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Dwight Coleman, Dale Ridder  







Underwater archaeology; Marine weapons and explosives; PT-109  

Interview 27:29 - 50:49 Play 27:29 - More
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Robert Ballard  







Underwater archaeology; PT-109  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
18 May 2002

  • Solomon Islands
  • Near Gizo; Aboard ship
  • -8.11214   156.905488
  • Mono
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Two-Track Mono; Electrovoice RE50 Dynamic Omni Microphone

Show: Ballard
Log of DAT #: 2
Engineer: Neal Conan
Date: May 23, 2002

BB = Bob Ballard
D = Dwight Coleman
DR = Dale Ridder
NC = Neal Conan

FX - Velcro?

:07 - :31
Ambi.. people talking and a sonar barely audible

:31 NC
Whatcha got there?

:33 D
Not sure, it's a very hard object, it certainly looks manmade, non-natural. It's sitting out all by itself, not amongst any geological features that it might be a part of.. so I would say it's definitely a man-made item. It's about 9 meters by 6 meters in size, so according to our expert here, it may be a Japanese landing barge, something like that.

:55 DR
That would be close to what you would say for a small Japanese landing barge.. it a little bit wider but it may also be a part of it that survived by the bottom - see they were part metal and part wood.. so the amount that would survive depends on how the wood survives.. but it looks like it might be. I don't know if we'll go down and take a video of it, but it looks that way. I 'll have to start digging out my reference stuff and start checking on it.

1:26 D
it could be the battle section of a pt boat

Chuckling amongst present crew.

This, to me, should be used to build suspense. I picture the show being half documentary (about JFK's experience in the navy, pt 109 - but that might not be "Radio Expeditions" stuff), that breaks in between segments about bob ballard and his search for PT 109. This would be one of the earlier segments, that shows a detective on the trail of elusive clues on his search of the mother of all mysteries. Material in DAT 11 would be used as near-closing stuff - the declarations "this is it, this is it" would gain potency when the listener can feel how much effort had to go into this extremely tedious search. Especially with the story leaking/breaking, the mere discovery just wouldn't be enough. That's enough of my digression, back to the DAT.

Not if it's sliced the way I think it is.

1:34 NC
That's a pretty detailed picture


1:38 D
It is, still, the acoustics play tricks on your eyes. So you really have to get the visual, the optical image of it to verify it.

1:46 NC
after doing this for a while you learn not to get too excited?

1:50 D
a little bit, yeah, although we haven't seen too many promising targets, so this is actually, really the first good one that we have.

- 2:09

2:09 D
um.. why don't we just levae it, see where it steadies out. I don't know if he's speeding up or not.
2:23 D
always happens, once you start hauling in, the bottom starts dropping off on ya¿

The law of nature¿

What is this material?

2:33 D
it's an echo off the surface. So it's a.. it pretty much follows just the flat¿

it's a wave pocket.

2:46 D
basically. But we're looking at several multiples of it because we're so deep, it's pretty far away but it's getting in there¿.

- 3:09
Ambi..mumbling, bustling¿ sonar lightly beeping.

3:09 D
do you wanna go down another 10 meters?

FX - sounds like paper being ripped, or tape being taken off of a box.

3:20 D
do you see what our layback is cathy from back there?

FX-rumbling noise, like a helicopter

3:24 C
layback 1-9-7

3:27 D

FX - a drill, several spurts

4:01 BB
finished the turn now?

4:03 D
he hasn't started it yet, no. We've got about another.. 400 meters.

- 4:26
just mumbling, but this segment has a clearer quality to it. could be useful as an introduction but it's also kinda empty as far as content goes.

4:26 DR
okay, here's what you show on a landing barge, partly wood, partly metal. Twin metal rudders on the bottom, that might match it if she's upside down. She's a bit wider than.. well 6 meters in 18 feet¿

yeah, and¿

4:48 D
I may not be that precise in my measurements.

4:50 DR
But the way she looks on the bottom starts matching up. These are good ships, they were based on Japanese fishing boat designs. They were good barges, very efficient, and very sturdy.

