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2009 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 August 4-24, 2009, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, in consultation with the British and German governments and in partnership with Minerals Management Service, National Park Service, State of North Carolina, East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the Georgia Aquarium, and The Mariners’ Museum, is conducting an underwater archaeological field expedition to the remains of vessels from the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II.

This expedition is a continuation of the research work conducted in the summer of 2008 by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to research and document historically significant shipwrecks tragically lost during World War II, including U.S. and British naval vessels, merchant marine vessels, and German U-boats. The expedition will also help document the condition of these vessels some 67 years after they were lost.  Understanding the condition of these wrecks is a crucial first step in establishing efforts to preserve these historic sites and their stories.

This year’s project will be divided into two phases.  Phase one of the expedition will be conducted onboard the NOAA Research Vessel Nancy Foster. By using advanced remote sensing technologies including side scan sonar and Multi-beam sonar researchers will attempt to locate several previously undiscovered WW II shipwrecks.  NOAA and the University of North Carolina will also deploy an advanced Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to take high definition imagery of these shipwrecks. 

HMT Bedfordshire (Photo: The National Archives)
During the second phase of the expedition, NOAA divers and partners will survey and photograph visible sections of the British Armed Trawler, HMT Bedfordshire, using non-invasive methods. The Bedfordshire was sunk by a torpedo fired from the U-558 on May 12, 1942 with all 37 souls lost.  The survey team will also study marine life found at the site, which now serves as a vibrant artificial reef.  Consistent with U.S. and international policy, the shipwreck site is considered a war grave and will not be disturbed during the expedition.

All of these 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 time capsules and gravesites from one of the darkest chapters in the Nation’s history.  

British Cemetery located on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.
The area off the coast of North Carolina 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.

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. 

It is important to note from the beginning that this expedition will respect the sites as war graves. 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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