▶ Watch Video: Wreckage of sunken Japanese WWII ship found

A shipwreck off the coast of Okinawa, Japan has been identified as that of SS Mannert L. Abele, a U.S. Navy destroyer that was sunk by a “human-guided kamikaze bomb” during World War II, authorities said Thursday. 

The craft, named for a U.S. submarine commander, was the first U.S. warship to be sunk by a Japanese suicide rocket bomb, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command. It was sunk on April 12, 1945, when it was operating about 75 miles off the island’s northern coast. Multiple Japanese aircraft appeared on the ship’s radar, and the two engaged, with the warship damaging several aircraft until one of the planes crashed onto the warship. 

That crash damaged the ship, and was followed by a “rocket-powered human-guided bomb” that hit the ship near its waterline. The resulting explosion “caused the ship’s bow and stern to buckle rapidly,” the Naval History and Heritage Command said. 

Eighty-four American sailors were killed in the sinking, according to the command. 

USS Mannert L. Abele seen from directly ahead while underway off the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, on August 1, 1944.

Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives

The command’s underwater archaeology branch said the identity of the wreck was confirmed thanks to information provided by Tim Taylor, an ocean explorer and the chief executive officer of Tiburon Subsea, an ocean technology company. Taylor also operates the “Lost 52 Project,” an underwater archaeological project that is working to identify and find missing battleships from World War II. 

A news release on the Lost 52 Project’s website said the find of the Mannert L. Abele was “very personal” to Taylor, whose father served in the U.S. Navy and witnessed a similar kamikaze attack on his own ship. 

“My father came close to the same fate of the crew of the Abele just days earlier,” Taylor said in a statement. “This was a very emotive discovery for me connecting me to my father.” 

The USS Mannert L. Abele off the Boston Navy Yard in Massachusetts on August 1, 1944.

Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives

There was little information provided about how Taylor and the command identified the ship. In the news release, the command said the shipwreck is protected by U.S. law and under the jurisdiction of the Navy. The wreck should also be regarded as a war grave because of the soldiers who died in the sinking, the command said. 

Mannert L. Abele is the final resting place for 84 American Sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country,” said command director Samuel J. Cox, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, in a news releae. “My deepest thanks and congratulations to Tim Taylor and his team for discovering this wreck site. Its discovery allows some closure to the families of those lost, and provides us all another opportunity to remember and honor them.”

The news comes about a month after a team of explorers announced it found a sunken Japanese ship torpedoed off the coast of the Philippines in 1942, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths.