Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts

Larry Holzwarth - January 13, 2019

The Second World War was fought from the waters off the Antarctic to the Aleutian Islands. Ships were stalked by submarines and aircraft in the frigid waters above the Arctic Circle to the steaming Southwest Pacific. Spies and enemy agents crept about the alleyways and streets of communities around the world. Airbases and logistics camps were carved out of deep jungles, to be abandoned when their usefulness ended, or when they were overrun by the enemy. Ships of many nations went out to sea, never to be seen again. Likewise with aircraft dispatched on missions which were never completed, and from which they never returned. Some mysteries, such as the fate of the B-24 named Lady Be Good, were eventually solved. Others, such as what happened to famed trombonist and band leader Glenn Miller, never have.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
The B-24 named Lady Be Good and the fate of its crew was discovered in the Libyan desert long after the war ended. US Air Force

More than seventy years after the end of the Second World War discoveries around the globe surprise explorers and researchers, or in some cases reward then after years of diligent search. The wrecks of great warships have been found in some cases, while in others they remain elusive. Aircraft, tanks, unexploded bombs and shells, communications equipment, and other forms of military detritus continue to be unearthed across the globe, in areas which were torn by combat and in some that were well behind the fighting lines. Occasionally the remains of some of the victims of the global calamity are discovered as well.

Here are some of the recent discoveries linked to the Second World War that remind later generations that it was far more than a passage in the history books.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
USS Juneau, the sinking of which was the cause of the loss of the five Sullivan brothers, was discovered by Paul Allen. National Archives

1. The USS Juneau was the ship which carried the five Sullivan brothers

The United States Navy light cruiser Juneau was engaged in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal when it was heavily damaged by a torpedo launched from Japanese destroyer. The following morning, November 13, 1942, the damaged cruiser was steaming in company with two other cruisers when it was again torpedoed, that time by a Japanese submarine. Juneau broke in half and sank in less than a minute, and the violence of the explosion convinced the commanders of the other cruisers that there could not possibly have been survivors. The more than 100 survivors in the water clung to wreckage and rafts as they grimly watched the American warships steam away in the distance. Only ten would survive and be rescued. Among the dead were the five Sullivan brothers.

The sinking of the Juneau and the loss of the Sullivans became a war propaganda coup for the US Navy when the film The Fighting Sullivans was released, and a destroyer was named in their honor. The Navy kept quiet the fact that at least two of the brothers were among the sailors who survived the initial sinking, and several of the ten who did survive claimed they had seen three of the brothers alive in the water. In March of 2018 – on St. Patrick’s Day – the wreck of the ship on which the five brothers had served was discovered on the ocean floor by a team led by Paul Allen and Robert Kraft. The ship is over two and a half miles beneath the surface near the Solomon Islands, a war grave for the nearly 800 men who perished in it and in the waters of the Pacific after it sank.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
The Curtiss P-40 saw extensive service with the RAF, which called it the Kittyhawk. Wikimedia

2. Royal Air Force Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping and his P-40 Kittyhawk

On June 28, 1942, 24 year old Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping was ordered to fly a damaged Kittyhawk (the British name for the American built Curtiss Warhawk) between bases in the Egyptian desert to have it repaired. When Copping did not arrive at his destination it was assumed that the aircraft had been shot down by either the Germans or the Italians. An air search revealed no trace of the lost aircraft or its pilot, and Flight Sergeant Copping became a casualty of the air war, believed killed in action for the next seven decades. In May of 2012 a well preserved P-40 with RAF markings was discovered in the desert sands by Polish oil workers, as well as a parachute. Some weeks earlier human skeletal remains had been discovered nearby. They were later identified as those of Flight Sergeant Copping, and it was determined that the pilot had survived the crash landing and died subsequently from exposure or thirst.

