INAH archeologists discover WWI submarine in Mexican coasts

The USS H-1 Seawolf was built in 1909

INAH archeologists discover WWI submarine in Mexican coasts
The vessel belonged to the American Navy – Photo: Courtesy of INAH
English 05/09/2019 13:56 Newsroom Mexico City Actualizada 15:42
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Researchers of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) registered the only historical submarine found until now in national waters, in Western Beach of Santa Margarita Island, Baja California Sur.

The submarine is the USS H-1 Seawolf, built in 1909, in Union Iron Works (San Francisco, United States), which was used by the American navy to patrol the Atlantic coast of Long Island during the First World War.

On January 6th, 1920, along with the H-2, the H-1 started its return to California, on the East Coast, crossing the Panama Canal. On March 12th, both submarines were navigating in South California waters, but amidst a storm, without maneuvering possibilities, the H-1 ran aground 365 meters away from Round Point in Santa Margarita Island.

The following days, salvage ships of the American Army tried to get the USS H-1 afloat again. After intense maneuvering, it foundered, and on April 12th its name was engraved in the list of the American navy. It was followed by rumors of searchings organized by experts in shipwrecks, who said they had seen its hull; the return expeditions were unable to find the ghostly wreck.

In 2016, the INAH received a notification about the presence of a historical submarine, sunk in Magdalena Bay, West Santa Margarita Island, in South Baja California.

According to local informers, the H-1 was seen again three years before, when inhabitants of Puerto Alcatraz guided a sports fisherman to what they thought was a rock. The place was a victim of looting for its bronze components until photojournalist Alfredo Martínez traced it again and notified INAH.

Roberto Junco, head of the Sub-Directorate of Subaquatic Archeology of INAH, commented that since they were notified of the presence of the submarine, the INAH has performed two seasons of immersions: the first in 2017 in which through two dives of 14 meters deep, they took pictures and general measures of the wreck through the traditional method: with a measuring tape, charts, and pencil.

“From stem to stern, the vessel measures 44.30 meters; from the stern, 31.8 meters, the structure collapses and the area of controls is visible; further on, the area of torpedoes; the part of the turret is also collapsed. The hull is in bad condition, and where it has been lost, there are multiple holes that reveal the skeleton of the submarine. The stern section is full of sand,” explained Junco.

In 2018, with the age and historical value of the vessel confirmed, the second exploration allowed a detailed recording of the submarine using, for the first time in Mexico, the method of photogrammetry in a whole vessel, carried out by archeologist Korato Yamafune.

The archeologist explained that the photogrammetry consisted of thousands of pictures of the submarine. Then, they united the images to create a mosaic with a computer program. Through software, they know the angle of inclination with which each image was taken, the kind of lense, and camera.

“With that information, the 3D model of the photographic mosaic was made. With that software, we can analyze very small details. This model is of great use because with time we can keep monitoring the deterioration of the vessel, with great accuracy, either by ocean currents or the natural degradation of the material with which it was built. Thus, we will do a follow-up that will allow assessing its state every two or three years, and we will identify eventual areas of plundering,” he said.


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