Empire Thrush

  • A circular object with sea life growing on it
  • A piece of metal protruding from sand on the seafloor
  • A diver inspects a pipe partially burried in the sand
  • The bow of the bedloe resting on the seafloor

Ship Stats

Location: 35°12'21.56"N, 75°15'7.81"W (35.20599, -75.25217)

Depth: 65 feet

Vessel Type: Freighter

Length: 395.5 feet Breadth: 53 feet

Gross Tonnage: 6,160 Cargo: 5,000 tons of rock phosphate, 740 tons of TNT, and 2,800 tons of citrus pulp

Built: 1919, Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Kearny, New Jersey, USA

Hull Number: 12 Port of Registry: London, United Kingdom

Owner: Ministry of War Transport, United Kingdom

Lloyd's Register Details: Steel hull, one deck, one shelter deck, longitudinal framing, DR geared steam turbine, fitted for oil fuel, three Scotch boilers.

Former Names: Lorain (U.S. Shipping board, 1919-1937)

Date Lost: April 14, 1942

Sunk By: U-203 Survivors: 55 of 55 (0 dead)

Data Collected on Site: Still photography; high resolution multibeam

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

Wreck Site

The visible remains of Empire Thrush are quite limited. In 1944, two years after the vessel sank, a Navy salvage team set explosives inside the sunken vessel to detonate and reduce the remains to help aid navigation. Additionally, the site was wire dragged to break up any submerged remains. Following this, it was initially observed that only a large hole remained where the vessel once laid. In 2016, NOAA visited the site and located a single scotch boiler via multibeam sonar. Divers documented the site, revealing additional material near the boiler. Any additional remains are most likely buried in the ever-shifting sand.

Sonar image survey of Empire Thrush wreck site
High resolution multibeam image (2016) of the wreck site of Empire Thrush. Image: NOAA

Historical Background

Built by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in 1919 for the United States Shipping Board, Empire Thrush was originally named Lorain. The vessel remained under control of the U.S. Shipping Board until it was placed in reserve in 1937. In 1942, with the increased need for military transportation, the vessel was transferred to British control, renamed Empire Thrush, and operated under the control of the Ministry of War Transport.

The Empire Thrush pictured docked
This image taken when Empire Thrush operated as Lorain. Date and location of this photo is unknown. Photo: NOAA

On April 14, 1942, Empire Thrush was travelling alone and unescorted about 17 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It had left Tampa, Florida, with a cargo of rock phosphate, TNT, and citrus pulp. That afternoon, U-203 attacked Empire Thrush. The U-boat fired one torpedo, which hit its mark and caused the ship to slowly sink.

The entire crew of 55 made it safely to the lifeboats. Shortly after the attack, the crew was picked up by American Q-ship USS Asterion (AK-100), which had witnessed the attack. On April 18, 1942, the survivors landed at Norfolk, Virginia.