Japanese researchers believe they have located the wreck of the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Hiei – designed by a British naval architect and built with British components before being pitted against the Royal Navy in the early exchanges of the Second World War in the Far East.
The Hiei was the first Japanese battleship to be lost in the conflict and members of the Tokyo-based Asian-Pacific Remembrance Honouring Association have been searching for the wreck for several years.
Badly damaged in an encounter in November 1942 with US Navy units off Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, the Hiei was under tow when it was subsequently attacked by US bombers and the order was given to abandon ship.
The vessel drifted at night from its last confirmed position before sinking with the loss of 188 of her crew, making determining its final resting place more difficult.
The Japanese group has used sonar to map the seabed around the Solomons and to identify anomalies. In late November a previously unknown wreck was discovered about 7 miles north of Guadalcanal.
The wreckage is at a depth of more than 1,300 feet and partly covered in sand and debris, the group said. Sonar images show a vessel approximately 490 feet long, 130 feet wide and standing 16 feet proud of the seabed.
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A second debris field is slightly nearer to the surface and is believed to be part of the vessel measuring around 100 feet long by 26 feet wide.
Experts believe the vessel sank on an even keel and with its bridge upright, although it has sunk into the seabed over the intervening 76 years.
The Hiei was designed by George Thurston as the second of the Japanese navy’s four Kongo-class battlecruisers. Laid down at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal in 1911 and commissioned four years later, the Hiei was one of the most heavily armed warships in the world at the time.
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The ship saw service during the First World War before being mothballed. Called back into service in 1937, the Hiei underwent a full reconstruction to upgrade her to a battleship. The modifications included a new superstructure, catapults for floatplanes and an improved power plant to enable the ship to keep up with more modern vessels in the Japanese fleet.
The Hiei escorted the Japanese aircraft carriers that carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941, bringing the United States into the conflict, and was at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
The Hiei was also instrumental in raiding British interests in the Indian Ocean, taking part in an attack in March and April 1942, codenamed Operation C, that targeted merchant shipping and naval installations in Sri Lanka.