Bikini Atoll wrecks - PART II, USS Saratoga.

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Feb 25, 2011
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Lancashire - not far from Preston.
So here we go! I've got some photo goodies to post from our week away over my birthday but for now I'll give you the American aircraft carrier sunk in Bikini Atoll as previously promised!


Wikipedia has this to say about the "Sara" which I have condensed somewhat...

USS Saratoga (CV-3) was the first aircraft carrier to bear that name. She was commissioned one month earlier than her sister ship, Lexington. As Saratoga was visually identical to Lexington, her funnel was painted with a large black vertical stripe to assist pilots in recognizing her. Saratoga, Enterprise, and Ranger were the only fleet aircraft carriers of the United States Navy built before the war to survive and serve throughout World War II.

She was laid down on 25 September 1920, as a Lexington class Battle Cruiser by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, at Camden, New Jersey but construction as a battleship was canceled and re-ordered as an aircraft carrier. She was commissioned on 16 November 1927, and Captain Harry E. Yarnell was appointed to command her.

On 11th. January, 1942, while heading for a rendezvous with USS Enterprise 580 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor, she was hit by a deep-running torpedo that had been fired by an Imperial Japanese submarine. Although six of her sailors were killed and three of her boiler rooms flooded, Saratoga reached Pearl Harbor under her own power. Beside undergoing temporary repairs her eight 8-inch guns were removed for installation in shore batteries on Oahu, the decision to do so being based upon the fact that these guns were useless for defence against enemy aircraft.

She was damaged by another torpedo the following year off the Solomon Isles and whilst no one was killed she was left dead in the water due to the destruction of part of her electrical power system. After repairs she again took up station off the Solomon Isles.

In 1944 Saratoga was despatched to assist the British carrier fleet stationed in the Indian Ocean culminating in attacks against the Japanese upon Java.

In 1945 Saratoga was involved in the attacks upon Iwo Jima and the other islands just short of the japanese mainland. At this time she was attacked and badly damaged by Japanese dive bombers which took advantage of low cloud cover and Saratoga's insufficient escort. Six planes scored five bomb hits on the carrier in three minutes. Saratoga's flight deck forward was wrecked, her starboard side was holed twice and large fires were started in her hangar deck. She lost 123 of her crew. Another attack at 1900 scored an additional bomb hit but by 2015, the fires were under control, and Saratoga was able to recover aircraft. She was ordered to Eniwetok and then to the West Coast for repairs, arriving at Bremerton on 16th. March.

On 22nd. May, Saratoga departed Puget Sound fully repaired and soon she was transporting 3,712 naval veterans home to the United States as part of Operation Magic Carpet. By the end of her "Magic Carpet" service, Saratoga had brought home 29,204 Pacific war veterans, more than any other individual ship. At the time, she also held the record for the greatest number of aircraft landed on a carrier, with a lifetime total of 98,549 landings in 17 years.

Saratoga was deemed surplus to requirements, and she was assigned to Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll to test the effect of the atomic bomb on naval vessels. She survived the first blast (Test Able), an air burst on 1st. July, 1946, with only minor damage, but was damaged beyond repair by the second (Test Baker) on 25th. July, an underwater blast which was detonated 500 yards from the carrier. Salvage efforts were prevented by radioactivity, and seven-and-one-half hours after the blast, with her funnel collapsed across her deck, Saratoga slipped, stern first, beneath the surface of the lagoon.

And 60 years later to the minute of her sinking we dived her! Sadly within only three months of our dives on this magnificent ship her already fragile bridge structure collapsed under the weight of her AA director tower down into the hanger of the flight deck below rendering her too dangerous for further diving. The final nail in her coffin was the unreliability of the local air operator, Air Marshall isles who left a group of divers stranded on the Atoll for three weeks. With this degree of unreliability Bikini Atoll Divers could not continue and the atoll was closed for diving shortly afterwards.

At 9 inches longer than the Britannic (Titanic's sister ship) the USS Saratoga was for a long time the biggest wreck dive in the world but literally a few weeks before we dived her the American authorities sank another carrier off Florida, the USS Oriskany... trust them to b*gger up a record we would have enjoyed! :mad:

The piccies...

We are alongside the bottom of the bridge island hovering over the hangar deck lift.


...and now we are at hangar deck level some 8 or 10 metres deeper.


A lot of crockery which survived the sinking is littered about the ship.


Brew time at 38 metres!


A fully armed Helldiver sits upright on it's undercarriage in the hanger and this is inside the cockpit.


This rather silty photo shows a selection of artifacts gathered together upon an oil drum sat just forward of some live 500lb bombs.


If my memory serves me well these are 4" AA guns in a turret situated forward of the hangar lift.


Beneath the edge of the flight deck are several of these artillery positions mounting mid range AA weapons.


The diver bottom of frame gives some idea of the scale (and delicate nature) of the bridge superstructure.


This is a navigation marker lamp which would have shown a starboard mark in green off the side of the ship.


The same starboard marker lamp.


I think these lights signalled "hold" and "depart" to the aircraft waiting on the flight deck.


This is what urbexing underwater is all about for us - getting inside a wreck!


Time for a wash and brush up!


A water fountain or a urinal? You decide!


The money shot! These helmets are Siebe Gorman standard diving rigs which were all that was available for divers before the invention of the aqualung
in the 1950s by Jacques Cousteau. Despite their rather cumbersome appearance they are remarkably easy to use as I can personally testify!


TJ with a clarinet!


Yet more crockery!


Speaking tubes on the bridge.


The main steering compass on the bridge.


A collection of instruments that have rotted off the walls over the 60 years she has been down.


The bridge was closed up to battle conditions when the bombs were detonated. This was the view through the heavy armour forwards towards the bows.


Believe it or not this is the ship's bugle! Alerts were broadcast around the ship by Tannoy but a signaller still had to play those alerts.


At Bikini we were encouraged to touch what we pleased so long as we put everything back where we found it. This is me (M) with the ship's bugle.


Here we can see the armour over the bridge which we had been looking out of earlier.


Yet more AA artillery in a deck emplacement by the bridge island.


The Sara is big... bl**dy big! Here we are hanging just below the bow.


The starboard side anchor still sits in it's hawse hole.


We descended to the seabed at around 50 metres to view several Helldivers and (I think) Hellcats, which had toppled off the deck as Sara was lifted almost vertical by the Baker blast.


...and here is one of them still with bombs inside her open bomb bay in the belly of the plane.


Despite several kilotons of blast just 500 metres away these bombs did not detonate!


A fuel drop tank beneath another aircraft.


Time to relax whilst we watch our resident Hara Kiri Japanese diver chasing an Eagle ray despite strict instructions to relax at one depth during deco!!!


So there you go! We hope you enjoyed part two of Bikini Atoll. There's lots more where they came from if you want to see them!

Thanks for looking.​


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Oct 5, 2009
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Wow, what a lovely report, some really great shots there, really like the one of you in the diving suit, how old is that picture????

Ninja Kitten

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Jun 12, 2011
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ahhhh..i just never know what to say with your reports...just ace soooo good..


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Feb 15, 2011
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Thanks for a very interesting report and pics and thanks to Krela for the video link :cool:

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