DR 5:24
Dwight? is that showing our average degrees temperature in centigrade? Is that on the bottom

5:29 D
yes, ten degrees

5:32 DR
¿. With the mercury fulminate then, she'll stay stable. One of my concerns with the torpedo warheads is a very simple detonating system with a lot of mercury fulminate. Mercury fulminate is one of the few things more sensitive than nitroglycerin. At elevated temperatures it becomes very unstable. At 11 degrees centigrade she's gonna be .. the stability is best at 60 degrees or lower, 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so I don't have to worry about the stability of the fulminate, so it's a little bit safer to approach the boat.

6:10 NC
I hadn't even thought of that

6:12 DR
oh! I did! I study weapons, that's one reason why I'm here. 6:25: here' you're dealing with a lot of unexploded and leftover WW2 ordinants on the bottom, and all the surface. You need to know what you're doing ¿ understand it, not be frightened, but understand what you're dealing with and then you know how to deal with it.

6:48 NC
you'd have thought 60 years underwater would be ¿

6:51 DR
no, TNT is an extremely stable explosive, that's what the warheads were filled with. One reason why it was used was because it was so stable. They're still recovering unexploded bombs from WW2 in Europe, now when they take them out and blow them up they go off with a very loud bang. When I was in alaska in the 70's, they had mines drift up on shore, and the explosive disposal people would go off and blow them up, they went off with a nice bang. TNT is a very stable explosive, it's difficult to detonate. That's why the way the chain was built, from the time the fuse was activated, you had a chain of events to set off the main charge. You had what's called the detonator, which started the explosive chain, and then you had a booster which delivered enough of a shock to the TNT to set it off, and then you hsd the main charge of tnt. The booster that they had in the whs was granulated TNT, which was more sensitive than cast tnt but still took a fair whollop to set off, which is why if they're using mercury fulm, they were going to have a fairly good charge of that, and that is the concern with the whs, the stability of that, and the temperature tells me it will still be stable.

End of Track 1
Beginning of Track 2

We're approaching the area of the minefield

We may just find pieces of jap destroyers then.

there's not a lot of relief on this at all. But that's a good target.

- 8:41
Mumbling, inaudible

that slow relief.. that could be help lighting. Great superstructure.. one of them got really clobbered by bombs.

thre is a little shadow here, that white¿

she actually took a 1000 pound bomb on the bow, that's going to take it apart pretty thoroughly.

15m, maybe about 20 m. of course it's an odd shape¿

we may be starting to hit stuff

gives me a height of about 2.28 m off the bottom. Here's something here

that could be hull.. I think we found our jap. I think we found wreckage from a Japanese destroyers, at least one of them.

9:50 D
yeah we've just gone over the top of it, it's real close to our nater, here's a little hump right her ethat we've just gone over, it's probably related to the same debris field.

is there any way we can swing this on over a little bit?

10:07 D
no, we'd have to do another pass on it

we're going to have to do another pass, okay..

10:11 D
you can see it here, this little lump here, so we did just go over something

how wide is this track here?

10:17m D
it's about 100 m across. So we're catching it from one side to anohte.r it doesn't have a lot of relief.

well.. this is interesting, it depends, the destroyer may be heavy enough to settle in¿

yeah, there's definitely something down there¿

the length is about right for a can , thery were 376 f, 100 m is 330..

excuse me, I want to drop a target on my nav here¿

can you locate me on the map here?

we have some shadows, very angular feature here.. it's hard to get good measurements on it because we went over the top of it, but it looks like it's related to the debris field there

we may have just found the first jap can

11:30 ??
I think it's important to realize, the way bob ballard goes about these searches is in a very methodical way, over a very large area, sonar search, so we're seeing some objects and there are shadows associated with them, as you're looking at the screen, there isn't a clarity it's really a gray scale, but he's marking each and every one of these, and he's going to come back again in a methodical way. Some of these are going to be bulldozers, some of these are going to be civilian ships, some of them are going to be refuge, and some of them are going to be targets of interests, and the targets. At this point in the search, which is really only in it's second half of the first day, of course everybody wants to find every thing, but bob is going about it in exactly the right way and in fact it's 3-4 days before this portion of the search is done, and not only does that have value in finding the target of interest, and because he takes such a wide area search, it shows so many other potential targets, and when you go back with finer-grain sonars, and video capability, both still and motion pictures, you then see what you have, and the comment about adjusting the track of the array in this case, in this phase, we don't do that, but when you look at little Hercules, you see she has thrusters which can move her laterally, vertically, and twist her, so that once you're in the vicinity of the target, you can move around her. These are very interesting developments. The closer we get to shore, the higher the probability we're going to find a target of interest, because jap ships would use that for cover. Additionally, if you're in deeper water you wouldn't want to run into shallower water, if there were no other way of trying to escape as we've seen so many times. You see one of the reasons why we need better technologies to keep continuing that, we're looking at a swath about 100m, 300ft, directly below this sounder, and that is just a white area, and we've seen some portion sticking out of that blind area, and of course that's the luck of the draw, and we're going to have to go back, and bob will do that¿ with great success in what we're seeing here also, and on the venture, which was about a year ago, all of these targets were manually plotted, now we're backing them up manually on paper, and now they're all computerized, and we'll know the best route to go to maximize the number of targets in a minimum amount of time.

