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Hunting New England Shipwrecks

Famous Wrecks Worldwide

Over the past few hundred years, countless shipwrecks have occurred around the world. Most have been forgotten, but some became famous for a variety of reasons. Some are remembered because of the large number of lives lost, others because of their political importance at the time of sinking. Still others are famous because of their valuable cargos or historical significance. And some are well-known because they are spectacular dive sites.

Below are brief histories of some of the world's most famous wrecks. You've probably heard of them, but these mini histories will jog your memory and get you interested in learning more. Along with each write-up, we've provided a picture (click to enlarge) and links to some related sites.

Famous Wrecks Worldwide
Click on the wreck names to see their stories

Titanic

Pearl Harbor Fleet

Sultana

RMS Rhone

Empress of Ireland

General Slocum

Lost German U-Boats

Andrea Doria

USS Squalus

Whydah

Eastland

Lusitania

USS Maine

Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon

Central America

H. L. Hunley

S.S. Atlantic

The Great Halifax Explosion

Edmund Fitzgerald

Kursk

Portland

Monitor

HMS Sussex  

Titanic
titanicposter.JPG (24252 bytes)The Titanic is without a doubt the world's most famous shipwreck. The elegant White Star Line steamer sank in the North Atlantic on her maiden voyage in 1912, after striking an iceberg. Since Titanic's remains  were discovered in 1985, several expeditions have explored the wreck, and a blockbuster movie has retold the story with style. We can't tell the whole story here, but the links below will lead you to a wealth of information.
Discovery Channel Online's Titanic site 
Titanic - Voyage of  Dscovery 
Lost Liners (PBS) 
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Pearl Harbor Fleet
az-sinking.jpg (25903 bytes)We all know the story of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Over 300 planes participated in the attack and succeeded in sinking or severely damaging some 21 navy ships. Over 2,400 people, mostly sailors and marines, were killed in the attack. Today, the USS Arizona Memorial straddles the remains of the battleship Arizona and commemorates all those who died in the attack.
USS Arizona Memorial 
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Sultana
sultana2-loc.JPG (25014 bytes)In April of 1865, at the end of the U. S. Civil War, the 260' sidewheel steamer Sultana sank in the Mississippi River, near Memphis after a boiler exploded. She was transporting recently-released prisoners of war back to their families and homes in the north. Over 1,800 souls, mostly soldiers, perished in the tragedy. At the time of her sinking, the Sultana, certified for 376 passengers, had over 2,400 people on board. The link below will take you to an excellent Sultana Website.
Death on the Dark River 
Illustration of Sultana ablaze 
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RMS Rhone
rhone1.jpg (22534 bytes)
The 310' British steamer RMS Rhone sank off Salt Island, in the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean Sea) in an 1867 hurricane. Today, the wreck of the Rhone lies in two pieces on a sloping ledge with her stern in shallow water and her bow at 80''. The Rhone is considered one of the best wreck dives in the world because of her semi-intact condition and the fact that she's located in a resort area and in warm, clear water.
RMS Rhone 
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Empress of Ireland
empress2.JPG (41556 bytes)The Canadian Pacific steamer Empress of Ireland sank in the Saint Lawrence River, off Quebec, on May 29, 1914. She was rammed on a foggy night by the Norwegian collier Storstad and sank within 14 minutes. There were over 1,000 fatalities. The 550' wreck lies in 130' of frigid water, in a strong current area. Divers "re-discovered" the Empress in the 1980s, but it's a cold and dangerous dive.
Lost Liners (PBS) 
rmsempressofireland.com 
Ocean City Museum (Empress china photo) 
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General Slocum
On June 15, 1904, a large group from S. Mark's Church in Manhattan, boarded the General Slocum for their annual excursion to Locust Point. The Slocum was a 264' sidewheel steamer. As the boat steamed up the East River, she caught fire near Astoria. The fire spread quickly and panic broke out. Many passengers jumped overboard and some were rescued by following boaters. The captain headed the vessel for shore and she eventually sank off North Brother Island, near today's LaGuardia Airport. The final death toll from the tragedy was 1,024 souls.
History of the General Slocum 
Long Island Shipwrecks 
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Lost German U-boats
u-boat1.JPG (34809 bytes)German U-boats were first used in World War I. Considering their small size and fragility, they had great success in sinking enemy merchant ships. At the end of the war, all the existing U-boats were surrendered and destroyed. At the start of World War II, Germany was back in the U-boat business. Early in that war they sank large numbers of allied and neutral merchant ships. Later on, however, the U-boat threat was brought somewhat under control by the allies use of increased ship production, escorted convoys, anti-U-boat aircraft, and newly-developed radar and sonar. In World War II Germany built 1,162 U-boats, of which 785 were destroyed and the remainder surrendered or scuttled at the end of the war. The stories of the brave U-boat crewmen are well-known today, and the magnitude of those lost in the line of duty is staggering. During and immediately following World War II, several U-boats were sunk or scuttled in New England waters. And one of the few remaining boats, the U-505, is now a fascinating walk-through display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
U-boat.net 
Hitler's Lost Sub (NOVA) 
U-505 (Museum of Science and Industry) 
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Andrea Doria
andreadoria-life.jpg (25552 bytes)On a foggy night in July 1956, the New York bound passenger liner Andrea Doria was rammed broadside by the Swedish steamer Stockholm. The collision occurred 50 miles south of Nantucket. Some 11 hours later, the Doria sank in 235' of water. In a dramatic rescue effort, all but 52 of the 1,700 people on board were saved. Divers who have visited the Doria report that the vessel is intact and lying on her starboard side. Check out the links below to learn more about the Andrea Doria.
Doria Survivor's Site 
Great Ocean Liners 
NJScuba.net 
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USS Squalus
squalus1-si.JPG (25763 bytes)On May 23, 1939, the U.S. Navy submarine Squalus sank during a test dive off Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The disabled sub landed upright on the bottom, in 240' of water. Thirty-three crewmen survived the sinking and were rescued the next day with an experimental rescue bell. The dramatic rescue effort received extensive radio and newspaper coverage at the time.
The Sinking and Rescue of the USS Squalus
USS Squalus - Naval History Center
"The Terrible Hours" Peter Maas' book on the Squalus incident

