Clearance divers from the Royal Canadian Navy have discovered more than a dozen 227kg bombs and numerous artillery projectiles in the wrecks of two WW2 US Navy ships lying off Newfoundland.
The provisioning ship USS Pollux and escort destroyer USS Truxtun ran aground during a storm off St Lawrence Harbour on 18 February, 1942, causing the deaths of 203 of the 389 personnel aboard despite heroic efforts to save them by residents of the mining town of St Lawrence.
Attempts to haul lines ashore failed as they became oil-soaked, and some of the crew tried but failed to swim ashore, but in the end lines with a bosun’s chair were rigged to a ledge to rescue the remaining crew. Truxtun broke up almost immediately after grounding, soon to be followed by Pollux. The disaster is considered one of the worst in US naval history.
Maritime explosive ordnance disposal divers from Royal Canadian Navy’s Atlantic Fleet Diving Unit have now worked alongside port inspection divers from HMCS Cabot to survey the underwater debris, and reported finding the ordnance in a delicate state.
The munitions would be expected to lie mainly on the destroyer wreck, which was equipped with four 4in and one 3in gun and twelve 21in torpedo-tubes. “The relentless corrosion from decades of saltwater exposure has left these historical artefacts fragmented and weather-beaten,” stated the teams.
“A comprehensive examination is ongoing to assess the presence and potential risk of explosive materials. Safety is our paramount concern – we spare no effort in our mission to safeguard the public.” The team are considering whether or not action should be taken to dispose of the ordnance.
Munitions were routinely disposed of at sea around Canada until 1972, when the practice was prohibited, but fatalities and injuries have been recorded as a result of unexploded ordnance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 140m Pollux (AKS-2) was built in New Jersey in 1939 as the Comet, and in early 1941 the navy converted it into a general stores ship under Cmdr Hugh W Turney. She had been serving with the Atlantic Fleet on regular provisioning cruises.
The destroyer Truxtun (DD-229), launched in 1921, was commissioned by the navy the following year and served with the Atlantic Fleet before joining the Asiatic Fleet for 10 years and the Pacific Battle Force for another seven – and then returning to the Atlantic on patrol and escort duties from 1939.