WATCH Wreck of Legendary US WWII Aircraft Carrier Discovered on Seabed

Richard Nowatzki survived the Japanese attack on the USS Hornet in 1942.             
    CBS News

Richard Nowatzki survived the Japanese attack on the USS Hornet in 1942. CBS News

The R/V Petrel was Allen's passion project and it has discovered 21 American and Japanese ship wrecks from the Second World War, including the Hornet.

Nearly a week after RV Petrel announced they had discovered the first Japanese battleship to be sunk during World War II, Battleship Hiei, the research vessel discovered the wreckage of USN aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8).

Richard Nowatzki, 95, looks at the gun he used to man on the USS Hornet, 77 years after it was sunk during a World War II battle. The carrier was built at what is now Newport News Shipbuilding starting in 1939 and quickly joined the fleet, being commissioned at the Norfolk Navy Base on October 20, 1941.

Most famously, during the Doolittle Raid in April 1942, 16 B-25 planes took off from the ship and bombed targets in Japan, including Tokyo.

A weapon on the USS Hornet, which was found by researchers last month in the South Pacific Ocean.

In a sensational story that seems torn from a Clive Cussler fiction novel, the private research vessel funded by late billionaire Paul Allen has located the wreckage of the historic aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) resting on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean at a depth of over three miles. Using sonar technology and a video footage fed from the underwater drone, the team came across and confirmed the wreckage 17,000 feet (5.1 kilometers) deep in the South Pacific, near the Solomon Islands.

One of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle's B-25 bombers takes off from the flight deck of the USS Hornet for the initial air raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942.

In June, Hornet was one of three American carriers that surprised and sunk four Japanese carriers at Midway, turning the tide of war in the Pacific.

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"With the loss of Hornet and serious damage to Enterprise, the Battle of Santa Cruz was a Japanese victory, but at an extremely high cost", said retired Rear Admiral Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, in a release.

The USS Hornet was a significant combat ship during WWII. The carrier weathered a withering barrage from Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes - but the crew eventually had to abandon ship, leaving the Hornet to its sinking. Two Japanese destroyers later launched an additional torpedo attack, finally sinking the Hornet.

Though most of the ship's crew of about 2,200 survived the battle, 140 perished. The Hornet sunk, and the Japanese won the battle.

'About half the Japanese aircraft engaged were shot down by greatly improved U.S. Navy anti-aircraft defenses. Approximately 140 USA servicemen were killed during a vicious Japanese air attack on the carrier that eventually resulted in its loss.

"Paul Allen was particularly interested in aircraft carriers, so this was a discovery that honors his memory", Kraft said. Operating out of Guadalcanal, the area is rich in history and prominence in terms of naval engagements.

"We had the Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as a (capital) carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles", Robert Kraft - director of subsea operations for Vulcan Inc., the private company overseeing the Petrel's excursions - said in a statement.

The research team said it was able to pinpoint the Hornet's location by piecing together data from national archives that included deck logs and reports from other ships involved in the naval battle.

Researchers charted positions and sightings from nine other US warships on a chart to generate the starting point for the search grid. And bravo to the crew of the R/V Petrel for all they do, and to the late Paul G. Allen in having the foresight to fund and execute these important historical missions.

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