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Diamond Shoals Lightship LV-71

The Expedition

In September 2015, NOAA and the Bureau of Energy Management along with the United States Coast Guard, East Carolina University and UNC Coastal Studies Institute will survey Diamond Shoals Lightship LV-71. The shipwreck is located just off Cape Hatteras, N.C., and served as the primary lightship in that area for over 20 years from March 1998 to August 1918. The ship was sunk by a German U-boat, U-140, making it the only lightship vessel ever sunk during enemy action. Maritime archaeologists will conduct and complete an archaeological assessment of the wreck site and the data collected will be used to nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places. To read the full press release click here.

In previous years, NOAA and its partners have worked to document and survey numerous World War II shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast associated with the Battle of the Atlantic. Although there is a much larger number of WWII shipwrecks located off the East Coast, there are several that were sunk in 1918 by German U-boats. At least five are known to have been sunk off North Carolina's coast. Among those lost are the Diamond Shoals Lightship LV-71, Merak, Mirlo, and Harpathia. Each shipwreck tells an amazing story that connects this area to global events. The LV-71 also highlights the heroism and sacrifice of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Historical Background

The lightship, known as LV-71, launched from Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine on December 28, 1897. The two-masted composite hulled, steam powered, propeller driving ship entered into a contract with the Lighthouse Board (predecessor to the U.S. Coast Guard). LV-71 served as a floating lighthouse, sound signal station and navigational beacon. For over 20 years, the lightship marked the treacherous waters of Diamond Shoals off North Carolina to ensure other vessels could navigate safely.

On August 6, 1918, LV-71 had reported by radio the presence of a submarine that had torpedoed the unarmed American steamer Merak. The German U-boat, U-140, intercepted the warning, and headed for LV-71. The submarine started firing its deck guns at the lightship and first took out the wireless room. As the U-140's shelling continued, LV-71's 12 man crew lowered its yawl boat and escaped off the doomed vessel. They didn't have time to gather any supplies or belongings as they rowed west for five miles all the while watching the U-140 fire on their ship.

"Finally we could see her go down in the distance. By then the sub was way out of sight, so I [Walter L. Barnett, acting Captain that day] told the boys to pull in the oars, and I mounted the sail, using the sweep oar for a mast" (Stick 1953:202).

The crew, consisting of two officers, two radio operators, and eight others, left LV-71 around 2:30 pm and finally reached shore just north of Cape Hatteras wireless station at 9:30 pm. According to A History of U.S. Lightships by Willard Flint, more than 25 friendly vessels were warned away from the area by the lightship.

Drawing of US Lightship Vessels 68-69-71
Drawing of U.S. Lightship Vesels 68,69, and 71. (Courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine)

Present Day

LV-71 is located in 180 feet of water and as a government vessel, it is still owned by the United States. Under an agreement reached in October 2014, NOAA, through the nearby Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, will conduct work required under the National Historic Preservation Act to document the wreck's physical remains, nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places, and partner with the local community and U.S. Coast Guard to share LV-71's story for the 100 anniversary of its sinking and beyond. This expedition helps to fulfill that obligation. For more information on the agreement read the full press release dated Oct. 21, 2014.

Archaeological Methodology

The survey goals are designed to recover data that will document the site, augment historical significance and enhance the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The archaeological methodology will consist primarily of documenting the site by generating acoustic and photogrammetric surveys, site plans, photomosaics, recording diagnostic hull features, intensive video and photo documentation and documentation of artifacts in situ. However, the dynamic environment of the site and weather will partly determine actual outputs.

Technology Tools

SRVx Sand Tiger: The expedition will be conducted using NOAA's SRVx Sand Tiger, an 85 ft. research vessel. The Sand Tiger is fully equipped to house 12 including crew and researchers.

Side Scan Sonar: A specialized system for detecting objects on the seafloor. A side scan transmits sound energy and analyzes the return signal (echo) that has bounced off the seafloor or other objects. It typically consists of three basic components: towfish, transmission cable, and topside processing unit.

Photogrammetry: Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs. Researchers will use specialized software and high definition cameras to do a photogrammetric survey of the LV-71. The data will be used to create a 3-D model of the shipwreck.


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