Two men may have solved a mystery that for decades has puzzled World War II historians and evaded probes by the U.S. Navy, National Park Service and the National Geographic Society.
Deep in the dark waters of the Pacific, about three miles from the entrance of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Gary R. Larkins and George Carter last week found the remnants of a Japanese midget submarine launched the morning of the attack against American forces Dec. 7, 1941.
What makes this find particularly significant, they say, is the strong possibility it is the midget submarine that took the first hit in the attack on Pearl Harbor -- blasted by the USS Ward 95 minutes before the Japanese began pounding the U.S. fleet.
Mr. Carter and Mr. Larkins, director of the Institute of Aeronautical Archaeological Research in Sacramento, Calif., were in a submersible craft searching for seaplanes dumped off the entrance to Pearl Harbor by the Navy in the early 1930s, when they spotted the sub's hull at 1,500 feet.
Although they believed the sub had sunk in that area, Mr. Larkins said they were stunned by their good luck.
"My first words probably aren't printable, but my first thought was, 'That's it -- the Japanese minisubmarine they are all looking for,' " he said.
Robert Chenoweth, curator of the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, said that the find could help clear up the mystery of what happened to two of five such submarines, carrying two men and two torpedoes each, launched by larger Japanese submarines before the attack.
Three have been accounted for, Mr. Chenoweth said. A fourth was never heard from after launching.
And a fifth took a shell through its conning tower and was hit by depth charges from the USS Ward after the sub's periscope was sited following a supply ship.
If closer underwater examination reveals such a shell hole in the tower, Mr. Chenoweth said, "I'll believe it was the one involved in the incident called 'the first shot of the war.' "
He and Mr. Larkins said they are searching for funds to continue the survey.