: 99 Years Later, Navy Probing Warship Disaster
: Off Long Island
: By SAM ROBERTS SEPT. 10, 2017
: Six sailors died when the U.S.S. San Diego
: capsized after an explosion ripped a hole in
: its hull on July 19, 1918. The Navy hopes to
: determine the cause and the condition of the
: wreck for the 100th anniversary of the
: tragedy. Credit U.S. Naval History and
: Heritage Command
: The 15,000-ton armored cruiser U.S.S. San
: Diego, the only major United States Navy
: warship lost by the United States during
: World War I, lies in a watery grave about 10
: miles off Fire Island, N.Y., where for
: nearly a century the corroding hulk has kept
: the secret of why it sunk.
: Six sailors died when the ship capsized and
: came to a rest 110 feet below the surface of
: the Atlantic Ocean about 28 minutes after an
: explosion ripped a hole in its hull well
: below the water line.
: Along with the liner Oregon, which was lost
: in a collision in 1886, the wreck of the San
: Diego is among the most popular sites for
: recreational divers on Long Island because
: of its proximity to the shore, its tallest
: parts are only 66 feet deep and, although
: the ship is upside down, its guns and other
: distinguishing features are largely intact.
: “It’s a nice piece of history,” said Tom
: McCarthy of East Coast Wreck Diving in
: Freeport, N.Y., who estimates he has visited
: the wreck several hundred times.
: The San Diego was engaged in guarding
: European-bound convoys through
: submarine-infested waters during the first
: leg of their voyage from the East Coast. The
: 503-foot-long cruiser was en route from
: Portsmouth, N.H., to New York when it was
: sunk, it is assumed, by a floating German
: mine or a torpedo fired from a U-boat.
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: Continue reading the main story
: Now the Navy hopes to determine the cause
: and the condition of the wreck in time for
: the 100th anniversary of the July 19, 1918
: Why does it matter more than 99 years later?
: “Although ships and weapons are much
: different now than they were 100 years ago,
: studying the wreck may still teach us
: something we didn’t know about
: anti-submarine warfare,” said Paul Taylor,
: the head of the communications at the Naval
: History and Heritage Command, a branch of
: the Navy tasked with the preservation of
: naval history.
: “This information,” he said, “may prove
: useful to modern ship designers, naval
: tactician, and people who develop shipboard
: damage control techniques” — a particularly
: relevant resource in light of recent fatal
: collisions involving naval vessels.
: The goals of a research survey being
: conducted beginning this week, weather
: permitting, by the Heritage Command’s
: underwater archaeology branch also include
: preserving the site, which the Navy
: considers a war grave, since the six victims
: of the blast are presumably still entombed
: in the vessel.
: “It’s an added bonus that solving this
: mystery more fully accounts for the ship’s
: story, which is a way for us to honor the
: service and sacrifice of six American
: sailors who lost their lives in defense of
: the nation,” Mr. Taylor said.
: Robert Neyland, who heads the underwater
: archaeology branch, said that researchers
: also hope to determine whether the wreck
: presents any enduring environmental hazard
: from leaking fuel or live armaments or other
: dangers to mariners.
: More people have died diving to explore the
: wreck, the Navy said than in the sinking
: itself. Recreational diving is allowed — the
: site is nicknamed the “Lobster Hotel,” but
: salvaging artifacts or disturbing the site
: is illegal under the Sunken Military Craft
: Act of 2004.
: Before that, recreational and professional
: divers retrieved dinnerware, bullets, a
: two-foot-long artillery shell, lanterns and
: other objects, some donated to museums.
: Divers were unsuccessful in raising a
: 37,000-pound bronze propeller.
: “I swam inside a gun turret where I caught a
: five-pound lobster,” Dan Berg wrote in his
: 2010 book, “Wreck Valley III,” a guide to
: shipwreck diving in the metropolitan area “I
: swam forward, then dropped down the
: starboard side to the location of a small
: corroded hole in the outer hull. We
: penetrated to the interior of the wreck.”
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: Some mariners maintain that the wreck is a
: potential hazard to navigation and that any
: money spent preserving it is a waste.
: “It’s lasted longer than most wrecks because
: it was armored,” Mr. McCarthy, of East Coast
: Wreck Diving, said, “but it’s been
: disintegrating pretty steadily.”
: The Navy’s survey will be conducted in
: collaboration with the University of
: Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and
: Environment, the Naval Surface Warfare
: Center and the Fire Island station of the
: United States Coast Guard.
: Underwater robotics and sensors will be used
: to explore the battle damage to the ship to
: determine what type of weapon caused the
: explosion at 11:05 a.m. on July 19, 1918, as
: the San Diego was zigzagging at 15 knots on
: its way to New York Harbor to escort a
: convoy to France.
: The explosion on the port side warped the
: bulkhead, preventing the crew from closing a
: watertight door, crippled both engines and
: disabled radio communication, preventing a
: distress call.
: Two enlisted men died instantly in the
: explosion, another was trapped inside the
: crow’s nest, a fourth was killed by a
: collapsing smokestack and another by a
: falling lifeboat. The sixth, who had been
: oiling a propeller shaft, was never seen
: again and presumably drowned.
: Capt. Harley H. Christy was the last to
: abandon ship. From their lifeboats, the
: nearly 1,200 survivors sang the national
: anthem and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee”as the
: San Diego sank.
: Two hours later, a gunnery officer reached
: Point O’ Woods on Fire Island in a lifeboat
: and summoned rescue ships.
: The ship’s captain figured the San Diego had
: been struck by a torpedo. The Naval Air
: Service was alerted and bombed what pilots
: thought was a submerged submarine; it turned
: out to be the San Diego.
: A Naval Court of Inquiry concluded that the
: culprit was a German mine, one of several
: laid by the submarine U-156 along the South
: Shore of Long Island. The History Center
: contested a more recent claim that a German
: spy had planted explosives aboard the ship.
: The San Diego was launched in 1904 as the
: U.S.S. California. It was renamed in 1914 to
: comply with the Navy’s policy of reserving
: state names for battleships.
: Originally assigned to the Pacific, in 1917
: it briefly became the flagship of the
: commander of the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet’s
: cruiser force. The ship was based in
: Tompkinsville on Staten Island and Halifax,
: Nova Scotia.
: The San Diego is among more than 2,500
: shipwrecks and 14,000 aircraft wrecks around
: the world that are managed by the Naval
: History and Heritage Command.