Archives For Atlantic Ocean

ship bombingThe late 19th century and early 20th century were the heyday of luxury trans-Atlantic steamship travel. Among the numerous liners plying the waters between New York City and Liverpool was the RMS Umbria, a Cunard luxury liner. Launched in 1884 the Umbria and her sister ship Etruria were named for regions of Italy and reflected the Victorian obsession with all things Egyptian, Greek or Roman. The two vessels were the last liners built for the Cunard line with auxiliary masts that could be rigged for sailing. Additionally, they were designed for easy conversion to armed merchant cruisers in the event of war. Both Umbria and Etruria held the westbound Blue Riband at points in their careers for being the fastest vessels on the Europe to New York journey.

Arguably the most intriguing anecdote in the Umbria‘s career was her being the target of a bomb plot by the Italian Mafia. On May 9, 1903, a letter was delivered to the New York police claiming a bomb had been placed aboard the Umbria. Incidentally, the chivalrous bombers claimed they had originally planned to target the RMS Oceanic but changed targets because Oceanic contained too many women and children. The police acted swiftly to prevent Umbria from sailing and a search of the ship revealed a 3×2 foot box filled with 100lbs. of dynamite and a fuse. The bomb was defused and police traced it back to the Mafia Society in Chicago. The ship sailed for Liverpool after only a short delay.

By the time of her scrapping in 1910, the Umbria had served the Empire twice as a troop ferry and auxiliary warship, been disabled in the North Atlantic, grounded herself on the wreck of a coal barge and even sunk another steam ship in a collision.

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Navy airship

Much like dalliances with submarine aircraft carriers in the 1920s and ’30s, the US Navy also experimented with flying aircraft carriers. Perhaps this is where Marvel Comic’s writers got their inspiration for S.H.I.E.L.D’s helicarrier.  Launched in the early 1930s, the USS Akron and the USS Macon were among the largest dirigible airships in the world. Powered by eight 560 hp engines, the airships could reach speeds up to 83mph and had a range of 12,180 miles, Such range gave the airships the potential ability to act as the eyes of the US Navy’s battle fleets as well as assist in search and recovery missions. Both the Akron and the Macon were also designed with the ability to carry, launch and recover biplane fighter and reconnaissance planes. Thus they became the US Navy’s first flying aircraft carriers.

 

airship aircraft

USS Akron recovering a biplane in flight

Unfortunately for proponents of dirigibles as well as flying aircraft carriers both the Akron and Macon were accident prone, much of it from the relatively new design of the airships and the inexperience of the crews operating them. Just past midnight on the morning of April 4, 1933 the Akron was caught in stormy weather off the New Jersey coast. A combination of updrafts followed by sharp downdrafts resulted in collision between the sea and the dirigible’s lower fin. The airship quickly became uncontrollable and crashed into the stormy Atlantic. Sadly 73 of the 76 officers and crew aboard were lost before, in an eerie reversal of events at Lakehurst, NJ just a few years in the future, a German merchant vessel was able to quickly arrive on scene and rescue survivors.

The US Navy and Coast Guard dispatched multiple vessels to hunt for survivors, but one of the rescue vessels, the blimp J-3, was herself lost with the death of two men. A subsequent investigation resulted in the Macon being equipped with additional life preservers and rafts which were put to good use two years later when Macon crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast with the loss of only two men.

airship wreckage

USS Akron Wreckage

The loss of the Akron and the Macon essentially ended the US Navy’s experimentation with dirigible airships and flying aircraft carriers. While the US military has flirted with dirigible airships in the 21st century, nothing has come of these efforts and, for the moment, flying aircraft carriers exist only on the pages of comic books.

Texaco-Oklahoma

March 27, 2014 — 1 Comment

oil spillOn the night of March 27, 1971, the oil tanker SS Texaco Oklahoma was ploughing its way through heavy seas about 120 miles northeast of Cape Hatteras. Laden with 33,000 tons of crude oil bound from Port Arthur to Boston, the tanker was suddenly rent in two. The bow rolled over but stayed afloat while the stern section drifted for 32 hours. The thirteen crew members sleeping in the bow of the ship were never found, however, the remaining crew were able to abandon the stern section in a lifeboat. Unfortunately, only thirteen survivors were picked up.

The wreck resulted in extensive changes to American maritime safety regulations, including the decommissioning of 200+ WWII-era vessels. Five years later a memorial was erected to the fallen in Port Arthur and an annual memorial service continues to be held for all seaman lost at sea.

slaveryThe Telegraph is reporting that a combined British and Dutch group of explorers are mobilizing for an expedition to South America to locate the wreck of the Dutch slave ship Leusden. Widely believed to be the deadliest disaster to befall a slave ship, the Leusden ran aground on January 1, 1738 with a “cargo” of nearly 700 African captives. Prior to the early 19th century crusade of William Wilberforce and his fellow abolitionists to outlaw the slave trade, slave ships regularly plied the waters between Africa and the New World exchanging human cargos for sugarcane, molasses, silver, gold and other valuables. Although the trade was outlawed in 1807, it was only the iron fist of Royal Navy enforcement that prevented the horrific trade from continuing to occur.

The Leusden, a Dutch West Indiaman, departed Ghana on November 19, 1737 after having waited six months to collect a full cargo. The ship had an uneventful passage until she was dragged ashore by a strong tidal current. Tragically, while the ship was aground, the rudder broke off and water flooded into the crowded confines of the hold. Abandoning ship, the crew left the 664 Africans trapped below-deck where they all perished as the sea clawed the Leusden and her 664 souls into her dark depths.

