Feet Length, 27 feet Beam, 15 feet Deep
Owner: Southern Transportation Co, Philadelphia, PA
Builder: Gulfport Boiler and Welding Works, 1919, Superior WI
Depth 90 feet
Location; 10 NM South of Hatteras Inlet
History of the Shipwreck
The ocean going tug Keshena was built for the Superior Transportation Company of Philadelphia, PA, in 1919 at Superior Wisconsin. The tug had two steam boilers that provided power to drive the 142' long tug's single propeller. The steel hull of the Keshena was designed in the style of an older tug, with a fair and high bow, a low waist and the typical low round stern of a tug. A small pilot house was perched on the forward quarter of a deck house that covered the majority of her length with a large single smokestack dominating her profile. She was equipped with stout bits, winches and a large capstan on the foredeck. The tug also carried spare salvage anchors on the foredeck, where they are still found today.
On July 15th, 1942, a Southbound convoy of nineteen merchant vessels (convoy KS 520) was spotted by the U-576 off the coast of Hatteras. The U-boat had been badly damaged by aircraft bombardment the previous days and was actually limping towards home when they came across this opportunity. The commander, Hans-Dieter Heinicke, decided to make an attack in spite of the crippled state of the boat and fired a salvo of torpedoes. Two ships, the tanker M/V J. A. Mowinkel and the freighter M/V Chilore, were struck by torpedoes but both vessels were able to continue under their own power toward more protected waters. A third ship, the Nicaraguan freighter SS Bluefields, was not so fortunate and sunk within four minutes after being hit by the U-boat.
After the torpedo attack the U-576 broached to the surface directly behind the merchant vessel SS Unicoi and the armed guard gun crew aboard Unicoi immediately opened fire with the 5" stern gun. The gun crew claimed direct hits upon the conning tower of the U-boat and at about the same time two Navy patrol planes arrived at the battle. Both aircraft attacked by dropping Mark XVII depth charges that straddled the U-boat, which immediately sank with all hands in deep water.
Unfortunately for the two surviving ships, in their efforts to seek safety they inadvertently entered the Hatteras minefield which had been set to provide relief from the attacking U-boats. Both ships detonated mines and being further damaged, had to be left at anchor to await assistance. The crew of M/V J. A. Mowinkel abandoned the ship thinking that the U-boat had returned and would finish them off shortly. They were able to safely land at Ocrakoke along with the crew from the M/V Chilore.
Enter the salvage tug Keshena. During this time of the war, the Keshena found herself being chartered to the U. S. Navy for coastal salvage work. She had been called to the area off Hatteras Island to assist the two ships that had become damaged. She arrived on the scene July 19th, after several mine sweepers sent down from Little Creek, Virginia, had cleared the area around the damaged vessels of any further mines. However, when the Keshena was maneuvering under the stern of the tanker J. A. Mowinkel, an explosion occurred in the after part of the engine room. It was now very apparent that the mine sweeping operation was not fully successful.
John Hampton, the engine room oiler, was killed by the blast. Oscar Johnson, the Master of the Keshena, ordered the crew to abandon ship and a crewman, Fred Taylor, drowned while trying to abandon the sinking Tug, which went down in under ten minutes. The remaining 15 men of the crew were picked up by a small launch and taken to Ocrakoke Coast Guard Station, arriving there at 1700 hours on the 19th.
After the sinking, Keshena's mast and stack stood clear of the water marking her position. Like the F. W. Abrams which lays nearby, this attracted the attention of pilots in training from nearby Cherry Point Station who used her as practice bombing target. She was also depth charged and dragged for clearance.
Tugs, due to their intended use, are typically designed as solid vessels and the Keshena is no exception. The small vessel has endured the ravages of exploding mines, practice bombing runs, depth charging and over 70 years under the sea. That her bow section still stands almost 30' proud of the sand is testimony to both her design and her builder.
The Tanker J. A. Mowinkel was towed to port and eventually returned to service. The Freighter M/V Chilore foundered in the approaches to the Chesapeake Bay while under tow to the repair yard. She sits in appx 60 feet of water and was wire dragged for clearance. The wreck is occasionally visited by sport divers.
|Diving The Keshena
Divers will find the Keshena to be a delightful dive site and in spite of the violence of her death she is still fairly intact. The entire wreck remains organized and contiguous bow to stern sitting on her keel and upright except for the stern which has a heavy starboard list. The bow and stern sections are the most visually interesting as they are the most intact and easy to recognize for what they are. The bow is very much still together, even though large holes have rusted through the plating at the sand level. This is due to the heavy framing which is clearly visible to divers at the first bulkhead aft of the stem. This framing and the still intact hull sides of the bow hold up the entire foredeck with all of the fittings and machinery still in place. Though an abandoned trawl net covers some of the bow, it is still easy to view the two spare salvage anchors and heavy windlass on the foredeck.
swim beyond the framing and pillars holding up the foredeck into the bow section and
look into the forepeak. Here, they may encounter large fish such as
Goliath Groupers and the like which enter this section thru the rust holes
in the forefoot.
Moving aft divers will easily follow the hull sides of the wreck and encounter the twin boilers. Continuing aft, you enter into the engine room area which is somewhat disheveled and the lowest relief of the wreck site. The stern section is very intact and lists heavily to the starboard side. The prop and rudder are visible to various extents depending upon the sand level near the scour at the stern.
The entire wreck can be viewed on a single dive, due to the compact size of the wreck site. With a depth of only 80fsw, bottom times are reasonable.
sea life at the Keshena is always varied and interesting, sometimes in
great numbers as well. In past
seasons there have been resident octopus and large numbers of anemones.
The fish life ranges from the small creatures such as the drum pictured
here to very large snapper and groupers. Shark can be present, but
the wreck is not known for large schools of them.
This wreck site was studied by NOAA in 2010 as part of their efforts to expand the Monitor Marine Sanctuary to include other sites off the Hatteras coast. The photo mosaic of the Keshena site was produced by NOAA as part of this effort. They also produced a short video of their efforts which is posted here.
For some other excellent photos of the Keshena visit the BFDC web page about this wreck site.
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Copyright © 2003 Last modified: February 06, 2013