The search for the lost Planes of the Pacific theatre

On March 30, 2015 a team of marine researchers found a missing plane from Second Word War, in the waters of Republic of Palau. The plane was a United States Navy Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, and was gunned down by the Japanese 70 years ago and was never found until now.

The invasion of Peleliu Island was highly criticized by the experts and politicians alike, and was famously called ‘the bitterest battle in the pacific theatre for the Marines’. The primary factor behind fierce criticism was the non-strategic location of the island, and high causality rate for the Marines. Operation was conducted nevertheless, and was named as ‘Operation Stalemate II’. Before the invasion U.S generals were very determined to capture the island in no more then a week, but as it turned out, the battle lasted for more then two months. The invasion of Peleliu proved to be a deadly endeavor for United States, due to its high causality rate, which exceeded all other operations in Pacific theatre, the UDaily reports.

This particular helldiver came under fire during a support mission in Operation Stalemate II, and crashed into the waters with two pilots on board. It was discovered as a result of a joint venture by the researchers from a number of teams that include:

  • UDCEOE (University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.
  • Coral Reef Research Foundation.
  • BentProp Project.
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California-San Diego.

Scientists conducted a detailed research on Archives, and a thorough analysis of the large amounts of historic data collected for over twenty years by BrentProp. The search was targeted and the supporting equipment was highly scientific and state of-the-art. First a huge effort was made to identify the high probability region for the Helldiver. Highly sophisticated technology, unmanned underwater search vehicles and high frequency sonar system, was put to use for this search.

This is said to be an on going mission for sometime, since the teams have to embark on another mission to search, and identify two more missing aircrafts from the same period of the War. One of them is a TBM Avenger while the other missing plane is called FSF Hellcat. The findings and the location of the aircraft found by the teams near Peleliu’s tropical waters will be handed over to the government of Palau, and DPAA (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. DPAA is the agency which is responsible for identification of the lost soldiers and notifying the concerned families.

The search is expected to continue through the month of April, as the teams continue their efforts in search of other missing planes. Mark Moline, who is a renowned Oceanographer and also the Director of UDCEOE’s School of Marine Science and Policy, said that this mission requires a lot of hard work and dedication from every one involved with the project. He also appreciated the works and efforts of the divers and researchers on land, who worked tirelessly in search of the missing planes. He called this endeavor is a huge contribution towards the history and peace for the families of the soldiers who their lives in WWII.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE