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During the first half of 1942, war raged off the shores of North Carolina. Explosions were seen and heard from the shore, oil washed up on the beaches, and dozens of valuable ships were sent to the bottom. The residents of the Outer Banks lived in constant and realistic fear of Axis forces landing soldiers on their beaches.
Today, remnants of 'the war that came home' can be seen strewn all along the North Carolina coast. Four German U-boats, along with several Allied war ships and scores of merchant vessels dot these beautiful waters and offer a tiny glimpse into that portion of our nation's history.
The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary's previous Battle of the Atlantic expeditions in 2008 and 2009 focused on the U-boats and Allied vessels that sank during World War II just off the North Carolina shore. During this year's expedition, archaeologists, marine biologists, and researchers will come together to explore the final piece of the triangle. They will focus their attention on the 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 Monitor National Marine Sanctuary hopes to offer a better understanding of the important role these ships and their mariners played during World War II, as well as highlight their value as heritage resources, and promote increased access and preservation.
Come join the expedition, as we learn more about the Battle of the Atlantic and the historic shipwrecks that help make the waters off the coast of North Carolina such a unique place.
The 2010 summer expedition is the third part of a larger multi-year project to research and document a number of historically significant shipwrecks tragically lost in the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II. The project is dedicated to raising awareness of the war that was fought so close to the American coastline and to preserving our nation's maritime history.
Using non-invasive methods, NOAA divers and partners will survey and photograph visible sections of several merchant vessels, which hopefully will allow scientists to understand the structural integrity of the remains and make recommendations for management options.
The merchant shipwrecks are located in an area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic," which encompasses shipwrecks from both sides of the Battle of the Atlantic. While some of the wrecks lie at recreational diving depths (less than 130 feet), many are located in deeper waters where they remain as windows into the past and serve as monuments, and in many cases grave sites, from one of the darkest chapters in the Nation's history.
Consistent with the established ethics promoted within the recreational dive community of respecting and preserving underwater resources, NOAA supports open access to these shipwrecks and encourages responsible behavior. Through this expedition, NOAA hopes to highlight our shared maritime history and demonstrate the importance of preserving these shipwrecks for the study and enjoyment of future generations of divers and for all Americans.
NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is conducting this survey in partnership with Minerals Management Service, National Park Service, State of North Carolina, NOAA's National Center for Coastal and Ocean Science, East Carolina University, Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration Research and Technology, and the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute, who are all providing technical expertise and logistical support for the expedition.
Byron Benson (Photo: National Archives)