This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Barbara Wyatt: Joe is a maritime archeologist with NOAA’s office of National Marine Sanctuaries. He specializes in archaeological recording of deep water shipwrecks. He’s worked on several NOAA projects in the Thunder Bay, Florida Keys, and monitor national marine sanctuaries since 2001. For the last six years, Hoyt has been a PI on a multifaceted wide-area investigation of World War II era shipwrecks lost off of the coast of North Carolina. He has an MA in Maritime history and nautical archeology from East Carolina University. Thank you.
Joe Hoyt: I appreciate everybody giving me the opportunity to speak today. What I’m going to talk about, we’ve been talking for the past few days, a lot about the theoretical approaches to cultural landscapes. What I’m going to do is talk about an applied cultural landscape approach that we’ve internalized at the site that I work for, which is the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. We’re fortunate, in 2007, to open the USS Monitor center. Which put to bed one era of the work that we were doing in the North Carolina area and began an ongoing period of conservation.
Around that time, we began to say “All right, what’s next? We’ve got all of this experience and all of this expertise working on heritage resources, offshore North Carolina.” We began to start this process to look at what else is out there. It was pretty exciting to have the ability to begin that process and be able to frame it under the lens of cultural landscapes and look at this broad area and understand it.
Jim talked, yesterday, about the overview study that we did, which is available outside if you’re interested in looking at that. The first step in that, was to wrap our heads around the vast resources which exist around this area. We developed this database and we’ve got about 2000 points in this database of named shipwrecks and associated terrestrial sights, lifesaving service stations, airfields, things like this. We thematically stove piped all of this information so that we could begin to use it as a roadmap that we could then cherry pick individual points from, to go and do in-depth analyses.
This is an example of how we framed the way that we could look at our data sets. Breaking it into things like the pre-contact period, the colonial era period, maritime commerce, various conflicts that have happened along the coast. As well as things that are associated with coastal vernacular water craft and fishing heritage and things like this. Again, you can look at this, in more detail, in that assessment.
Once we completed this approach, we said “All right, what’s the first thing that we’re going to dive deeper into?” The natural progression of that was World War II. For those of you that aren’t familiar with this story, I was very interested to hear Kristen say that there’s ten thousand battlefield sites in the United States from various conflicts. How many of those do you think are from World War II? Very, very few. Pearl Harbor, Aleutian Islands, a couple of isolated things on the west coast. Really, it is the Battle of the Atlantic on the east coast of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico where we really have an American battlefield that has not really been well interpreted and known to the broader public. That is where we saw an opportunity to apply some of the expertise of the sanctuary program and characterizing this story in a way that hasn’t been done before and projecting it to as many people as possible.
Just a quick background on the way that we started looking at this. Right around Pearl Harbor, on December 7th of ’41, by the 11th, Hitler had declared war on the United States, and by January 18th the first ship was sunk off of North Carolina. It’s pretty remarkable how quickly this happened. Clearly, they were ready for a war that we were trying to resist becoming involved in. As a result, there really wasn’t a lot of coastal defense on the east coast, being that the popular support for the war was in the Pacific theater at that time. We have all of these vessels that are operating up and down the eastern seaboard that are relatively exposed. You have U boats that are there, just sinking ships.
Why are they doing this? Predominantly oil. You’ve got huge oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, oil’s coming up the east coast and it’s hitting Cape Hatteras, riding the Gulf stream and taking a right, heading towards Europe. Where it’s fueling the RAF bombing raids and all of these other things. There’s a huge resource of oil and tankers coming up the east coast and the thinking of Germany was “We’re not going to be able to compete with Britain or the US, we’re not on par with their service fleet. What we can do is that we can go cut off the supply chain and, hopefully, squelch the ability for them to wage war in the European theater.”
It’s interesting, you talk about a battlefield and you usually think of a battlefield as something taking place over a relatively short period of time. Over the course of, maybe, a couple of days or weeks. The Battle of the Atlantic is just different. It was a very protracted engagement that took place, really, from the onset of World War II, and America’s involvement, all the way to the end. It was ongoing before we were even involved in the North Atlantic.