14:54 Track 2 Ends
14:55 Track 3 Begins

14:58 - 15:21
Ambi. This segment shows the crew discussing the direction of the current. The vessel sounds crowded and I think this could also be used as an ambience piece as it brings up pictures of a crowded living space, and their tones let the listener know that they also are a team that has to work together to try and follow the trail of pt-109.

15:21 - 17:01
More mumbling, barely audible sonar beeping, but less interesting than previous segment.

17:01 DR
that'd be something if we find the starboard section the 1st day, that would be really incredible. I figured probably 3 based on the equip. that they have, but I don't have the experience, bob and the crew's experience.

17:45 Track 3 ends
17:45 Track 4 begins

about how long is it per line?

about 2 hours , 3 horus¿ yeah about 3 hours.

26:09 Track 4 Ends
26:10 Track 5 Begins

26 :10 very very empty ¿.

27:30 Track 5 Ends
27:30 Track 6 Begins

This whole track has a unique mood. It shows that the work Bob Ballard does is tedious, and at times NOT exciting at all. Could be useful in painting a picture of what the work is like other than simply finding huge ships (they sometimes find meaningless "targets," hardly worth noting¿)

27:48 BB
good signal, as there you'll see it. that's good news¿ (28:02) water depth, 3.. 420¿ meters.. Okay and the end of the line¿ two hours gto go. 8000 meters to cover. Like watching grass grow. I can crawl faster than this.
you guys need anything?
(everyone answers no, thanks)

28:59 BB
I hope a lot of you are drinking water and not dehydrating¿
(Ambi.. explanation - they've gotta be bored if they're asking about water-drinking procedures¿ and they have several more days before they actually find the ship, right? So this is a good illustration of how patient the crew has to be..)

well we're getting closer to shore.. we're getting more sediments¿

7 meters?

7 meters long.. a couple meters wide. Well it's nice we're seeing some images that small. Why don't you log it anyway?

30:39 Track 6 Ends
30:40 Track 7 Begins

Track seven is pretty close to nothing. The sonar beeps and there are a few mumbles, but offers little in substance or ambience that isn't already better provided in other tracks.

34:04 Track 7 Ends
34:05 Track 8 Begins

!Test of Mic!

where are we

we are right in the middle of Blackett strait, Ferguson passage, around the corner here is villa, and just over there behind us is Gizo. So we're right in the middle of it all, and somewhere right beneath us is pt-109.

why is this important?

35:13 BB
oh I think it's like all projects we do. isn't it wonderful to tell history, isn't it wonderful to tell a good story, and president Kennedy's manhood is right in this spot. And I just love telling that story.. a young guy, clearly from a very wealthy family, a very powerful family, and he chose to be a pt oat skipper. He didn't have to do that. And he came here, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, right up to where he was behind enemy lines..all of these islands were occupied by Japanese. And they were killing people, and to come in here in the pitch of night to take on the Tokyo express, and have his boat run over, and to gallantly .. I mean, really! To swim in the ocean ocean dragging a wounded crew member in his teeth.. I think that really made him the person who became president. Telling that story is fun, and being part of that history is fun. What I enjoy, is you know, when you think titanic, "well, I found titanic," so every time you talk about titanic you will probably mention who found it. you talk about the Bismarck, well now my name is associated with that point of history, and the Yorktown.. and hopefully, if we're successful with pt-109, I just think it's an honor to be able to come along for the ride.

