The November 2014 SOLOMONS
Archaehistoria.org and Sealark Maritime Exploration Ltd
The objectives of this expedition were to interpret the hydrographic results from the Royal New Zealand Navy Operation Calypso surveys in Iron Bottom Sound in November 2011. Archaehistroria.org was involved with these original surveys, providing historical research support and on site identification of sites and planning of sonar survey areas to the Royal New Zealand Navy. In addition, we aimed on this mission to discover new sonar targets, dive them to identify, and archaeologically survey them in Iron Bottom Sound. Phase II of the expedition was to similarly survey WWII aircraft crashed on various islands in the Solomons, with a particular focus on American Skytrain (C-47, R4D or DC-3) aircraft sites.
An intensive programme was developed which relied on precise timing and involved four team members flying in from different countries, the arrival of the expedition vessel from Australia, dive & camera equipment, and a hundred other issues. There was real potential that some objectives would not be met due to bad weather, transport problems (broken engines), accommodation issues, local politics, poor site location information, diving problems, injury, health issues, or airline flight cancellations…
This expedition was a joint effort between Archaehistoria.org and Sealark Maritime Exploration Ltd (SMX). Archaehistoria, operated by Ewan Stevenson, focuses on locating new underwater WWII sites in the Solomon Islands through historical research combined with modern marine sonar technology. Archaehistoria also conducts surveys on WWII land sites such as aircraft and battlefields in the South Pacific. Archaehistoria.org is particularly skilled at producing results and new discoveries in feasible timeframes.
SMX is a company dedicated to mapping the WWII underwater wrecks of the Solomon Islands and particularly Iron Bottom Sound.
This expedition was also a reunion of the wreck-finding team of Brian Bailey and Ewan Stevenson, who together discovered the wrecks of the USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) and USS Seminole (AT-65) in 1994.
A potential result was possible confirmation of an MIA site and subsequent reporting to JPAC in Hawaii.
Islands visited included Guadalcanal, Tanambogo, Gavutu, Tulagi, Floridas, San Cristobal (Makira), Ulawa, Vella Lavella, Baga (Bava), Bellona and Gizo.
Brian has more than half a century of wreck diving experience and is one of the original salvage divers of the Solomons. He is a true legend of South Pacific salvage, having commercially worked many of the Solomon’s wrecks. He dives 200 feet like it is 20 feet. His dive log is thousands and thousands long. He knows every reef and every wreck in the Solomons. This expedition was only made possible by Brian’s incredibly generous support such as bringing his 54-foot research vessel Wyuna to the Solomons from Australia.
A popular SSI diving instructor from New Zealand with many decades of diving experience.
Editor and owner of Dive New Zealand magazine, Dave Moran has half a century of diving and underwater photography experience all over the planet, including Antarctica.
Born and grown up on Guadalcanal, Ewan has been researching the WWII history of the Solomon Islands and diving the wrecks there since he was 8 years old, some 34 years ago.
Commander Matt Wray, RNZN
Currently serving in the Royal New Zealand Navy and has done so for more than three decades. He was Commanding Officer of HMNZS Resolution (A14) during Operation Calypso hydrographic surveys and fisheries patrols in the Solomon Islands in 2011. He is a Category A hydrographic surveyor. His knowledge of sonar systems & imaging, GPS, hydrographic survey, and wreck finding is unparalleled.
Therefore, the team that assembled aboard the RV Wyuna was a formidably talented group, and the combined team skills, hard work, and a whole lot of fun, produced the results below:
Summary of Results
The following sites were archaeological surveyed. Some are existing sites, and some are brand new discoveries. All images by Ewan Stevenson unless credited otherwise. Please note this is not a complete expedition dive log. There were dives which failed to locate targets and those targets roll over to the next expedition. In addition, some dives were aborted due unworkable conditions, high current, etc. Please note no artefacts were recovered from any of these sites.
1. The Gavutu Wildcat. 27 November 2014
Very specific objective with this site was to record in detail the battle damage in the port wing and port front wind screen. This was accomplished.
[Discovered by HMNZS Resolution / Archaehistoria 3 November 2011; bridge sonar technician on duty AHSO Julie Butler. Site identified as Grumman Wildcat on 3 Nov 2011 from sonar image by Ewan Stevenson. Site confirmed as Wildcat by ROV dive on 4 November 2011. First divers: Ewan Stevenson, Graham Jordaan, Vince Misiti, Craig Taylor, Michael “Mick” Harris, Jamie Leigh Pearson, and Norm Rohner on 9 November 2011]
Archaehistoria.org identifies this site at this time as LIKELY that of Lt. James E. Swett’s aircraft of 7 April 1943, Marine Fighting Squadron 221 (VMF-221). The plane is Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat, BuNo. 12084, Plane No. White ‘77’. Jim Swett became ‘an ace in a day’ on this day with this aircraft, claiming 8 aircraft shot down and subsequently awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. After receiving AA friendly fire, he water landed his battle damaged Wildcat off the Florida Islands. This site requires utmost respect from divers to preserve the archaeological integrity of the site. Please do not touch or tamper with this site. In particular, please do not remove any ammunition from the ammo bays, as this information is critically required for archaeological confirmation of the site. ARCHAEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS IS ONGOING ON THIS SITE.
