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“Shots fired on B4, C4, E1, and D5″…”Confirmed: B4 hit and sunk!”

September 27, 2012

It’s a battleship!

The ROV visited another ship in the Billy Mitchell fleet today!

The 'face' of the wreck

The ‘face’ of the wreck.

“The plunge of the Ostfriesland when she sank after the terrific pounding of the last two days, ended one of the most remarkable and interesting series of tests ever conducted. They have been practically perfect in co-ordination between the two services [Navy and Army], and have been characterized throughout by a fine spirit of comradeship. Scientific conclusions of the utmost value undoubtedly will result… One outstanding and most admirable feature has been the splendid courage and skill of the aviators. I congratulate them with all my heart.”            (Admiral Edwin Denby, Secretary of Navy under President Warren Harding, and a member of the audience onboard the Henderson that was present to view the bombing tests on July 21, 1921*)

That statement by Admiral Denby, though taken out of the politically charged context under which it was made, remains illustrative of the historical significance of these wrecks today.  The Billy Mitchell Air bombing experiments of 1921 came at a turning point in the national debates over the role of air power at sea. While controversial, the bombs tests and the almost immediate media coverage of the events provided visual proof-of-concept to the American public, which helped turn the tide of support and was one factor that contributed to the development of the United States Air Force. This national relevance combined with their international role in WWI (e.g. The Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916), make this fleet of ships particularly interesting. Beginning in 2005-2006, the University of Rhode Island started investigating the Billy Mitchell Fleet, and soon partnered with NOAA and BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) to expand archaeological work on the sites, including that of our current Deepwater Canyons project. Unfortunately, this wreck also seems to have suffered the negative impacts of fishing gear in recent years.

Dogfish (aka chain catsharks) and Sea Urchins near the wreck

Dogfish (aka chain catsharks) and Sea Urchins near the wreck

Biological highlights of the ROV dive today were schools of deepbody boarfish, conger eels in pipes and guns, a lionfish, scorpion fish and lots of urchins and chain catsharks (also known as dogfish). We were able to collect several voucher specimens and a core sample. Looking at the sand and pebbles brought up from the top layer of sediments, I was temporarily confused by what appeared to be a caddisfly larvae, but in fact, I found myself looking at a polychaete worm! Depending on the species, they also will reinforce the walls of their tubes with tiny stones or shells.

voucher specimens from the dive

Voucher specimens from the dive: Sea stars (top right), clusters of chain catshark (aka dogfish) eggcases (middle left and right), and two species of urchins (bottom left and right).

A polychaete worm emerges from its casing

A polychaete worm emerges from its casing made of bits of shells and sand particles.


A sea urchin collected near the wreck

Chain catshark (dogfish) embryo

Chain catshark (dogfish) eggcase with embryo inside.


Unfortunately either the otter trawl net or the winch cable got hung up on something beneath the surface tonight. Tension on the cable temporarily exceeded 2000 lbs (normal is around 300 lbs) and everyone on the lower deck was moved to covered safety (in case it snapped). After an intense half hour of delicately maneuvering the boat and paying out more cable in an attempt to free the snag, the tension was not dropping and the bridge crew made the wise decision to cut the cable. Unfortunately our first was also the last attempt at trawling tonight. Fortunately, we do have a backup otter trawl net, and the Nancy Foster’s crew is already hard at work in the machine shop re-terminating the cable so it can be used again as soon as possible.

*quote taken from “The Billy Mitchell Affair”, by Burke Davis

One Comment leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    October 1, 2012 2:09 pm

    Beautiful urchins!

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