From the damaged aircraft, which has been restored and is on display at the El Alamein Museum in Egypt, it was determined that Copping survived the crash landing, which was likely caused by his running out of fuel. A severe sandstorm caused the pilot to become disoriented and off course, and the lack of landmarks to provide guidance to the pilot led him far off his desired flight path. The airplane flew on until the pilot was forced to put it down in the desert sands, after which he discarded his parachute and began walking in the desert. The sandstorms covered the plane, and later uncovered it again, allowing it to be found by the Polish workers more than 200 miles from any town or village. The displayed airplane in Egypt bears no mention of Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
The German battleship Bismarck departing on its first and only combat sortie in May, 1941. Bundesarchiv

3. The German battleship Bismarck still displays the swastika symbol as it lies on the ocean floor

The German battleship Bismarck had a short career which remains one of the great sagas of the sea. On its first voyage it eluded British detection long enough to approach the Atlantic sea lanes via the Denmark Strait, where it engaged and sank the British battlecruiser Hood, the most powerful ship of the Royal Navy, and severely damaged the new battleship Prince of Wales. Winston Churchill ordained that the German ship be sunk at all costs, and diverted ships meant to protect precious convoys to the chase. Bismarck had sustained damage too, and was losing oil, which forced the massive vessel to head for the French coast for protection by the Luftwaffe. The British closed in, and a combination of aerial torpedoes, destroyer attacks, bombardment by the battleships King George V and Rodney, and finally torpedoes fire from cruisers sank the ship.

German survivors, which were few as the Royal Navy left the scene out of concern over U-boats, leaving many survivors in the frigid water, claimed that they had sunk their own ship using scuttling charges. On June 8, 1989, an expedition led by Dr. Robert Ballard found the wreck of the ship, and extensive undersea surveillance of the wreck and the nearby site indicated that the claims of the German crewmen were likely true. A subsequent Russian expedition yielded similar results in 2001. All evidence points to the German battleship, which was completely wrecked topside, being sunk by scuttling, and its armored citadel was not penetrated by British shells or torpedoes. The ship sits upright on the side of a mountain, the swastika painted on its foredeck still clearly visible to undersea visitors.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
British soldiers prepare to release a carrier pigeon in Italy in 1945. Wikimedia

4. A carrier pigeon and its secret message was found in a Surrey home in 2012

During the Second World War (in fact as late as 1957) the US and other armies used carrier pigeons to send messages between various units and sites. When a pigeon carrying a message from the front arrived at its coop, it would sound an alarm and the message was removed from the capsule attached to the bird’s leg and sent along via radio, messenger, or signal telegraph (semaphore). The messages were in code, and members of Signal Corps manned the coops to decode them. Of course, the enemy was well aware of the pigeon’s purpose, and attempts to shoot them down were common. Trained hawks were used to attack them. Numerous pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal, a British award for animals for exemplary service to the military.

Another use of pigeons was communication with spies behind the enemy lines, with the birds flying directly to the spy’s contact, or handler, in the United Kingdom during the years of the war before the liberation of France. The spies often had their own, unique codes, known only to them and their contact. It was likely one such pigeon, or rather the remains of one such pigeon, which was discovered by a Surrey homeowner as he cleaned out a long disused chimney in 2012. What looked like a twig was the skeletal remains of a pigeon’s leg, with the red message canister still attached. The pigeon had been lodged in the chimney since World War II. Although some have claimed to have decoded the message privately, in 2016 the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) announced that decoding was an impossibility without access to the original source code.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
US Navy personnel inspect a Japanese I-400 submarine before deliberately sinking it in 1945. US Navy

5. The Japanese I-400 submarine class were designed to launch aircraft

During the war the Japanese devised a class of submarine from which three aircraft could be launched against targets after the vessel surfaced, making them in essence submerged aircraft carriers. The Japanese developed plans to use the vessels in an attack on the Panama Canal, going so far as rehearsing the mission in waters off Japan. Later they planned to use them in a surprise attack on the American fleet anchorage at Ulithi, but the war ended while the mission was still in the planning phase. When the Japanese surrendered the three completed I-400 class submarines were taken by the Americans, many of whom were stupefied by the sheer size of the vessels.

When the Soviets demanded the right to inspect captured Japanese submarines of all classes, the Americans decided that they did not want the advanced Japanese technology in the hands of Stalin, who was proving intransigent. The US Navy removed the submarines to classified positions and sank them, with several including the I-400 and I-401 being sunk by torpedoes from the USS Trumpetfish, which was ordered not to report the exact location of the sinking. In March, 2005, the I-401 was discovered in the waters off Hawaii. In 2013, the I-400 was discovered by the same research team from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, southwest of Oahu. The massive Japanese submarines had remained undetected since June of 1946.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
US Office of Naval Intelligence drawings of the never completed German aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin. US Navy

6. Germany’s only aircraft carrier was discovered in 2006 after being lost for over 60 years

German Grand Admiral Erich Raeder had plans for a great German navy to rival that of the British in the years before World War 2, but Adolf Hitler was not particularly interested in naval affairs beyond the use of U-Boats. In 1938 Raeder informed the Fuhrer that Germany’s new aircraft carrier, named Graf Zeppelin, was nearing completion and would be finished the following year. By 1943 it was not, and growing pressure from Herman Goering to end the project – he did not want to surrender the control of any air forces to the navy – ensured that the ship would not be finished. In 1943 work on the ship was suspended, and the unfinished vessel was towed from one port to another, at one point used as a store ship.