In less than two months, the British and Dutch team hope to return to the site of the sinking off the coast of Suriname and conduct an in-depth survey of the wreck. The team has narrowed their search area and intend to use side-scan sonar to locate and survey the wreck. Not only would the discovery be archaeologically important, but it would also serve to highlight the heroism of men like William Wilberforce, Lord Grenville and Foreign Secretary Charles James Fox who passionately fought to end the disgusting and repugnant trade in human flesh.

message in a bottle

Sister Ship of SS Naronic

“Feb.  19, 1893- Naronic sinking. All hands praying. God have mercy on us.”  ~L. Winsel

On February 11, 1893, the White Star Line steamer SS Naronic departed Liverpool for New York with 74 crew as well as 3,600 tons of general cargo. Built in 1892 by Harland and Wolff, the same company that would build the ill-fated Titanic, the Naronic measured 470 feet in length and had twin coal fired reciprocating engines capable of propelling her through the waves at a steady 13 knots. Although the ship had been built as a cattle vessel, additional passenger accommodations were added to permit her to earn extra revenue on non-New York routes.

After landing her pilot at Point Lynas, Wales, the Naronic sailed for New York and entered the mists of history as neither she nor any of her crew members were ever seen again. On March 3, a bottle washed ashore in Bay Ridge, New York with the contents “Feb. 19, 1893 – Naronic sinking. All hands praying. God have mercy on us.” The note was signed by a L. Winsel, but there was no L. Winsel on the Naronic’s manifest – the closest name being John L. Watson. Three more bottles were found over the next six months – one in Virginia, another in the Irish Channel and a fourth in the Mersey River. None were signed by identifiable members of the ship’s crew, but two contained generally the same story – the ship had struck an iceberg in a storm and sunk over the course of a few hours.

A subsequent British Board of Trade inquiry dismissed the iceberg theory as not fitting the weather patterns, but local reports in New York placed icebergs in the general vicinity of where the Naronic was sailing. Two separate reports were made of ships sighting lifeboats from the Naronic but the exact location or cause of her sinking has never been determined – it was even speculated that the ship was the casualty of a terrorist bombing.

u-boat pastor

Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

These famous words were composed by German theologian, Confessional Church pastor and anti-Nazi Martin Niemoller. Notably, Niemoller was no academic unfamiliar with the hardships of armed conflict for he had served with distinction in the Imperial German Navy in World War I as a U-boat captain. During his time as second officer aboard U-39, the U-boat and her crew sank 35 ships for over 90,000 tons of shipping. Additionally, while aboard U-73, the boat deployed the mine that sank the RMS Titanic’s sister ship HMHS Brittanic. Niemoller was awarded the Iron Cross First Class for his contributions to the Imperial war effort and ended the war with command of his own U-boat, UC-67.

Like fellow theologian and Confessing Church pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Niemoller spoke out against the Nazi regime and was arrested in 1937 by Nazi authorities. Niemoller spent the remainder of the Nazi years in various prisons and concentration camps including Sachenhausen and Dachau for his “crimes.” Later in life Niemoller became an ardent pacifist, campaigned for nuclear disarmament, won the Lenin Peace Prize and even visited North Vietnam’s communist dictator Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War. Sadly, Niemoller’s eight years in Nazi prisons had not completely inoculated him to the dangers of authoritarian government or the ugly necessity of war in certain instances.

Confederate warship

CSS Shenandoah Captures Whaling Fleet in the Arctic Ocean

A central tenet of the nascent Confederate Navy’s strategy during the American Civil War was to make Yankee merchants howl from the loss of their vessels and cargos. In order to achieve this aim, the Confederates commandeered suitable vessels in Southern ports to convert to armed merchant raiders, issued letters of marque and reprisal and procured vessels abroad. Because the Confederacy was not recognized as a sovereign nation by Great Britain or France, the ships procured or built there had to be built ostensibly as merchant vessels and later outfitted with armaments after leaving British territorial waters. Among the ships acquired by Confederate agent James Bulloch was the steamer Sea King.

Launched in Glasgow in August 1863, the Sea King was a 1,160 ton steamer equipped with auxiliary sails. After being purchased by Bulloch, the Sea King put to sea in October and rendezvoused with another ship off Madeira. On October 19, 1863 after several days of transfering cargo and mounting her guns, the Sea King was commissioned as CSS Shenandoah after the beautiful and bountiful Virginia valley. The ship’s design was perfect for raiding merchant vessels as she could raise and lower her steam funnel at will in order to change her identity from steam vessel to sailing vessel.

From the Madeiras, the Shenandoah and her new captain, commander James Iredell Waddell sailed through the South Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and captured nine US vessels. Shenandoah called at Melbourne, Australia where she re-provisioned and added forty more men to her crew. After departing Melbourne, Shenandoah ravaged her way north through the Pacific Ocean capturing four more Yankee vessels en route to the lucrative North Pacific whaling fleet. Unbeknownst to the Shenandoah and her crew, the Confederacy had effectively collapsed with Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9. The news, though, would not reach the Shenandoah until after she had wreaked havoc among the American whaling fleet, capturing 24 ships in a period of 7 days from June 22 to June 28, 1865.

After learning of the Confederacy’s surrender on August 2 from newspapers aboard an English merchantman, Waddell successfully returned his ship to Liverpool where he struck the Confederate naval ensign and turned her over to the Royal Navy. An excellent account of the voyage, Last Flag Down, was published in 2007 by a descendant of one of the Shenandoah’s officers.