Wreckage of famed 'Hit 'em HARDER' submarine found in South China Sea: See video

The wreckage of a U.S. Navy submarine that sank the most Japanese warships during World War II has been found 3,000 feet below the South China Sea − about 80 years after its last patrol.

The Navy’s History and Heritage Command, in a news release Thursday, said that the department's Underwater Archaeology Branch confirmed that the wreck site discovered off the northern Philippine island of Luzon at a depth of 3,000 feet was the "final resting place of USS Harder (SS 257)."

The submarine was found sitting "upright on her keel relatively intact except for the depth-charge damage aft of the conning tower."

"Submarines by their very design can be a challenge to identify, but the excellent state of preservation of the site and the quality of the data collected by Lost 52 allowed for NHHC to confirm the identity of the wreck as Harder," the NHHC said. Headed by Tim Taylor, the "Lost 52 Project" works to locate and preserve the 52 submarines lost during World War II. They have previously located at least six WWII subs, as per NHHC.

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When did USS Harder go missing?

Harder went missing in the South China Sea off Luzon during her sixth war patrol on August 24, 1944, along with its entire crew of 79 submariners.

“Harder was lost in the course of victory. We must not forget that victory has a price, as does freedom,” NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, a retired US Navy admiral, said in the release.

Digital rendering of the USS Harder wreckage.
Digital rendering of the USS Harder wreckage.

In the days leading up to its sinking, Harder in coordination with submarine USS Haddo (SS 255) sank multiple Japanese ships including two escort ships off the Bataan Peninsula, according to US Navy history.

On the morning on August 24, Harder battled with Japanese escort ship CD-22, firing three torpedoes at the vessel. However, the "Japanese ship evaded the torpedoes and began a series of depth charge attacks" on Harder, according to Japanese records cited by NHHC. The fifth depth charge attack hit Harder, sinking her and her crew.

Another submarine, USS Hake (SS 256), present close-by, returned to "the attack area shortly after noon to sweep the area at periscope depth," only to find "a ring of marker buoys covering a radius of one-half mile," NHHC said.

The Navy declared Harder presumed lost on January 2, 1945 and her name was removed from the Navy Register on January 20.

Wreckage protected by U.S. Law

The NHHC said the wreck is “the final resting place of Sailors that gave their life in defense of the nation and should be respected by all parties as a war grave," and is protected by U.S. law.

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Harder was commissioned on December 2, 1942, with Cmdr. Samuel D. Dealey in command, according to NHHC. The war ship that famously earned the nickname "Hit 'em HARDER," received the Presidential Unit Citation for her first five patrols and six battle stars for her services during World War II. Cmdr. Dealey was also awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest decoration, and a Silver Star posthumously for his actions in Harder’s fifth patrol, from March to July 1944. He also received the Navy Cross with three Gold Stars and the Distinguished Service Cross.

Saman Shafiq is a trending news reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at sshafiq@gannett.com or follow her on X @saman_shafiq7.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USS Harder submarine found 'relatively intact' in South China Sea