When the war ended the hull was still incomplete, though the vessel could be towed and finishing the ship was a distinct possibility. The Soviets took the vessel, and other German warships which fell into their hands, and several reports of its ultimate fate were issued. Some claimed that it was sunk off Peenemunde, others that it sank after striking a mine while being towed to Leningrad. Still another claimed it was sunk on August 16, 1947, following a series of planned detonations. In July 2006 a wreck was discovered by a research vessel owned by the Polish oil company Petrobaltic, and subsequent surveys conducted by the Polish Navy identified the wreck as the remains of the Graf Zeppelin, to a degree of certainty, according to the Poles, of 99%.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
The remains of the B-24 Liberator known as Heaven Can Wait were found in Hansa Bay, New Guinea. Fox

7. A B-24 bomber was found 74 years after being shot down in the Pacific War

Heaven Can Wait was the name the crew of a B-24D heavy bomber gave their aircraft, which in 1944 was involved in the heavy fighting in New Guinea. On March 11, 1944 the aircraft was part of a mission to bomb Japanese anti-aircraft batteries on the northern coast of New Guinea in the area of Hansa Bay. The B-24 carried a crew of eleven, and the crew of Heaven Can Wait had been in the area for just four months prior to their mission of March 11. After hitting targets of opportunity after finding their assigned target obscured by clouds, Heaven Can Wait was on its return leg when it encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire. The airplane began to break apart in the air, losing its tail section, before crashing into the sea, where it burned on the surface before sinking beneath.

The crew of the lost bomber were declared killed in action on the same day, based on the eyewitness accounts of other fliers who observed the crash. In October, 2017, after an eleven day search and considering the accounts of eyewitnesses who reported the loss of the airplane in 1944, the wreckage of a B-24 was found at a depth of just over 210 feet, in the area reported as the crash site. The wreckage was surveyed by a remotely operated vehicle, and the result of the survey and supporting data led to the conclusion that the wreck was the remains of Heaven Can Wait, more than seventy years after the bomber and the eleven men in it plunged to the bottom of the sea.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
The nearly ubiquitous Messerchmitt Bf-109 has led to several being found in lakes and rivers. Bundesarchiv

8. A nearly intact German fighter airplane was found at the bottom of a Russian lake

The Messerschmitt Bf-109 was a workhorse of the German Luftwaffe throughout the Second World War, serving on the Western and Eastern Fronts and in North Africa, the skies over England, and along the Atlantic European coastline. It was a major component of the German blitzkrieg which launched the war, and a scourge for the Allied bombers which flew missions over targets over Europe. One Bf-109 which was built in 1939 flew against the Allies during the Battle of France and against the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, later being transferred to the east to take part in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Flown there by Wulf-Dietrich Widowitz, who earned 36 victories in the war, it was damaged in combat with a Soviet Hurricane and made a forced landing on a frozen lake. Widowitz was unhurt and evaded capture.

As the ice thawed the airplane sank beneath the surface of the lake, settling to the bottom where it remained until 2003, when it was discovered and brought to the surface in nearly perfect condition, other than the battle damage to the engine which had forced it down. The airplane was sent to California for preservation. The pilot was killed later in the war attempting to make another forced landing of a damaged aircraft. Another Bf-109 was found in a Russian lake, forced to land in similar circumstances in 1944, and salvaged in 2018, according to some aviation websites. Other German fighter planes have been located in various locations three quarters of a century after they were lost in action.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
Debris from the Danish crash site also provided information leading to the pilot being identified. Daily Mail

9. Another Messerschmitt and the remains of the pilot were found in Denmark in 2017

Family lore for the Danish Kristiansen family included the story of a German fighter plane crashing on their farm during the Second World War. When a metal detector deployed by the Danish farmer and his son began signaling the presence of something deep in marshy ground an excavator was employed and at a depth of about fifteen feet the remains of a wrecked airplane began to be exposed for the first time in decades. The airplane was not recognizable as such, being mostly wreckage, though the aircraft’s engine was mostly intact. So was ammunition for the fighter’s guns, which made further excavation somewhat dangerous, and specialists were called in to remove the remainder of the wreckage.