How do you characterize something that takes place over a longer period of time and really understand how that works? It’s over such a geographically huge area, really, from Nova Scotia on down into the Gulf of Mexico. We began this comprehensive shipwreck assessment of these World War II resources, off of North Carolina, and we really began to understand that North Carolina plays a particularly unique role in this history. As I said, if you’re trying to characterize this war that took place in this huge area, why are we so obsessed with North Carolina? What makes it unique.
This is where we really started to understand how applicable incorporating features of the landscape was to the overall interpretation of what’s going on. North Carolina has some really unique geological features that have made it particularly appealing, tactically, for the way that U boats were operating. You’ve got shipping lanes that are coming up in the gulf stream. You’ve got two major oceanic currents that are coming to a head, right off of the Outer Banks. Historically, not just in World War II era, these were massively important currents because you could actually get a few knots of speed and they were pushing you back towards Europe. I always think of one of those moving walkways in an airport. You’ve got all of these ships, that are laden with fuel oil, heading across the Atlantic to support that war effort and they’re coming right along Cape Hatteras.
The other thing that is really interesting about this particular naval engagement is that, up until this point in history, really World War 1 and more so in World War II, naval battles took place predominantly on the surface plane. Where you’re still interacting with the environment, you’re trying to, it’s the age of sail, you’re trying to get the weather gauge, or you’re dealing with shore line features, but it’s generally on this plane, or surface. Well, in this instance, the Battle of the Atlantic was involved with merchant vessels, surface craft, but then you have submersibles. Where the water column itself has a role, tactically, and the water depth and where things could operate. Then, you have the atmospheric column as well, air coverage was a massive threat to the U boats, one of the best defensive aids against that threat. You’ve got this atmospheric column.
Really, you’ve got this 3-d column of space wherein all of these different players are operating. This really allows us to understand and characterize some of those things through that lens and understanding how those player role, tactically. The water depth, I know it’s hard to see on this here, but there’s these contour lines off of the coast there are depicting the Outer Continental Shelf.
The significance of this, for this particular engagement, is that the U boats were a very good offensive weapon but a pretty terrible defensive weapon. They relied on stealth, they relied on their ability to have these sneak attacks. If they’re spotted on the surface or they had to engage with a surface vessel, their main battery is still their torpedoes, they have to actually maneuver the vessel. They’re quite easy to sink, as they’re not made to be great surface crafts. Their primary defense was to be able to hide in deep waters. They wanted to be close to the shipping lanes but they wanted to be able to get to deep water quickly, to be able to evade counter attacks.
If you look at the way that the continental shelf is situated on the east coast, north of Cape Hatteras, the continental shelf is very far off shore. You still have shipping lanes that run … You see here, this is the continental shelf, north of Hatteras, and it goes hundreds of miles off shore as you get up to the Boston, New York, New England area. There’s still heavy shipping lanes there, but your ability to get to deep water for safety is limited. There’s still U boat activity there but it was better to be in these areas where the continental shelf is closer.
South of Hatteras is very close to shore. As you go further south, it’s closer to shore down here but then you run into another issue where you have much warmer water. Why is warm water a factor? U boats typically like to operate at night and you’ve got a much higher concentration of bio-luminescent algae in that area. They would like to avoid that region for that purpose.
As a result, there’s all sorts of natural features that make Cape Hatteras emerge as a hot spot of U boat activity. This become known to the Germans, who were incentivized based on tonnage sunk, that this was a place you could go and you could make your mark and get your promotions and things because Cape Hatteras was so preferred as a hunting ground. I should also say that many of these features in the landscape are relevant to all of these other elements in that broader study. This is a baseline understanding, it’s not just World War II history that has been impacted by the unique characteristics of North Carolina. These could be applied to some of those other elements, as well.
