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Images | Videos | Oral Histories

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Welcome to the Outer Banks Maritime Heritage Trail. Click the arrow buttons on the map to play the videos and click [+] below for descriptions of each video.

Coastal North Carolina is an extraordinary place with strong ties to the marine environment. Surrounded by water, the Outer Banks of North Carolina are a chain of narrow barrier islands separating the Currituck, Albemarle, and Pamlico Sounds from the Atlantic Ocean. This dynamic environment has shaped the islands and its people for centuries.

Along Highway 12 are a series of iconic places and features that make the Outer Banks unique. From the lighthouses to the wildlife to the shipwrecks offshore, the Outer Banks culture reflects the surrounding marine environment. We invite you to take a trip down this stretch of road and experience the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks of North Carolina through videos, pictures, and stories.

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 1 Video: "Introduction"
Start at Whalebone Junction

 2 Video: "The Story of the U-85"

The Battle of the Atlantic during World War II occurred right off the shores of coastal North Carolina. German U-boats, including the U-85, patrolled the waters off the Outer Banks waiting for Allied targets to cross their path. On April 13th, 1942, just after midnight, the U-85 was only miles from the Bodie Island Lighthouse when it came in contact with the USS Roper.

To Learn More:

 3 Video: "The Ecology of the Outer Banks"

The natural environment of the Outer Banks is full of beauty and life. The species found here have adapted to and are dependent on the unique maritime environment of the area. The Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current collide directly off of Cape Hatteras, providing a suitable habitat for both tropical and temperate, or cooler water species. The shipwrecks off the coast also provide a unique place for marine creatures to live. The structure supports benthic organisms, the species that live on or directly around the shipwreck, as well as pelagic fish which school higher in the water column. The terrestrial environment is equally as unique. The area includes fresh, brackish, and salt water, sand dunes, and maritime forests and you can find a variety of exceptional creatures in each place. The natural environment of the Outer Banks is guaranteed to amaze!

To Learn More:
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Battle of the Atlantic Expedition: Marine Life on Wrecks
Fish and Habitat Community Assessments on North Carolina Shipwrecks

 4 Video: "WWI and WWII off the Coast of North Carolina"

The German U-boats stationed off the coast of the North Carolina during World War II were extremely successful in early 1942. The unique, offshore environment gave them a distinct advantage and they were able to wreak havoc on the merchant ships that travelled along the busy shipping lanes off of the Outer Banks. The area soon became known as Torpedo Junction because of the hundreds of ships that were sunk there.

Battle of the Atlantic Expedition

 5 Video: "The Chicamacomico Life Saving Station"

The first few lifesaving services were volunteer-based and it was extremely difficult to come to the aid of all who found themselves stranded offshore. However, as shipping traffic increased along the east coast of the United States, the U.S. government appropriated funds to increase the lifesaving infrastructure along the coast and in 1878 the service became known as the U.S. Life-Saving Service. The surfmen of the U.S. Life-Saving Service saved countless lives as they helped those in peril upon the seas. In 1915, the U.S. Life-Saving Service became the U.S. Coast Guard.

To Learn More:

 6 Video: "The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse"

For centuries, the lighthouses along the Outer Banks served as a guide for mariners as they navigated their way through the area off the coast known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Today, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the country and its beacon, now powered by electricity instead of whale oil or kerosene, can be seen for over 20 miles. In 1999, the entire lighthouse was moved inland one half mile to save it from being eroded and forever lost to the Atlantic Ocean.

To Learn More:

 7 Video: "The Story of the U-701 and the YP-389"

The U-701 was one of the most successful German U-boats to patrol the waters off the Outer Banks. One of the U-701's victims was a small patrol vessel, the YP-389. Being such a modest and insignificant vessel, the U-701 did not believe the YP-389 was worth a torpedo, and instead sunk it with its 88 mm deck gun. Not long after, the U-701 met the same fate as it was sunk by Army aircraft. Surprisingly, the final resting place of both vessels remained unknown for quite a long time. The U-701 was discovered by a scuba diver in 1989 and in 2009, the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary discovered the YP-389 using a sonar system and remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

To Learn More:
2009 Battle of the Atlantic Expedition
2008 Battle of the Atlantic Expedition

 8 Video: "The History of the USS Monitor"

The USS Monitor was an iconic Civil War ironclad. Built in approximately 100 days, she was outfitted with a deck of iron and a rotating gun turret, a truly innovative creation. On March 9th, 1862, the USS Monitor met the CSS Virginia in the Battle of Hampton Roads. While there was no clear winner, it became apparent that iron now reigned supreme and naval warfare would never be the same. On December 31, 1862, less than a year after her launching, the USS Monitor sank during a storm 16 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras.

To Learn More:

 9 Video: "The Importance of National Marine Sanctuaries"

The National Marine Sanctuary System is made up of 14 sites that protect unique natural and cultural resources. Whether the focus is shipwrecks in the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary or Thunder Bay, coral reefs in the Florida Keys, or Humpback Whales in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, the overall goal of the system is the same: to encourage the public to enjoy these special places while conserving and protecting them for generations to come.

To Learn More:

 10 Video: "Conclusion"

 11 Video: "Light Over the Water: Cape Lookout Lighthouse"

For centuries, the lighthouses along the Outer Banks served as a guide for mariners as they navigated their way through the area off the coast known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Built originally in 1812 and replaced in 1859, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse continues to warn mariners of the dangers of the shoals located along the Cape Lookout coast. Learn how the lighthouse changed through the years and how modern technology keeps it going.

To Learn More:

Click here for downloadable video files and captioned versions.

Click here for more information about the Outer Banks.

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Oral Histories

The residents of the Outer Banks have amazing stories to tell. Their lives are constantly influenced by the marine environment in which they live and their stories are as unique and dynamic as their surroundings. During WWII, many residents were witness to the Battle of the Atlantic which occurred along the East Coast of the United States. Listen to their stories as they recall their experiences with the war that was being fought right off of their shores.

Carol Dillon
Carol Dillon (2)
Gibb Gray
Anne Henry
Anne Henry (2)
Lorraine Hinnant
John Watkins

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Educational Activities

Students experience the unique maritime culture of the Outer Banks, N.C., when they watch one, or all ten, video clips and listen to the oral histories of those who experienced WWII on the shores of the Outer Banks. Each video is accompanied by supporting activities and a set of focus questions, to be answered while the students view the video.

Click here to download the educational activity packet.


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Revised June 04, 2009 by Sanctuaries Web Team | Contact Us | Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service
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