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    USS Kanawha

    In 1907-08, the US Navy did an around the World cruise (not sure how many ships were involved) and they ran into many logistcal problems. The major of these was the fact that they had to rely on foreign shipping for refuelling. Although at this time the fuel was coal, this was still a problem. As a consequence, the US Government decided to build two fleet colliers and purchase three merchant colliers. Although experiments were conducted at sea when coal was transferred from one of the colliers to USS South Caroline, it was soon apparent that transferring bags of coal was not efficient and also that coal was now an outdated fuel. New ships were being built to run on oil rather than coal.

    As such, the US decided that some new "fuel ships (oilers) were required. The USS Kanawha was laid down 8 December 1913 at the Mare Island Navy Yard, San Francisco, California. She was launched 11 July 1914 (or perhaps 7 July), sponsored by Miss Dorothy Bennett and commissioned on 5 June 1915 as AO-1, the lead ship in the Kanawha/Cuama class fleet oiler program. An interesting fact is that the second ship, the USS Maumee (powered by diesel engines rather than steam) had as the Executive Officer, Chester W. Nimitz, later to be an Admiral and in charge of the US Pacific Fleet in WWII and to have the huge USS Nimitz aircraft carrier named after him.

    Kanawha LaunchingThe ship as originally constructed
    The Launching of the USS KanawhaThe Kanawha on her commissioning,
    5 June 1915 - note the Bridge, main masts,
    oil boom masts and stern

    A total of six ships were built, three of which were to be lost in World War II. The ship was named after the Kanawha River in West Virginia. The first skipper was Lieutenant Commander Richard Werner and the ship had a total crew of 136.

    She was a large ship, 457 feet 7 inches (just over 137 metres) long, beam of 56 feet (17 metres) and a full load displacement of 14,500 tons. Powered by two 5,200 hp reciprocating steam engines (steam from oil powered furnaces) driving twin screws, the ship was a oil tanker. Compare this to the Shinkoku Maru at Chuuk Lagoon which is 150 metres by 20 metres but displaces less at 10,020 tons.

    The ship carried 55,700 barrels of oil (hence her nickname of "The Fighting Fueler" - later during World War II she was called "The Oilcan of the Fleet") and had a maximum speed of 12 knots and an economy speed of 9 knots. It was originally armed with four 4 inch main guns (although these are not apparent in a photo I have of the commissioning) and no anti-aircraft guns. Of course at this time aircraft were hardly a problem for ships, especially large ones.

    As originally built, the Kanawha was a lot different to look at than later during World War II. When launched, the ship's Bridge was right at the front of the ship, just behind the foredeck. It was a very strange looking Bridge and also strangely located. There were two large masts, one behind the Bridge and one in front of the funnel. In between the masts there were two smaller masts that appear to carry refuelling booms and equipment. The stern deck of the ship was quite clean, with a deck over the main deck but little other construction on this deck.

    Refuelling two sea planes?Refuelling USS Texas
    The USS Kanawha, perhaps refuelling
    these two sea planes
    The USS Kanawha refuelling
    the battleship USS Texas before
    WWII - note the changed stern,
    Bridge and masts

    At some time, certainly by the time of WWII, the Kanawha had been modifed. The first modifications appear to have been additions to the stern deck, with new structures built on there. It is not obvious from photos what these were. A major change was the removal of the Bridge and its replacement by a new Bridge built behind the front mast. Probably at the same time, the two smaller masts were removed and replaced by one right behind the Bridge. The two main masts appear to have been lowered in height. Around the same time, it appears that a false deck or roof was constructed over the whole of the main deck. See the photos of the ship below. In the photo with the two sea planes, the Bridge appears to be in the orginal location but the stern has some modifications (the large square structure). In the photo with the USS Texas, the Kanawha has her new Bridge, the masts have been moved and further modifications to the stern. However, there do not appear to be any guns at the stern, amidships or at the bow. Also see comments later.

    On 9 June 1915 the Kanawha left San Diego in California and sailed to Newport, Rhode Island via the Panama Canal (presumably). Here she was to be part of the Atlantic fleet (but appeared to not actually serve with it) and over the next 12 months she made seven trips to Port Arthur, Texas, for fuel oil and petrol. On 11 October 1916 she joined the Atlantic Fleet proper.