Specific to the battlefield, there are these other elements that we’ve been assessing. These are these more mercurial for femoral elements of the battlefield, where you have cloud cover, weather, visibility, airspace. This is a gentleman named Harry Kane Jr who was a pilot of a Hudson aircraft out of Cherry Point, North Carolina at the US Army Air Corps, who was the first person to sink a U boat with aircraft off of the east coast. He’s pointing to a point just off of Cape Hatteras where he sunk the U-701. In the narrative of his attack, he was using cloud cover to conceal his approach so the U boats were very aware that they were most vulnerable from air attacks. They actually had, on the conning tower, they had four people, any time they were on the surface, specifically to watch different squadrons of air so that they could crash dive if there was a threat of aircraft attack.
Harry Kane knew this so he knew that if he was going to be on anti-submarine patrol, that he had to conceal, as best as possible, his approach and did that using cloud cover. It’s an interesting way to look at all of these different things. Even though that these things are not tangible elements that can be pinpointed, because they are fleeting, they still have a role in the way that human beings are interacting, in this landscape. It has an influence on tactics, in the battlefield sense.
Then, of course, there’s these other tangible elements that are related to the battlefield. The proximity of air bases, there’s Elizabeth City airship base, Cherry Point Naval Air Station, and lifesaving stations along the beach. The proximity of deep water ports, there was a defensive mine field off of Hatteras that influenced the way that vessels operated in the area and, of course, the shipwrecks themselves.
We began this larger study looking from a broad view, looking at all of the resources that we have. Really, this was about a six month period where the heavy activity was taking the place that resulted in, there were about 90 vessels sunk in that six month window, which is quite alarming. It’s a pretty amazing amount of vessels to go down in a short period of time just off of North Carolina alone. We peel that back to the vessels that, we believe, are just on the continental shelf and that number is about 50 sites.
That’s quite a lot to manage and to try and understand so we start off with a GIS exercise. This is depicting, not just sites where there’s actual, tangible material deposited vis-a-vis shipwreck, but where there was any type of engagement. A U boat may have attacked and struck a merchant vessel with a torpedo but the merchant vessel is sailing ballasted, it didn’t sink, and was able to be refitted. That’s still recorded because it’s still relevant to this overall story of how these things were interacting in this environment. Allowing us to understand why certain areas had more significance than other.
We take this and then we can apply some statistical analyses and start to develop these hot spots of areas of battle related events. This is important because, not only does it help us understand where these things are, but we’re a program that’s a place-based management program. If we’re going to position ourselves to say that there should be an expanded sanctuary in this area, we need to be able to back up why. Why an area like Cape Hatteras and not an area like Wilmington or anywhere else along the coast. This gives us the ability to, not only interpret the events more accurately and completely, but to be able to convey to the public, and anyone that’s consuming it, why we think an area has significance and how it related directly to this, based on real data.
That’s the 30,000 foot view. Then, we began, also through an American Battlefield Protection Program grant, a partnership with East Carolina University, and Bureau of Energy Management, a more laser focused study looking directly at one discrete convoy battle. This broad study started with looking with all of this different activity that was taking place over a six month window.
Now, we’re looking and applying the same approach to one particular afternoon in July of 1942. Where there’s a convoy of 19 ships sailing from Norfolk, Virginia to Key West, escorted by five vessels and some aircraft that was attacked by the U-576. They had one Nicaraguan freighter, called the Bluefields, which is pictured here, was sunk immediately. Two other vessels, the JA Mowinckel and the Chilore were struck but did not sink. As a result of this, the U boat popped to the center of the convoy, in broad daylight. An armed merchant vessel called the Unicoi opened fire and two Navy Kingfisher aircraft came in and sunk the U boat. All of this took place in the span of about 15 minutes.
