On Sunday 1st September 1985 the RMS Titanic was found. 73 years earlier it had plunged into the icy depths of the Atlantic after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. The story of the Titanic is perhaps one of the most infamous and well-documented shipwrecks of all time - the lesser-known story is about the classified Cold War navy mission that lead to its discovery.
After seeking funds for his latest RUOV (remotely underwater operated vehicle), oceanographer Robert Ballard was approached with an interesting proposal by the US Navy in 1981. They wanted to use him and his technology to locate two lost US nuclear submarines: U.S.S.Thresher and U.S.S. Scorpion. They ultimately wanted to understand if any foul play was involved in their sinking and if their submerged nuclear reactors posed a threat. Ballard agreed to help them out and also asked the Navy if they would fund an extra smaller expedition to find the Titanic, as it was supposedly located between the two submarine wrecks.
Not wanting media attention and the USSR finding out about their true mission, the US Navy initially declined Ballard’s request. However, after finishing his initial mission earlier than expected, the Navy agreed that he could use the research vessel to try and locate the wreckage. After all, the oceanographer turned Navy officer would be searching in hundreds of thousands of square km of barren ocean and it was highly unlikely the Titanic would be found in the two remaining weeks that he had left on the expedition.
Using their recently learned knowledge on ocean currents and shipwrecks, it took the team only four days to find the wreckage - an astounding feat. As a result of the discovery, further expeditions have allowed us to gain an even greater understanding of what happened on the fateful night and has allowed us to delve even deeper into the lives of the passengers on board. The Navy declassified the mission after the Cold War ended and Ballard went on in his civilian life to make other great discoveries, such as finding the wreckage of the battleship Bismark and the aircraft carrier U.S.S Yorktown.