They also found bone fragments and tattered clothing which had been worn by the pilot. A book, which the farmer identified to the BBC as being “either a little Bible or it was Mein Kampf” was found, as well as a wallet which contained intact paper currency. All of the personal items were placed in the hands of the proper authorities and forensic experts were called in to attempt to identify the pilot, as well as recover all of the human remains. From the engine it was determined that the downed German airplane was a Messerschmitt Bf-109. On March 24, 2017 it was announced that the pilot of the German plane was Hans Wunderlich, nineteen years of age at the time of his fatal flight, which occurred sometime in April, 1940.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
After USS Yorktown sank on June 7, 1942 it was not seen again until discovered by Robert Ballard in May, 1998. US Navy

10. The wreck of USS Yorktown was discovered in 1998 three miles beneath the surface of the Pacific

USS Yorktown was one of the seven United States aircraft carriers in commission when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, though the ship was in the Atlantic. By the middle of December Yorktown was steaming for the Pacific and in January the ship was the center of a task force conducting nuisance raids against Japanese held islands as the United States opened offensive operations. In May, 1942, Yorktown was part of the American forces which took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Struck by a bomb which caused heavy damage, the ship limped back to Pearl Harbor leaking oil, with serious damage to its engine rooms and boilers. Initial estimates were that it would take three months of shipyard availability before the ship would be ready to resume operations.

Three days after arriving at Pearl Harbor Yorktown was again underway, repairmen still aboard, to assist in the defense of Midway Atoll. During the battle there in the first week of June, 1942, Yorktown’s planes destroyed the Japanese carrier Soryu, but retaliatory Japanese attacks heavily damaged the American carrier. The ship was abandoned, reboarded, and abandoned again. A repair crew was aboard when the ship was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-168. After several hours Yorktown finally sank on June 7, 141 of its crew having died in the battle. In 1998 the wreck was discovered by Dr. Robert Ballard and his team, which reported the ship resting upright on the bottom of the sea, in what was called excellent condition, much of the ship’s gear recognizable to the explorers.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
A Soviet T-34 tank after it was pulled from the Don River where it sat under water for approximately 70 years. Alamy

10. A Soviet T-34 Tank was discovered in the Don River in Russia in 2015

The Soviet T-34 battle tank nearly changed the course of the war on the Eastern Front when it was first deployed in 1941. German armored tactics master Heinz Guderian claimed that the Soviet tank possessed “vast superiority” over the German armor it opposed. German forces invading the Soviet Union were stunned at the power of the T-34, and had it not been for inept Soviet leadership in the early days of the invasion, as well as the Germans converting their fabled 88 millimeter guns to serve as anti-tank weapons, the Soviets could well have repulsed the Germans sooner. The Soviet tank played a key role in the encirclement and reduction of the German Sixth Army in the battle of Stalingrad, a major turning point of the war.

In 2015, divers in the Don River in the Voronezh Oblast region discovered an intact Soviet T-34 sitting upright on the riverbed. Heavy fighting occurred in the area during the Stalingrad campaign, and speculation was that the tank, which was likely built at the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, fell into the river as it tried to cross a temporary bridge. The bridge was unable to support the tank’s 30 tons. The river at the point where the vehicle was discovered was too deep for it to have attempted to cross by fording. After the discovery the tank was first checked for human remains, and none having been found it was hauled out of the Don by the Russian military. It was in such good condition after its long soak in the river that discussions to restore it to running condition were initiated by Patriot Park, a military museum near Moscow.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
Survivors of the lost USS Indianapolis arrive on Guam. The sunken cruiser was found by Paul Allen. US Navy

11 USS Indianapolis was all but forgotten until mentioned in the film Jaws

USS Indianapolis served in the Pacific throughout World War II, often as the flagship for Admiral Raymond Spruance when he commanded the United States Fifth Fleet in the drive across the Pacific. After suffering heavy damage during the Battle of Okinawa from a Japanese aerial bomb, Indianapolis refit at the Mare Island Shipyard before undertaking a secret mission. The ship was dispatched to Tinian carrying parts of the Little Boy atomic bomb, including enriched uranium to be used as the fissionable material in the highly classified weapon. After delivering its cargo (it set a speed record between San Francisco and Tinian) Indianapolis deployed to Leyte, sailing without escort. The ship was torpedoed enroute and sank rapidly. About 800 men survived the sinking.