2. The Omega MAVIS. 27 November 2014. NEW SITE DISCOVERY!
Kawanishi H6K Type 97 Flying Boat Found by side scan sonar by Royal New Zealand Navy (Lt. Cdr. Matt Wray and Lt. Philip “Pip” Davies) with survey area direction from Ewan Stevenson 4 November 2011.
First divers: Jeremy Hedley, Dave Moran, Ewan Stevenson, Chris and Desire Welgemode, Matt Wray.
This is the 5th MAVIS that Archaehistoria.org teams have discovered and the 9th that has been archaeologically surveyed by Archaehistoria.org in the Solomon Islands.
3. Matt Wray’s Catalina. 28 November 2014
Discovered by Dr. Robert Ballard in 1991 during side scan sonar surveys from Restless M. Re-discovered by HMNZS Resolution (A14) (Operation Calypso) 3 November 2011.
First divers: Lt. Cdr. Matt Wray and PODR Spencer “Jim” Dimond on 13 November 2011.
Archaehistoria.org identifies this site as Catalina PBY-5, BuNo. 04513, Side No. 91-P-3, from U.S. Navy Squadron Ninety-One (VP-91) crashed 18 November 1942 with PPC Lt (jg). James C. Doyle.
4. The House under the Sea. 28 November 2014
Archaehistoria.org identifies this site as Catalina PBY-5, BuNo. , Side No. 44-P-8, from U.S. Navy Squadron Forty-Four (VP-44) crashed 24 March 1943. PPC Lt. Jarloth Lyons. [First divers: Ewan Stevenson, Graham Jordaan, Vince Misiti, Craig Taylor, Michael “Mick” Harris, Neil Yates and Norm Rohner on 9 November 2011]
Second SCUBA dive in history on this site- divers were: Jeremy Hedley, Dave Moran, Ewan Stevenson and Matt Wray.
5. USS Aaron Ward (DD-483). 29 November 2014
Discovered by sonar September 1994 by Brian Bailey, Ian Gardiner and Ewan Stevenson.
First divers: Brian Bailey and Ian Gardiner September 1994]. Divers: Brian Bailey, Jeremy Hedley, Dave Moran, Ewan Stevenson, Matt Wray.
6. Two Logs! 29 November 2014. NEW SITE DISCOVERY!
This unidentified sonar target was SCUBA dived and disgustedly found to be two very large tree logs sitting parallel on the seafloor. No archaeological survey undertaken…target eliminated from programme.
First Divers: Dave Moran and Ewan Stevenson.
7. Japanese Midget Submarine. 30 November 2014. NEW IDENTIFICATION! Ko-Hyoteki 37
This particular Ko-hyoteki was salvaged by the USCGC Ironwood (WAGL-297) in January 1945. Ko-hyoteki 37 was released from mother submarine I-20 on 19 November 1942 to the West of Iron Bottom Sound. The Ko-hyoteki crew experienced trouble with the depth control system and were unable to carry out an attack on the American shipping roadstead at Lunga Point, so they scuttled the Ko-hyoteki off the West end of Guadalcanal. The Ko-hyoteki 37 crew were Lt. (jg) Toshiaki Miyoshi and PO1c Kiyoshi Umeda.
Divers: Brian Bailey, Dave Moran and Ewan Stevenson
This is the 4th Ko-hyoteki that Archaehistoria has surveyed of the eight used in the Guadalcanal Campaign. Archaehistoria has conducted ten searches for Ko-hyoteki in the Solomon Islands with successful outcome in three cases. One unsuccessful search was conducted off Savo Island in 2011 (see Savo Island sites this website). Ko- Hyoteki midget submarines around the globe (Hawaii, Diego Surez, Rabaul, Sydney, Guam, New Hanover, Guadalcanal, Kiska Island) are a favourite research topic.
8. Two American LCM-3 landing craft. 30 November 2014. NEW SITE DISCOVERY!
Two landing craft found bow to stern of each other.
