NOVA: Sunken Wreck May Shed Light on WWII Mystery

BY Murrey Jacobson  December 7, 2009 at 10:21 PM EDT

Today is the 68th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and our colleagues at the PBS science program, NOVA, have released some interesting news of their own about what may have happened on that day. In fact, they strongly suggest that a small Japanese submarine may have successfully been part of the attack.

For years World War II historians have been trying to determine whether a mini-sub, which was part of a five-submarine contingent, had indeed fired on American battleships. Four of the five mini-subs never did fire because they were either destroyed, scuttled or ran aground. But questions had remained about the fifth submarine. Parts of the sub were discovered during a routine test dive earlier this decade. The NOVA team returned to the area with more evidence this March and it has now concluded that the mini-sub likely fired two torpedoes at the battleships West Virginia and Oklahoma, possibly leading to the latter’s capsizing.

NOVA put together a team of scientists, intelligence experts, marine forensic analysts, veterans and eyewitnesses to take a closer look at all the evidence they compiled. Some historians today were still a bit wary of saying NOVA had definitely proved the case, but others said the team had made a strong case for their theory.

In any case, it’s a complicated story stretching back many years and too complex to explain here, but it’s well worth checking out for anyone interested in the history of Pearl Harbor.

The NOVA documentary won’t air til Jan. 5, but you can already check out a podcast and find links to other material at a special NOVA Web site that was launched today,