Maritime Heritage

F4U-1 Corsair at Kure Atoll

Corsair landing gear.
Corsair landing gear. Credit: NOAA/Casserley

In 2002, a team of NOAA maritime archaeologists investigated the site of a World War II-era Corsair at Kure Atoll. The site was reported to the team by tow boarders surveying the seafloor on another research vessel. The divers noticed an aluminum aircraft starboard wing portion and debris located on the seafloor, as well as an encrusted machine gun nearby.

Comparing the size and design of this material to reference works, this appears to be the remains of a vought Corsair naval fighter aircraft. The US Navy aviation database includes only two known Corsair losses at Kure Atoll, both related to the same incident on August 1, 1944. Both crashed in the water on the south of Kure Atoll with no loss of life.

Because of the severe degradation of the aircraft and the lack of identifying marks, it is difficult to say which Corsair has been discovered at Kure Atoll. Maritime archaeologists revisited the site in 2008 and collected photographs and high definition video footage of the site, and will continue to try to identify the aircraft.

Vought F4U-1 Corsair.
Vought F4U-1 Corsair. Credit: NARA

Searching for the identity of the Corsair aircraft south of Kure Atoll provides a glimpse into the history of naval aviation in the Pacific. The US Naval Historical Center in Washington D.C. (Naval Aviation History Branch) maintains records on many naval aircraft losses. Currently, the aircraft inventory for losses in Hawaiian waters (for the years 1925-1952) lists 1,485 entries. By far, most of these losses reflect the hazards of training and non-combat operations. F4U Corsairs comprise 204 of these 1,485 entries, six and of these 204 are specifically noted as lost at Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The number of naval aircraft lost in the Hawaiian Islands (1,485+) is a testimony to the logistical effort and commitment of the nation during the development of aviation in the Pacific. Many young pilots found themselves in intensive training operations over unfamiliar waters, forced to ditch due to engine failure, mid-air collision, etc. Naval aircraft like Corsairs recall that development of aviation technology and some of the historic events of World War II, particularly when they are found in association with unique locations like Atoll, approximately 60 miles northeast of Midway Atoll.

Encrusted Corsair machine gun.
Encrusted Corsair machine gun. Credit: NOAA/Casserley