Video: Paul Allen and crew of superyacht Octopus discover long-lost WWII shipwreck

6 March 2015

Microsoft co-founder and yacht owner Paul Allen and his team on board superyacht Octopus have discovered what is believed to be the wreck of one of the biggest warships of the Second World War, the Japanese ship Musashi, which sunk in 1944.

Paul Allen has been looking for the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Yamato class battleship Musashi for eight years, using the largest expedition superyacht in the world, 126 metre Lürssen Octopus as his lead search platform. The billionaire philanthropist broke the news on Twitter after the wreck was found on 2 March lying on the seabed 1,000 metres down, in the Sibuyan Sea off the coast of the Philippines.

She was lost on 24 October 1944, and Paul Allen’s team have shared video footage (above) showing the boat for the first time since her disappearance. Shot remotely via Octopus’ unmanned submersible vehicle, the footage shows details on the warship such as a valve wheel from a lower engineering area, Musashi’s catapult system which launched its Mitsubishi planes, a 12.7cm gun turret, its two 15-ton anchors and the bow of the Musashi, which would have had on it a large teak chrysanthemum which was the imperial seal of Japan.

The director of Japan's Kure Maritime Museum Kazushige Todaka has told CNN after viewing the footage that it appeared that the vessel was the Musashi and that given the location and the depth at which the wreck was found, he was "90 per cent sure" it was her.

In an interview with CNN, he says, "The location of the sunken ship has never been identified since it went down. I have heard countless stories in the past that the ship was discovered, but they all turned out not to be true. It's a wonderful discovery, if it's true, as we have long been looking for the battleship." Todaka said it was “a meaningful discovery and a good chance for us to remind ourselves about the war and its tragedy”.

Paul Allen told CNN that he had been fascinated with World War II history all his life, inspired by his father's service in the U.S. Army, saying, "The Musashi is truly an engineering marvel and, as an engineer at heart, I have a deep appreciation for the technology and effort that went into its construction. I am honoured to play a part in finding this key vessel in naval history and honouring the memory of the incredible bravery of the men who served aboard her."

The warship Musashi was launched on 1 November 1940 after a top secret build operation in which she was entirely covered, for fear of giving the big secret away to the Allies. At the time she was the largest class of warship ever constructed, displacing more than 69,000 tons. She was one of two Yamato-class battleships constructed by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Four years later she had become a primary target for the Allied forces engaged in the war in Japan and after a fierce four-hour battle on October 24, 1944, during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the warship was eventually sunk by what the US Navy reported as 10 hits from torpedo planes. Navy dive bombers also hit the ship 16 times.

"She went down by the bow, capsizing when the forward deck was submerged," said the Navy report, based on survivor accounts. In all 1023of the Musashi's crew were lost in the battle and the sinking, with more than 1,300 survivors saved by other Japanese warships.

A statement released by Vulcan, Allen's company, said that the team combined historical data with advanced technology to narrow the search area, and that Allen had "commissioned a hypsometric bathymetric survey of the ocean floor to determine the terrain" before searching the area with a Bluefin autonomous underwater vehicle. The Vulcan statement added that the team is "mindful of the responsibility related to the wreckage of the Musashi as a war grave and intend to work with the Japanese government to ensure the site is treated respectfully and in accordance with Japanese traditions”.

Octopus was fitted out for serious expedition work, featuring a helicopter pad and garage aft and a second helicopter pad on the bows. A novel facility of her design is her internal dock, which, opening from her transom, runs forward through the yacht, allowing a 20 metre submarine and a tender of similar size to float into their storage positions. Once secured, the water is pumped out, leaving them resting on chocks.