July 1, 2005

Divers discover WWII U.S. sub in Gulf of Thailand

By Ed Cropley

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A team of deep-sea divers hasdiscovered the wreck of a U.S. submarine sunk by a Japaneseminelayer 60 years ago in the Gulf of Thailand during theclosing stages of World War II.

The U.S.S. Lagarto, a 1,500 ton"Balao class" submarine,disappeared without trace on May 4, 1945 after attacking aJapanese tanker and destroyer convoy around 100 miles off thesoutheast coast of Thailand.

All 86 men on board are still listed as missing in action.

"We've always known that since the end of the War there'sbeen a submarine missing around there," said British wreckdiver Jamie MacLeod, who discovered the 110 m (310-foot)submarine sitting in 70m (225 ft) of water in May.

"We went into all the war-time records, cross-referencedthem with fishermen's marks and then searched with the sonarand it came up trumps -- we found a bump on the bottom, wentdown the line and there it was," MacLeod said.

The Pentagon has not yet confirmed the identity of thewreck, which remains the property of the U.S. Navy underinternational maritime law, although MacLeod says there islittle doubt in his mind. "It's a Balao class sub for surebecause I've seen it and touched it and it's the only one lostin Thailand," he said.

The Gulf of Thailand is the final resting place for manyU.S. and Japanese ships and planes destroyed in the strugglefor maritime supremacy in South East Asia and the South ChinaSea in World War II.

Thailand's west coast is strewn with Japanese and Britishwarships sunk while patrolling the Indian Ocean shoreline fromports in Burma, or Myanmar as it is now called, and Sri Lanka.MacLeod, who said he had also just discovered a Lockheed P38Lightning -- a high-altitude fighter dubbed the "ForktailedDevil" by the German Luftwaffe -- said the Lagarto appeared tobe relatively undamaged.

"It looks to me like it's intact and it's sitting uprighton the bottom in very clear water, so you can get a good ideaof what it looks like," he said. "Everything is still on it --all the armaments, the brass navigation lights. It'sbeautiful."

Having contacted relatives of the crew through the U.S.Submarines of WWII Veterans Association, MacLeod said he wouldbe taking two Lagarto grandchildren to the site of the wrecklater this month.

"It's nice because now the families are talking aboutclosure," MacLeod said.