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Whydah
pirateflag1.jpg (13649 bytes)The British-built slave ship Whydah was captured by a band of pirates in the Caribbean in 1717. The leader of the pirates, Black Sam Bellamy, took command of the Whydah as his flagship. Bellamy's small fleet soon headed north toward New England, raiding other ships along the way. On April 26, 1717, the Whydah was caught in a vicious storm off Cape Cod, where she ran on a shoal and broke up. Over the years rumors persisted that the Whydah was carrying a treasure trove of gold and silver when she sank. The link below tells the story of the Whydah.
Whydah - Discovery.com
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Eastland
eastland2.JPG (47107 bytes)The passenger steamer Eastland, with 2,500 people on board, rolled over at a dock in downtown Chicago in 1915. The disaster claimed over 800 lives. Many passengers were trapped inside the vessel. The Eastland Memorial Society's Web site provides details and pictures of the event.
Eastland Memorial Society
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Lusitania
lusitania-nyt2.JPG (65047 bytes)The Cunard Line steamer Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland in 1915. The ship sank in 18 minutes. Over 1,200 passengers and crew members died in the incident. The links below will take you to several interesting Lusitania sites.
Lost Liners - Lusitania
Great Ocean Liners - Lusitania (Click on Ship Histories)
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USS Maine
maine1898b.gif (28680 bytes)The U.S. battleship Maine was destroyed by an explosion in Havana Harbor in 1898. Over 250 crewmen died in the incident. Although the cause of the explosion was never positively determined, suspicions of sabotage ran high and the United States soon declared war against Spain. The battle cry of the Spanish-American war was "Remember the Maine."
U.S. Navy's Maine page
Smithsonian Magazine "Remember the Maine
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Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon
truktank1.jpg (15655 bytes)Prior to the start of World War II, Japan established a network of naval bases in the Central Pacific. One of these was on Truk atoll. During the war, numerous ships were routinely holed up in Truk Lagoon. In February of 1944, Allied forces attacked Truk. During the attack, some 50 ships were sunk in the lagoon. Today, the mostly-intact wrecks are an attraction for divers from around the world.
Truk Lagoon Shipwrecks
Truk Photo Gallery
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Central America
centralamerica3.JPG (56217 bytes)The side-wheel steamer Central America sank off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in 1857. She was carrying over 500 passengers and a fabulous cargo of gold coins and gold bullion. In 1987, a group of American treasure hunters located the wreck and began a long struggle to salvage the gold. 
Central America - Treasure Ship
"Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea" - New York Times review
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H. L. Hunley
hunley3.jpg (23772 bytes)The Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley was a human-powered machine. On February 16, 1864, the Hunley made a daring night attack on the sloop-of-war USS Housatonic, outside of Charleston  Harbor (SC). The Hunley rammed and sank the Housatonic with a torpedo on a long pole attached to her bow. The explosion that sank the Housatonic also sank the Hunley. The wreck of the Hunley was raised in 2000 and is now undergoing conservation in Charleston. 
Hunley - Official Site 
Hunley - U.S. Navy Site 
Hunley - CharlestonIllustrated.com
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S.S. Atlantic