    Soon after the US's entry into World War I on 6 April 1917, the USS Maumee travelled from the US to Europe along with a large number of destroyers. Nimitz was assigned the job of devising a method of refuelling ships at sea and together with Lt Glenn B. Davis, Chief Boatswain Michael Higgins and Lt Fred M. Perkins, he came up with a solution. This was to "tow" the ship being refuelled using three lines and refuell through two three inch hoses. This was successful. It is assumed that the USS Kanawha also took up this method. It is known that on 17 June 1917 the Kanawha travelled to St Mazarie in France as part of the convoy transporting the first AEF (American Expeditionary Force). This may have been the same voyage referred to above.

    On 2 July 1917 she left France and headed back to New York, arriving 10 August 1917. Here she underwent some repairs. On 23 September 1917 the Kanawha sailed again. From then until 1 November 1917 she refuelled cruisers and convoys in the Atlantic closer to America. She returned to Philadelphia for some repairs on 1 November 1917.

    On 8 January 1918 the Kanawha rejoined NOTS (North Atlantic Service) and served with it until after the end of the war. For this period, the Kanawha travelled between Halifax in Canada and the United Kingdom and France carrying fuel oil. She arrived back in New York on 1 April 1919.

    On 24 July 1919 she left Port Arthur, Texas, and went to San Pedro, California, arriving 9 August 1919. From 1919 to 1929 the Kanawha operated in the Pacific Ocean (except for three trips to Port Arthur). She was involved in the Army/Navy manoeuvres in Hawaii in April 1925 and from there travelled to Australia and New Zealand on a goodwill visit. On 25 September 1925 she returned to North America.

    On 18 December 1929 the USS Kanawha was decommissioned at Puget Sound Yard, Washington state. On 5 June 1934 she was recommissioned and on 21 June 1934 she left Bremerton, Washington, for San Pedro. For the next six years she served on the West Coast of America, travelling between the various naval ports with some occasional trips to the Caribbean (via the Panama Canal) and Hawaii.

    On 11 to 13 June 1939, the USS Kanawha and the USS Saratoga conducted underway refuelling tests along the south coast of California and demonstrated the ability of refuelling aircraft carriers at sea.

    At some time the ship had two 5" guns installed on the stern. These are the guns on either side of the centre stern gun. These came from the battleship USS Maryland. There is a brass plate stating this at the base of each gun. There were also a large number of anti-aircraft (AA) guns installed, including two on either side of the top of the bridge and one on either side between the bridge and the funnel. There were 20 mm guns on the port and starboard sides, a 3" 50 calibre gun between these two guns on the forecastle. There were others.

    As indicated at the start of the article, other changes made at some time included modifications to the masts and oil refuelling booms. It appears to have had two main masts (one in front of the funnel and one in front of the bridge) and at times it had one or two other masts (between the bridge and rear mast) that supported the booms. However, in the 1940s it only had the main masts and one other mast right behind the bridge. At this time there was also a deck or roof of some sorts constructed between the bridge and funnel. The photograph below is the ship as she ended her days.

    Kanawha around early 1940s
    USS Kanawha in a photo captioned "South Pacific Harbor
    - 8 August 1942" - this is actually Segond Channel,
    Espiritu Santo, the location where
    SS President Coolidge would sink 2 1/2 months later
    The USS Kanawha after being modifed, probably late 1930s or early
    1940s - note bow gun, guns on side of Bridge and gun to right of Bridge


    In 1941 the Kanawha travelled to Midway Island, Wake Island and Alaska. On 6 December 1941 (just a day before the attack on Pearl Harbor), she entered the Mare Island shipyard for an overhaul. This may have been where the modifications mentioned in the above two paragraphs occurred. On 21 March 1942 she left San Pedro with a convoy bound for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. From then until 18 May 1942 the Kanawha travelled between California and Pearl Harbor. On that date, she arrived at Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands. From here she headed went to Noumea, New Caledonia and then north-east to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). She also went to Efate Island, probably on the way to Santo. See the photo at left. This is captioned as being a "South Pacific Harbour - 8 August 1942" and was told to me to be Noumea. However, the island in the background is almost certainly Aore Island, located on the south side of the Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo. At some time the ship transported one Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter and one two-man submarine to the US for study. These were carried aft of the bridge.

    On 12 October 1942 the Kanawha left Pago Page (pronounced Pango Pango) in American Somoa bound for San Francisco, arriving there on 29 October 1942. After some repairs and an overhaul, she departed America and returned to Pago Pago on 13 February 1943.

