Just off the coast of North Carolina lie the remains of the German U-boat U-85. For more than 66 years, U-85 has rested off our Nation’s coast, slowly revealing her story and offering us glimpses into a past that many Americans are unaware even existed.
Detailed isometric and profile inking of U-85 drawn in 1991 by Jim Christley, a retired submariner and naval artist. These drawings will be helpful in determining the amount of degradation to the site since 1991. Click here for a larger view..
On April 13, 1942, U-85 was sitting in shallow water only a few miles from the North Carolina coast, just off the Bodie Island lighthouse. She was waiting for Allied targets to cross her path when just after midnight the USS Roper, a destroyer, detected a weak radar contact. As the Roper began to investigate the contact, U-85 headed to deeper water, running on the surface for greater speed to escape the oncoming destroyer.
The Roper continued to pursue the submarine and soon the gap between the two vessels closed and a surface engagement began. The crew of the Roper quickly manned their machine guns and 3-inch deck guns. As the German sailors came out of the conning tower to man their gun, they were met with heavy fire from the Roper. Soon, a well aimed 3-inch shell breached the pressure hull just aft of the conning tower and the captain of U-85, Eberhard Greger, gave the order to abandon ship.
German crew on the conning tower of the U-85. (Photo: The National Archives.
As the U-boat began to sink at the stern, the Roper watched as the German crew jumped into the water, begging for rescue. However, the Roper believed it had detected another sonar contact and, under the false assumption that U-boats operated in packs, thedestroyer drove right through the mass of sailors in the water and dropped an additional 11 depth charges to ensure that the submarine was sunk. The depth charges killed the entire crew of U-85. The Roper then left quickly, fearing another U-boat was in the area. However, the ship returned after daylight and recovered the bodies of 29 sailors who were later interred in Hampton Roads, Va.
U.S. Navy hard-hat salvage divers were on the site almost immediately, hoping to recover a four-rotor Enigma machine, which would be helpful in breaking the Germans’ naval code. While the divers did not locate the Enigma, they did recover several items from the wreck site, including an unexploded depth charge.
Even though few Americans know much about the U-boats plying U.S. waters during the Battle of the Atlantic, it is an important part of our nation’s history. The history of U-85 is important to American history not only because it was the first enemy submarine sunk by a U.S. Navy warship during World War II, but also because it was the first submarine sunk in U.S. waters.
The site was first located in the 1960s, and since the 1970s it has been plundered by divers seeking artifacts. Today, the site is severally degraded and rests in approximately 100-110 feet of water about 14 miles east of Oregon Inlet. By documenting and surveying the wreck site, the expedition will lay the groundwork to nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places and help preserve it for future generations.
Click here for the full history and disposition of the U-85.
Rough single view photo-mosaic of U-85 created by Joe Hoyt on June 22, 2008.
Click here for a larger view.