed from converted cruiser hulls. In January, 1943, the new carrier joined active service vessels in the midst of World War II. The Independence began her military career shortly after arriving in Pearl Harbor, HI, in July of 1943, joining the USS Essex and USS Yorktown for a devastating raid on Marcus Island. Afterwards, the Independence  participated in the attacks on Rabaul, Tarawa, Luzon, and Okinawa.

Battles of USS Independence, Pacific Theater, WW II, 1941-1945. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

At war’s end, the Independence transported veterans home from the Pacific front in Operation Magic Carpet. She received eight battle stars for her service in the war, and was recognized for sinking the Japanese battleship, Musashi, during the Battle of the Philippines. Before her decommissioning in August of 1946, the Independence  was assigned as a target vessel for the Bikini atomic bomb tests for Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests in Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. On July 1 and 25, 1946 the Independence was positioned just a half-mile from ground zero. She sustained heavy damage from shock waves, heat and radiation, but did not sink. The US Navy towed the damaged carrier back to San Francisco for decontamination. In 1951, the Independence met her watery grave when she was scuttled off the coast of San Francisco.

USS Independence on anchor near San Francisco after being towed from Bikini Atoll. The ship sustained damage as part of atomic testing in Bikini Atoll, and towed back to Pearl Harbor and then San Francisco for decontamination. Image courtesy of San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

Sixty-four years later, in March of 2015, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), and the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) positively identified the USS Independence wreck site. Scientists were able to construct a 3-D sonar image of the wreck using autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), Echo Ranger. They found the Independence surprisingly intact, with a possible plane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening.

The flight deck and other features of USS Independence are clearly seen in this 3-D sonar image of the shipwreck in 3000 feet of water. Image courtesy of NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus.

On August 22, 2016, Dr. Robert Ballard and the crew of the E/V Nautilus began a series of exploratory dives on the Independence wreck using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), Hercules and Argus. These USS Independence dives are part of Nautilus‘s expedition to explore the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of California. Using teleprescence technologies, viewers around the world were able to participate in the rediscovery of this proud ship.

Bow of USS Independence, seen for the first time after 65 years. Image courtesy of Ocean Exploration Trust.

For more information on the USS Independence, including eyewitness accounts and photos, check out the  Naval Historical Foundation’s page, Rediscovering USS Independence. Visit the Nautilus Live website, or like the E/V Nautilus on Twitter or Facebook for dive updates!

Featured image courtesy of the Ocean Exploration Trust.

Original post published August 22, 2016.

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