A rescue and salvage ship USS Salvor (ARS 52) and divers of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 arrived June 11 at the site in the Gulf of Thailand presumed to be the resting place of the WWII–era USS Lagarto (SS 371) and its crew.
In May 2005, British diver Jamie MacLeod reported finding Lagarto, which was last seen May 3, 1945. On May 8, 2006, MacLeod joined U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force Commander Rear Adm
. Jeffrey Cassias and families of crew members who served aboard Lagarto at a memorial service in the crew’s honor hosted by the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc
Over the next several days the divers from Salvor and MDSU-1 will conduct diving operations in an attempt to confirm MacLeod’s discovery, in keeping with a longstanding Navy practice of independently verifying such finds when possible.
Salvor is in the midst of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series in Southeast Asia and with the agreement of the Royal Thai navy – a CARAT exercise partner – was able to incorporate the Lagarto operation into the Thailand phase.
“We greatly appreciate the willingness of the Royal Thai navy to integrate this important real-world operation into the CARAT Thailand exercise plan,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Howard, Salvor’s commanding officer. “The crew of Salvor is especially honored to participate in an operation that may identify the final resting place of Lagarto and pay tribute to her brave crew.”
Salvor will utilize MDSU-1’s fly away mixed-gas system for the dives, as the wreck sits in approximately 225 feet of water. “This is a challenging dive, and any opportunity we have to utilize this system is great training and experience for the crew,” Howard said. The training benefit is furthered by the presence of a Royal Thai navy liaison officer on board. “Sharing experiences and expertise is what CARAT is all about,” Howard said.
On May 16, the mine countermeasures ship USS Patriot (MCM 7), which was operating in the area, conducted sonar operations at the location provided by MacLeod and provided its findings to Salvor. The information from Patriot allowed Salvor to accurately moor over the wreck without endangering the site.
The Salvor crew has been working closely with the Naval Historical Center (NHC) in preparation for this operation, and the divers’ findings, including underwater digital photography, will be provided to NHC electronically as quickly as possible for analysis.
While at the site, Salvor’s crew intends to conduct a traditional bell tolling memorial ceremony in honor of the Lagarto crew.
Salvor is homeported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and has a crew of approximately 100.
CARAT is a three-month series of bilateral exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand designed to enhance the operational cohesiveness of the participants.
By Commander Task Force 73 Public Affairs