The horrors encountered by the survivors, whose numbers dwindled daily, were understandably downplayed by the Navy’s official accounts. The survivors were exposed to attacks by sharks, dehydration, hypothermia, and hunger. About five hundred men who survived the sinking died in the water while awaiting rescue. In the twenty-first century several expeditions were launched by National Geographic and others in an attempt to find the ship. It was eventually discovered in August 2017 by an expedition led by Paul Allen, and a map of the wreck site and debris field was released later that year. The expedition reported the wreck to be in a well preserved state, attributed to the great depth at which it lies, 18,000 feet beneath the surface.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
A Hawker Hurricane taxiing at RAF Ta Kali, Malta, circa 1941. Royal Air Force

12. The remains of a Hawker Hurricane were found on the island of Malta in 2017

In 1942 the Hawker Hurricane was a workhorse fighter for the Royal Air Force, serving in all areas where the RAF was deployed, as well as with Soviet squadrons on the Eastern Front. During the fierce fighting over Malta and the surrounding Mediterranean Hurricanes did yeoman’s duty defending the British Empire. Many RAF pilots preferred the Hurricane over the Spitfire because the former was able to take more punishment and was less temperamental to fly. On Malta, 75 years after the event, a researcher learned of farmers being compensated for the damages to their fields caused by the crash of a Hurricane in 1942. Intrigued, he began a search for the remains of the aircraft.

What he found were several pieces of the airplane, the greater part of which had been removed from the site after the war. The pilot had been killed and removed for burial shortly after the crash. What was discovered in 2017 were pieces of aluminum and steel, cast iron, and other small items. An intake manifold for a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, used to power Hurricanes and Spitfires in 1942, was also discovered. War records proved that the airplane crashed in April, 1942, meaning that pieces of the machine were still lying at the spot they landed more than seven decades later. Other pieces of the airplane were located in nearby rubble walls, where they had been discarded after being found, and with no idea what they were, tossed away.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
The picturesque German city of Luneberg was the site of a cache of gold discovered in 2015. Wikimedia

13. Nazi gold was discovered in Germany in 2015

The fabled Nazi gold train, a train laden with gold and silver bullion, precious jewels, and priceless paintings and other artwork, said to be buried somewhere in Germany or Austria, remains elusive as of 2018. But portions of Nazi gold have been discovered, including in 2015 the unearthing of a cache of gold coins found in Luneberg, Germany. The coins were buried in a hollowed out area beneath a tree, and dated from 1831 to 1910. Italian, French, Belgian, and Austro-Hungarian issues were all part of the cache, which would seemingly link them to an earlier age than the Second World War, but buried with them were seals upon which appeared the Nazi eagle symbol, swastikas, and the identifier “Reichsbank Berlin”, the name of Germany’s central bank under the Nazi regime.

Luneberg was the location where Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler committed suicide while in custody of the British Army. Himmler killed himself using a cyanide capsule after it was clear that the British knew who he was (he had tried to flee incognito) and before they were able to interrogate him fully. Several other SS officers and their aides were captured in the area during the confused final days of the war and immediately following the German surrender. Who stashed the cache of gold coins, 217 in all, remains a mystery, but they were likely looted from their original owners and hidden as a hedge, possibly to aid in escaping the Allied authorities via the ratlines set up through Western Europe. Himmler was buried in an unmarked location near where the coins were discovered.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
Two Riders on a Beach by Max Lieberman was one of the many paintings recovered in Munich in 2012. Wikimedia

14. Paintings worth over $1 billion dollars were discovered in 2013

During the Nazi regime, artwork which the party deemed to be depictions of immorality were banned. The prohibition of “degenerate” art gave Nazi officials an excuse to seize paintings, purportedly to destroy them, but in reality to horde them for a day when their value could be exploited. Hildebrand Gurlitt was a minor Nazi official in Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda ministry who built an extensive collection of such works, as well as those simply seized from Jewish families and facilities. Among them were paintings by Chagall, Picasso, and Henri Matisse. Nearly all of the paintings had long been believed to have been destroyed by Allied bombing when they were discovered by German police in early 2012. There were more than 1,200 paintings in the cache.