    Lt Commander Brainerd N. Bock
    - Photo 1924
    The skipper of the Kanawha was now Lieutenant Commander Brainerd Norton Bock. Lt Commander Brock was from Middle Haddam, Connecticutt, and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1924. "Brainless", as he was nicknamed, had a reputation for good natured sarcasm, always ready to do a good turn and fighting. I am not sure when he became the skipper. From Pago Pago she travelled to the Solomon Islands, probably via Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). On Thursday 18 March 1943, the USS Denver was in Segond Channel. This is the main waterway of Espiritu Santo (Santo). At 0825 the Denver moored alongside the Kanawha and commencerd refuelling. She took on 123,984 gallons of fuel. At 1004 refuelling was complete.

    The USS Kanawha appears to have returned to the Solomon Islands and then served in the area around Guadalcanal for the next two months.


    On 7 April 1943 the USS Kanawha was anchored in Tulagi Harbour (used to be normally spelt Tulaghi but Tulagi is now more common) in the British Solomon Islands. As well as the Kanawha there were 15 torpedo boats and their tender Niagara, three tugs, the Navy transport Stratford, six transport ships, eight landing craft. HMNZS Moa was refuelling from the tanker USS Eskine M. Phelps (in some reports called a "hulk"), the minesweeper Conflict, the net tenders Buttercup and Aloe, the US coaster Awahou and some auxiliary ships.

    The Kanawha had been in Tulagi for seven days and was awaiting an escort so she could leave. At 1230 the skipper of the Kanawha, Lieutenant Commander Brainerd Bock, heard that planes had been sighted leaving Bougainville heading for the Guadalcanal area. When the escort arrived (USS Taylor??) she refuelled the ship. At 1445 hours she left. The Kanawha joined escorts PC-85 and USS Taylor. The time was about 1502 and some 67 "Vals" and 110 "Zekes" or Zeros (some reports only say 48 planes) were sighted over Savo Island. Of these, 18 went in the direction of Tulagi and 15 of these went for the biggest target, the USS Kanawha. If there is a choice with sinking a warship or an oil tanker in the war, then the oil tanker is the better target. Imagine, sinking an oil tanker can cripple or severely hurt dozens of warships while sinking one warship has a smaller impact.

    At 1502 the Kanawha was attacked by five "Vals". William Wes McGill of South Knoxville, Kentucky, enlisted in the US Navy in 1942. In 1943 he was the Captain of the gun crew on the Kanawha. Wes (as he was better known), later said:
    Kanawha on fire
    The Kanawha is on fire, attended by a smaller vessel,
    possibly USS PC 85

    "I look back now and remember thinking I was dead. I thought there was no way the ship could take it. I remembered firing and firing until the word came to abandon ship. The one thing they taught you was to never jump into the water in white because it would attract sharks and here I went over the side in my white underwear. I was worrying about sharks and waiting until I was picked up a couple of hours later by P.T. Boat and the Marines adopted us when we got there and saw that I got some new clothes".

    While in the water and still fearing sharks, McGill pulled a bleeding sailor from his home state to safety and tied him to a floater hose until they were rescued.

    This incident was later contained in the book Profiles in Courage written by the then Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, later to be President of the USA, who witnessed the incident from his vessel PT 109.

    Forest Cotton of Brush Prairie, Washington, was one of the AA gunners that afternoon. He was manning the gun on the starboard bow and reports that his gun crew shot the wing off the first plane to attack, its 500 lb bomb a near miss on the starboard side. This bomb exploded about three metres from the hull near the forecastle/main deck line. Even though it missed, it put a large hole in the hull. The ammunition magazine was located just aft of this line in the middle of the ship. The magazine was flooded by this explosion as the water-tight doors gave way under the water pressure..

    One of the planes got lucky and one bomb hit the oil tank forward of the bridge. This bomb went right into the oil tank A-113) and exploded. Another bomb went right through the funnel and into the engine room. It is possible that there were one or two hits/near misses the hull near the engine room. There were three near misses, these perhaps opened more holes. The ship was on fire.

    The Kanawha was mortally wounded with a total loss of engine power. Fuel oil was all over the main and cargo decks and all the hatches from A-111 to A-118 (presumably the frontmost to the rearmost tanks) blown off. Tank A-111 caught fire soon after. All C02 cylinders were connected to the fire extinguisher system and soon after the fire in A-111 stopped. It is not certain if this was due to lack of fuel or the action of the extinguishers. A bucket brigade was started to put out the fire in the engine room but this was useless and soon stopped. The fuel powered handy billy pumps located at the bow (wrecked) and the stern area (lost) were of no use. The fires were now out of control and the ship was almost dead in the water.

