Archive for August 3rd, 2008

Looters plunder wrecks in the ‘graveyard’ of the Atlantic

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

In 1942, Germany took its U-boat warfare campaign right up to the US Atlantic coast. Almost a hundred ships were taken down during the active months of the torpedo campaign, and they’re all still there where they fell, often in fairly shallow water.

The campaign, which started with Operation Paukenshlag (Drumbeat), was successful for the Germans, who called the period the Second Happy Time, after an earlier phase of Allied sinkings.

Initially, there was no convoy system and little protection given to the British and American merchant ships which travelled up the coast alone from the Gulf of Mexico before assembling further north to cross the Atlantic in large numbers.

The U-boats were able to pick off ships in daylight, or at night when they were illuminated by lights from the shore. The waters off North Carolina were named “Torpedo Junction”.

Unfortunately, Davy Jones’ locker is getting broken into by looters looking for World War II souvenirs, like weapons, hacksawable chunks from the ships and subs, or even human remains.

Considering that the children of people who died on those ships are still living just miles away from the underwater grave, the thought of divers poking and prodding, maybe even stealing, skulls and skeletons is appalling. It’s not like this is some 400-year-old Spanish galleon, far removed from modern life and thus easy to dissociate from. These sailors just died 65 years ago.

Mr Hoyt added: “A lot of divers, if they find a skull, or remains, will decide that others want to see it, so will move it out and bring it up on deck, without realising it is extremely disrespectful.

“These sorts of things are definite cause for some formal investigation. The main goal of our project is to get a handle on what is there and how we can prevent these war graves from being disturbed any further.”

He added: “It is really common for items to be removed. If there is a site that is being dived, then stuff is missing. There are a few British sites that we will be looking at that we have heard from the local diving community about potentially being disturbed.”

The project Mr. Hoyt refers to in the quote is a survey of all the wrecks. They’ll record what is left and inventory anything they can find that was removed from the ships.

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