When Hildebrand died the paintings which he had collected were taken by his son, who kept them hidden in his Munich apartment. The paintings were not on display, but secreted in a backroom of the apartment, which had evidently been used as a storeroom. German police arrested the son, Cornelius Hildebrand, after he was acting suspiciously on a train and under interrogation the hidden artwork was revealed. Since seizing the paintings the German authorities have attempted to identify their rightful owners, in order to ensure the more than $1 billion worth of irreplaceable artwork is returned. Cornelius Hildebrand died in 2014, after telling the German magazine Der Spiegel of his desire to resolve the case so that he could get the paintings back, which he believed to be rightfully his own.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
Casualties of the fighting in New Guinea were often carried by native bearers, known to the Australian troops as Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. Wikimedia

15. The Eora Creek battlefield was discovered in New Guinea in 2010

Eora Creek was the site of two fierce battles between the Japanese on New Guinea and Australian troops, the first in August and September 1942, and the second the following month. In the first Australian forces were making a fighting withdrawal before the Japanese, who had landed in Papua earlier in the summer. The site of the two engagements was well known to historians and locals, but not until 2010 was an extension of the battlefield discovered by the western world. Well known to local natives, its existence had been kept quiet by them out of respect for the dead and fear of their spirits should the site where they fell be disturbed. The discovery included the remains of fallen soldiers of both sides of the war.

The Eora Creek battlefield was an extension of the fighting further downstream, where the Australians gained their first victory of the Kokoda Track campaign at the second of the two battles fought there. When it was discovered by a former Australian commando, it was reported that the field remained as it was when the fighting ceased, with human remains lying where they had fallen, though some obviously had been disturbed by wildlife. The scene was littered with weapons, military paraphernalia such as helmets and spent magazines, discarded weapons, unexploded hand grenades, and other indications of the savagery of the combat which took place there in 1942.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
The Japanese battleship Musashi was destroyed by air attacks during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, though its wreckage was later discovered by Paul Allen. US Navy

16. The Imperial Japanese Majesty’s Ship Musashi was one of the largest battleships ever built

Commissioned in 1942, Musashi was one of two Yamato class battleships built by the Japanese, the largest and most powerfully armed battleships ever built by any nation. They carried nine 18 inch guns as their main armament, and their secondary armament was of a caliber relegated to the main battery of cruisers in most of the world’s navies. Neither of the ships survived the war. Yamato was sunk by United States naval air forces in April 1945 while conducting what was essentially a suicide mission against the American forces deployed before Okinawa. US carrier forces engaged the ship and its escorts at sea before they reached the island. Musashi was sunk by American forces during the battle of Leyte Gulf in October of 1944.

An indication of the power and strength of Musashi can be gained by the amount of weaponry required to sink it. At least 19 torpedoes and a like number of aerial bomb hits struck the massive ship before it rolled over and sank, taking about 1,000 of its crew with it, while about 1,300 were rescued by the Americans. In March, 2015, an expedition led by Paul Allen discovered the ship, or rather what remains of the ship, in several pieces more than 3,000 feet beneath the surface. Unlike its sister Yamato, the wreck of which was discovered decades earlier, there has been no discussion of raising the Musashi in the Japanese government. Consideration of raising the former to recover the bodies of sailors entombed within has been based on the esteem with which the crew of Yamato has been held since the end of the war, based on their suicidal sacrifice.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
Some of the items found in the milk cans unearthed by a teenage boy. Science in Poland

17. Two milk cans found in Poland contained World War II artifacts

In May 2017 a teenaged boy vacationing with his family discovered two milk cans which upon closer examination contained artifacts dating to the Second World War, including a German officer’s uniform. The cache was found buried near Lake Jeziorak in Poland, and the cans and their contents were turned over to Polish authorities, who identified them as having belonged to Count Hans Joachim von Finckenstein, a Prussian aristocrat who lived nearby in what was then East Prussia. The following May scientists in Poland announced their findings regarding the cache, including what was learned from descendants of the Count, including his daughter.