    The USS Kanawha was sinking. The only ship nearby was the USS PC 85. The USS Taylor had left the area. From the photo at left, it is obvious that the PC 85 came alongside and took off some of the crew. Lt Com Bock ordered the Kanawha to be abandoned. The ship was checked for any remaining crew before the skipper, together with the Executive Officer William. F. Connor, Lt Sowls and six crew left the ship. When they were 200 metres away they saw two men jump from the port side of the ship. There is also a report of two men been locked in the bunker pump room in an attempt to escape the fires. They were not released till the crew of an LCT heard their rapping on the hull at 1800 on 7 April 1942. The Captain reported that they were not sighted or heard when he and the Executive Officer inspected the ship prior to abandoning it.

    The USS Rail fought the fire and had the fire near the bridge under control. However, the 20 mm and 3" 0.50 calibre boxes exploded and the Rail left. The aft magazine was also now on fire and it exploded 200 feet into the air. Oil on the water caught fire. Efforts were made by the USS Chestnut, USS Rail, USS Monenomee and a LCT to salvage the ship but they were unsuccessful. The USS Kanawha sank at 0400 on 8 April 1943 with the loss of 19 men.

    The crew who were killed were:
    Lt John W. BeedonPaul Glenn HoughGene Harding Spillman
    Paul AhlfingerDelmar Joseph JohnsonCharles Edward Stuart
    Ralph Everett BellTarpley JohnsonFrank Samuel Veltri
    George Lee DalthorpFrancis John LipinskiElbert Wood
    Harry Raymond EamesLeslie Bennett MarshallHenry John Zimmerman
    Lloyd C. FawlNeil McKeller
    Herbert Miller GriffithNewton Bruce Muller

    Captain Bock stated that he believed that the ship sank because the watertight hatch leading from the shaft alley to the after parts of the ship failed.

    On 8 April 1943 the USS Pathfinder departed Tulagi for Espiritu Santo but had to return to Tulagi to pick up approximately 50 survivors of the sinking of the Kanawha. The next day the Pathfinder dropped anchor in Palikula Bay, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) with these men.

    Bridge area on fireThe stern of the Kanawha
    The Bridge area of the Kanawha
    shows the damage suffered
    The stern of the Kanawha shows
    the severe damage to engine room

    On 4 December 1943, Commander Brainerd N. Bock was the skipper of the USS Kennebago, a fleet oiler, when she was commissioned. Later he became the skipper of USS McCracken APA-198, a 6,720 ton attack transport, taking command on 21 October 1944 when this new ship was also commissioned. He ended up back at Guadalcanal on 31 January 1945 and was there six weeks (of interest the Kennebago was there for a few weeks from 11 February 1945).

    An interesting fact was that the Kanawha was carrying US$50,000 in cash in two safes in the Disbursing Officer's office.

    SALVAGE WORK - 1960s

    I am not sure who discovered the USS Kanawha but its location has been known for some time (since the 1960s at least). In the late 1960s well known Australian salvage diver Wally Gibbins took some spare prop blades from the deck of the ship as well as a big bronze steering wheel off the stern deck (see photo below).

    Many years ago it was reported to me that Brian Bailey (who was the first to dive the USS Aaron Ward ) found at least one of the safes and may have collected the money inside, although I was also told it was much damaged (you could hardly take it to the US Reserve Bank to get new notes!). In September 2009 I had a number of long conversations with Brian at the Point Cruz Yacht Club in Honiara. During these he told us what happened with the wreck.

    Brian and Michael
    Brian Bailey and me in 2009

    Barry May and Des Woodley had already worked the Kanawha. They had taken a spare propeller blade from the main deck behind the forecastle. This was on the port side and seems to have balanced the large anchor that still remains on the starboard side. When they blew the bracket that held it to the wall, the blade apparently fell and opened up a hatch that led into the oil tanks. Oil went everywhere. It was said to be about an inch thick over the wreck for some time.