First divers: Jeremy Hedley, Dave Moran, Ewan Stevenson, Matt Wray
9. Mavis M13. 30 November 2014. Kawanishi H6K Type 97 Flying Boat
Site discovered January 1999 by Archaehistoria Team: Kevin Denlay, Ewan Stevenson, Ian Gardiner and Richard Theakston
Snorkelers: Jeremy Hedley, Dave Moran, Ewan Stevenson and Matt Wray. [This shallow MAVIS site appears to have been wrecked prior to 25 June 1942].
10. Royal New Zealand Corvette HMNZS Moa (T-233). 1 December 2014
Sunk 7 April 1943 in Tulagi Harbour.
Divers: Jeremy Hedley, Dave Moran, Ewan Stevenson and Matt Wray.
11. “The long protrusion” WWII ship wreckage. 3 December 2014. NEW SITE DISCOVERY!
Probably ex-USS Serpens (AK-97)* . 20m long x 2.5m high.
First divers: Dave Moran and Ewan Stevenson [I was hoping this was going to be a Skytrain (DC-3) site but lucked out here].
*Archaehistoria was the first to correctly identify this wreck about 1990. This led Archaehistoria to discover the real USS Seminole (AT-65) wreck site. The Serpens was often erroneously referred to in 1970’s and 1980’s by divers as “the Seminole wreck…” including by the author’s father Charles C. “Jock” Stevenson.
12. Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair fighter. 4 December 2014. NEW SITE DISCOVERY!
Very intact site.
First divers: Dave Moran and Ewan Stevenson
13. “The Tripod” WWII ship wreckage. 3 December 2014. NEW SITE DISCOVERY!
Probably ex-USS Seminole (AT-65).
First divers: Dave Moran and Ewan Stevenson
14. Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair fighter. 6 December 2014
15. Vought OS2U-1 Kingfisher. 6 December 2014
Guadalcanal Island. This site is located at the Eastern end of the island and local oral folk history is that the floatplane was damaged in landing (or take off) whilst coming to rescue downed U.S. aviators. This was probably about 1943 to 1944 timeframe. It is likely the aircraft is from U.S. Navy Scouting Squadron 64 or 68. (VS-64 or VS-68). Does anyone have any ideas about this historical event?
16. Douglas R4D-5, BuNo. 17180 (USAAC 42-108893), Skytrain. 7 December 2014
Guadalcanal Island. This Skytrain crashed 12 July 1944 killing 15 persons with one survivor. The U.S. Marines Skytrain, flown by Major Edward H. Megson, USMCR, was from U.S. Marine Transport Squadron 152 (VMR-152).
17. Modern Solomons battlefield site. 7 December 2014
A modern battlefield bunker built during the ethnic tension c 2000. Very rare archaeological evidence of the recent ethnic conflict in the Solomon Islands. Located West end Maraupina Island. This bunker originally also had sand bags around the sides. The hole is quickly collapsing and filling in.
18. Douglas C-47A-30-DK Skytrain, 43-48236. 9 December 2014
Bellona Island. Piloted by Lt. George W. Jones, this ATC Skytrain crash landed in the middle of Bellona Island on 26 September 1944 with no fatalities.
19. Douglas R4D-5 Skytrain, BuNo. 39086, (USAAC 43-30704). 12 December 2014
Vella Lavella Island. All 19 persons onboard this Skytrain were killed when pilot 1st Lt. James A. Walker, USMCR, crashed on Vella Lavella Island 7 October 1944. The plane was from U.S. Marine Transport Squadron 153 (VMR-153).
20. Mitsubishi Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter ZEKE (A6M2). 12 December 2014
Vella Lavella Island. MIA site. This site had suffered severe damage within the last three years due to a European failed partial salvage of wings and engine (now missing). A Japanese party in recent times returned to the site and recovered and cremated the pilot’s bones. It is likely the identity of the pilot is known to the Japanese. It is illegal in the Solomon Islands to salvage or disturb any WWII site. What is the history of this site?
21. Mitsubishi Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter ZEKE (A6M2). 12 December 2014
Vella Lavella Island. Shallow marine aircraft sites in the Solomons are now practically completely destroyed by humans and environmental forces.
22. Japanese WWII wooden vessel. 12 December 2014
Vella Lavella Island. Probably a sea truck.
23. Freighter Gisho Maru. 13 December 2014
Vella Lavella Island. This site was first identified historically by Archaehistoria about 1990. The Gisho Maru was sunk by igniting dropped belly fuel tanks with strafing by P-38F Lightning pilots of the 339th Fighter Squadron on 3 April 1943. Two weeks later many of the same pilots would participate in the shoot down of Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, including pilot Lt. Rex Barber, the man who shot down the Admiral’s plane.
24. American landing craft engines. 13 December 2014
Vella Lavella Island. Probably from an LCM-3. Unknown incident. Located on offshore reef off Vella Lavella’s North-Eastern coast. Any ideas anyone?
