Built in 1917 by Manitowoc Shipbuilding Corp, Manitowoc WI, the Bluefields was a 2,063 ton freighter known as Lake Mohonk. The vessel changed hands, and names, many times but in 1941, it was sold to Nicaragua and renamed Bluefields. During World War Two, while on its way from New York to Havana, Cuba, the Bluefields was assigned to KS-520. The vessel was placed in the last row of the sixth column of the convoy. Only able to make 8.5 knots, the Bluefields was one of ten other vessels that prevented KS-520 from travelling as a fast as it could have. Relative to other vessels in the convoy, the Bluefields was smaller and economically less valuable, carrying only drums of carbide and oil. The torpedo from U-576 that slammed into the Bluefields on the evening of July 15th, 1942 was likely intended for another larger and more valuable vessel. U-576's torpedo hit the Bluefields on the vessel's left side, or portside. Immediately, the vessel developed a severe tilt to its portside, and sank within ten minutes. The vessel's 24 crewmen quickly abandoned ship. USS Spry picked up two boatloads of survivors, 20 in all. This included the Master, Captain, Officers, and other crew. Four minutes later, USCG Icarus rescued the remaining four survivors. Many of the survivors sustained minor wounds: cuts, abrasions, and exhaustion, but all survived.
Built in 1922 by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation in Alameda CA, the Chilore was owned by Ore Steamship Corporation of New York. The Chilore was an 8,310-ton freighter carrying assorted dry cargo in KS-520. Bound for Trinidad, the freighter was placed in the first row of the second column. During the attack on convoy KS-520, two torpedos hit the Chilore on the port side. Miraculously, the vessel could still operate under power, maintained control of steering, and did not lose a single man of its 56-person crew. Along with the J.A. Mowinckel, the Chilore made for Hatteras Inlet following the u-boat attack. Both vessels accidentally navigated into the minefields and were temporarily abandoned before being recovered by salvage tugs. Ultimately, on its way to Norfolk for major repairs, the Chilore capsized and sank in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
On March 18, 1942, the crew of U-124 spotted a tanker 22 miles southwest of the Diamond Shoals Light Buoy. This vessel was the 9,647 gross ton E.M. Clark carrying 118,000 barrels of heating oil destined for New York. Kapitänleutnant Johann Mohr brought U-124 close to E.M. Clark and fired one torpedo into the tanker's port side. The exploding torpedo buckled the deck of the tanker and brought down its foremast and radio equipment. While the crew of E.M. Clark attempted to rig an emergency radio, another of Mohr's torpedoes ripped through the stricken vessel, sinking it in ten minutes. Although the ship sank quickly, 40 of the 41 members of the crew managed to escape in two lifeboats. The unfortunate crewmember that lost his life was asleep in the ship's hospital at the time of the attack and is believed to have been killed by the torpedo blast.
On January 23rd, 1942, Korvettenkapitän Richard Zapp ended his patrol in dramatic fashion. Taking his submarine, U-66 on patrol a few miles southeast of the Diamond Shoals Light Buoy, Zapp managed to place himself in the path of two northbound merchant vessels. One of these was the Venore, and the other was the 8,139 gross ton Empire Gem. As the Venore approached the Diamond Shoals Light Buoy, the Empire Gem, could be seen astern gaining on the Venore. When both vessels were within a mile or two of each other, Zapp seized the opportunity and attacked the Empire Gem. As it began to burn and carry most of its crew to the bottom, Zapp sailed straight past it and destroyed the Venore before heading back across the Atlantic to a friendly port.
J.A. Mowinckel was built in 1930 for Baltisch-Amerikanische Petroleum Import GmbH, Danzig, Germany. In 1935, however, the 11,147-ton tanker was transferred to Panama Transport Co, Panama.
Bound for the port of Aruba, the J.A. Mowinckel was the first ship assigned to KS-520. In addition to carrying a cargo of freshwater, the J.A. Mowinckel carried another important item: the Convoy Commodore. Under convoy protocol, a designated Commodore, usually a retired naval officer, directed all merchant ships within a convoy. Captain N.L. Nichols, USN (Ret), regarded by his peers as a cautious and capable officer, was assigned as the Commodore of KS-520. Capt. Nichols was placed aboard J.A. Mowinckel, the first ship in the fourth column, to direct the movement of the convoy from Hampton Roads to Key West.
The evening of July 15th proved to be a costly one for the merchant ships. Just after Capt. Nichols observed a violent explosion aboard the Chilore, a torpedo slammed into his ship. The explosion injured as many as 20 men working at the time of the explosion and killed three. One crewman was thrown overboard and picked up by USS McCormick, a destroyer on escort duty. That crewman remained onboard the McCormick until it reached Key West.
Once the immediate danger of a u-boat attack ended, the decision was made for the J.A. Mowinckel to head for the nearest safe port, Hatteras Inlet. The USS Spry was placed in charge of escorting the J.A. Mowinckel and the Chilore northwards to safety. However, in a series of miscommunications between the commanding officer of the Spry and Capt. Nichols, both the Chilore and J.A. Mowinckel sailed directly into the Hatteras minefield and struck mines. The crews on each vessel, fearing they were again under u-boat attack, anchored their vessels and abandoned ship.
All lifeboats made it ashore on Ocracoke Island, and there were no additional injuries. In the following days, a survey was taken of each vessel and salvage operations were ordered. Minesweepers cleared a path through the minefield and tugboats were dispatched to bring each vessel into Hatteras for minor repairs. However, during the salvage attempt, the tugboat Keshena struck a mine and sank, resulting in the loss of two additional lives. Nevertheless, the J.A. Mowinckel was pulled from the minefield, repaired at Hatteras, and brought back to Norfolk where it was repaired and returned to service.
On July 19th, 1942, two tugs were dispatched to tow two abandoned merchant vessels, Chilore and J.A. Mowinckel out of the Cape Hatteras minefield. Prior to the arrival of the tugs, several channels were cleared so that the tugs could reach the damaged merchant vessels and tow them to port. On July 19th, the tug, Keshena, moved out of the safe channel, struck a mine, and sank almost instantly. Although 14 males and one female were rescued, two members of Keshena's crew were killed in the unfortunate accident. Eventually, the remaining tug removed the Chilore and J.A. Mowinckel from the minefield successfully. However, the Chilore would eventually sink in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay while being towed to Norfolk for repairs.
Battle of the Atlantic: Exploring the Kashena from UNC-CSI on Vimeo.
To read about the U-85 visit the link on the 2008 MNMS Expedition website.
To read about the William Rockefeller visit the U-701 link on the 2008 MNMS Expedition website.
Built by Blohm und Voss in Hamburg, Germany, U-576 was one of many type VII-C U-boats. The type VII class of u-boats was the most commonly used during the Battle of the Atlantic. As many as 704 were produced during the war, which constituted nearly sixty-percent of Germany's total U-boat fleet. Type VII C boats were 50.5 meters long, 6.2 meters wide, and displaced 769 tons on the surface when fully loaded. They had a range of over 8,000 miles at sea, and usually carried 14 torpedoes that could be fired from one of four bow tubes, or a single stern tube. Many of the type VII C's also carried an 88mm deck gun, as well as various anti-aircraft machine guns. Typically aboard were 60 men, four of which were officers.
In October 1941, the U-576 was dispatched to the Arctic for its inaugural war patrol. Its first and second missions did not result in any sinkings, but that changed when Kapitänleutnant Hans-Dieter Heinicke and his now experienced crew were shifted to patrol off the United States. Departing on January 1, 1942, U-576 sank a single ship before returning February 2nd. Leaving for a fourth cruise on March 29th, Heinicke brought his boat to the vicinity of Cape Hatteras. There he found and sank, the American freighter, Pipestone Country. Moving north, Heinicke sank a Norwegian freighter, Taborfjell. His fourth and most successful patrol ended May 16th, 1942.
Exactly one month later, U-576 departed for its fifth, and final, war patrol. By mid-July, U-576 had been at sea for nearly a month before it experienced any action. On July 14th, U-576 was severely damaged during an attack made by Allied aircraft on patrol off the Carolinas. U-576 radioed that a ballast tank was shredded and a large quantity of fuel was lost. Because the crew could not conduct repairs while underway, the boat planned to abort its fifth war patrol. Then, on the afternoon of July 15th, Heinicke spotted a southbound convoy. Despite being badly damaged, Heinicke decided to take his boat into action. His attack run was nearly perfect: four torpedoes fired all met their targets; three vessels were hit. However, celebration aboard the U-576 did not last long. Just as swiftly as Heinicke ambushed three Allied merchant vessels, Allied forces pounced upon his u-boat and sent it to a quick and watery grave.
To read about the U-701 visit the link on the 2008 MNMS Expedition website.
To read about the USS Monitor visit the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary website.
To read about the William Rockefeller visit the U-701 link on the 2008 MNMS Expedition website.
The USS YP-389 was built originally as the fishing trawler Cohasset for R. O'Brien and Co. of 34 Boston Fish Pier. It was converted into a coastal patrol craft and pressed into service after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The ship was equipped with one 3-inch deck gun, two .30-caliber machine guns, and six depth charges located on racks on the vessel's stern. This modest weaponry was of little use when the YP-389 encountered the German submarine, U-701 in the early morning hours of June 19th, 1942. The patrol craft's deck gun was inoperable due to a faulty firing spring. On this unfortunate morning, Kapitänleutnant Horst Degen brought U-701 to the surface and spotted the small patrol craft. Because similar vessels had harassed him over the previous two days, he decided to destroy the craft so he could resume his patrol. However, not wanting to waste a valuable torpedo, Degen ordered his gun crews to open fire with machine guns and the submarine's 88-mm deck gun. After an intense battle, the crew of the YP-389 abandoned their burning vessel. Unfortunately, six crewmembers lost their lives and went down with the ship.
During the 2009 Battle of the Atlantic Expedition, NOAA rediscovered the YP-389. It was standing proud on the bottom of the ocean floor as a testament to the destructive nature of the battle and as a hallowed gravesite to the six US Navy sailors who gave their lives to defend America's coast during World War Two.