Ship Stats

Location: 34°36'15.37"N, 75°47'13.31"W (34.60427, -75.78703)

Depth: 205 feet

Vessel Type: Freighter

Length: 333.8 feet Breadth: 48.0 feet

Gross Tonnage: 3,516 Cargo: 3,628 tons of soda ash

Built: 1920, Merrill-Stevens Ship Building Corp., Jacksonville, Florida, USA

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

Owner: Marine Transport Lines, Inc., New York, New York, USA

Lloyd's Register Details: Steel hull, fitted for oil fuel, longitudinal framing, one deck, triple expansion three cylinder steam engine

Former Names: Chickamauga (United States Shipping Board, 1920-1929)

Date Lost: April 9, 1942

Sunk By: U-160 Survivors: 28 of 29 (1 dead)

Data Collected on Site: Multibeam and side scan sonar surveys

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

Wreck Site

Sonar image of Malchace
Multibeam survey image of Malchace wreck site. Click here for a larger image. Image: NOAA

The wreck site is located in over 200 feet of water in the Gulf Stream, southeast of Ocracoke, North Carolina. From the sonar data collected at the site and according to dive reports, the wreck is lying on its extreme port side and is almost upside down. The hull is basically intact and the boilers are visible. The stern provides the highest form of relief of the wreck.

multibeam survey of Malchace wreck site
Multibeam survey of Malchace wreck site (NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, 2016). Click here for a larger image. Image: NOAA

Historical Background

In early April of 1942, Malchace was transiting alone carrying a load of soda ash from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Hopewell, New Jersey. Disaster struck in the early morning hours on April 9, when U-160 attacked the unarmed Malchace. The ship was struck by a torpedo on the port side, just forward of the number four hold. The captain, Henry F. Magnusdal, ordered all engines stopped. While the crew began to assess the damage, U-160 surfaced and circled the ship before sending a second torpedo into Malchace's port side just aft of the number three hold. The explosion blew a hole in the bulkhead, and the engine room quickly flooded. After the second torpedo strike, the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship. All but one of the 29 crewmembers made it safely to the lifeboats.

Within a few hours, Malchace sank. As the survivors were rowing towards the shore in the still dark morning, they witnessed the explosion and resulting fire from another sinking merchant ship, the tanker Atlas, that had been torpedoed by U-552. Later that morning, the lifeboats were spotted by a passing Mexican tanker, Faja de Oro. The survivors were rescued and later transferred to a guard vessel at Cape Henry, Virginia, and taken to Norfolk, Virginia.