    In about 1968 Reg Thomas and Brian Bailey decided to salvage the USS Kanawha. They found a still shiny 250 pound bomb at Hell Point near Honiara. They transported this through the centre of Honiara on a truck before boating it over to Tulagi. Here they managed to get the bomb down inside the engine room and position it on the port side. The aim was to open up the engine room so that they could remove the condenser. They attached detinators to the nose of the bomb and left the water. Brian said that he was a bit worried as a huge groper (with a white nose) who used to hang around a lot and he was worried about killing it. Back on the boat they set off the explosives. Well, what a mess. The bomb exploded and it was so strong, the whole of Tulagi Island shook that much that the pilot lights in all the kerosene refrigerators were shaken out.

    Emergency Wheel
    Wally Gibbins and the emergency wheel off the Kanawha

    The explosion worked and it opened the hull up as intended. Today you can enter or exit the engine room via this hole. Reg and Brian also tried to salvage the propellers. When they tried to salvage the props, there were no blades visible above the sand. They used a compressed air powered vacuum sucker to move the sand from around the props. As it was about 57 metres here, they took turns moving the vacuum. One day Reg was running the vacuum when a large oyster shell got sucked into the system and caused a blockage of air. The pipe ballooned up and the resulting expansion caused the vacuum to become ultra buoyant. Reg was dragged up towards the surface. Finally, he was taken back down to do emergency decompression. He apparently suffered no ill effects.

    The salvage work continued. The boss that held on each of the propellers was bronze. This is very hard. They tried to use a charge to blow the boss off but they failed. In the end they decided to give up as the blades of the props were bolted on and they would have had to undo the nuts off each one. The depth as well as the problem with the sand covering the propellers meant they decided it was not worth the effort.

    One day Reg found and recovered the main bell of the ship. Brian then found the Officer's Mess bell. This is embossed (rather than engraved) with the name of the ship.

    One day, Brian and Reg met a bloke who was on the ship when it sank. He told them about the safes and the money that the ship was carrying. The money had been loaded at Noumea. The safes were in the aft accommodation area, on the port side. The spot was three rooms back from the entrance. On the day they went looking for the safes, they alone dived. They found the safes and moved them out. Their barge's boom was then used to lift the safes to a position about 15 metres under the barge. The crew were given the weekend off. They raised the two safes onto the deck.

    The first safe was opened. It was a very hard job, as they had to work slowly to make sure that they did not damaged the contents (of course they were not professional safebreakers and did not know how to open it!). It apparently took them about eight hours. When they opened it, they found it was full of mud and little bits of paper. There was also US$5,000 in usable notes. The mud and paper were the remains of the rest of the money. The second safe only took them one hour to open. Once it was opened they found hundreds of US Postal Service postal notes and about US$1,100 in silver coin. The coin was at that time worth at least 10 times this amount as the value of silver in the coins was now way above the face value of the coins. Brian said he sold most of his share and kept some. I am not sure if he was able to sell the postal notes.


    Today the wreck of the USS Kanawha lies north east of Soghonangola Island at the entrance to Tulagi Harbour. She faces the island (south) and is on a sandy bottom at a maximum depth of about 57 metres. There are moorings at the bow (GPS Reading S9° 6' 59.3" E160° 9' 49.7" - note two here, one right at bow and the other behind forecastle) and stern (GPS Reading S9° 6' 56.4" E160° 9' 50.8"). Both GPS readings are WGS84 datum


    Your first dive on the Kanawha is normally done on the bow as this is a little shallower than the stern. There are two moorings on the bow, one located on the booms of the forward mast, just behind the forecastle and on the starboard side, and the other right at the bow itself.

    Travelling forward and dropping over the ship's side from the first-mentioned mooring, you will see that there are no anchors on the starboard side (there is space for two anchors) and on the port side there is one. The bow itself is quite damaged if you look closely. Have a look towards the sand and you will see that the bow is bent into a sort of S shape. The hull on the port side has a huge ripple in it and as mentioned, the bow area is damaged, meaning that the ship probably went down bow first. However, some reports say it hit the reef to the west of its current location before it sank.

    Damaged bowAnchor
    The damaged bow of the KanawhaThe port anchor of the Kanawha

    The view from the side or from in front of the bow is quite spectacular. Coming back up onto the deck you can rise up to the large forward gun platform. This is a raised platform at a depth of about 44 metres. It has collapsed a little to the starboard forward quarter. There is no gun on this platform. Under the platform there is a huge winch (same as at the stern).

    Either side of this gun there are two AA guns (depth about 46 metres). There are two anchors just behind the forecastle on the main deck, one on either side (depth about 48 metres).

    Bow gun platformDoor
    The bow gun platform of the KanawhaLooking out the port doorway from within the forecastle

    You can also enter the forecastle a number of ways. There are some hatches in the forecastle deck and you can drop down into one. Inside is a bit cramped, but you can work your way through with care. In the middle of the forecastle there are lots of gas cylinders. These are very large, much bigger than a scuba tank but smaller than a C-sized cylinder. You can exit back out onto the main deck via doorways on either the port or starboard side. You can also do this in reverse, entering the doorway and exiting the hatch.

    Rope ReelForward mast
    Rope reel in the port hatchwayThe forward mast of the Kanawha

    On the main deck you will see that there are a number of hatchways. On either side of the ship there are two that lead to some interesting spots. Once you drop down you will see that there are a number of decks. On the second level there are some especially interesting things. Each hatch has almost the same things to see. To the rear there is a huge reel of thick rope. To the left, right and ahead there are coils of rope. These ropes were probably used for live refuelling operations, to hold the ships in place. You can cross over the ship on this deck and exit out the other hatch.

    You will also see the forward mast. This stands up at least 10 metres off the deck. There are numerous arms running off this.

    Bow AA GunBow capstan
    Kelly and the port bow AA gunKelly and the starboard bow capstan

    The bridge is located a bit further along and it is badly damaged. As indicated above, the bridge caught fire so it must have been hit when the bomb hit the area forward of the bridge. There were four AA guns here (two either side of the bridge) and there is a lot of ammunition remaining on and near the bridge. It is impossible to enter the bridge using twins but you can see the telegraph (depth about 43 metres). Behind the bridge there is a false deck, probably an awning installed to provide protection to troops being carried during the War (I have read that 350 men were carried on the ship). You can see this in the photo of the fire on the bridge and my photo below right. Halfway to the engine there are two more large guns.

    The bow AA gunThe deck cover
    The port AA gun at bow of the Kanawha
    Photo from hi-8 video
    The deck cover
    Photo from hi-8 video

    Due to the depth this is about all you will be able to see on a dive so head back to the anchor along the opposite side to your outward journey. At the end of the dive I ascended the forward mast rather than the mooring as it rises to 25 metres and then went across to the mooring line which was easily visible (check on your way down).

    With a bottom time of just over 22 minutes, decompression of 2 minutes at 9 metres, 7 minutes at 6 metres and 18 minutes at 3 metres is required.


    The second dive is normally done at the stern as this is a bit deeper. The mooring line used to be attached to the engine room skylights but in 2009 it was on the port side just forward of the stern deck. The depth here is about 47.5 metres. Once on the deck, if you want to look at the stern and props, head towards the stern and drop straight over the side of the ship.

    Kanawha SternOne of the holes
    The stern of the USS Kanawha is huge
    Photo from hi-8 video - October 2001
    Kelly on the port side of the stern
    Photo taken September 2009

    As you drop over the side you will see just how big this vessel is. The stern is enormous. As you drop down, you will see that there is a platform that sticks out from the hull of the ship. This mirrors the platform above on the stern deck. You will see more of this when you return to the deck.

    If you want, continue dropping till you can see the props. Both props are buried in the sand, but a small part of one blade of each are visible. The rudder is hard starboard. The depth on the sand is about 58 metres or so. If you head out from the stern at right angles to the ship, what you see is a very impressive sight.

    Kanawha SternOne of the holes
    The name of the USS Kanawha is clearly visible
    K A A W H A - Note the N is missing

    Photo taken Septembr 2009
    The port side salvage hole at the engine room from the inside
    This is the one blasted by Brian and Reg

    Photo taken September 2009

    You can only afford less than a minute on the bottom so head right back up. As you near the deck, if you look closely just to the left of the centre of the stern, you will see the name of the wreck. This is presumably in raised brass or bronze lettering. The name is very clearly visible, but it is not complete. The letters are K A A W H A. The letter N is missing, presumably, located now on the bottom under the name.

    When you return to the main deck you will see that there are a number of guns in the stern area. In the middle there is a large gun on a raised platform. This gun has shells lying around it (depth 45 metres) and you can see the racks where these shells were stored. This gun stands above two other even larger guns. There is one on either side (48 metres). Under the centre gun platform there is a huge winch.

    Port Hull HoleStern gun
    The hole in the port hull from outside
    Taken September 2009
    Andreas Thimm and the port stern gun of the Kanawha
    Photo from hi-8 video - October 2001

    If you move back towards the mooring you will see that there are also two anti-aircraft guns just forward of the two outer guns.

