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In the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic,' Team of Researchers Make Incredible Decades-Old Discovery


“We have discovered..."

Bluefields sonar image. (Image source: NOAA)

A team of researchers discovered two World War II-era vessels from the Battle of the Atlantic about 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday.

The federal agency said that a German U-Boat 576 and the tanker Bluefields had been located in an area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" after being lost for more than 70 years.

Bluefields sonar image. (Image source: NOAA) Bluefields sonar image. (Image source: NOAA)

“This is not just the discovery of a single shipwreck,” Joe Hoyt, a NOAA sanctuary scientist and chief scientist for the expedition, said in a press release.

[sharequote align="center"]“This is not just the discovery of a single shipwreck."[/sharequote]

“We have discovered an important battle site that is part of the Battle of the Atlantic," he added. "These two ships rest only a few hundred yards apart and together help us interpret and share their forgotten stories.”

U-576 crew on deck. (Image source: Ed Caram) U-576 crew on deck. (Image source: Ed Caram via NOAA)

In July 1942, a group of ships were being escorted by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard to delivery supplies to Key West, Florida for the war effort. One of those ships, the Bluefield, was sunk by the German U-Boat. In retaliation, the U.S. Navy bombed and fired upon the U-576, ultimately causing it to sink.

“Most people associate the Battle of the Atlantic with the cold, icy waters of the North Atlantic,” said David Alberg, superintendent of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

[sharequote align="center"]"[F]ew people realize how close the war actually came to America’s shores."[/sharequote]

“But few people realize how close the war actually came to America’s shores," he continued. "As we learn more about the underwater battlefield, Bluefields and U-576 will provide additional insight into a relatively little-known chapter in American history.”

U-576 sonar image. (Image source: NOAA) U-576 sonar image. (Image source: NOAA) 

The discovery is, however, protected by international law governing rules of war.

“In legal succession to the former German Reich, the Federal Republic of Germany, as a rule, sees itself as the owner of formally Reich-owned military assets, such as ship or aircraft wreckages,” the German Foreign Office said in a statement.

“The Federal Republic of Germany is not interested in a recovery of the remnants of the U-576 and will not participate in any such project," the statement added. "It is international custom to view the wreckage of land, sea, and air vehicles assumed or presumed to hold the remains of fallen soldiers as war graves. As such, they are under special protection and should, if possible, remain at their site and location to allow the dead to rest in peace.”

Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

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