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.