The Dark Side of Shipwrecks

Persephone 1942 002I am a shipwreck junkie. No question about it. I enjoyed 30 plus years of diving on them. Now I get (almost) as much enjoyment out of researching them and adding what I learn to the NJ Maritime Museum’s files. And when a visitor to the museum asks about a specific shipwreck, someone close by – usually Deb – can relate the history of that ship and its demise from memory. Sharing this knowledge is always rewarding.

There is an obvious down side to shipwrecks. A sunken, lost ship always results in the loss of someone’s property. And all too often, a shipwreck also causes a tragic loss of life. Steve Gatto reminded us of this earlier this week when he asked that we remember the sinking of the tug Thomas Hebert on March 7, 1993 and the loss of five of the seven crew. Steve was part of the investigation team who recovered the bodies of the lost crew and helped bring closure to the grieving families.

Tom Farner reminded us that today – March 10 – is the anniversary of the loss of another shipwreck, the Gulf Trade. Tom is a noted LBI and New Jersey historian and the author of the column 200 Plus for the Sandpaper. Tom is in the process of writing a series of articles about the ships attacked and sunk by German submarines during the early months of America’s involvement in World War II. The Gulf Trade was struck just off the coast of Barnegat Light with the loss of 19 of the 35 man crew.

America was not ready for war. The Jersey shore – even during the off season – objected to black-outs. German submarines delighted in hunting ships with a well lit background of Atlantic City, Wildwood and other resorts. Black-out rules finally prevailed but not until many ships were sunk and lives were lost. Some (not all) of the New Jersey losses include:

Norness – January 14 – 0 lives lost

Coimbra – January 15 – 35 lives lost

Varanger – January 25 – 0 lives lost

Miraflores – February 19 – 34 lives lost

R P Resor – February 27 – 48 lives lost

Jacob Jones – February 28 – 130 lives lost

Tolten – March 14 – 27 lives lost

Lemuel Burrows – March 14 – 20 lives lost

Cayru – March 18 – 38 lives lost

Arundo – April 28 – 6 lives lost

Bidevind – April 30 – 0 lives lost

Persephone – May 25 – 9 lives lost

While we have records of how many combat lives were lost in each of the European and Pacific battles, consider that these merchant mariners working the east coast were some of America’s earliest war losses. An exact count will probably never be known.

Please take the time to read the entire Tom Farner series on the WW II shipwrecks. His attention to detail and accuracy far surpasses my Kentucky windage. If you don’t have easy access to a print copy of the Sandpaper, go to their web site at Or subscribe to their weekly newsletter – Village Soup. If you are a shipwreck junkie – and you must be if you are still reading this – you will be looking for the 200 Plus column every week.

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    • Mort

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