Almost immediately after the Titanic sank in April 1912, there were attempts to recover the wreckage and the bodies of those who had gone down with the ship. The limited technology at the time made it impossible to do so for over seven decades.
On September 1, 1985 — 38 years ago today — the wreckage was found during a joint exploration by an American oceanographer, Robert Ballard, who was also a Navy officer, and a French oceanographer, Jean-Louis Michel, as The New York Times reported at the time.
At first, this dive had no connection to the Titanic. It was actually a mission secretly undertaken to locate the wrecks two nuclear submarines: the USS Scorpion & USS Thresher.
But that wasn’t made public until 2008 when Ballard revealed the true nature of the mission to National Geographic.
“The Navy is finally discussing it,” Ballard told National Geographic in 2008.
Ballard originally met with the US Navy in 1982 to secure funding for a new type of submersible technology that would allow him to find the Titanic. Ballard met with the US Navy in 1982 to secure funding for a new type of submersible technology that would allow him to find the Titanic. The USS Thresher sank in April 1963, and the USS Scorpion followed five years later, in May 1968. The United States Naval Institute reported that they are the only two nuclear subs lost by the Navy.
The Navy agreed that Ballard could search for the Titanic if there was any time left in the mission after finding the subs — and after confirming whether the Soviet Union had played any part in sinking them.
“We did not see any evidence of an external weapon causing the ship’s sinking,” Ronald Thunman told National Geographic .
With 12 days left in the mission, Ballard was able to find the Titanic using a hunch that the ship had split in two and left a trail of debris.
“That’s what saved our butts,” Ballard said to National Geographic. “It turned out to be true.”
Ballard said the Navy was nervous that people would catch on to why they were actually scouring the ocean floor.
” “The Navy was not expecting me to discover the Titanic and when it happened, the Navy became very nervous due to the publicity,” Ballard explained. “But people were so focused on the legend of the Titanic they never connected the dots.”
So, 23 years later, Ballard disclosed the truth about his mission. He also wrote about his experience finding the ship in his book “The Discovery of the Titanic. “
“It was one thing to have won — to have found the ship,” he wrote. “It was another thing to be there. That was the spooky part.”
Correction: July 18, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated when the USS Scorpion disappeared. It was lost in May 1968, not May 1965.