Decades-Long Quest Comes to an End: Wreck of Kamikaze-Damaged Aircraft Carrier Discovered After 74 Years
An aircraft carrier that took part in one of the most important actions of World War II, only to be incompacitated by a Japanese kamikaze, has finally been identified.
The escort carrier USS Ommaney Bay was rediscovered in 2019 in the Sulu Sea, decades after she was sent to the bottom by torpedoes from a friendly destroyer. The ship is considered a final resting place for the 95 sailors killed in the attack.
Billionaire Paul Allen’s Vulcan search team, which was responsible for discovering several U.S. Navy wrecks from World War II, discovered the Ommaney Bay wreck in 2019. Two other Australia-based firms, Sea Scan Survey and DPT Scuba, provided corroborating data. After analyzing all available data, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch confirmed the wreck was the Ommaney Bay.
The exact location of the wreck was not disclosed. Several U.S. Navy and Royal Navy wrecks have gone missing in recent years, believed to have been exploited by salvagers. The high-grade steel used in warship construction makes them attractive targets.
USS Ommaney Bay was a Casablanca-class escort carrier, a light carrier originally meant to shepherd convoys menaced by enemy submarines. The ship was 512 feet long, displaced 10,800 tons fully loaded, and was operated by a crew of 860. The diminutive carriers carried up to 27 aircraft. While escort carriers relied on a screen of destroyers for anti-air defense, they were also equipped with one five-inch dual purpose gun, eight 40-mm anti-air cannons, and 12 20-mm anti-air cannons.
As the threat from enemy subs waned, escort carriers were repurposed for anti-surface warfare, carrying bombers equipped with anti-ship torpedoes. In October 1944, Ommaney Bay participated in the Battle of Samar, and her air wing contributed to the sinking of the Japanese cruiser Chokai and damaged several other Japanese warships.
On January 4, 1945, Ommaney Bay was rammed by a Yokosuka P1Y Ginga (“Galaxy”) bomber. The bomber, code-named “Frances” by Allied forces, was armed with two bombs and on a one-way mission to crash into enemy warships. The bomber was one of thousands of planes turned into the modern equivalent of anti-ship cruise missiles, but with mortal consequences for the pilots flying them.
The Japanese bomber penetrated the task force’s defenses and homed in on the aircraft carrier—a major prize if sunk. The plane crashed into Ommaney Bay’s starboard side, releasing two bombs. As the Naval History and Heritage Command writes, one bomb “penetrated the flight deck and detonated below, setting off a series of explosions among the fully-gassed planes on the forward third of the hangar deck. The second bomb passed through the hangar deck, ruptured the fire main on the second deck, and exploded near the starboard side.”
The attack killed 93 sailors, as well as two on a nearby destroyer that were killed when the carrier’s load of torpedoes exploded. Damage control parties were unable to control the fires aboard the ship, and the order was given to abandon it. The destroyer USS Burns fired a single torpedo into her side, sending the badly wounded Ommaney Bay to the bottom.