Documenting the Battle of the Atlantic

Video: John McCord, Coastal Studies Institute

One of the most overlooked battles of World War II played out in our own backyard, claiming 80 ships and hundreds of lives.

The waters off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, commonly known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, are also the resting place of merchant vessels, German U boats, and American and British navel ships lost in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942. The Germans aimed to sink U.S. merchant ships that were carrying supplies to England. U.S. and Royal Navy ships patrolled the coast to protect them and, when necessary, engage the Germans.

For the last three years researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), East Carolina University and the UNC Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) 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 multi-year archeological field expedition is collecting data that will 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 of 2010 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.

The video was recorded in 4,096-by-2048-pixel resolution—about four times better than the best high definition television picture—giving the researchers a breathtakingly clear view of the details of the shipwrecks and their abundant marine inhabitants.

An edited version of the video will show on local cable TV channels 19 and 20 in the Manteo area. In addition CSI researchers are talking to officials at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at UNC Chapel Hill about developing a digital dome show using the footage. Next year, the researchers plan to hunt for U576, a German U boat lost in the battle that has yet to be found.

For more information, see the Coastal Studies Institute website.