We said “First of all, how can we find where this happened? Then, is it going to be applicable to study it using this through our battlefield protection program grant?” The first thing that we did, we partnered with East Carolina University and had a grad student, John Bright, who is no longer a grad student, that worked on developing some of this modeling. We collected all of this archival material and started to figure out, “Okay, how would this convoy have been situated? How would it have been moving through this space based on what we know of how it was set up? Where the escort districts were, there were five escort vessels that had these zones set up along the convoy. This was the pattern of the 19 ships, these are the three ships that were struck. We’re modeling, based on the narrative of the event, where the most likely position the U boat would’ve been. The different colors of this line are depicting, what we know, the operational restrictions of the torpedoes were. The maximum ranges, the optimal ranges of where it could fire. Then, creating this model.
We don’t know where it exactly fits in 3-d space until we find tangible remains. That was the focus of one of our projects, was figuring out where this is. We developed this survey model to figure out, where do we need to go look, but it carries, it permeated with these elements of this landscape approach. You’ll see here, this is just a probability model that was developed based on all of the historic information that we had. You’ll see these individual positions are After Action Reports, which is really frustrating because there’s a half a dozen After Action Reports. All talking about the exact same event that only happened in one place but they plot out like a 40 square mile area. It was really convenient.
Then, you have these other elements where we know the typical convoy route was to follow the 100 fathom curve lines so that it could avoid the Diamond Shoals. That’s what you’re seeing here, you’re seeing this lighter, sort of, snaking. That’s just where we know the convoy ought to have been running. Then, if you see, coming into shore here, we know that when the Chilore and the JA Mowinckel were struck. They were towed out of the field of fire and into an area where they were ostensibly going to be repaired, but unfortunately, were towed directly into the minefield where they also struck mines in this area here.
All of these models come together and we’ve developed this probability model and then we break it down into areas that have the most likelihood to survey. We ended up using this to develop and dictate the survey areas that we did. This was the first year that we looked, our priority one box. As a fun little side note, you’ll see that we did not get that little corner, in that first year, because the water depth there and the limitations of our equipment. Fast forward six years, and the U boat is about 160 feet from the edge of that point.
Fortunately, last year, we were able to find the remains of the Bluefields and also, fortunately for interpretive reasons, the U boat is about 200 yards away from the Bluefields. We’re hoping to get back to get some better imagery of these sites. The proximity of these things is such an easy way to digest this notion of a battlefield, where you’ve got both of these elements that are really close together, in this one space, that allow us to interpret these activities. Again, this is the remains of the U-576, it’s in deep water, about 700 feet of water, so it’s got a really good level of preservation.
Anyhow, that’s the focus that we’ve had and the way that the cultural landscape approach has directed our research. I’d also like to mention that it’s also permeated every aspect of our management, as we’ve been moving towards looking at things like expanded boundaries. I should also mention that we have had, I think by the end of the year, we’ll have about 12 of these sites nominated to the Nation Register. Working with Dee Dee Marks who’s prepared a lot of these and she’s also done a Multiple Property nomination for World War II resources in the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
Just real quick, to finish, the way that this approach, this way of thinking has permeated every element of our management. From research through the public process that we have is … First of all, it allows us, not just in the Battle of the Atlantic aspect but in this broader approach, is to help form and identify stake holders that we might not have had connections with, in the past. We have things like advisory councils that are made up of members of the public.
If we come to them and say “All right, we’ve got archeologists, historians, we also have people that are on tourism boards, and restaurant owners, and local fishermen, and businesses that are part of these affected communities.” We’re asking them to make decisions or inform us of what their concerns are, in the communities. We have to have something to say to a restaurant owner, “Here’s what the resource is, here’s the way that we interpret it. Now you can have a voice that’s more informed on how we should move things forward.”
We did that exact thing with our expansion working group. Our advisory council has made a recommendation that our site look into expanding the boundaries to include some of these resources. All of that has been funneled through this lens of the cultural landscape approach, even towards the development of the boundaries themselves, which are still in flux and up in the air.
Then, ultimately if we do go forward with an expanded effort, we can use the elements of this cultural landscape approach to help develop required documents. Like our draft environmental impact studies and use that to better define the affected resources. It really ends up being our guiding framework, moving forward, at our little site.