Sunken USS Juneau Famous for the Sullivan Brothers Discovered on St. Patrick’s Day

Wreckage from the USS Juneau (CL-52) was discovered on March 17, 2018, by the expedition crew of Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel. The Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo during the Battle of Guadalcanal, ultimately killing 687 men including all five of the Sullivan brothers. The Atlanta-class light cruiser was found 4,200 meters (about 2.6 miles) below the surface, resting on the floor of the South Pacific off the coast of the Solomon Islands.

“We certainly didn’t plan to find the Juneau on St. Patrick’s Day. The variables of these searches are just too great,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Paul Allen. “But finding the USS Juneau on Saint Patrick’s Day is an unexpected coincidence to the Sullivan brothers and all the service members who were lost 76 years ago.”

The R/V Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) first identified the ship in its side scan sonar on March 17. Upon analysis of the sonar data, the Petrel crew deployed its remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) on March 18 to verify the wreckage through its video capabilities.

juneau-edited-1-768x528 The USS Juneau In New York Harbor, 11 February 1942. Courtesy the U.S. National Archives.

CL-52-Prop-768x432 The prop of the USS Juneau resting on the seafloor.

“As the fifth commanding officer of USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), a ship named after five brothers, I am excited to hear that Allen and his team were able to locate the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) that sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal,” said Vice Adm. Rich Brown, commander, Naval Surface Forces. “The story of the USS Juneau crew and Sullivan brothers epitomize the service and sacrifice of our nation’s greatest generation.”

The USS Juneau had a short service history only being commissioned just under a year prior to it sinking.

During its fateful battle on November 13, 1942, a second torpedo hit on its port side creating a significant explosion that cut the ship in half and killed most of the men onboard, including all five Sullivan brothers. Because the Juneau sank in 30 seconds and due to the risk of further Japanese attacks, the American task force did not stay to check for survivors. Although approximately 115 of Juneau‘s crew reportedly survived the explosion, including possibly as many as two of the five Sullivan brothers, naval forces did not undertake rescue effort for several days and only 10 men were rescued from the water eight days after the sinking.

The Sullivan family of Waterloo, Iowa lost their sons George, Francis “Frank,” Joseph, Madison “Matt” and Albert despite the naval policy that prevented siblings from serving in the same units. The brothers refused to serve unless assigned to the same ship and the policy was ignored. According to naval historians, the brothers’ deaths became a rallying cry for the allied forces.

NH-52362-768x601 The Sullivan brothers on board the USS Juneau, 14 February 1942 From left to right: Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan Courtesy U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

“I had the opportunity to visit The Sullivans earlier this month and I can tell you the fighting spirit of the Sullivan brothers – George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al – lives on through the fantastic crew that mans the ship today. The crew embodies the ship’s motto, ‘We Stick Together’ each day. My time on The Sullivans and the relationship I formed with the ship’s sponsor, Kelly, the granddaughter of Albert, are some of my most cherished memories,” said Brown.

Allen-led expeditions have also resulted in the discovery of the USS Lexington (March 2018), USS Indianapolis (August 2017), USS Ward (November 2017), USS Astoria (February 2015), Japanese battleship Musashi (March 2015) and the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere (March 2017). His team was also responsible for retrieving the ship’s bell from the HMS Hood for presentation to the British Navy in honor of its heroic service.

Allen’s expedition team was permanently transferred to the newly acquired and retrofitted R/V Petrel in 2016 with a specific mission around research, exploration and survey of historic warships and other important artifacts. The 250-foot R/V Petrel is fitted with state-of-the-art subsea equipment capable of diving to 6,000 meters (or three and a half miles).