BANGKOK (Reuters) - A team of deep-sea divers has discovered the wreck of a U.S. submarine sunk by a Japanese minelayer 60 years ago in the Gulf of Thailand during the closing 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 a Japanese tanker and destroyer convoy around 100 miles off the southeast 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's been a submarine missing around there," said British wreck diver 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-referenced them with fishermen's marks and then searched with the sonar and it came up trumps -- we found a bump on the bottom, went down the line and there it was," MacLeod said.
The Pentagon has not yet confirmed the identity of the wreck, which remains the property of the U.S. Navy under international maritime law, although MacLeod says there is little doubt in his mind. "It's a Balao class sub for sure because I've seen it and touched it and it's the only one lost in Thailand," he said.
The Gulf of Thailand is the final resting place for many U.S. and Japanese ships and planes destroyed in the struggle for maritime supremacy in South East Asia and the South China Sea in World War II.
Thailand's west coast is strewn with Japanese and British warships sunk while patrolling the Indian Ocean shoreline from ports in Burma, or Myanmar as it is now called, and Sri Lanka. MacLeod, who said he had also just discovered a Lockheed P38 Lightning -- a high-altitude fighter dubbed the "Forktailed Devil" by the German Luftwaffe -- said the Lagarto appeared to be relatively undamaged.
"It looks to me like it's intact and it's sitting upright on the bottom in very clear water, so you can get a good idea of what it looks like," he said. "Everything is still on it -- all the armaments, the brass navigation lights. It's beautiful."
Having contacted relatives of the crew through the U.S. Submarines of WWII Veterans Association, MacLeod said he would be taking two Lagarto grandchildren to the site of the wreck later this month. (This has already happened and some video and photos may be released soon)
"It's nice because now the families are talking about closure," MacLeod said.