Researchers find wreckage of WWII aircraft carrier lost for 76 years

Richard Nowatzki survived the Japanese attack on the USS Hornet in 1942

Richard Nowatzki survived the Japanese attack on the USS Hornet in 1942

One-hundred-forty men died in the attack and subsequent sinking, and since then, mystery has surrounded the final resting place of the Hornet.

The ship appears well-preserved in published photographs, among them one of the ship's 5-inch guns, a blast-hole in the hull and an International Harvester brand aircraft tug sitting upright on a deck plate as though awaiting its next task. The USS Hornet is best known for launching the important Doolittle Raid in April of 1942 and its role in winning the Battle of Midway. The first US airstrike on mainland Japan, the famous "Doolittle Raid" was launched from the deck of the Hornet on April 18, 1942.

Nowatzki was an 18-year-old gunner when the ship was blasted by Japanese torpedoes and bombs, eventually sinking to the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean on October 25, 1943 along with 440 crew.

Elevated view of B-25 bombers on the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier, April 1942.

'With the loss of Hornet and serious damage to Enterprise, the Battle of Santa Cruz was a Japanese victory, but at an extremely high cost, ' said Rear Admiral (Ret.) Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, in a statement. For the USA aircraft carrier, Hornet, it would be her last battle. "As a result, the Japanese carriers did not engage again in battle for nearly another two years". Two Japanese destroyers later launched an additional torpedo attack, finally sinking the Hornet.

The Hornet's planes helped sink the heavy cruiser Mikuma, and the decisive battle ended with the Hornet's attack on the heavy cruiser Mogami, which was left crippled and burning. The Battle of Midway is regarded as pivotal by many historians since it was the first major naval battle contested exclusively with aircraft and fought "beyond visual range" or "BVR". Advanced sonar detection equipment spotted an object roughly the shape and dimensions of the Hornet from a submerged drone. The descent to 17,716 feet of depth, where the pressure is crushing and it is perpetually dark since no light reaches that extreme depth, took over two hours for the remotely piloted submersible.

Allen, who was a naval history enthusiast, was the founder of Vulcan Capital, the organization that owns the Petrel, and set out on a number of missions to locate famous wrecks of WWII-era warships from the US, UK, Japanese and Italian navies. Photos from the wreck showed some US carrier based aircraft that appeared largely intact resting on the bottom.

Calling himself "very fortunate" to witness the discovery after such a long time, he joked, "If you go down to my locker, there's 40 bucks in it, you can have it!". Phillips was onboard Petrel when the Hornet was first spotted.

CBS News caught up with Richard Nowatzki, a 95-year-old California resident who was a gunner on the Hornet, and showed him video of the aft gun that he operated. "You can have it". Led by U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Doolittle, all the 16 B-25 planes that were launched from Hornet were unable to land at their designated airstrip in China, but the raid provided a boost to American morale and put Japan on alert about our covert air capabilities. When Kraft spotted the markings on the wreck he said, "Oh yeah... on wow".

Images from the sunken wreck show gun turrets and other images from the deck of the carrier, as well as pieces of Allied aircraft. The aircraft's wings were missing but the F4F was identifiable by its distinctive round landing gear opening in the fuselage.

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