A diver examines the wreck of the fallen Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, which sunk off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in 1862. The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary protects the site of the wreck.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has proposed an expansion of the sanctuary, given the dozens of World War II-era ships that were sunk in battles just a short distance from America’s shores. Among them: the wreck of a German U-Boat, U-576, that was just discovered in 2014.
Just weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, German U-boats began attacking merchant ships along the U.S. Eastern seaboard, having previously concentrated their assaults on North Atlantic shipping routes to and from England and Russia. The Germans’ “Operation Drumbeat” resulted in approximately 400 merchant ships sunk during the first eight months of 1942. Off North Carolina alone, more than 80 cargo ships were sunk, and 1,600 lives lost.
On March 26, 1942 the steam tanker Dixie Arrow was traveling - unescorted and unarmed - through waters dubbed “Torpedo Junction” when it was attacked and sunk. It rests in 70-90 feet of water.
The German submarine U-576.
On July 15, 1942, the U-boat attacked the KS-520 convoy - 19 merchant ships and five Naval escorts en route to Key West - off Cape Hatteras. After inflicting considerable damage, U-576 was sent to the bottom by Allied ship gunfire and depth charges from escort Kingfisher aircraft. None of the 45 crewmembers on board the U-boat survived.
The cargo ship MS Bluefields in January 1942. Part of Convoy KS-520, it was one of three ships attacked by U-576 on July 15, 1942, shortly before the German submarine was itself sunk. All 24 of her crew were rescued.
Two other ships - the merchant ship Chilore and the tanker J.A. Mowinckel - were damaged by the U-boat’s torpedoes. Trying to reach shallow waters, the Chilore struck two American mines. She sank while being towed toward Chesapeake Bay. Four Allied casualties were registered during the battle.
A view of the stern cabin of the MS Bluefields. The cargo ship, sunk by U-576, rests in 730 feet of water, only 600 feet from the wreck of the German U-Boat.
In 2014 a research vessel, the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer, conducted sonar imaging off the North Carolina coast, and uncovered the wreck of the U-576.
Today the submarine and its prey lie only 240 yards apart on the ocean floor.
“Both of them together -- that’s what’s unique about this particular area, is that we have the remnants of both elements of a convoy battle,” Randy Hoyt, pilot of the two-man submersible Nomad, told CBS News’ Mark Strassmann. “It really encapsulates that idea of a battlefield.”
In August 2016 the research vessel the Baseline Explorer sent a two-man submersible, the Nemo, to the ocean floor.
During the 2016 expedition to the site - the first dive made at the wreckage - scientists explored U-576. It was the first time anyone had seen the vessel since it sunk on July 15, 1942.
The U-boat, illuminated by the lights of the Nemo, lies on its starboard side, with the submarine’s conning tower and deck gun in the foreground.
View of the U-576
Maritime archaeologist Joe Hoyt takes photographs of the wreck of the U-576 from inside the submersible Nemo.
The deck guns of U-576. In the background is the submarine’s conning tower.
An aft view of the conning tower (also known as the wintergarten) of U-576. It was the platform for a 20mm anti-aircraft flak gun.
U-576’s deck gun.
Shipwrecks like these represent how World War II came to mainland America, which is why NOAA is working to make this graveyard part of a national marine sanctuary.
The conning tower of the U-576, with a watertight hatch through which to board the craft. None of the submarine’s crewmembers escaped.
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By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan