On August the 24th 2016, a whole seven years after the original search had begun, the wreckage of the German submarine U-576 was found a mere thirty miles off of the coast of North Carolina, 72 years after it was sunk.
The submarine went under in the midst of a battle that occurred off of the Outer Banks on July 15, 1942, during the Second World War. Inside the ruined hull, the remains forty-four of its crew were found.
The NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the University of North Carolina’s Coastal Studies Institute and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have been looking for this shipwreck since 2009.
The ship’s wreckage is in an area where German U-boats operated during WWII, hunting merchant vessels to disrupt the USA’s economy.
The ship does have some structural damage, which is to be expected as it has been under the water for more than a half a century. The wooden deck has rotted away, which should be of no surprise to no one. On the bright side, though, the hull, gun deck, and the hatches that lead to the bodies are still visible and in reasonable condition.
The fact that the crew members are still aboard the wreckage of the ship does leave a lot of unanswered questions, such as if there was any attempt to escape the ship using the escape hatches. If the sub was flooded in such a catastrophic way that the crew did not even have time to exit the ship?
Was there was some sort of damage to the submarine that allowed them to sit on the seabed for a period of time while still having enough oxygen to breathe.
During World War II, it was very common for merchant vessels to be the victim of attacks, and while the official tally of deaths that occurred as a result of the war is unknown, it is fair to say that the merchant marines suffered thousands of lost lives.
The sub was already in bad shape when it attacked the merchant vessels, having been in the process of heading back to Germany for repairs. Before this attack could be carried out, though, it was thwarted by the fact that the Coast Guard picked up the sub on sonar and then proceeded to attack the sub.
The captain of the U-Boat was still determined to continue the attack, firing four torpedoes that sunk one of the merchant marine ships and also caused some damage to two other ships. Still, the sub was eventually sunk by the US coastguard.
According to U.S. policy, the U-576 sub is technically considered to be under the ownership of Germany, because it is international custom to view the wreckage of land, sea, and air vehicles that are presumed to hold the remains of fallen soldiers or sailors as war graves.
Because of this international custom, the site where the ship was found should be under the special protection, and it should remain there to allow the dead to rest in peace.