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U 576 photos published by US federal organization NOAA

In August 2014 the wreck of U576 was uniquely identified 35 miles off Cape Hatteras, as we reported in Flotsam Issue December 2014. As early as 2009 the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary which is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks, some of them around shipwrecks, started a search for the remains of the battle for the convoy KS-520 on 15 July 1942 , U 576 and the Nicaraguan freighter Bluefields (2,053 GRT) sunk by it. Using a sophisticated high-resolution sonar the sea area where the wrecks were suspected to lay was scanned revealing 47 sonar targets identified for further examination. Actually only the 7 targets which were considered to most likely represent the shipwrecks were inspected. One of these targets actually turned out to be U 576 approximately 700 feet underwater and just 240 yards away from the wreck of the Bluefields.

One of the submersibles is recovered by the Baseline Explorer. Image courtesy of David Sybert, UNC Coastal Studies Institute – Battle of the Atlantic expedition.

Both wrecks were placed in the National Register of Historic Places, a part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

On 25 August 2015 the research vessel Baseline Explorer put to sea to a 15-day expedition to survey shipwrecks from the Battle of the Atlantic. It was led by the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary in cooperation inter alia with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, a federal organization dedicated to exploring the unknown ocean and the initiative Project Baseline, which aims at empowering passionate citizens to observe and record change within the world´s aquatic environments and the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute. The Baseline Explorer served as operational platform for two submersibles Type Triton 1000/2 capable of transporting 2 persons to a depth of 1,000 feet with an endurance of 10 hours as well as for the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Bluefin. A system for Laser Line Scanning integrated in one of the submersibles was used to produce extremely detailed imaged with sub-millimeter accuracy. The gathered data was used not only for archeological but also for biological evaluation by benthic habitat mapping. Wider areas of the seafloor were scanned with Bluefin´s high-resolution Multibeam sonar capable of detecting even individual fishes and thus also allowing biological research.

During the very first dive of the expedition, scientists located and explored the German U-576. This was the first time since the submarine was sunk on July 15, 1942, that anyone had laid eyes on the vessel. Here, Project Baseline's Nemo submersible shines its lights on the U-boat lying on its starboard side, showing the submarine's conning tower and the deck gun in the foreground. Image courtesy of John McCord, UNC Coastal Studies Institute - Battle of the Atlantic expedition.
U 576´s deck-gun and conning tower in one submersibles´s searchlight. Image courtesy of John McCord, UNC Coastal Studies Institute – Battle of the Atlantic expedition.

The survey of the KS-520-wrecks was of a special significance for this expedition, on which the video above and many photographs were taken. The wreck of U 576 is still intact and well preserved considering the 74 years underwater. “This discovery is the only known location in U.S. waters that contains archaeologically preserved remains of a convoy battle where both sides are so close together,” said Joe Hoyt, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary archaeologist and chief scientist for the expedition. “By studying this site for the first time, we hope to learn more about the battle, as well as the natural habitats surrounding the shipwrecks.”

Legally the German government still retains ownership of U 576, it has requested that the United States government preserve and protect the vessel. Both governments agree that U 576 is a maritime war grave.