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Documenting the Battle of the Atlantic

Maritime archaeologist Joe Hoyt of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary discusses in this video the exploration of the wreck of the Dixie Arrow.

The 468-foot tanker was sunk after being torpedoed by the German submarine U-71 on March 26, 1942, off Cape Hatteras.

The Dixie Arrow as the tanker appeared on Feb. 11, 1942. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

The ship was built in 1921, by New York Shipbuilding Corp., and was en route from Texas City, Texas, to Paulsboro, New Jersey, with a cargo of 86,136 barrels of crude oil when struck by two torpedoes on the ship’s starboard side.

Eleven of the 33 crewmen died in the attack. Survivors were taken to Morehead City, but soon transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, for better accommodations.

The Dixie Arrow now rests in about 90 feet of water, 15 miles south of Hatteras Inlet. The vessel is upright and intact, but its steel hull is collapsing.

The ship was the 58th Allied merchant vessel sunk off the U.S. coast during Germany’s Operation Drumbeat. Although it’s outside the boundary of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, the site could be protected if the sanctuary is expanded. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Dixie Arrow burns after being torpedoed by U-71. Photo: National Archives

For several years, researchers from NOAA, East Carolina University and the UNC Coastal Studies Institute have worked with the Minerals Management Service, the National Park Service and the state of North Carolina to document the Battle of the Atlantic. The field expedition is collecting data to be used to create detailed site plans of the shipwreck sites and educational materials related to the sites and their historical and cultural significance. The scientists are also documenting degradation of the vessels caused by humans and the environment as well as the diverse marine life that live on the reefs that now grow on many of the wrecks.

In June 2010, the Renaissance Computing Institute, or RENCI, became a partner in the project and agreed to put its super high-resolution video camera from RED Digital Cinema into the hands of John McCord, CSI’s education programs coordinator and one of the researchers involved in the field expedition. Between June 8 and June 30 on dives ranging from 80 to 250 feet, McCord shot digital video of a variety of sites that comprise the Battle of the Atlantic, including the merchant ship Dixie Arrow and the U.S. Navy tugboat Kashena.

An institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, RENCI was launched in 2004 as a collaboration involving UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State University.

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The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.