    Once back to the deck, head past the guns forward. You will see that there are a number of ways into the engine room. The easiest is via a large hatch on the deck although you can enter via the engine room skylights. You will see that the engine room is very open, with holes in the hull on both sides. The port one is a salvage hole (created by Brian Bailey and Reg Thomas) as it is punched outwards but the other I think is a bomb hole rather than salvage hole as it is punched inwards.

    Port Stern gunStern gun
    The port stern gun, this time looking almost down the barrel
    Taken September 2009
    Andreas Thimm and the raised centre stern gun of the Kanawha
    This is the one behind and above the photo at left
    Photo from hi-8 video

    Remember, even though the ship had a large hole in the engine room, the ship was an oil tanker so the empty tanks (which would have been isolated from each other) would have provided a lot of buoyancy. As mentioned, you can drop into the engine room via the hatch and the depth here is about 55 metres. Exit out one of the holes if you like (or you could swim around from the stern and enter through the holes and exit the skylight or the location of the funnel which is forward of the skylights). You could also start the dive by entering the hatch, heading out the hole and then going to the stern and props.

    Return back to the main deck (50 metres) again and you see that the funnel has collapsed. If you have time

    This is about all you will see on your dive as this will have taken about 20 minutes and you will have decompression of about 3 minutes at 9 metres, 7 minutes at 6 metres and 17 minutes at 3 metres. This is based on an Aladin computer.


    You can do this dive from either of the bow moorings. From preferably the mooring behind the forecastle, head towards the bridge. Examine the bridge and you will see that the telegraph is visible. There are a number of AA guns here, but it can be hard to find them due to the damage (there were two either side of the top of the bridge). There is also a lot of ammunition here.

    The damaged bridge of the KanawhaSome portholes on the bridge

    Go past the collapsed structure. You will see the false deck that stretches from here to almost the stern. About half way along the wreck there is a large gun on either side. Cross over to the other side of the ship and head back towards the bow. In the area of the bridge, you should be able to see two AA guns on the side that you are on. You can probably spend some time here before going back to the mooring.


    From the stern you do something similar. You can also explore the engine room area as mentioned in Dive Two and then head forward to the false deck and the amidships' guns.

    Engine room skylightsMidships Starboard Gun
    The engine room skylightsThe midships starboard gun

    As you move along the ship you see many entrances to the fuel compartments. I would not examine them as they are as black as night and even with a torch almost impossible to safely examine. Also, from experience, you can get covered in oil and sludge if you disturb the remaining contents, no matter how little remains.

    Cross over to the other side and return to the funnel area before ascending.


    As you can see, this is a huge wreck and even three dives only just gives an overview of the ship. It is one of the best wreck dives you will do anywhere in the World. There are not many US warships that you can dive on that were actually sunk in action rather than being scuttled.

    The dives are deep but quite easy for experienced divers. Visibility on my dives averaged 20 metres or so. There was mostly no current, but one dive had a little and there was a bit on decompression. Water temperature was 27°C or higher.

    In 2009 I dived with Dive Tulagi. See my Tulagi page for more information.



    A porthole from the Kanawha
    Andreas Thimm wonders how
    he can fit this porthole in his BCD!

    Photo from hi-8 video

  • 23 October 2001
  • 24 October 2001
  • 19 September 2009
  • 20 September 2009
  • 24 September 2009


  • Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships - Vol III pages 590-1, pages 295-6, 487
  • Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1940-45 Web Site - various pages
  • A Brief History of Aircraft Carriers Web Site
  • Pathfinder: Recollections of Those Who Served 1942-1971 Web Site - possibly by Lorin Woodcock, US Coast Guard
  • Report dated 12 April 1943 by Lt Com Brainerd B. Bock
  • Report dated 12 April 1943 by William F. Cannarr, USNR, Executive Officer of Kanawha
  • E-mails dated November 2002 from Forest Cotton, Brush Pairie, Washington, USA
  • Emails from Michael Kirby dated November 2002
  • Web Site about ?
  • USS Denver Deck Log and War Diary
  • The UNREP Revolution by David F. Wrinkler
  • Web Site about USS McCracken
  • Information and photos dated December 2002 from Ernest P. Zimmerman, Neemah, Wisconsin (his brother Henry Zimmerman was killed on the ship)
  • Discussions with Brian Bailey - September 2009
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