Navy Finally Reveals Titanic Wreckage Was Found During a Secret Mission

By: Lauren Fokas | Last updated: Sep 27, 2023

Over a century ago, the great ship Titanic sank to the bottom of the ocean after hitting an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic. 

73 years later, a US Navy officer was finally able to dive deep enough to find the remains of the famously sunken ship. But only now, after another 38 years, has the Navy finally admitted just what they were doing at the bottom of the ocean when they found it. 

The Titanic: Possibly the Most Famous Boat in History

On August 14, 1912, the Titanic, carrying more than 2,000 people, including passengers and crew, hit an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. Of those 2,220 people, 1,496 died that night. 


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The Titanic has gone down in history as one of the most famous tragedies of all time, and though the public generally understood what happened thanks to the accounts of the 700 survivors, the boat remained lost for 73 years. 


Why Did It Take 73 Years to Find the Titanic?

Of course, immediately after the Titanic sank, people wanted to have a better understanding of what happened. But unfortunately, the technology during the first half of the 20th century was simply not advanced enough to reach the remains. 


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Luckily, due to developments in submarine technology, the US Navy was finally able to reach the vessel 12,500 feet underwater. What they found was absolutely incredible. 

Robert Ballard Fought for a Titanic Search Party

The Navy may have never decided to go searching for the lost ship if it wasn’t for one man—Robert Ballard. 


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In 1985, he was an officer in the US Navy and desperately wanted to explore the ocean floor where the Titanic sank in hopes of finding the wreckage. However, the Navy didn’t agree that finding the Titanic was a legitimate use of military vessels. 

Understanding the 1985 ‘Secret Mission’

Fortunately for Officer Ballard, at the same time that he was requesting permission to look for the Titanic, the Navy had another mission in mind.


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The US Navy had recently lost two nuclear submarines, the USS Scorpion and the USS Thresher. According to the US Naval Institute, these were the only two nuclear submarines they had ever lost, and they wanted to find out what happened to them. 

Searching for the Titanic Only If Times Allows

Essentially, Ballard received funding from the Navy to complete his personal mission of finding the Titanic, but only if he had time to do so after locating and investigating the missing submarines. 

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The Navy knew that the USS Thresher had sunk in April 1963 and the USS Scorpion in May 1968. However, they didn’t know why, and wanted Ballard to find out. 


Finding an Answer for the Missing Nuclear Submarines

One theory regarding the sunken submarines suggested they were hit and destroyed by the Soviet Union. Though after Ballard found the two nuclear subs, the Navy told the press, “We saw no indication of some sort of external weapon that caused the ship to go down.” 

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Exactly how and why the subs sank is still unknown to the public. But fortunately, Ballard came back with enough information for the Navy to consider the mission a success, and he was allowed to proceed in looking for the Titanic. 


Pressing On to Locate the Titanic

With 12 days remaining to complete his mission, Ballard headed to the last known coordinates of the Titanic before it sank nearly 75 years earlier. 

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Survivor reports stated that the ship had broken in half, so Ballard assumed there was a trail of debris on the ocean floor. He told National Geographic his hunch is what “saved [their] butts. It turned out to be true.”


The Navy Worried Finding the Titanic Would Blow Its Cover

Once Ballard reported that he had indeed found the Titanic’s final resting place, the Navy was anxious about the public’s response. 

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It assumed people would want to know just what the military was doing out there, and the Navy didn’t want the world to know about the missing submarines. However, the fears were unwarranted because once the news got out about the Titanic wreckage, that was the only story people cared to hear. 


Ballard Tells the World What He Found

Although he had to keep the submarine mission a secret, Ballard was able to tell the world about the magic and terror of finding the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. 

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Little surprise, the world was completely consumed with the details. Ballard even wrote a book describing the intense feelings of the expedition, as well as the details of exactly what he saw down there. 


The ‘Haunting’ Experience of the Titanic

In his book, The Discovery of the Titanic, Ballard explained, “It was one thing to have won — to have found the ship. It was another thing to be there. That was the spooky part.”

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He also wrote, “The first thing I saw coming out of the gloom at 30 feet was this wall, this giant wall of riveted steel that rose over 100 and some feet above us. I never looked down at the Titanic. I looked up at the Titanic. Nothing was small.”


The Tragedy Remains One of History’s Biggest Stories

Even with the new information about the Navy’s secret mission to find its missing submarines, the Titanic still seems to be the most interesting aspect of this story. 

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In fact, even more than one hundred years after the great ship sank, the Titanic is still one of the most intriguing and astounding stories of all time, and it will certainly be remembered for centuries to come.