Esso Nashville

Ship Stats

Location: 33°52'44.76"N, 77°13'36.44"W (33.87910, -77.22679)

Depth: 120 feet

Vessel Type: Tanker

Length: 445.4 feet Breadth: 64.2 feet

Gross Tonnage: 7,943 Cargo: 106,718 barrels of fuel oil

Built: 1940, Bethlehem Fairfield Shipbuilding Corp. Ltd., Sparrow's Point, Maryland, USA

Hull Number: 4349 Port of Registry: Wilmington, Delaware, USA

Owner: Standard Oil Company, New Jersey, USA

Lloyd's Register Details: Steel hull, one deck, longitudinal framing, fitted for carrying petroleum in bulk, two steam turbines geared to one screw shaft, triple expansion three cylinder engine

Former Names: N/A

Date Lost: March 21, 1942

Sunk By: U-124 Survivors: 38 of 38 survived (0 dead)

Data Collected on Site: Multibeam sonar survey

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

Wreck Site

The Esso Nashville's bow section is intact and lying upside down with a slight list to the starboard side of the wreck. This is the highest relief on the wreck rising some 15-20 feet above the seafloor. The deck area is buried in the sand, but the hull is starting to breakaway and fall to the side. This is most evident near the anchors where there is a deep sand washout. Aft of the bow, the remains flatten out in a series of collapsed hull plates, masts and pipes.

sonar imageof Esso Nashville
Multibeam sonar image of Esso Nashville wreck site. Click here for a larger image. Image: NOAA

Historical Background

Esso Nashville was an oil tanker over 445 feet in length and built for the Standard Oil Company. In mid-March 1942, Esso Nashville left Port Arthur, Texas, and traveled north to New Haven, Connecticut. The ship, filled with fuel oil, traveled alone and unarmed. In the early morning hours of March 21, two torpedoes from U-124 struck Esso Nashville. The first torpedo struck just aft of the bow and caused very little damage, but the second torpedo hit just aft of amidships and broke the vessel in half.

The entire crew of eight officers and 30 men abandoned the ship into the four lifeboats that were on board. All 38 crew survived with eight survivors in two lifeboats picked up by USS McKean and taken to Norfolk, Virginia. Twenty-two survivors were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Tallapoosa (WPG-52) and were taken to Savannah, Georgia. The remaining eight survivors were rescued by USCGC Agassiz (WPC-126) and taken to Southport, North Carolina.

For several hours after the attack, the tanker held together by its deck plating and pipe lines. However, the ship finally broke completely in two, with the bow sinking. The stern section continued to float and was eventually salvaged and towed by USS Umpqua (AT-25) to Morehead City, North Carolina. Next, it was towed to Baltimore, Maryland, for further fitting and armament modification. The ship ultimately returned to active service on March 16, 1943, less than a year after the attack.

Stern section of Esso Nashvill
The stern section of Esso Nashville being moved to Morehead City, North Carolina. Click here for a larger image. Photo: Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum