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2008 Battle of Atlantic Expedition

Exploring WWII in the Graveyard of the Atlantic

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Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise

The Mission

From July 6-26, 2008, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in collaboration with East Carolina University, the National Park Service, Minerals Management Service, UNC’s Coastal Studies Institute, and the state of North Carolina will conduct an underwater archaeological field expedition to the remains of vessels from the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II.

The primary sites to be observed are the U-85, U-352, and the U-701 sunk in battle by American forces in engagements that proved to be very important, but largely forgotten, parts of American history. This was the closest theatre of war to the continental United States and one of the only places in the world where one can visit 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.

USCGC Icarus (WPC-110), an Argo class patrol cutter sunk the U-352 in the waters off Morehead City, NC on May 9, 1942. The Icarus was the first US unit to capture German prisoners of War in WWII.(Photo: The National Archives)
It is the intent of this project to catalog the sites significance and identify degrading impacts from both environmental and cultural factors. From this project it is hoped that a holistic historical and archaeological assessment of the resources will be obtained. This preliminary investigation will serve as a baseline for future monitoring of the sites as cultural and economic resources as well as future research.

The archaeological methodology will consist primarily of documenting the sites by generating detailed site plans, plan and profile photo-mosaics, recording diagnostic hull features, intensive video and photo documentation, and documentation of ordnance and artifacts in situ.  Due to the sites’ dynamic environment and the nature of this non-invasive survey, permanent baselines will not be established at the sites.  All measurements will be taken from known structural features on the U-boats’ intact hull (conning tower, deck gun, hatches, etc.) and then compared to historic engineering plans from the U-boats’ original construction.  Divers will be assigned specific sections along the hull aft and forward of the conning tower to document, which will be compiled to create an overall site plan.  Simultaneous with the site mapping, a photographic/video survey will be conducted to create photo-mosaics and document artifacts, ordnance and diagnostic features of the site.  This photographic/video documentation will include the outer hull structure, diagnostic structural features such as the conning tower, deck gun, hatches and torpedo tubes, and any damage or degradation to the hull structure, as well as artifacts and ordnance in situ.

USS Roper (DD-147), a Wickes-class destroyer, sank the U-85 on April 14, 1942 off the coast of Nags Head, NC. The U-85 was the first U-boat to be sunk in US waters during WWII. Photo credit The National Archives
USS Roper (DD-147), a Wickes-class destroyer, sank the U-85 on April 14, 1942 off the coast of Nags Head, NC. The U-85 was the first U-boat to be sunk in US waters during WWII. (Photo: The National Archives)

This is part one of a multi-year project. Though this year’s focus is on U-boats due to concerns over looting, Allied vessels lost during the Battle of the Atlantic are also a primary objective of the study. They will be the focus of subsequent research and field work; however, some Allied vessels will be visited during this year’s field expedition in order to formulate a similar document for future projects.

It is important to note from the beginning that this expedition will respect the sites of U-85, U-352 and U-701 as war graves. Despite the fact they were enemy vessels when sunk, we will exhibit the same respect for human remains as we would expect for American vessels sunk in foreign waters. As such, no penetration or invasive survey techniques will be used during the project and all diving practices will be undertaken with the utmost sensitivity.

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