The milk cans contained the Count’s last will and testament, a copy of his coat of arms, documents and diaries, money, jewelry, eyeglasses, military medals, and numerous other personal items, evidently buried in order to prevent them from being taken by the rapidly advancing Soviet army. The Count had sent his family to Pomerania, remaining behind on the estate with his wife, Hildegarda, and was imprisoned by the Soviets, dying in their custody sometime later. His wife remained on the estate in the employ of the Soviets, and among the items buried in the milk cans was a note from a Russian officer requesting that the remaining people on the estate be left unmolested. It was most likely Hildegarda who buried the milk cans, which remained undiscovered for more than seven decades.

Recent Groundbreaking Discoveries of World War II Artifacts
Type XXI U-Boats moored in Bergen, Norway in 1945. Wikimedia

18. A German U-Boat which may have been used to transport Nazis to South America was discovered in 2018

The German Type XXI U-Boat was the most advanced design of the war, built to travel long distances and according to some historians carry passengers, leading to speculation that they were used to carry escaping Nazi officials to safe havens near the end of the war. On May 6, 1945 one of the Type XXI boats, U-3523, was spotted in the waters in the Skagerrak and sunk by a British bomber. In April 2018 researchers from the Sea War Museum Jutland announced that the wreck of the sunken submarine had been found, with the bow of the vessel buried in the sea bed and the remainder of the submarine angled upwards at a forty-five degree angle. The vessel is in about 400 feet of water, making access to it relatively simple, especially using remote piloted vehicles.

An examination of the U-Boat could provide hard answers regarding the U-Boat activities and South America at the end of the war. At least one U-Boat made it to South America, known as a fact because it surrendered there. Reports of others being sighted were common after the war ended. An examination of U-3523 could determine if it was fleeing there with Nazi leaders, departing the Skagerrak only two days after the Germans had surrendered in Denmark and the Netherlands. The likelihood of raising the vessel or exploring it for artifacts is slim, since it is designated a war grave. The angle at which it lies would also be a problem for searchers, so whether it was laden with looted gold, or carried Nazi leaders will likely remain a mystery.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Wreck of USS Juneau Discovered in the Solomon Islands”. Jason Daley, March 22, 2018

“Pilot of lost Second World War plane to be buried”. Hannah Furness, The Telegraph. May 14, 2012

“Robert Ballard’s Bismarck”. Robert Ballard and Rick Archbold. 2007

“Pigeon takes secret message to grave”. Our History, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). December 15, 2016. Online

“Uncovering the I-400 Class Japanese Submarine Aircraft Carriers of WW2”. Christopher McFadden, Interesting Engineering. April 27, 2017

“Nazi aircraft carrier located”. BBC News. July 28, 2006

“Discovery of World War II soldier’s plane brings closure”. John Rogers, The Associated Press reprinted in Military Times. May 24, 2018

“Messerchmitt Bf-109 that was found in a Russian lake and recovered by Jim Pearce”. Jack Beckett, War History Online. March 6, 2015

“Schoolboy in Denmark finds downed Messerschmitt on family farm”. Nick Squires, The Telegraph. March 8, 2017

“Titanic explorer finds Yorktown”. CNN. June 4, 1998

“Unique Soviet T-34 tank recovered from river in south Russia”. Kristina Brazhnikova, Russia Beyond/TASS. July 14, 2016

“Wreckage of World War II-era warship USS Indianapolis found after 72 years”. Christina Nunez, National Geographic. October 16, 2018

“Remains of warplane found 75 years after crash”. Claire Farrugia, Times of Malta. September 10, 2017

“Gold hoard buried in Nazi era or just after WW2 found in Germany”. Michelle Martin, Reuters. July 15, 2015

“The Devil and the Art Dealer”. Alex Shoumatoff, Vanity Fair. April 2004

“Lost Battlefield Eora Creek Stage 2 Final Public Report”. Matthew Kelly. January 2011. Pdf Online

“US Billionaire Paul Allen discovers wreck of Japan’s biggest warship Musashi”. Jon Henley, The Guardian. March 4, 2015

“Teen Unearths Milk Cans Holding WWII Heirlooms from Aristocratic Prussian Family”. Laura Geggel, Live Science. May 11, 2018

“Wreck of Nazi Germany’s Most Advance U-Boat Discovered”. Jason Daley, April 24, 2018