36:52 NC
are you at all worried, since you discovered titanic, it has become an object of exploitation.. could the same thing happen to pt 109?

37:01 BB
absolutely not. Pt109, unlike the titanic, is a ship of war. And a ship of war is forever the property of our country, so pt109 belongs to the US, and it's against the law to do anything to it.

37:20 NC
as we stand here, and look at the distances involved, if where we are right now is where the ship went down, that's an incredible swim.

37:30 BB
yeah, you could throw a rock over this place¿ but , it also drops to right now beneath us is 1500 feet.. and as you can see on our sonar system it's complicated. And as you know the Japanese destroyer ran over pt109 breaking it up into two pieces, the size of those two pieces are a tremendous debate.. but certainly the part we're trying to look for is by far the smallest piece, because where the bow ended up no one really knows. I think it's probably over here in Ferguson passage or near Ferguson passage - very strong currents. So working over there, I think over there I think we're going to find that it's not very fun. Right now I'm concentrating on finding the stern, which I think we'll find in that direction, and if we find her I'll have a good shot at finding the bow

38:23 NC
as you mentioned, you found the Titanic, you found the Bismarck, and those are just ¿.

38:28 BB
and a few others chuckles

38:30 NC
there are a few other trophies, why do you keep doing it, putting yourself on the line like this?

38:38 BB
I don't think I'm on the line, honestly, I'm having a lot of fun, I'm enjoying this, I'm sorta good at it, I think I'm sorta good at it¿ you're good at what you do and I think you enjoy it. through our lives we've been able to develop a skill - and I think a skill that brings joy to other people. I know listening to your program brings joy to me, and I think hopefully my exploits bring joy to others, and I think I really enjoy entertaining people in that sense.

You've been here before

Right down there at Guadalcanal, that was a lot easier, there were 100 ships and they were BIG, battleships and heavy cruisers.. finding ships in iron bottom sound was shooting trout in a barrel, this is another kettle of fish.

I remember though you once told me that we think of pt109 as being on the other side of the planet, being incredibly far away, but to the people who live here they remember it. it was right over there

(This is the most interesting part of the 'interview,' to me. It's a story but it has a personal side to, since it's from an expert who is imagining himself there. The picture is drawn the best in the following paragraphs - he almost sounds like he's reminiscing about his own past experiences. Really nice)
39:42 BB
in their back yard. Unfortunately all the people that were here that might tell us something are gone. A nd most of the people have no memory of ww2 whatsoever, let alone pt109. but I think it's fun to be here, to go back into history, I can just ¿ last night when we were searching it was pitch, pitch dark.. there was one little light bulb over there in gizou.. it wasn't until the sun came up this morning that I went 'my goodness, look at all these island around me,' and last night, I couldn't see any of them. And I think about what happened to jfk, and his crew.. I mean here they are coming up through Blackett straight to engage the Tokyo express.. and these guys they're engaging are pros, and in many ways, the pt boat skippers were kids, in their first combat. This is Kennedy's first combat mission.. and the guy that ran him over was a pro, and I think about how scared they must have been. The Japanese are not known for their humanitarian behavior, and you're absolutely here behind enemy lines, and when the sun comes up, you're in trouble. And imagine drifting on the bow of pt109 and the sun comes up¿ and you know 'this is not a good place to be' and he slides off that and takes off, trying to get to that distant island. Thank God he was a good swimmer.

41:26 NC
how do you not hear a destroyer not coming at full speed?

41:29 BB
oh real easy, you don't here 'em. They're ¿ you hear them within a quarter mile of you, and by that time.. it's like a jet, you don't hear it until it passes by you. No, he couldn't hear it. You don't hear 'em, you see 'em. His problem was¿ he was afraid of having too much power on because the enemy, in his mind, was not a destroyer. He didn't know that destroyers were in the game. He thought he was the superior power going up against barges. What he feared was the airplanes, and they were very effected in night operations. They would pick up the wake, and follow the wake

phosphorescent wake..

