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Divers survey wrecks of German U-Boats off N-C Coast


By George Olsen


U-Boat wrecks off N-C coast surveyed

New Bern, NC – INTRO - A survey of three sunken World War II era German U-boats was recently completed off the North Carolina coast. George Olsen has more.

There's actually more out there in the line of German subs lying off the North Carolina coast than what was surveyed. Historians are aware of five subs but haven't located the other two as of yet. The survey hopes to ultimately find all five of the subs as well as American merchant ship wrecks still undiscovered.

02:23 One in particular is the William Rockefeller which was sunk in 1942 by the U-701. At the time it was sunk it was one of the largest oil tankers in the world owned by Standard Oil, was hit by the U-701, all the crew was able to get off successfully, it burned for several days and drifted, and was hit again and sunk, and its exact location we don't know where it rests.

David Alberg is the superintendent of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and who led the July expedition. While the quest is mostly historical, there are modern day environmental concerns involved as well in trying to pinpoint some of these World War II shipwrecks.

02:23 This ship went down with 1000s and 1000s of fuel oil aboard as did many of these wrecks and so, as we've studied corrosion on shipwrecks off the Atlantic Seaboard, particularly with the Monitor and getting a better understanding of corrosion rates and how metal reacts in salt water. It's also going to help us get more information on how long these WWII wrecks have before they pose an environmental threat as the metals become weak and the hulls begin to collapse and oil is then released from their fuel stores.

Alberg notes some World War II wrecks have resulted in oil spills off the California coast. The bulk of this survey though was checking out the three known sites of German U-boats off the North Carolina coast.

07:25 And in all three cases it was a non-invasive survey where we were not getting inside the wreck or disturbing it in any way, but what we were doing was taking detailed photographs that can be used to provide the present state of the wreck and provide us information on not only how the ship sunk but also how its been impacted by the natural environment for the last 60+ years and also by human activity, whether its divers removing things from these wrecks or the natural environment.

All three of the sites are known to divers. Some are more recently discovered Alberg says the U-701 was rediscovered about five years ago but others, such as the U-85 off Nags Head has been known for up to 30 years, much to the detriment of their preservation.

09:03 It's a very popular dive site, and the vast majority of divers who go to these sites are very respectful and treat them with reverence and care, but unfortunately it doesn't take a lot to impact these sites so we've seen in the case of this submarine a vast amount of material that has been taken from the sub, things cut off from the sub antennas and different pieces of equipment. Because of that and where it sits, the superstructure itself has been badly compromised.

A lot of what the survey seeks to do is historical Alberg says the story of German u-boats operating off the Atlantic coast in World War II is still relatively unknown and they'd like to get as much data on the subs as possible to compare to the recollections of the war's American and German participants as well as coastal residents who witnessed the aftermath of attacks while they're still alive. He'd also like to get the story out so those diving on the sites know what they're viewing are grave sites the crews of the U-701 off Cape Hatteras and U-352 off Morehead City did not get off their ships while the fate of the crew of the U-85 is unknown.

11:05 But what I think is most important, from the position of the German government they consider these three sites war graves, whether there are bodies or human remains inside the sub or whether they died on the sub, in any event, its still the site of conflict and loss and the German government considers all three of these sites war graves.

More surveys are expected next summer, possibly focusing on suspected sites of the William Rockefeller and the two other undiscovered German subs. I'm George Olsen.