On the night of February 28, 1942, the USS Houston, nicknamed “The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast,” was engaged in a naval skirmish in the Battle of Sunda Strait off the coast of Java. The battle was precipitated by a Japanese attempt to invade the island of Java on February 27, an attempt that was halted by the efforts of the USS Houston and the HMAS Perth. Unfortunately, the USS Houston and HMAS Perth would intersect the path of multiple Japanese ships during a routine deploy through the Sunda Strait on February 28, and both ships would eventually be sunk by the Japanese forces. At the time of her demise, the USS Houston was carrying 1,068 crewmen – 700 sailors and Marines died when the ship sunk and another 291 sailors and soldiers would survive, only to be taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese.
The wreckage of the USS Houston had remained on the floor of the Pacific Ocean for 72 years until recent efforts by the United States and Indonesian navies would finally confirm the identification of the sunken vessel.
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) August 19, 2014
Unfortunately, the ship did not remain undiscovered throughout its underwater stay. Divers have reported signs of human interference with the ship, noting the removal of hull rivets, a metal plate, and an unexploded ordnance. To make matters worse, the crew also discovered that the hull is actively leaking oil.
“In my discussions with our Indonesian navy partners, they share our sense of obligation to protect this and other gravesites. Surveying the site, of course was only the first step in partnering to respect those sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedoms and security that we richly enjoy today,” stated U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Harry Harris.
— U.S. Pacific Fleet (@USPacificFleet) August 18, 2014
In June, the US Navy laid a wreath at the site to commemorate the deaths of all the fallen soldiers. The official identity of the ship was not confirmed until Monday, however.
Currently, the Navy estimates that some 17,000 sunken ships and aircraft litter the floor of the world’s oceans.