Wreck of WWII aircraft carrier USS Wasp discovered in the Coral Sea

The wreck of World War II aircraft carrier USS Wasp has been discovered in the Coral Sea more than 70 years after the ship was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign.

Wasp was spotted on the seabed by experts from the vessel RV Petrel, which is part of a research organization set up by the late billionaire Paul Allen.

The carrier was escorting Marine reinforcements to Guadalcanal when she was hit by four torpedoes fired by the Japanese submarine I-19 on Sept. 15, 1942. Of the ship’s 2,162-strong crew, 176 were killed in the attack.

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Unable to battle the fires that raged on the carrier, Wasp’s crew were forced to abandon the ship. Drifting and aflame, the vessel was scuttled by U.S. forces.

The Bridge of the USS Wasp (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

The Bridge of the USS Wasp (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

In a statement, Allen’s Vulcan organization notes that, although the torpedoes caused a massive inferno, Wasp’s crew were reluctant to leave the ship until all their crewmates were safe.

The storied ship, which was the first to launch U.S. Army planes from a U.S. Navy carrier, was also deployed to Iceland in 1941 and to the besieged Mediterranean island of Malta in April and May 1942.

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“Wasp represented the U.S. Navy at the lowest point after the start of WWII. Her pilots and her aircrew, with their courage and sacrifice, were the ones that held the line against the Japanese when the Japanese had superior fighter aircraft, superior torpedo planes and better torpedoes,” said Rear Admiral (Ret.) Samuel Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, in the statement. “The first year of the war, it was touch and go. Those who served at that time deserve the gratitude of our nation for holding the Japanese back.”

The wreckage of an Avenger aircraft. (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

The wreckage of an Avenger aircraft. (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

Resting at a depth of nearly 14,000 feet, photos captured by an undersea drone clearly show Wasp’s bridge, anti-aircraft guns, a 5-inch gun, the wreckage of Avenger aircraft and an anchor.

Earlier this year the RV Petrel discovered one of the first Japanese battleships to be sunk by U.S. forces during World War II. Imperial Japanese Navy ship Hiei sank on Nov. 14, 1942, in the Solomon Islands.

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Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died in October 2018 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His research organization has discovered a host of historic military shipwrecks, such as the wrecks of the USS Helena, the USS Lexington and the USS Juneau.

The USS Wasp wreck is resting at a depth of nearly 14,000 feet. (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

The USS Wasp wreck is resting at a depth of nearly 14,000 feet. (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

The group’s biggest discovery, however, came in 2017, when Allen and his team found the long-lost wreck of the USS Indianapolis in the Philippine Sea.

Researchers across the globe are working to locate sites of World War II wrecks. The wreckage of U.S. B-24 bomber, for example, was discovered in Papua New Guinea, in a separate project. The plane’s wreck was found in 2018, 74 years after it was shot down during a fierce battle with Japanese forces.

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Last summer a team of scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the University of Delaware located the missing stern of the destroyer USS Abner Read, which was torn off by a Japanese mine in the remote Aleutian Islands.

1.1 -inch aircraft guns on USS Wasp (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

1.1 -inch aircraft guns on USS Wasp (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

Seventy-one lives were lost following the incident on Aug. 18, 1943, although the crew’s heroics kept the Abner Read afloat. Sailors worked quickly to shore up the damage and kept the main part of the Aber Read’s hull watertight. Two nearby U.S. Navy ships towed the destroyer back to port.

Also last year, a decades-long mystery about the fate of a ship that disappeared during a World War II rescue mission was finally solved.

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The wreck of the Empire Wold, a Royal Navy tug, was discovered by coastguards off the coast of Iceland. The ship sank on Nov. 10, 1944, with the loss of her 16 crewmembers.

5-inch gun aboard USS Wasp

5-inch gun aboard USS Wasp (Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc./Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel)

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An extremely rare World War II Spitfire fighter plane flown by a pilot who later took part in the "Great Escape" was also recovered from a remote Norwegian mountainside last year.

Fox News’ Nicole Darrah contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers