PICTURES: WWII "Samurai Subs" Found -- Carried Aircraft

PICTURES: WWII ''Samurai'' Subs Found -- Carried Aircraft
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ON TV Hunt for the Samurai Subs premieres Tuesday, November 17, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. Preview Samurai Subs >>

November 12, 2009--After 60 years in a watery Hawaiian grave, two World War II-era Japanese attack submarines have been discovered near Pearl Harbor, marine archaeologists announced today. (Watch video of the sunken subs.)

Specifically designed for a stealth attack on the U.S. East Coast--perhaps targeting Washington, D.C., and New York City--the "samurai subs" were fast, far-ranging, and in some cases carried folding-wing aircraft, according to Dik Daso, curator of modern military aircraft at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, speaking in the new National Geographic documentary Hunt for the Samurai Subs.

When World War II ended in 1945, the U.S. Navy seized the Japanese fleet in the Pacific, including five samurai subs, as they're called in the new film. The subs were later sunk, to keep the technology out of the hands of the Soviet Union.The military didn't record where the boats had been laid to rest, thinking no one would want to know.

Since 1992 archaeologist Terry Kerby and colleagues at the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory have hunted for the samurai subs in manned submersibles. The crew found the I-401 in 2005 (pictured, a close-up of the submarine's guns). Then, in February of this year, they found two more subs, the I-14 and I-201. The I-400--one of the largest non-nuclear submarines ever built--and the I-203 remain missing.

"It's very moving to see objects like this underwater, because it's a very peaceful environment, but these subs were designed for aggression," said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hans Van Tilburg, who accompanied the expedition. The work was partially funded by the National Geographic Channel. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News and part-owns the National Geographic Channel.)

The results of the sub surveys are "information we're sharing across the Pacific," Van Tilburg added, noting how much has changed politically since World War II. "It's part of that reconciliation, to do a peaceful survey of these secret weapons."

--Christine Dell'Amore
—Image courtesy Wild Life Productions
 
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