San Diego

DC Exhibit Explores Wreckage of Sunken WWI Ship USS San Diego 100 Years Later

A new exhibit to explore how USS San Diego sank — the only World War I vessel to sink during the war — has opened at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C.

The lives of six Navy sailors were lost when WWI cruiser USS San Diego exploded and sank within 30 minutes off the coast of Long Island on July 19, 1918, according to Naval History and Heritage Command.

The 503-foot vessel may have struck a German mine or been hit by a torpedo, according to NHCC, but a team of research divers has been exploring the ship's wreckage in order to determine exactly what happened on that fateful day. 

"We are still looking at reviewing the data for how it actually went down. Also, the artifacts are still in the process of being researched," NHHC Archeological Conservator Shanna Daniel said.

The exhibit examines what is known to the team so far and includes a three-dimensional rendering of USS San Diego in its current state on the ocean floor and features hundreds of artifacts recovered from the wreckage site.

Researchers used underwater drones and sonar technology to reach and excavate the sunken ship, finding items from inside, including a military bugle. 

The Museum of the U.S. Navy chose to open the exhibit this weekend in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which falls on Sunday, Nov. 11.

When the exhibit opened on Thursday, in the 100th year since the USS San Diego tragedy, a bell rang to honor not only the lives of the six who died on the sinking ship but all lives lost during WWI.

Formerly USS California, the ship was assigned to U.S. Pacific Fleet and conducted training exercises and drills along the west coast before being renamed USS San Diego in 1914 and being designated the fleet's flagship. 

The ship was reassigned to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet in July 1917, where she conducted dangerous escort missions through the North Atlantic.  

The current USS San Diego, homeported in its namesake, is the fourth U.S. Navy vessel to bear the name. 

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