42:23 BB
absolutely, and he didn't want to generate a wake, and the best way to do that was just idle your engines. Plus his job was basically a picket line.. the 3 pt that were on that picket line when he got ran over were basically laying a fence. A blocking movement. whatever came up through blackett strait heading up towards the slot had to pass through their positions, like the army, they're dug in.. this destroyer at 40 speeds, 35-40 knots.. full speed¿ pt boat is idling, and also remember that they didn't' have direct control of their power, they had to down to the engine room and say 'engage the engines,' it wasn't like a captain just hit the throttle or you're in a car and you just push the accelerator.. imagine he's spots this, it's closing on him, and remember a destroyer in cross-section is a knife, it's not really easy to see it you're only seeing the cutting edge. And so he sees the cutting edge, he yells down, and he starts to turn. He was actually trying to engage them - his job was to fire his torpedoes, and he's trying to come about- well it's slugging because they're no power, so there's no force against the rudder, the ship is not responding or is responding very slowly, and plus, when the Japanese skipper sees him, he says 'I'm gonna getcha,' he didn't say 'I'm going to avoid ya,' he then turned and then went right at 'em and increased speed. And you're talking seconds.. so he didn't have a chance.

that's a pretty tight window.

well that's funding obviously. We don't have an infinite source of funding. Thank goodness for the ngs, but even their treasuries have a finite limitation to them, so we have a very narrow window, but I think quite honestly, here we are on what? Our first full day of surveying and we've got a lot done. So we've got enough to extend it for a few more days, we can be here for two weeks if we wanted. We're schedule for 10 days.. but I think we can get it tonight chuckles

tell me about the Grampus

the grampus was.. and I'm a submariner¿ and the grampus was a us diesel submarine, a working under these waters that vanished under mysterious conditions. It just vanished, no one lived through that to tell the story.. ?????
all we know is that they were here, in blackett strait, though we think they were more towards villa, because their job was to intercept the Tokyo express as well, and if you look right down there, and you see how that narrows.. so that's a very narrow slot right there, and that's where the japanese express came, and they came down from robawl, duknin, into blackett st. and through this very narrow passageway. Pt boats were afraid to go down there because shore facilities could attack them, but subm, being stealth, could get through. I think it's right down in that neck of the woods. It would be interesting to find her to maybe tell what happened to her, and maybe close the chapter on the grampus.

(Talking about path, where they will turn¿)


Kolombangara ! a great extinct volcano, it almost straight out of kk, remember the movie? If he lives anywhere he lives up there in the cloudy mists. Can you imagine the natives pounding on their drums. Ii think I'll tay here.

46:51¿ discussing peter pan and the "original actress" in KK, later version¿etc..

but doesn't that look just like straight out of the movie? I don't know if I were a sailor I'd want to swim ashore there

the definition of forbidding

you could walk about 12 feet, take you about an hour!

no that was safety to kennedy and his people was rendova, that was safety, anywhere else was potential death. So naturally he had a choice of swimming that way, or swimming over to these little islands, that he picked these ones that he was convinced no one occupied, and also it put him near ferg. Passage, but can you imagine with an injured back, with no shoes, walking through the coral feet, cutting his feet unbelievably bad, and then swimming out into ferg. Passage and treading water all night, hopeful that one of your comrades will come roaring through.. can you imagine? They come roaring through, they're going to run right over the top of you. That was amazing. Very brave, very brave.

we sometimes think of the history of the 2nd ww and the island hopping campaign, and it's often portrayed as if no one lived there.

oh no, they were inhabitred by alls orts of people. In fct it ssort of interesting, we did interview some of the natives and tried to get them to 'would you remember' and they said 'oh yeah, it was right over there,' it was in their back-yards. Can you imagine living someplace, and really not traveling at all your entire life, and something happens bad the house next door, and people come to you ask 'do you remember?' of course they do, it was right next door! So for these people, of course they remember..

but I want to go over to the island where he picked the coconut to send a message, if anything I'm going to come home with one of those coconuts

the coconut, he kept it on his desk at the w.h.

he certainly did, it's not in the Canadian library in boston, and so I wanna go find that coconut tree. That out to be a little easier.. cuz it's right over there ! I can see it from here¿ I can see the waves breaking on the reefs there, and that was absolutely right where he came though. Pretty day huh? Almost water skiing weather.. except for those shark fins¿

we're about to run out of water, it's sorta like a box canyon that opens to the north down there.. .so it's in there, we just gotta keep hunting.
(this last statement hear sounds like the end of one segment of a piece¿ sounds like a cliffhanger to me!)


52:02 END

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