atlantic-cur-ives1.jpg (53005 bytes)The White Star Line steamer S.S. Atlantic struck a coastal ledge and sank near Halifax, Nova Scotia on the night of April 1, 1873. The vessel was bound from Liverpool to New York. Of the 1,000 people aboard, some 562 died despite the heroic efforts of locals to rescue the victims. The Atlantic was a 420' iron hulled steamer that was rigged with masts and sails.
Canadiangeographic.ca 
SS Atlantic Heritage Park 
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The Great Halifax Explosion
halifax-headline.jpg (36397 bytes) During World War I, the busy port of Halifax, Nova Scotia was the embarkation point for most ships carrying war materials from America to Europe. On December 6, 1917, the French munitions ship Mont Blanc, heavily-loaded with explosives, was accidentally rammed by the Belgian relief ship Imo at the entrance to Halifax harbor. Moments after the collision, a giant explosion obliterated the Mont Blanc and parts of the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth. The final death toll was over 1,700 people.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic 
The Halifax Explosion 
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Edmund Fitzgerald
fitzgerald5.jpg (34745 bytes)The Edmund Fitzgerald was an ore carrier on the Great Lakes. She sank in Lake Superior on a stormy night in November of 1975. Her entire crew of 29 men were lost with the ship. The legend of the Fitzgerald lives on in the words of Gordon Lightfoot's famous ballad "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
Fitzgerald - LakeSuperior.com
Fitzgerald Tribute
Gordon Lightfoot's Song (Audio Clip)
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Kursk
kursk3.jpg (11562 bytes)The Russian nuclear submarine Kursk sank in 350' of water, in the Berants Sea, on August 12, 2000. The sinking occurred after a massive onboard explosion. All on board (118 crewmen) died in the incident. 
Kursk - BBC reports & graphics 
Kurks - CNN reports & graphics 
Inside the Kursk 
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Portland
portland2.JPG (30569 bytes)The passenger steamer Portland was lost off Cape Cod in a terrible storm on November 26,1898. Over 140 ships were lost in the storm that became known as "The Portland Gale."
The Portland Gale 
NOAA's Portland Web page 
Another NOAA page 
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Monitor
monitorstamp_100.jpg (42437 bytes)In the American Civil War, the battle between  the Union ship Monitor and the Confederate ship Virginia (also known as the Merrimac) took place in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in 1862. This was the first battle between ironclad warships and revolutionized the concept of naval warfare.  Both ships survived the battle, but the Monitor sank a few months later off Cape Hatteras. NC. The wreck of the Monitor remained lost for over 100 years, but was discovered in the 1970s. A major effort is now underway to recover parts of this historic vessel.
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary 
Monitor Photo Gallery 
Monitor Internet Resources 
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HMS Sussex
sussex-popmechanics.jpg (45182 bytes)The British warship HMS Sussex sank in the Mediterranean Sea off Gibraltar in 1694. Over 500 crewmen and a fabulous cargo of gold coins went down with the ship. The wreck was lost for centuries. A few years ago, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., of Tampa, Florida located the wreck of the Sussex at a depth of over 2,000 feet. Odyssey has since negotiated a lucrative salvage contract with the British government and began salvage operations in 2003.
HMS Sussex - PopularMechanics.com 
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