Archives For Atlantic Ocean

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.

presidential yacht

For approximately 100 years, from the 1870s to the 1970s, US Presidents often feted various dignitaries or conducted diplomacy from the cabins of government owned yachts. The first of these, USS Despatch, was launched in November 1873 as a wooden hulled steamship. Acquired in 1880, the 174 foot ship first hosted President Rutherford B. Hayes on a cruise of the Potomac on November 9, 1880. The vessel went on to serve dutifully as a refuge and office for Presidents Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland and Harrison.

On the night of October 10, 1891, the Despatch was en route from New York City to Washington to pick up President Harrison and Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy for an inspection of the naval proving grounds on the Potomac. Unfortunately for the American taxpayer, the vessel ran aground in the shoals off Assateague, Virginia. The ship’s lieutenant confessed to having mistaken the Assateague lighthouse’s orange light for the red light of the Winter Quarter Shoals lightship – a 1.5 mile difference that cost the vessel her life.

The entirety of the crew were able to safely make it ashore, however, the Despatch was a complete wreck and was lost to the shifting sands off Assateague. In 1997, explorer Ben Benson mistakenly believed he had discovered the Despatch in 22 feet of water, however, he was incorrect and the vessel remains undiscovered.

U-Boat

September 2, 1917 brought happy hunting to Commander Georg Schmidt and his crew aboard the U-28 as they came upon a convoy of helpless Allied merchantmen. Commander Schmidt navigated the U-28 among the Allied vessels and opened fire on the British steamer SS Olive Branch. All but one of the crew aboard the Olive Branch were able take to lifeboats and they immediately put as much distance as possible between themselves and their former ship. The crew knew something the doomed U-28 didn’t – that the Olive Branch was loaded to the gunwales with a load of highly volatile ammunition.

As more of the U-28’s shells found their mark, one struck the Olive Branch’s less than peaceful cargo and a spectacular explosion destroyed the Olive Branch and heavily damaged the U-28. Instead of extending an olive branch to the now shipwrecked German crew of the U-28, the convoy sailed on and all 39 hands aboard the U-28 were lost to the clutches of the Arctic Ocean.

British warshipOne of the worst maritime disasters to strike Great Britain and the Royal Navy in home waters occurred off Portsmouth on August 28, 1782. The HMS Royal George, a 100 gun ship of the line, had just returned from North American waters and was preparing to accompany HMS Victory to Gibraltar when it capsized just off the entrance of Portsmouth harbor. Compounding the disaster was the fact that more than hundreds of women and children had boarded the vessel to visit with friends and family. The Royal George had been careened on its side for maintenance and the sea quickly engulfed the vessel through open gun ports. More than 900 died in the tragic accident including 360 women and children.

For nearly 50 years the ship lay intact in shallow waters near the entrance until two enterprising divers contrived a plan to remove the ship’s remains which were now a hazard to navigation. From 1834 to 1836, the divers, brothers Charles and John Deane, attempted unsuccessfully to salvage the vessel. Although failing, the brothers did discover the wreck of the Mary Rose which would later be successfully raised and preserved in the early 1980s. Several years later, from 1839-1844, the Royal Engineers performed salvage efforts on the vessel and raised many of her bronze cannon and other items. These cannon were later melted down and used to craft part of Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square. As a final exclamation mark in the story of the Royal George, the Royal Engineers detonated a massive controlled explosion that shattered windows ashore as far as two to three miles away from the wreck site.

frozen-in-time

Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff is a thrilling tale of survival, heroism and discovery. Set in Greenland, Zuckoff switches between World War Two and the present day to relate the loss of three American military aircraft and the epic search for both the planes and their survivors. Zuckoff writing flows smoothly between the historic loss of the planes and the modern day search and the book’s 330+ pages seem much shorter as a result.

Perhaps one reason for Zuckoff’s engaging style is that he accompanied the 2011 expedition in search of the Coast Guard float plane that had gone down while searching for the other two missing planes. While set in World War Two, the book is not military history, but rather reads more like heroic survivor stories such as David Howarth’s We Die Alone or polar exploration tales like The Last Viking.

Frozen in Time showcases Zuckoff’s excellent attention to detail as the minutae of daily survival in a downed plane in arctic conditions is relayed to the reader; however, Zuckoff avoids the trap of losing the story (and the reader) in the minor details. The book also benefits from the generous use of photographs to document both the characters and the events described in the book. One amusing anecdote from the book is the author’s description of the whiskey his team chose to bring with them to Greenland – a modern recreation of Ernest Shackleton’s whiskey. Overall, Frozen in Time is a highly readable book that will appeal to anyone wishing to relieve the dog days of summer with a chilling tale of survival in a frozen land.

A Very Strange Way to go to War

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the triumphant return of the SS Canberra to Southampton upon the successful conclusion of the Falklands War. In his new book, A Very Strange Way to Go to War, author Andrew Vine replays for the reader the high drama of the sailing of the Canberra, a modern day cruise ship, into the very teeth of enemy action. Readers are walked through the early days of the P&O liner Canberra and her transition from ocean liner to cruise ship and her convergence with the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy as the Falklands were invaded.

Vine strings together a fascinating tale of the preparations aboard the Canberra for her use as a troop ship for Royal Army Paras as well as Royal Marines and subsequent sailing into the combat zone surrounding the Falklands. Among the strengths of Vine’s writing are his ability to paint a broad picture of the Falklands conflict for readers who may be unfamiliar with its details 31 years on while still integrating micro-level social history from interviews with participants in the action. Vine’s writing makes for very interesting reading, and while the book might have benefitted from being fifty pages shorter, A Very Strange Way to Go to War remains an excellent book both for those looking for a unique history of the Falklands War or maritime history.

kickstarter

Kickstarter, the wildly successful crowdfunding website, is currently hosting two nautical themed projects. The first is “Twice Forgotten,” a documentary about the USS R-12, a training submarine that sank off the coast of Key West, Florida seventy years ago today. Forty US sailors and officers as well as two Brazilian officers went down with the sub and it was not until 2010 that she was re-discovered. Funding will allow the team to return to the site and conduct filming this summer to complete the documentary.

kickstarter

Instead of seeking to tell a true story from the past, the second project aims to produce a fictional film about a World War II submarine and its mysterious disappearance during the war. The film team has partnered with Battleship Cove, the home of the battleship USS Massachusetts and submarine USS Lionfish, to provide a filming location. If the project is funded, then the remaining half of the project’s expenses will be covered and the filming will be able to proceed as planned.