Ex-crew recognises photos of sunken Japanese battleship

2015-03-06 12:12
Filipino World War II historian Professor Rico Jose shows pictures during an attack on Japanese World War II battleship Musashi at his office in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila. (Aaron Favila, AP)

Filipino World War II historian Professor Rico Jose shows pictures during an attack on Japanese World War II battleship Musashi at his office in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila. (Aaron Favila, AP)

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Tokyo - A former crewmember on a Japanese battleship that sank during World War II said on Thursday he recognised photos of wreckage discovered this week off the Philippines by a team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Shizuhiko Haraguchi served as a gunnery officer on the Musashi, one of the largest battleships in history, when it was being fitted in Japan before it departed for the Pacific in 1943.

He said he recognsed underwater photos taken by Allen's team of a large gun turret and a catapult system used to launch planes.

"I recognized that main turret, which I was assigned to," Haraguchi, aged 93, said in a telephone interview from his home in Nagasaki in southern Japan where the ship was built, fitted and tested. "I felt very nostalgic when I saw that."

The Musashi had nine 46cm guns, which were each 20m long, he said.

Haraguchi said other details released by Allen convinced him that the wreckage was that of the Musashi. He said a round base shown in a photo of the bow was where a chrysanthemum decoration used to be, an Imperial seal that only battleships were allowed to carry.

Allen said his team found the battleship at a depth of 1km in the Sibuyan Sea using an autonomous underwater vehicle following more than eight years of study.

Hit by torpedoes

Allen called the Musashi an "engineering marvel" and said he was honoured to have found a key ship in naval history.

Historians and military experts praised the apparent discovery of the legendary battleship after 70 years, saying it would help promote interest in World War II studies. A group supporting navy veterans said survivors would want to hold a memorial service at the site.

Haraguchi left the ship just before its departure because he was transferred to an aviation unit in eastern Japan.

The apparent discovery on Sunday of the battleship comes as the world marks the 70th anniversary of the war's end.

The Musashi, commissioned in 1942, sank in October 1944 in the Sibuyan Sea during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, losing about half of its 2 400 crew members. Only a few hundred eventually returned home alive. The ship was repeatedly hit by torpedoes and bombs dropped by planes from Allied aircraft carriers.

The naval battle, considered the largest of World War II, crippled the Imperial fleet, cut off Japanese oil supplies and allowed the US invasion of the Japanese-held Philippines.

"The discovery of the Musashi was really a nice surprise," Haraguchi said. "It was as if the spirits of her crewmembers who sank with her were telling us to remember them for the 70th anniversary."

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