25. Daihatsu Landing Craft. 14 December 2014.
Vella Lavella Island. Site history unknown. Second archaeological survey of this Daihatsu by Archaehistoria.org. These landing craft are made of very thin metal and now so fragile they are almost totally disintegrated. Many WWII sites in the South Pacific are disappearing fast or have already disintegrated or disappeared due illicit scrapping or salvage…please support Archaehistoria in recording these sites…
26. Aichi Navy Type 0 Reconnaissance JAKE Seaplane (E13A). 14 December 2014
Gizo Island. Site history unknown.
27. Mitsubishi Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter ZEKE (A6M). 14 December 2014
Gizo Island. Site history unknown.
28. Douglas R4D-1 Skytrain, BuNo. 12405, (USAAC 42-23315). 16 December 2014
San Cristobal Island. This Skytrain crashed 29 July 1943 into a San Cristobal mountain killing 8 persons with the remaining 20 onboard all being injured. The plane, from U.S. Marine Transport Squadron 152 (VMJ-152), was flown by 2nd Lt. Charles N. Brush at the time and was transiting from Guadalcanal to Espiritu Santo.
29. Boeing Flying Fortress B-17E, 41-2396. 17 December 2014
San Cristobal Island. This mechanically troubled B-17E of the 72nd Bomb Squadron of the 11th Bomb Group was being flown by Maj. James Edmundson (CO 431st BS) and Capt. Jack Thornhill from Guadalcanal to Espiritu Santo for repairs on 7 January 1943. Flying on three engines, the plane was off the coast of San Cristobal when another two engines faltered and consequently the plane was ditched.
30. Unidentified single engine American plane. 18 December 2014
San Cristobal Island. Probably a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber.
This expedition was very successful and met all major objectives. The whole expedition went smoothly with minimal disruptions due weather, etc. Some 29 WWII sites were examined and archaeologically recorded in 27 days. Five significant new WWII underwater wreck sites were discovered in Iron Bottom Sound. Four Skytrain wrecks were planned to be surveyed and all four were successfully located and surveyed. Over 130 videos were made, 250 pages of expedition log written, notes, sketches made, some 4000+ still images taken, dozens of GPS readings, audio recordings of interviews, hundreds of aerial photographs and local information gathered about additional WWII sites (un-surveyed) in the vicinity. In addition to the above, a wealth of experienced gained by the team in deep diving practise with high 02 deco mixes, underwater still image and video recording of archaeological sites, managing sonar surveys, deep low visibility underwater search methods and precisely locating sites. This knowledge can be put to good use in the next expedition. Great results from a great team.
Archaehistoria and SMX are planning the next expedition. We have excellent historical location information on a number of undiscovered marine sites including another MAVIS, a B-17 flying fortress bomber, and a B-24D Liberator bomber.
Besides the above, Archaehistoria.org is considering an expedition to archaeologically survey the WWII wrecks in the big Japanese destroyer and flying boat base in the Shortland Islands in the Northern Solomons say perhaps in November 2016?. This expedition will be looking at land sites as well as discovering new MAVIS and another major shipwreck site in the area and other underwater sites. It would involve chartering a liveaboard, for about 12 days. If you are interested in joining in, let me know.
Expedition Archaeological Material is available
Many wonderful folk helped to make this expedition such a great success. Peter Flahavin, Mike Fraser, Matt Conmee, John Innes, Professor Judy Bennett, Don Cook, Geoff Mitchell, Danny and Kerrie Kennedy, Neil Yates, Mike Carter, Noel & Rosie Hudson, Alfred Murray, and Jorg Krzonkalla.
I would like thank all the team members for making the expedition so much fun and being so dedicated to the ‘cause’.
Crucial research support from the United States of America: James C. Sawruk of Allentown and Sgt. Gene Leslie, USMC (Ret.) of Lake City.
I would especially like to thank my new company boss, Paul Ryan, for letting me take a month off work, just after I started employment at his company, Firetherm Ltd.
Finally I would like to thank my wife, Patrea, for letting me take a month off from family obligations, and assuming all parental duties of looking after our three children, whilst Dad swam 200 feet below Iron Bottom Sound and trekked 1500 feet up a San Cristobal mountain.
Don’t sonar re-search zones of redundant seafloor!
Large portions of Tulagi Harbour seafloor and Lunga Point area of Iron Bottom Sound have now been multi-beam and side scan sonar surveyed. If you are planning to conduct sonar surveys in the IBS area and in the Solomon Islands, don’t waste your time and resources re-surveying the same areas. Please contact me for new areas to explore so the frontier of exploration can be collectively expanded.
Auckland, New Zealand