Wildcat revealed from Pacific depths

This article has photo gallery Published on SBLT Mitchell Hosking (author), Unknown (photographer)

Location(s): Honiara, Solomon Islands

Topic(s): HMAS Diamantina (M86), HMAS Huon (M82), Operation RENDER SAFE

A photo taken by HMAS Huon’s mine disposal vehicle of the open cockpit of the F4F Wildcat. (photo: Unknown)
A photo taken by HMAS Huon’s mine disposal vehicle of the open cockpit of the F4F Wildcat.

The crew of minehunter, HMAS Huon, was able to shed some light on a 70-year-old mystery while deployed to the Solomon Islands recently. 

At the request of the United States Department of Defense, Huon began the search for a missing American fighter plane downed in the waters off the islands during the Second World War. 

The South West Pacific nation was the scene of bitter fighting between US and Japanese forces from 1942 until 1945. 

Huon
and Diamantina are fitted with variable depth sonar capable of detection ranges in excess of 1,000 metres. 

The Australian ship employed its variable depth sonar, mine disposal vehicle and mine warfare team. 

When a mine is detected in a water column or on the seabed, the ship will hover about 200 metres from the contact.  A mine disposal vehicle or clearance divers will be sent to investigate and neutralise the threat. 

Huon
found the Grumman F4F Wildcat, despite difficult conditions, within the hour – resting at the bottom of the ocean in 44 metres of water. 

Leading Seaman Combat Systems Operator - Mine Warfare Januario Callos operated the ship’s mine disposal vehicle during the search. 

He said finding the aircraft was a testament to the ship’s capability. 

“Although the objective was not directly related to the scope of mine warfare, it felt good to prove that we can use our sonar and mine disposal vehicle to achieve a wide range of taskings,” Leading Seaman Callos said. 

“We train to hunt mines and now that we have been operational we are beginning to see how versatile our skills are. 

“The airframe of the Wildcat was heavily encrusted with coral and sea life as a result of over 70 years spent underwater, so we were unable to distinguish any features that would enable an exact identification of the aircraft.” 

The Grumman F4F Wildcat is an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the Royal Navy in 1940.

HMA Ships Huon and Diamantina were deployed to the Solomon Islands in September for Operation RENDER SAFE, an Australian-led operation to dispose of unexploded ordnance left from the Second World War.