NOOA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in collaboration with East Carolina University, the UNC Coastal Studies Institute, Minerals Management Service, the National Park Service and the State of North Carolina have conducted an underwater archaeological field expedition on the remains of vessels from the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. Thus far annual expeditions have visited German, American and British naval vessels and merchant vessels that were lost in the Battle of the Atlantic.
The sites explored during the first (2008) expedition included the U-85, U-352 and U-701, three German U boats that were sunk in 1942 during engagements with American forces. Each of these three sites can be found in 100-115 feet of water off the coast of North Carolina in an area commonly called the Graveyard of the Atlantic. >>VIDEO 2008 Expedition
The second phase of the expedition took place in early August of 2009. This expedition was focusing on Allied vessels, specifically a merchant vessel that was used in anti-submarine patrols, the HMT Bedfordshire. The HMT Bedfordshire was built as a fishing trawler. It was brought into service for the Royal Navy and then became one of the twenty four vessels that were loaned to the United States from the Royal Navy to patrol the East Coast. Germany was sinking merchant ships during this time in an attempt to stop ships from carrying supplies to England. The HMT Bedfordshire became a seasoned patrol vessel and was eventually sunk during a convoy mission by torpedoes fired from the U-558.
During this second leg of the expedition, the HMT Bedfordshire was documented and surveyed before Hurricane Bill hit the East Coast, however documenting and surveying other vessels in this expedition was postponed due to ocean conditions. >>VIDEO 2009 Expedition
During year three (2010) of the Battle of the Atlantic Expedition, archaeologists, marine biologists, and researchers came together to explore the final piece of the triangle. The focus of this expedition is on merchant vessels that were sunk in these waters, as they attempted to bring supplies to the war that raged in Europe. Although the plight of these merchant ships is often left untold, the merchant marine vessels actually took the hardest toll during World War II. By researching and documenting a few pieces of the merchant marines' story during the war, the archaeologists hopes to offer a better understanding of the important role these ships and their mariners played during World War II.
This was the closest theater of war to the continental United States and one of the only places in the world where one can visit the remains of both Axis and Allied vessels within recreational diving limits. These sites are recognized as valuable cultural, historical and economic resources for the United States and the state of North Carolina.
It is the intent of this project to catalog the significance of the sites and identify degrading impacts from both environmental and cultural factors. The data gained from this expedition will serve as a baseline for future monitoring and scientific research as well as provide a basis for the future management of these important resources.
Archaeologists and divers used several methods to catalog and map each of the german U boat sites. Photo and video documentation were valuable tools used to create detailed site plans and photo mosaics. Physical mapping and measurements were also taken on site, focusing on major features and degradation of the wreck. A combination of these methods produced accurate site plans from both the plan and profile views and provided archaeologists with a better understanding of the current state of the sites.
While each of the sites have been exposed to physical degradation from environmental conditions, they have also experienced damage and loss of valuable historical artifacts to souvenir hunters within the recreational diving community. The results of this project will be be used to assess these cultural impacts and communicate the importance of site preservation for the enjoyment for future generations.