::Crew To Search For Phantom WWII Ship
By R. Gregg, Editor In Chief, Raleigh Chronicle
Thursday, May 10, 2007
RALEIGH - A team of local divers led by the Down Under Surf & Scuba Shop in Raleigh will soon be attempting to locate a mysterious wreck off the NC coast, known only as the "Grainger."
The ship has been at the bottom of the ocean 22 miles out of the Masonboro Inlet at least since 1947 and one of the dive organizers believes the unknown ship may have been sunk during World War II.
"The problem with the Grainger is that there's no historical record," said Aaron Harmon, manager of the Down Under dive shop in Raleigh. "The old salts say there is something out there and it's just been called the Grianger."
No one seems to know what the vessel is or even if it's really a ship called the Grainger, said Harmon. There was a US Navy vessel called the Grainger, but Harmon says it was decommissioned off the coast of California, eliminating it as a possible suspect.
A US Hydrographic survery in 1947 listed the unknown wreck simply as "wreck 393" and as a result, Harmon says they believe the vessel may have been lost in the second world war.
"It's a pretty good indication it went down in World War Two," said Harmon. "It's very intriguing."
Although hundreds of merchant ships were lost on the Eastern seaboard during World War II to German U-boats, Harmon said it's more likely that the ship was lost due to bad weather. The area off the coast of North Carolina is known for quick-rising storms that can overwhelm vessels, especially before the times of modern weather forecasting and electronic equipment.
Finding The Wreck
Harmon said that some people claim to have dived the wreck back in the 1970's but they don't seem to know where the ship is located or what type of vessel it is.
Thirty years ago, the only electronic navigational aids available were based on Loran, which is not as accurate as the GPS coordinates available today. With Loran coordinates, the search area might get them within two miles of the wreck which is a pretty big area at sea, said Harmon.
The dive crew will try to search for the vessel on a three day trip starting May 18th and they plan on being at sea for 10 hours each day to search for the shipwreck.
Even with modern equipment, finding sunken vessels underwater is a tough job and sometimes a long and laborious process.
"It's mostly disappointing," joked Harmon. "I can tell you where a lot of rocks are."
The team will use a tried and true method called "mowing the lawn" where the ship moves in a grid pattern and pings the bottom of the ocean with a depth finder. The depth-finder will give back a particular signature on the screen when it hits a shipwreck, says Harmon.
Generally, depth finder readings that jump 15 feet or more off the floor of the ocean mean there is a wreck to be found at that spot, said Harmon.
"You get to that site and boom, you've got a hit," he said. "It's something vertical that's manmade."
The water where the wreck is listed on navigational charts is around 85 feet deep, but Harmon views the wreck location on the charts as more of a general location as opposed to definite coordinates.
This wreck search is a challenge and most of the people in this expedition are experienced scuba divers. As such, they're searching for new undiscovered wrecks as opposed to more popular dives, says Harmon.
"We do it for fun," he said. "It's the culmination of years of research."
Identifying The Wreck
Of course, once they find a wreck, divers want to identify the ship and try to determine its origin and other information.
Harmon said that even if identifying names are not present, they can often identify ships through serial numbers or even the types of engine room boilers found on older ships.
"Boilers almost always survive," he said.
In World War II era ships, steam was still used to drive the engine turbines but they simply used oil or coal to create the steam instead of wood.
World War II Ships Deteriorating
Divers and others seeking historical information from wrecks off the coast of North Carolina are in a race against time.
Harmon says that due to the forces of nature such as recent hurricanes, wrecks off the Outer Banks and other areas near NC are deteriorating rapidly.
"The wrecks are going fast, " said Harmon. "[Some wrecks] are in what we call the terminal phase."
"In the last five years [it's gotten worse]...and the rate of deterioration is increasing," he added.
With North Carolina's relatively shallow coasts, the "wave action" and the force of the water, especially from storms, can wreak havoc on underwater wrecks.
As an example of the strong forces at work underwater, Harmon said a ship called the Hyde that was recently sunk to serve as an artificial reef in recent years had the part of the hull broken off during a recent storm.
Some of the most popular dives for visiting scuba enthusiasts are the three German U-boats or submarines that are present off the coast of North Carolina.
Some dive companies on the coast specialize in just these dives, with people coming in from around the world to see the World War II relics. However, these ships and underwater memorials are also suffering at the hands of the tide and time, says Harmon.
Harmon said that U-85 off the coast of Oregon Inlet and U-701 off of the Outer Banks are starting to fall apart, despite being in relatively cold water, compared to the southern parts of the state.
"U-701 is even worse [than U-85]," said Harmon, who added that except for the conning tower, the ship is "mostly covered by sand."
Another submarine, the U-352, is 22 miles off the coast of Morehead City. It was sunk on May 9th, 1942, with 15 dead and 33 survivors. According to various reports, the U-boat fired two torpedos at a ship, which turned out to be the Coast Guard cutter Icarus. The torpoedos missed and the Icarus gave chase, sinking the U-352 with depth charges.
Survivors were taken aboard and arrived in the port of Charleston to be held in a POW camp until the end of the war.
The coastline of North Carolina has many sunken ships that serve as memorials to the brave sailors of those vessels in some of the most treacherous shores of the Atlantic.
According to one coastal museum, from January to June 1942, almost 400 ships were lost off the Eastern seaboard due to U-boat activity.
In fact, this week on Ocracoke Island, NC, a yearly memorial service is taking place to commemorate the sinking of the HMS Bedfordshire, a British patrol ship. Two Royal Navy sailors whose bodies washed up on shore on May 14, 1942 were interred by the local citizens.
They were buried on the island in a small cemetary, which is now considered property of Great Britain and is maintained under a British flag.
Harmon says that there are numerous other ships out there at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be identified. The coast of North Carolina has many hidden shipwrecks, whose stories are waiting to be told.
"It's the Graveyard of the Atlantic," he said.
For more information on the dive: