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Two WWII Ships Found in North Carolina Waters

Oct 23, 2014 03:42 PM EDT

Lost for more than 70 years, two World War II ships have just been found in North Carolina waters, according to a NOAA-led study, providing a rare window into a historic military battle and underwater landscape.

"This is not just the discovery of a single shipwreck," Joe Hoyt, NOAA's chief scientist for the expedition, said in a statement. "We have discovered an important battle site that is part of the Battle of the Atlantic. These two ships rest only a few hundred yards apart and together help us interpret and share their forgotten stories."

While most people would associate the Battle of the Atlantic with the North Atlantic's icy waters, this freighter fight actually came dangerously close to America's shores. The German U-boat 576 and the freighter Bluefields were found approximately 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina, in an area known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

In July 1942, the U-576 and freighter Bluefields, from Nicaragua, were both lost to the sea during a battle started when a group of 19 merchant ships were on their way to deliver cargo from Virginia to Key West, Florida to aid the war effort.

The discovery of these two sunken vessels, from back in August, is the result of a 2008 partnership between the NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to survey and document vessels lost during WWII off the North Carolina coast.

Bluefields did not suffer any casualties during the sinking, but souls were still on board when the U-576 went down, so it's possible that the crew, given the hull of the ship is intact, remains inside the wreckage.

The newly identified wrecks are protected under international law, and although they are technically property of the Federal Republic of Germany, formerly known as the German Reich, the U-576 will remain untouched in North Carolina waters off the United States out of respect for those that died with the ship.

"As such, they are under special protection and should, if possible, remain at their site and location to allow the dead to rest in peace," noted the German Foreign Office.

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