The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several partner agencies are currently conducting a research expedition to locate and study World War II shipwrecks sunk in 1942 during the Battle of the Atlantic. The 2011 expedition continues the work of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, which has studied the Battle of the Atlantic over the past three summers. This year, the focus is on the Battle of Convoy KS-520.
The convoy of 19 ships and five military escorts left Hampton Road, Va., on July 14, 1942 and was sailing south to Key West to deliver cargo to aid the war effort when it was attacked the next day off Cape Hatteras by German submarine U-576, according to NOAA information. Convoy KS-520 fought back, with an American warship ramming the U-boat while the U.S. Navy dropped depth charges that sunk the submarine.
Finding the U-boat and a Nicaraguan tanker it sunk in a torpedo strike are one of the goals of the mission now underway. “Two sites, the U-576 and the Bluefields, have never been discovered,” expedition spokeswoman Lauren Heesemann said. During the first phase of the expedition, which began June 1, researchers conducted a wide area survey in water depths ranging from 100 to 1,500 feet. They utilized remote sensing technologies, including an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and multiple sonar systems to attempt to locate the sites.
The second phase of the expedition began Monday, and Heesemann said team members are going back to the sites of interest to gather more targeted, higher-definition information. “Each phase collects more information on the sites,” she said.
According to the Battle of the Atlantic expedition website, shipwreck sites in a wide area survey appear as mere spots on a map while final data will produce high-definition, 3-D video of individual sites. The first three phases continue through July 8 and they resume work Aug. 2-16.
While it’s too soon to say whether the early data has identified the U-576 or Bluefields, the latest in technology is at hand. “This summer will be one of the most ambitious of our Battle of the Atlantic research expeditions, and potentially the most exciting,” said David W. Alberg, superintendent for USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, said in a news release. “This expedition is all about partnerships, collaboration, and using cutting edge technology to search for and document historically significant shipwrecks tragically lost during World War II.”
A remotely operated vehicle and high definition 3-D video cameras will be used during the final phase to create photomosaics of shipwreck sites for research, education and outreach purposes.
To follow the expedition’s progress online, go to http://www.sanctuaries.noaa.gov/missions/2011battleoftheatlantic/mission.html.
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