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British Splendour

Ship Stats

Location: 34°49'7.54"N, 75°54'10.91"W (34.81876, -75.90303)

Depth: 100 feet

Vessel Type: Tanker

Length: 441.2 feet Breadth: 59.7 feet

Gross Tonnage: 7,138 Cargo: 10,000 barrels of benzene (gas/fuel)

Built: 1931, Palmer's Shipbuilding and Iron Co., Newcastle, England

Hull Number: 162546 Port of Registry: London, England

Owner: British Tanker Co. Ltd., London, England

Lloyd's Register Details: Steel hull, two decks, flat keel, single screw, diesel motor, two stroke cycle single acting oil engines

Former Names: N/A

Date Lost: April 7, 1942

Sunk By: U-552 Survivors: 41 of 53 survived (12 dead)

Data Collected on Site: Multibeam sonar image; still and video photography

Significance: Casualty of World War II's Battle of the Atlantic

Wreck Site

The British Splendour wreck rests in about 100 feet of water, 35 miles southwest of Cape Lookout, N.C. At that depth, with shifting sands and variable currents, site conditions vary over the course of a year creating an ever-changing environment.

When British Splendour sank, the vessel settled upside down, as evidenced by the hull plating facing toward the surface. The remains of British Splendour have a small section of high relief, located at the stern of the vessel.

Scaled multibeam survey of British Splendour
Multibeam survey of British Splendour. Click here for a larger image. Image: ADUS
British splendour underwater
Features located toward the stern of British Splendour. Click here for a larger image.Image: Hoyt, NOAA

Historical Background

Built in 1931 by Palmer's Shipbuilding and Iron Company, British Splendour carried fuel for the British Tanker Company of London. During World War II, British Splendour continued to carry fuel and in early April 1942, the tanker left Houston, Texas to meet with a British convoy in Nova Scotia.

British Splendour cruised off the North Carolina coast with escort vessels HMS St. Zeno (FY-280) and HMS Hertfordshire (FY-176) nearby. On the night of April 7, 1942, U-552 patiently followed an unsuspecting British Splendour. Around 10:00 pm, a single torpedo was fired at the vessel striking the port side near the engine room. Immediately, the ship was disabled and 12 crew members were killed instantly. Fire spread throughout the ship, and when it reached the storage areas, the fuel in the cargo hold ignited and engulfed the ship. The crew was ordered to abandon ship, and within two hours, the vessel sank. Forty-one crewmembers survived, were rescued and later taken to Norfolk, Va.

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