Search for WWII ship sunk off Florida by German submarine

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The three-week research for Norlindo (formerly the Volusia) is a team effort between scientists from Germany, Italy and the United States. They are looking for 36 square miles off South Florida.

Image courtesy of the Great Lakes Historical Collections, Bowling Green State University

The sinking of the SS Norlindo has all the elements of a good mystery, including WWII intrigue, German submarines lurking, and a handful of crew that have never been seen again.

Germany has been U-507 torpedoed the unarmed steamship and its whereabouts remain a mystery.

That could change in the next two weeks, however.

A team of international scientists – including two from the University of Southern Mississippi – set sail last week on a mission to find the Norlindo.

The expedition is supported by NOAA Ocean Exploration and will focus on 36 square nautical miles off the Dry Tortugas, a group of islands approximately 60 miles west of the Florida Keys.

This is where the Norlindo was last seen – standing upright in the water as she sank with men still on board.

“As the first allied victim of the German submarine campaign in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II, Norlindo is historically important and potentially eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places,” McClatchy told the marine archaeologist and team member Melanie Damour. New.

“The wreck is also a war grave and represents the final resting place for some of its crew members.”

If the team finds the wreckage, they intend to keep the location a secret from the world, NOAA Ocean Exploration reports.

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The SS Norlindo’s three-week search will focus on an area of ​​36 square miles off the southeast coast of Florida. Doug S. Jones / NOAA Ocean Explorer Card

The sinking of the Norlindo

In late 1941, Germany sent six submarines “to explore the east coast of the United States in an operation codenamed Paukenschlag,” say NOAA historians.

“Five months later, World War II claimed its first combat casualties in the Gulf of Mexico. The SS Norlindo, an American steam freighter weighing 2,686 tons and 253 feet in length, was sunk… by the German submarine U-507 ”, reports NOAA.

The testimonies say that the ship “was vertical and flowing” less than three minutes after being hit by the first torpedo, according to a report from the NOAA Office of Marine Sanctuaries.

“A torpedo struck on the starboard side aft between hatches # 3 and # 4, causing the mainmast to fall. The vessel began to sink rapidly, heeled to starboard and eventually sank by the stern, ”the report said.

“The seven officers and 21 crew on board did not have time to launch the lifeboats and jumped overboard, but five men working in the aft hold sank with the ship. . “

The Norlindo was the first of three cargo ships the U-507 sank in three days in the region, NOAA reports. The other two – the Munger T. Ball and the Joseph M. Cudahay – “have since been discovered by recreational divers in shallower water off the coast of Florida,” NOAA says.

Among the quirks of the saga is reports that the captain of the submarine, Harro Schacht, collected the 23 survivors for questioning, then freed them in rafts “with cigarettes, tobacco, crackers. and drinking water ”.

Schacht died the following January, when “U-507 was sunk with all hands … off the coast of Brazil by bombs from an American Catalina seaplane” according to Uboat.net.

What scientists want to know

The expedition launched on August 18 and there is a wanted symbolism in the team of scientists and archaeologists from Germany, Italy and the United States, NOAA Ocean Explorer said.

Explorers Leonard Macelloni, Leila Hamdan and Mélanie Damour have until September 4 to find the wreckage and conduct their investigation. (Macelloni and Hamdan are scientists based at the University of Southern Mississippi.)

Seabed scan records have identified a handful of anomalies that are about the size of the Norlindo. The team intends to visit each site and send an unmanned vehicle to explore the seabed.

They can find the wreckage as a whole – or a massive debris field, depending on what happened when it sank.

Among the many things they hope to find out is what the Norlindo’s fuel and other toxic elements did to the surrounding seabed. This means that sediment samples will need to be collected, according to NOAA.

To date, the sinking has kept its secrets well, producing no “mysterious spill” of oil or fuel on the surface of the water, officials said.

“In addition to its intrinsic historical importance … Norlindo also represents a potential danger to the environment”, says NOAA Ocean Exploration.

“As it is not known whether the wreckage is intact, it is not clear whether an acute hazard is present in the form of an intact but corroded fuel container.”

The plan to keep the site a secret is based on concerns about relic hunters and others who could desecrate a war grave, officials said.

“Contact details will be kept confidential so that the site can be protected from any illicit or potentially damaging activity (eg, salvaging or souvenir hunting),” Damour said.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering topics such as schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness, and non-profit organizations. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a major in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.


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