Divers land on the Eagle
A dive-team has located and explored the WW2 wreck of USS Eagle PE-56, the US Navy’s biggest single combat loss off New England and its last Atlantic-coast warship casualty.
The submarine-hunter had been towing a bombing-practice target for aircraft during exercises six miles off the coast of Maine in April 1945 when an explosion occurred, causing her to sink. Forty-nine officers and crew died in the incident.
The explosion was for a long time blamed on a problem with the ship’s boilers, even though some of the 13 survivors, picked up by a nearby destroyer, reported having seen a German U-boat in the vicinity, its conning-tower marked by a red horse on a yellow shield.
In 2003 research by naval historian Paul Lawton, who was also involved in the recent discovery of the wreck, and archivist Bernard Cavalcante finally convinced the US Navy to reclassify the Eagle PE-56’s sinking as a combat loss.
The wreck’s location remained a mystery, however, until a four-year project by the Nomad Exploration Team led by diver Ryan King from New Hampshire pinpointed the war grave at a depth of 90m, based on sonar-scanning carried out by specialist Garry Kozak and exploratory dives in challenging conditions.
From the surface the two hull sections, lying about 100m apart, had been difficult to distinguish from the rocky seabed. However, the divers’ video revealed the deck-gun on the bow, and depth charges known to have been carried on the vessel were visible at the stern. Tellingly, the boilers were reported to be intact.
19 July 2019
The research is expected to prove conclusively that a U-boat sank the Eagle PE-56.
The culprit appears to have been U-853, which carried the horse-and-shield emblem and was sunk after attacking a cargo ship shortly afterwards, the day before Germany’s surrender. Lying in 37m off Rhode Island, the submarine is also a war grave and a popular dive-site.
The US Navy’s Naval History & Heritage Command has stated that it is convinced that the identification is correct and has expressed appreciation for the civilian dive-team’s “respectful research” of the site. The discovery is to be the subject of a Smithsonian Channel TV documentary.
FURTHER SOUTH ON THE ATLANTIC COAST, off New York, more than 1.7 million litres of oil that divers had found to be leaking from a WW2 British tanker wreck have been removed. The two-month operation was organised by the US Coast Guard and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Coimbra was torpedoed by a U-boat in 1942. Only 10 of the 46 crew survived the sinking, and the wreck lies broken in three at a depth of 56m.
The disposal operation is reported to have removed 99% of the oil, with what remains posing an insignificant environmental risk, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
And on Canada’s Atlantic coast, Navy clearance divers have removed unexploded ordnance around the wreck of another 1942 U-boat victim, the iron ore-carrier Saganaga. The operation, off Bell Island in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, was carried out to make the wreck safer for recreational divers.