ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Due to low water levels on the Mississippi River, a sunken World War II ship has been exposed for only the third time since it sank in 1993 (2012, 2015).
The USS Inaugural (AM-242) was once an Admirable-class fleet minesweeper and was one of the most successful minesweepers that the United States had ordered during WWII. The ship was originally launched on October 1, 1944 and commissioned nearly three months later on December 30, 1944.
In 1945, the ship performed patrol and escort duties between Hawaii and the islands within the western Pacific and during the war, the Inaugural was part of the largest-scale amphibious operation of the Pacific. The ship also played a major role in the Battle of Okinawa when it arrived on May 30, 1945, almost two months into the conflict.
During the struggle in Okinawa, the Inaugural patrolled the islands and often fired at and took down Japanese kamikaze pilots as they attempted to destroy other U.S. ships. The Inaugural was put out to sea on July 19 during the great 1945 typhoon season, enduring 11 typhoons and tropical storms combined until it left the territory on August 30, 1945.
After the war ended, the USS Inaugural began patrolling for mines in the waters between Japan and Korea. The vessel removed several mines off the shores of Nagasaki and Sasebo, Japan and did not return home until February 7, 1946 when it ported at San Pedro, California. The Inaugural then sailed to Galveston, Texas where it was decommissioned and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet Texas Group until it was sold by the Navy in 1967. The ship removed eighty-two mines total and was awarded two separate battle stars for its service during WWII.
In 1968, the Inaugural was towed into St. Louis and turned into a floating museum on the Mississippi River. The vessel was then designated as a National Historic Landmark as one of two Admirable-class minesweepers that survived during the war.
During the great flood of 1993, the Inaugural was docked near the gateway arch before the rough waters caused it to break loose. With the river cresting at 49.58 feet during the flood, the USS Inaugural suffered damage after it rolled onto its port side and eventually sank on August 1, 1993 near Downtown St. Louis.
The ship’s Landmark designation was withdrawn on August 7, 2001 after ceasing to meet the criteria. Currently, the water is only approximately 7 feet deep and the ship can be seen from the river bank.
Since being declared a total loss, the National Park Service (NPS) does not have any current plans to salvage or restore the wreckage for history purposes, but may salvage the metal for scrap or museum purposes.