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Nostalgic crewman recognizes photos of Musashi

/ 05:51 AM March 07, 2015

TOKYO—A former crew member on a Japanese battleship that sank during World War II said on Thursday he recognized photos of the wreckage discovered this week in the seabed of the Sibuyan Sea in the Philippines by a team led by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

Shizuhiko Haraguchi served as a gunnery officer on the Musashi, one of the largest battleships in history, when it was being fitted in Japan before it departed for the Pacific in 1943.

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He said he recognized underwater photos taken by Allen’s team of a large gun turret and a catapult system used to launch planes.

“I recognized that main turret, which I was assigned to,” Haraguchi, 93, said in a telephone interview from his home in Nagasaki in southern Japan where the ship was built, fitted and tested. “I felt very nostalgic when I saw that,” he said.

The Musashi had nine 46-centimeter guns, which were each 20 meters long, he said.

Haraguchi said other details released by Allen convinced him that the wreckage was that of the Musashi. He said a round base shown in a photo of the bow was where a chrysanthemum decoration used to be, a Japanese Imperial seal that only battleships were allowed to carry.

‘Engineering marvel’

Allen said his team found the battleship at a depth of 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) in the Sibuyan Sea using an autonomous underwater vehicle following more than eight years of study, backed by historical data from four countries and using “advanced technology” that surveyed the seabed.

The 62-year-old US billionaire, who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, called the Musashi an “engineering marvel” and said he was honored to have found a key ship in naval history.

“As an engineer at heart, I have a deep appreciation for the technology and effort that went into [the Mushasi’s] construction,” he said.

Inspired by father

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Allen said he had been driven to pursue the Musashi for many reasons, among them his fascination with World War II history from early youth, inspired by his father’s service in the US Army.

Historians and military experts praised the apparent discovery of the legendary battleship after 70 years, saying it would help promote interest in World War II studies. A group supporting Navy veterans said survivors would want to hold a memorial service at the site.

The discovery on Sunday of the battleship comes as the world this year marks the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.

The ship, commissioned in 1942, was one of a trio of vessels built by Japan during the war that, at 263 meters each, were its biggest battleships ever.

Largest naval encounter

The Musashi was sunk by US warplanes on Oct. 24, 1944, at the height of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, regarded as the largest naval encounter of the war in which US and Australian forces defeated the Japanese.

The naval battle crippled the Imperial fleet, cut off Japanese oil supplies and allowed the US invasion of the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

The Musashi lost about half of its 2,400 crew members. Only a few hundred eventually returned home alive.

Haraguchi left the ship just before its departure for the Pacific because he was transferred to an aviation unit in eastern Japan.

“The discovery of the Musashi was really a nice surprise,” he said.

“It was as if the spirits of her crew members who sank with her were telling us to remember them for the 70th anniversary,” he said. AP

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TAGS: Japanese Battleship, Microsoft, Paul Allen, Shizuhiko Haraguchi, World War II
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