The wreckage of an American submarine, submerged into the depths of the ocean in 1936, has likely been discovered off the coast of Ocean City by a company that salvages shipwrecks.

The USS R-8, once used in experimental aerial bomb testing, has been identified using sonar data as well as historical record. The discoverers, Atlantic Wreck Salvage, said in a news release that the R-8 is one of few American submarines resting in diveable East Coast waters that had yet to be located.

“The discovery of any new vessel is exciting,” said Cpt. Eric Takakjian, a member of the R-8 recovery team who has discovered more than 70 shipwrecks in his career, in a statement. “It appears from the sonar images that the site will reveal a very well-preserved example of an R-class submarine in existence anywhere. We are looking forward to conducting additional research and to diving the wreck in 2021.”

Garry Kozak, a sonar expert who analyzed the data, said the size of the discovered submarine matches the dimensions of the R-8.

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“The sonar data leaves little doubt that the R-8 has been located,” Kozak said in a statement. “One set of prominent features of the R-class subs visible in the scan image is the spray rail configuration on the conning tower.”

A historical image of the R-8 (S.S. 85), an American submarine dispatched by experimental aerial bomb testing in 1936.
A historical image of the R-8 (S.S. 85), an American submarine dispatched by experimental aerial bomb testing in 1936. (Handout)
R-8, one of 27 R-class submarines commissioned by the U.S. Navy during World War I and built in 1918, transited the Panama Canal, became a part of the Pacific Fleet, and participated in Naval training off the coasts of California and the Gulf of Mexico. The submarine was built by Fore River Shipbuilding in Quincy, Massachusetts, a shipyard that built many of the U.S. Navy’s destroyers and early submarines.

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In 1923, the submarine sailed west to Pearl Harbor and participated in training and operations with fleet units for the next eight years. In 1927, R-8 searched for pilots who had gone missing during the Dole Air Race, the first airplane race from California to Hawaii.

R-8 returned to the East Coast in 1930 and became part of the Inactive Naval Reserve Fleet at Philadelphia. It in sank in the Navy Yard on Feb. 26, 1936, was raised in April, struck from the Navy list in May, and used as a target in an aerial bombing test in August. It was then that R-8 sank to the bottom of the ocean.

The discovery team, aboard the D/V Tenacious, is not releasing additional information the location of the vessel until they make a formal identification. Sonar images reveal that the vessel is intact and sits upright on the ocean floor. The sonar data has been used to compare the vessel on the ocean floor with historical photographs and plans of the R-8.

The D/V Tenacious is used for crews to locate, dive, and salvage shipwrecks. Its crews have discovered wrecks in the waters off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, the most celebrated of which is U-550, the last German U-boat known to rest in diveable North Atlantic waters.

D/V Tenacious and her expeditions have been chronicled in the books “Where Divers Dare: The Hunt for the Last U- boat,” “Dangerous Shallows, In Search of the Ghost Ships of Cape Cod,” and in dive publications worldwide. The vessel is owned by Atlantic Wreck Salvage, L.L.C. and operated by Joe Mazraani and Jennifer Sellitti, two criminal defense attorneys in New Jersey.

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