US Navy WWII cruiser wreck off Indonesia still intact, survey reveals

This photo shows the cruiser USS Houston (CA30) in the San Diego Bay in Oct. 1935. Photo: US Navy

The wreck of the U.S. Navy’s World War II cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) lying in Indonesian waters appears to be intact, an analysis of data from a multi-beam sonar survey has revealed.

Following a 2014 expedition, specialists from the Naval History and Heritage Command Underwater Archeology (UA) Branch suspected the wreck was vandalized by illegal scrappers.

More specifically, findings indicated that hull rivets, metal plating, and associated artifacts from the wreck site were removed.

In December 2016, the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) and the National Research Centre of Archaeology Indonesia/Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (ARKENAS) conducted a remote-sensing survey of the wreck sites of Royal Australian navy light cruiser HMAS Perth (D29) and Houston.

Both ships were lost in battle during World War II at Sunda Strait, March 1, 1942, immediately following the Java Sea Campaign.

They sunk in what is now Indonesian waters — Houston with almost 650 sailors and marines, Perth with 353 sailors.

The survey data provided Navy archaeologists their first full view of the wreck site. Although Houston has been surveyed in the past, a lack of time and availability of platforms and equipment meant all the past documentation of the site has been close-up video and still imagery of sections of the ship.

Those images revealed detailed sections and the general condition of Houston, but the new multi-beam sonar imagery shows the entire wreck site and confirms the wreck remains in its original sinking location and is largely intact.

“We are encouraged that Houston is still there; however, the data is not detailed enough to determine if disturbance, especially small scale disturbance as noted previously, has continued,” said Sam Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The staff of ANMM is working with NHHC to provide the raw multi-beam data from the Houston survey. NHHC archaeologists will then examine the raw data to see if it reveals further information about the condition of the wreck not evident in the processed data provided by ANMM.

“We’re grateful to the Australian National Maritime Museum and Indonesia’s National Research Centre of Archaeology for sharing this information with us,” said Cox. “We take very seriously our obligation to remember the service of American and allied sailors who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. We’ll do everything we can, and work with everyone we must, to safeguard their final resting places.”

With the 75th anniversary of the Battles of Java Sea and Sunda Strait coming up, the U.S. Navy is planning a number of commemorative activities to honor the service and sacrifice of those who fought there.

NHHC, along with partners from Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands, created an exhibit to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battles of Java Sea and Sundra Strait at the Maritime Museum Bahari in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The exhibit will include more than 20 panels discussing various aspects of the battles such as the ships which participated, the actions taken by all combatants, the aftermath of the battle, and the current status of the battlefield.

Also on view will be several models of ships and airplanes, objects from the era, and family friendly activities.

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